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Back from the Combine, and back at it
Angie Mentink and Warren Moon recap the second preseason game at Kansas City Chiefs.
"Turnover Thursday" was the motto for Wednesdays practice of preseason week 3 in preparation for the San Diego Chargers.
The Seahawks’ coaches and scouts aren’t just back from the NFL Scouting Combine, they’re back in the meetings that will help determine which player will be selected with the 12th pick in April’s NFL Draft.
But the coaches now are better equipped to hold up their end of the conversation while offering input on which players are best suited to the way the Seahawks want to play – not just with that first-round pick, but those who will follow during the later rounds; and even the post-draft free agency period that last year delivered Doug Baldwin, Josh Portis, Jeron Johnson and Ricardo Lockette.
“A lot of going to the Combine is, we get to put a name to a face,” defensive line coach Todd Wash said during a break in the latest round of pre-draft meetings at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “We’ve seen the guy on tape, but we get to meet him in-person and see what kind of character he has. We’ve gotten a lot of information from the scouts, but we get to start to formulate our own opinion on the guys.
“So it’s just an introduction to each player at the Combine.”
For the scouts, no introductions are necessary – at least for the seniors in the draft class. Director of college scouting Scott Fitterer and his staff have spent the past 12 months looking at every conceivable aspect of every prospect – especially area scouts Jason Barnes (Midwest), Matt Berry (Southwest), Ed Dodds (South Central), Aaron Hineline (Midlands), Charlie Jackson (Northeast) and Derrick Jensen (Southeast). They’re the ones who visit the schools, and talk with anyone who can help them get a more in-depth read on a player.
“There is some of that, ‘Oh, this guy again?’ ” Fitterer said with a smile.
But even the scouts’ just-completed weeklong stay in downtown Indianapolis opened some new possibilities.
“We really find out about the juniors and some of the guys you didn’t actually get into the schools to see,” Fitterer said.
That junior class, those players who have been granted special eligibility for the draft, numbers 65 this year – including Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, USC tackle Matt Kalil, Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. All are expected to be first-round picks on April 26.
The scouts know these players, of course. But league rules prevent them from, according to Section 14.8 of the Constitution and Bylaws, “timing, testing, interviewing or administering a physical examination to any player who can, under NFL rules, become eligible for the Draft only by petitioning the Commissioner for special eligibility.”
Getting to know these players as well as is necessary becomes even more significant when you get past the top-tier talent and into those juniors who could be later-round picks. That’s a primary function of the Combine.
“You get all the questions answers that you didn’t have answered previously,” Fitterer said. “Sometimes we haven’t talked to these kids, or if they’re a junior we don’t know much about their background.”
And that’s what the months of scouting and countless hours of meetings are all about: Finding out as much as possible about a player before using a pick on him.
“How he thinks. What his makeup is. How he learns. How he can take coaching, and then spit it back out,” Fitterer said. “Those are the questions we want answered.”
That’s the point of the 15-minute meetings each team is allowed with 60 players at the Combine. For the coaches, those meetings also are a first glimpse at players they’ve heard so much about.
“This is really the coaches’ first chance to really be hands-on and get to know these players,” Fitterer.
It’s an opportunity the coaches embrace.
“During the season, we don’t get a chance to look at these players like our scouts do,” Wash said. “We have a short, intense time right before the Combine. Now we have a name to a face, so moving forward we know a lot of these players character-wise because we got to sit down and talk to them.
“So we know more about them: Will they fit in? Where will they fit? All that kind of stuff.”
The Combine also is just another step in getting everyone on the same page – the right page. In a lot of cases, that’s matching what you’re seeing in the Combine workouts with what you’ve seen on film and on the field.
“Part of it is figuring out if there are any red flags for their speed,” Fitterer said.
This aspect has become a bigger factor as the players spend time at performance centers prior to the Combine to improve their times in the 40-yard dash.
“We always go back through the tape to see what their play-speed is,” Fitterer said. “But sometimes you can get a red flag. If the guy runs really fast, you can go back look at his game speed. If a guy runs slow, is that a concern? So you go back and checkout the tape.
“We never want to get too far away from what they’ve done on the field during the season.”
The Combine has been dubbed “The Underwear Olympics,” and Fitterer laughed when that was mentioned.
“It is a little bit of that,” he said. “But it’s all about the football – what they’ve done on the field, and what they’ve done for three, four, five years in college.”
The Combine also helps determine who from the team will go where for the players’ Pro Days at their schools – workouts that began Thursday and will continue through April 4.
It’s obviously a progression – an already-long one for the scouts; a just-really-getting-started one for the coaches; and an on-going one for both.
“It’s just a process we go through in putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” Fitterer said. “And the Combine is a large piece.”