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Scouting the All-Star Games: Part 1

What goes on at these postseason showcases. Greg Gabriel

January 13, 2011
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With the college football season finally over, the All-Star season begins. There are three major games the next three weeks that scouts, front office people and some coaches will all attend. First up is the East-West Shrine game in Orlando. For years that game was held out in California at Stanford Stadium but in the last six years or so it has been played in San Antonio, Houston and now Orlando. After the East–West game is the Senior Bowl in Mobile and then the following week the Texas vs. the Nation game in San Antonio.

The East-West game would probably rank second as far as roster quality. The Senior Bowl has the majority of the top draft-eligible players. The one rule that I would like to see changed in the All-Star games is at present only seniors can play in these games. For some reason the underclassmen who decide to come out are not invited. In my thinking, what difference does it make? If a player is giving up his eligibility to turn pro he should be allowed to play. I know one thing: it would help attendance. In the last 10 years there has been a dramatic drop in attendance in these games mostly because there are not enough star players attending. The lone exception is the Senior Bowl. That game gets the bulk of the top senior players and also because the game is played in Alabama, it had many Auburn and Alabama players invited.

Pat DevlinDelaware QB Pat Devlin will compete in the East-West Shrine game.

So what happens at the All-Star games? In the world of scouting the All-Star games are really the first opportunity for a scout or a coach to spend any real time with a prospect. By this time of the year we pretty much know who can play and to what level they can play but we know little “about” the player. We know what coaches and support people at the colleges have told us but this is the first time we get an opportunity to really “talk” with him. Find out what makes him “tick” so to speak.

Players arrive at these games on the Saturday or Sunday before the game. The players are all housed in the same hotel and so many of the scouts are also there. When a player gets to the hotel he is greeted by a swarm of scouts that want to test and interview him. Many of the clubs in the NFL do psychological testing. The people who do the testing usually rent a conference room at the hotel and scouts for the clubs that use the different testing services chase down the players. Years ago it could get a little out of control in a hotel lobby with scouts arguing over who “has a certain player next.” Since those days, we have all worked out a system where a player can go from room to room to get this testing done. The player can rest assure that by the end of his first two days at an All-Star game he will have taken three to four different psychological profile tests.

It then becomes interview time. All-Star games are an excellent venue to sit down with a prospect one on one. At the Combine, when interviews are held at night, there is a 15-minute time limit to each interview. That is not the case at the All-Star games. Teams can spend as much time as they want with the players at All-Star games. These interviews often happen at night, but can also happen between practices.

While I was with the Bears, we would rent a small conference room to bring the players to for the interview. Our coaches usually were not at the East-West game, so at that game the people in the room would be the area scout and me. We had a set questionnaire that we used when talking to the players, but I also felt that this was our first chance to get “up close and personal” so to speak with the player. If there was anything in the players’ past that may prove to be problematic, it would be discussed at this time.

If a player had some issues in his past it was often the case that we knew what the facts were before we ever talked to the player. What I wanted to see and hear was the player being honest about everything. If he lied to us, or put the blame elsewhere, then it was often the case that we would eliminate him from consideration. I don’t want a player that you can’t trust.

In scouting, things seldom change. Every year you hear the same stories or the same excuses….the only things that change is the face on the player. What these kids don’t realize is that you can’t BS us. We have been through it year after year and heard the same story too many times. When a player is not being honest with you it can be fairly easy to tell. His body language and tone of voice tell a lot. We may not be professional interrogators, but when you do hundreds of these things every year it gets fairly easy to know who is truthful and who is full of BS.

It’s also the case that you can come away from an interview really wanting a player. When a prospect has a great interview and his passion is clear, a scout can be sometimes swayed too much. The player can be such a great kid that you may put too much value in the interview when putting a final grade on a player. This is not an exact science, so you have to step back and take some of your emotion out of the equation.

If your coaches are at the practices and game then obviously you get them involved also. Many times when we complete the interview we will have the coaches spend time with the player. Here the coach can talk scheme and technique etc. so he can get a feel for his football intelligence. These are all important parts of the final equation.

Tomorrow we will talk about the practices and what we look for there.

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