Doing the legwork

Posted May 1, 2011

It was Pete Carroll and John Schneider who made the Seahawks’ picks in the NFL Draft over the weekend, but not before the team’s scouts had uncovered the prospects they eventually selected.

As the scout sits in just another dark room at just another college or university watching video, he has a handful of priority players to evaluate. Occasionally, however, a player not on that must-see list jumps out.

It happened to Derrick Jensen when he was at the University of Alabama, as the former NFL running back turned area scout of the Seahawks was sifting through the prospects the Crimson Tide had to offer in the 2011 NFL Draft.

There was defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Mark Ingram, of course. They were not only expected to be first-round picks in the just-concluded three-day draft, they were – Dareus going to the Buffalo Bills with the third pick overall; Jones to Atlanta Falcons, after they traded up to the No. 6 spot to take him; and Ingram to the New Orleans Saints at No. 28. There also was quarterback Greg McElroy, who went to the New York Jets in the seventh round.

But, Jensen also couldn’t take his eyes off No. 77 – a tackle named James Carpenter.

“They had about four or five prospects,” said Jensen, whose area of expertise for the Seahawks is the talent-rich Southeast. “So you’re sitting there watching the offense, and you got attracted right away to watching No. 77 and keeping your focus on him.”

Carpenter had not drawn as much initial attention as his teammates, because he played two seasons at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before transferring to Alabama. But seeing turned into believing for Jensen.

“In James’ case, just the size of the man and the athleticism and the production, it caught your attention,” he said.

From Jensen’s eyes, to the ears of general manager John Schneider, to the lips of coach Pete Carroll.

When it came time for the Seahawks to make the 25th pick in the first round on Thursday night, Carpenter was the choice – a consensus selection for a team that has battled through three seasons of injury-induced inefficiency on its offensive line.

“James was the guy I thought from Day One gave us the most,” first-year line coach Tom Cable said after the Seahawks had added a player who is expected to step in as the starter at right tackle. “I like a lot of things about this guy – a big massive guy; a lot of length and a lot of power.

“I think we upgraded ourselves in terms of toughness and getting some mass on the offensive line, which I think we needed to do.”

Take a bow, Derrick Jensen.

For while Carroll and Schneider have the final say, it doesn’t happen until they listen to what Jensen and his fellow scouts have to say – Jason Barnes (Midwest), Matt Berry (Southwest), Ed Dodds (South Central), Aaron Hineline (Midlands) and Charlie Jackson (Northeast), who do their jobs under the supervision of director of college scouting Scott Fitterer and assistant director Eric Stokes.

After the scouts have turned over every rock and inspected every haystack, others get involved in the process. Vice president of football operations Will Lewis and the pro scouting department – director Tag Ribary, assistant director Trent Kirchner and scout Dale Thompson – use the information to begin compiling dossiers on players the teams might want to consider signing in free agency down the road. And the experience and expertise senior personnel executive Scot McCloughan brings is a valuable asset for Schneider throughout the process.

Carroll’s coaching staff gets to see many of the prospects for the first time at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, and later the players’ Pro Day workouts. Because, as former coach Chuck Knox always said, a scout can tell you if a prospect can play, but it’s the assistant coach who can tell you if that player can play for your team.

Eventually, all these eyes gain a common focus as the draft board starts to take shape and the Seahawks zero in on the players they want – and when they might be able to get them.

“For us, and for what we’re doing, we’ve dug in and done our homework and worked hard enough with our scouting department that we feel great about the picks,” Carroll said. “And now it’s our job to prove that.

“I made the statement to our coaching staff as John broke us: Now it’s on us. We have to show what a great class this is by the way we develop this talent and bring it to the playing field.”

To put it another way, the coaches must now finish the process that was started by the scouts – nine months ago.

“The process really starts in the spring with the scouts, and what they do is so important,” said Schneider, who broke into the league as a scout and still considers that the most important aspect of his expanded duties.

“It’s a great job, and there are a lot of people that would love to have these jobs and we all feel very blessed to be doing what we’re doing. But it is not a glamorous job. These guys are away from their families. They’re on the road, diving a lot and you’re not staying in the Hyatt Regency every night. But they’re establishing relationships with people so we’re able to get background information and knowledge on players.”

There’s also a friendly competition between the scouts to have “their players” drafted in any given year. Last year, the team’s top two picks – Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung and Texas free safety Earl Thomas – came from Berry’s area. This year, Jensen had two of the first four picks – Carpenter and Georgia wide receiver Chris Durham, the second of the Seahawks’ two picks in the fourth round.

“It’s very gratifying when one of ‘your guys’ does well, especially for the later-round guys,” Dobbs said.

The ultimate winner, of course, is the team. Or, as Fitterer put in, “The prize is getting a good football player.”

That’s because everyone – from Carroll, to Schneider, to Fitterer, to Jensen – were in it together. From what Jensen started, to what Carroll will finish.

“We came in with a plan to get good football players,” Fitterer said. “It wasn’t a flashy draft, but it’s a very solid draft. Looking back at this in three years, we’re going to be really happy because this (draft class) is going to be the core of our team.

“We’ve done exactly what we wanted to do.”

The Seahawks aren’t just planning on it; Carroll and Schneider are counting on it as they continue to rework the roster they inherited last year.