- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS — The opening questions are easy. How’s it going? Who’s your agent? What’s your draft-day phone number? Any injuries?

But then the position coach, coordinator or head coach takes over. Did you get along with your coach? What scheme did you play in? Any off-the-field hiccups? How often did you audible at the line of scrimmage?

This week during the NFL Scouting Combine, the coaching staff, scouting department and front office of each team will conduct 15-minute interviews with draft-eligible players. And while things like 40-yard dash time, bench-press total and vertical leap are important, it’s the quick interrogation that can get a player on a team’s radar.

“The interview process is as important as anything we do,” Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.

For the coaching staffs, the combine is the first significant opportunity to find out about a player’s football IQ and their general personality.

“To be honest, the 40 and those times have never been that big of a deal,” Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “I like the other side of it, especially getting to meet the players and the information you can gather from just seeing how they go about their business.”

Teams will take players off their draft boards because of medical or character issues so honesty during the interview is crucial for a player like Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who was involved in a bar fight while in college.

“I know I’m going to hear a lot of different questions,” he said. “I’m going to hear things about the different incidents I’ve had outside of nightclubs. I’ll tell them what happened. I know I put myself in a bad situation I shouldn’t have been in and I’ll take full responsibility for it.”

Honesty is a change from 10 to 12 years ago. Before the message boards and camera phones could track the movements of college players after hours, some would try to hide items from their past.

“Where we are with technology, we’re able to get a lot more information about a player, and there’s nothing that can be covered up,” Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “If there is an example of bad decision making, the player is bringing it up and is saying, ‘I did A, B and C, but I’ve learned from it and have moved on from it.’ Ten years ago, you may uncover something the day before the draft and have to do a quick investigation to get the details.”

All teams expect agents to school their players for the interview, but Fisher doesn’t have a problem with that game plan.

“This is a job interview, and it makes sense to prepare for it,” he said.

The combine is the second step of a five-part process for teams, following a meeting at the Senior Bowl or East-West Shrine Game. Most prospects have a Pro Day on their campus. Teams then schedule on-campus individual workouts and are also allowed to bring 30 prospects to their headquarters.

“We’ll spend a lot of time with some of these guys,” Redskins director of player personnel Scott Campbell said.

Campbell selects the 60-player list (the maximum allowed) and submits it a month before the combine so organizers can create a schedule. Some of the top players will have 25 interviews.

With the Redskins, the position coach asks most of the questions. When the team interviewed quarterbacks Thursday, coach Jim Zorn — who will double as quarterbacks coach — was vocal.

Campbell introduces the player to other Redskins personnel in the room and asks introductory questions, leaving 10 to 12 minutes for the coaches.

“What I try to do is get an idea of whether they know football,” Zorn said. “How do they react at the line of scrimmage? Could they change the play? Were they in the shotgun? I’m trying to find out where they fit in their offense, if they were really taught football and if they’re knowledgeable — I’ll have him talk us through a play or a read. You get a pretty good feel for who they are.”

Each team handles the interviews differently. Coach Mike Tomlin does most of the talking during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ interviews and director of football operations Kevin Colbert chimes in.

“I want to know about the families, what they’ve come from, what they’re used to,” Colbert said. “Everybody has an individual personality and although they might be prepared, they answer the questions in a different manner.”

In Green Bay’s interview room, general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy often defer to director of college scouting John Dorsey.

“John is pretty much the lead man in the room, and it’s very organized,” McCarthy said. “Our area scouts do a tremendous job with the information and prepping us before the prospect comes into the room. It’s a great opportunity to evaluate a personality.”

Having a person whom the players recognize can help ease the nervousness. Zorn started 100 NFL games but doesn’t expect quarterbacks to recognize the name or face. But several players have asked former Redskins lineman Ray Brown, now Buffalo’s assistant offensive line coach, questions this week.

Brown, 45, and Notre Dame lineman John Sullivan, 22, had a common teammate — Jim Molinaro.

“You get an idea of how they learn and that’s what I love about it — talking football with young men who are getting ready for their first job,” he said. “Having played the game recently, it offers an interesting perspective. These guys expect to play in the league where I hoped to play in the league.”

The evaluations and interviews will continue throughout March before the scouting and coaching staffs for each team conduct meetings to decide which players are good fits talent-wise and personality-wise.

“We’re trying to get the whole picture of a guy and you can’t get 100 percent of it,” San Francisco 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said. “The more you can get, the better chance you have of making the right pick.”

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