By Joe Douglas
This is my 17th Senior Bowl number and, wow, that feels a bit weird to say. When I’m driving down I-10 and I see the signs for the Mobile exit, I can’t help but feel excited. The city does such a great job of hosting the event and you get excited to see the very best that college football has to offer from every level of competition and you get amped up to see them compete.
Whenever I come down here, it’s hard to not think about some of my first trips to the event. My first couple of years down here I was a young personnel assistant, so I did a lot of the grunt work because that’s what you’re used to doing in that role. Whether it’s picking guys up at the airport or taking the head coach and coordinators to and from practice, you’re used to doing a lot of the little things to support the rest of the staff. Those days were tough but still a lot of fun looking back at them.
When we come to the Senior Bowl, our number one goal as a staff is to pinpoint the best players during the week of practice; the guys that are top-level competitors that really shine at their position group. We’re also trying get a feel for all of the top prospects as people to see what they’re all about and get a sense of their competitive nature, their mentality and their intelligence.
My favorite day is Tuesday, the weigh-in day. You get up, you’re pretty antsy, and you head over early to file into the big conference room with the rest of the league. The best part about going down to the Senior Bowl is seeing people that you used to work with or that you would see out on the road as an area scout. There’s a lot of good people in this league. Tuesday morning before the weigh-in is the first opportunity to catch up with old friends, and later on you try to get together with them and talk a little ball in between practices.
The weigh-ins start and it’s great because for a lot of scouts that’s the initial impression you get of some players that weren’t in your area. It may be the first chance you’ve seen some of them in person. It’s great to see the guys come across the stage and people can ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the guys that are chiseled like they’re made out of stone and you get a sense of their body types. But at the end of the day, football is not a beauty contest, it’s not a bodybuilding contest. The most important thing is when they get out on the practice field and start playing with the pads on.
We always had the tradition after weigh-ins of going to the ‘Big Time Diner’, that’s a little west of the city. So we’d head there before we went to the first practices of the week, but that’s not a typical morning when you’re down here. Most days you wake up, try to get a sweat in if you can, and then try to get a little work done. Maybe you watch some tape on a prospect you want to see more of before heading off to practice.
We had our first round of meetings in December with our group of college scouts. I would say by now, on average, a minimum of two or three scouts have been able to either get into the school or evaluate these Senior Bowl players on tape. This week is a great opportunity to see them live at practice though, and every team handles it differently. Some teams want their entire staff to sit together in the stands to watch practice. Other teams spread people out and have a couple guys on the field, a couple in the press box, and others around the stands watching their individual position groups. There’s a lot of different ways to operate. At the end of the day, everyone is just trying to identify who the best two or three players are at each position group.
I mentioned earlier what life was like as a young personnel scout and coming here, but once you’re an area scout and you know these players a little better, it’s exciting. It’s exciting to see the guys you really liked in the fall to come in and compete at the highest level, especially small-school guys. It’s always good to see the small-school players that you really liked compete on the biggest stage against the best players. And when they perform well, it kind of verifies your initial impression on a player.
The Senior Bowl is a forum where players can raise their draft stock more than lower it. The first thing a prospect can do is show up and compete. I mentioned how great of an opportunity it is for small-school players, and I know we have a Villanova kid here this week (defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon). When small-school players come down and win some one on ones against an Ohio State, Michigan or Alabama prospect that’s exciting.
After practice ends, you typically have time for some dinner. One of my personal favorites is Dreamland BBQ, that’s always the spot. Sometimes you get a little Dreamland in between practices. I’m excited about Felix’s Fish Camp. There’s plenty of good seafood, plenty of good oysters. Mobile does not lack for good fare.
After dinner, once the sun goes down, it’s time to knock out some interviews and get to know these guys as best you can. Every night, each scout is assigned probably eight to ten interviews a piece at the hotel. The players are available all night, usually from about 7:45 to 11:00, and at that point the hunt is on! You’re trying to compete with 31 other teams for a player’s time, and every scout is trying to get their player for about 15 or 20 minutes to get to know them, to see what they’re made of and get a sense of their personality and football intelligence.
This continues for the rest of the week. As a talent evaluator, you try to get a minimum of three good, solid practices in on each side of the ball just to get an overall impression of the players here. Most teams will try to leave on Friday before the game, while others head out on Thursday night. When you get home, the next step is to factor in your live exposure with your pre-existing notes and your reports on prospects. You go back and watch more game tape on players and see if it matches up with what you saw live down here, and you adjust when needed. The Senior Bowl is a great week and an integral part of the process leading up to April, and another huge stepping stone towards draft weekend.
Joe Douglas is the Eagles VP of player personnel.