MOBILE, ALA. — Scott Campbell sat alone on the metal bleacher in Section T, Row 29 of Ladd-Peebles Stadium last Wednesday overlooking the South team’s Senior Bowl practice through a pair of dark sunglasses. Wavy brown hair peeked over the rim of the same burgundy visor that distinguishes him on the Redskins Park practice fields each summer during training camp.
Campbell, the Washington Redskins‘ director of player personnel, made mental notes as he watched Washington’s coaching staff guide a team of college seniors through position drills. He has studied those and dozens of other prospects for months. It won’t be long before his evaluations help shape a draft class that absolutely must contain players capable of immediately contributing to a turnaround from last season’s 5-11 record.
Coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen’s determination to break from the team’s old philosophy by building through the draft has invigorated Campbell — validating his professional existence, even. Washington’s top scout and his lieutenants survived the change from deposed front office chief Vinny Cerrato by adapting to Shanahan’s player requirements. Now, entering his third draft since Shanahan took over, Campbell is more comfortable than ever with his task of identifying players that meet Shanahan’s prerequisites.
“I would say we’ve gotten better,” Campbell said. “I would describe it in the beginning you’re bringing players to them saying, ‘Does this guy fit? Does this guy fit?’ As time goes on, you’re coming to him saying, ‘I’ve got a guy for you.’ “
Perhaps Campbell, who boasts a quarter century of NFL experience, was able to adapt to Shanahan’s demands because he’s been part of the Redskins organization — under the impetuous hand of owner Daniel Snyder — since 2001. As Washington’s director of college scouting (2001, 2006-07), director of pro personnel (2002 through 2005) and in the current role he has filled since 2008, he has worked with five different head coaches. Instability has been the only constant.
“It is an adjustment, and it is challenging,” Campbell said. “That’s more or less common when a new coaching staff comes in. They’re going to have their own philosophies; especially veteran coaches, they like certain types of players, certain characteristics, certain traits to fit their schemes. The sooner you can give your scouting department direction in terms of the profile you’re looking for, the better off you’re going to be.”
Communication is vital
Shanahan arrived in Washington two years ago determined to install his preferred offensive and defensive schemes, accepting the reality they would require a major roster overhaul. His zone blocking scheme values offensive linemen that are fast and can block in the open field on screens, as opposed to a power scheme in which linemen more often bull forward.
The changes required on defense were significantly more extensive. Before Shanahan took over the Redskins, he decided he would run a 3-4 alignment no matter where he got his next job. The Redskins‘ first-string defense in 2011 included only four players that were on the team in its 4-3 alignment when he arrived, and only one of them — linebacker London Fletcher — plays in the front seven.
For Campbell and his staff of scouts, that meant re-establishing the criteria for making the team. Some of the skills and parameters they were accustomed to seeking no longer were relevant.
“It’s not the same body-type guys you want,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “You’re looking for different type of players. You’re looking for two-edger guys. You’re looking for inside guys. When you’re looking at a 4-3 defensive end, you want somebody from 6-1 to 6-4, 250 [pounds] and up. We want 6-3 to 6-6, 315 and up. Those 6-6 guys don’t fall out of trees.”
Preparations for the 2010 draft were well underway when Shanahan was hired in January of that year, so he opted to keep Cerrato’s scouting staff intact and evaluate its work as it proceeded.
One of Shanahan’s first actions on the job, along with Haslett and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, was educating Campbell, director of pro personnel Morocco Brown and other scouts about their preferences. They had series of meetings in which they would analyze game film of prospects to highlight certain coveted traits.
“Communication is vital,” Campbell said. “If you can’t communicate what you want, how could you expect someone to be able to go scout players for you? You’re just guessing. I know who I like, but they might not like them — not because they’re not a good football player, but they don’t fit the profile of what they’re looking for.”
Added Shanahan: “We spent a lot of time in the first year through the draft talking about what we were looking for. Over years, they understand what you’re looking for. All of a sudden they see these players play, they look at film and go, ‘OK, now I understand this is what they’re looking for.’ It’s just communication and spending time together. I think it has really helped.”