MOBILE, Ala. — Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan stood on the 50-yard line at Fairhope Stadium — some 18 miles from here — watching his assistants lead the Senior Bowl’s 53-member South team through positional drills.
The coach strolled over to Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen and Scott Campbell, the team’s director of player personnel, and chatted with them briefly while offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan instructed quarterbacks Nick Foles of Arizona, Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State and Ryan Lindley of San Diego State on a passing drill.
Shanahan later made his way over to one-on-one drills between offensive and defensive linemen, watching closely and offering occasional praise or constructive criticism.
The NFL picks Senior Bowl coaching staffs from among losing teams and Shanahan of course would have preferred that the Redskins’ 2011 record didn’t qualify him to be here this week. But with the Redskins still working to build a franchise in Shanahan’s image, mainly through the draft, coaching the South team gave the Redskins a prime opportunity to assess future talent.
“It’s great,” said Shanahan, who holds the sixth overall pick in April’s draft and eight picks total. “You get a chance to get to know the players. A lot of players are going to be drafted. You get a chance to not only see their athletic ability, but you get to see them in the classroom, see how they interact with the coaches, the players. So it’s a good evaluation process.”
Representatives of the 30 teams who aren’t coaching a squad at the game watch practices and try to get to know Senior Bowl players through post-practice chats as the players come off the field. They must wait until February’s NFL Combine to sit down with players for brief interviews.
Shanahan said the week gives his team and talent evaluators a head start and more of an in-depth, authentic look at players, on and off the field.
“It’s a little bit easier here. We’re with these guys coaching for a week. You can’t coach somebody up [on what to say and do] for a week,” Shanahan said. “You’re meeting with them every day, you’re out there with them on the field. But when you go to Indy [at the Combine], you get about 60 to 80 guys that you get to spend 15 minutes with. You can tell those guys are pretty coached up. So you’ve got to rely on your scouts.”
Said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett: “I’ve learned more about these guys in the two hours I’ve been out here today than I would in eight to 10 hours of film. I know who’s smart, who’s not smart already. I can tell you who’s athletic.”
The South team’s first practice of the week wasn’t exactly impressive. There were multiple fumbles, false starts and miscues. Quarterbacks still were learning signals, and even the tone Shanahan wanted them to use.
“It’s chaotic at first,” Kyle Shanahan said. “A lot of these quarterbacks haven’t taken too many snaps under center. Most of them have been in the shotgun. So I think we had about 10 fumbled snaps yesterday, which is more than you have in a year. But it was interesting yesterday. You’re trying to get guys a new language and get them out there and you throw a lot at them and see what sticks.”
A couple of times, Weeden said he had to ask the coordinator to slow down when he ran through the plays he wanted to practice.
“Terminology is one thing at this level that all of us are going to have to get used to. I don’t know why it is, but it’s real wordy,” Weeden said with a chuckle. “Once you get a hang of it, you don’t have to think about it as much, but it’s good. There’s a lot going on in our heads right now. . . . But this is great. . . . Two obviously unbelievable football minds. . . . The more hands-on you can get, the better.”
Mike Shanahan said he wasn’t concerned by the early gaffes. The offensive and defensive schemes have been simplified enough that the players will be able to play at full-speed in Saturday’s game.
“You’re just trying to evaluate them and put them in the position where they can go out and play,” he said. “You’re limited in what you can do. There’s rules with the offense and the defense, formations, stunts. It really gives everybody a chance to show what they can do.”