- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2012

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.”

A level playing field

When Shanahan and Allen first met with Campbell and asked how the scouting department could be improved, Campbell was armed with a suggestion. Washington was one of the few teams that did not belong to one of the NFL’s scouting co-operatives. Joining one “was the first thing on my list,” Campbell said.

Shanahan was shocked the Redskins were not members of any, so with his full support they joined BLESTO (Bears-Lions-Eagles-Steelers Talent Organization, named for the founding members) right after the 2010 draft. The membership fee is approximately $100,000, a relatively small amount for one of the world’s highest-grossing sports franchises.

“To me you have to have an anchor because what they do is locate players for you,” Shanahan said.

BLESTO is a co-operative among which seven teams - Buffalo, Detroit, Jacksonville, Minnesota, the New York Giants, Pittsburgh and Washington — share evaluations of prospects, including performance on the field, medical information, family history and height and weight specifics. It focuses on the class of rising seniors, which allows scouting departments to get a jump on the following year’s evaluations.

“It gets you on a level playing field with everybody else, getting the same information,” Campbell said.

In past years, Redskins area scouts would spend the summer compiling information about prospects they would scout during the football season that fall. But now that they belong to BLESTO, Campbell has access to information and evaluations as soon as the draft is complete in April.

“It’s been a big help for us, for me, really,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting a head start in the spring when I get all this information and we have our meetings in May after the draft and get a head start on getting the knowledge on these players.”

Joining BLESTO also allowed Campbell to add another scout to a staff he describes as average-sized compared to others in the NFL. Washington has three pro scouts, including Brown, and six area scouts. One of those area scouts, David Whittington, handles the Northeast territory for BLESTO.

“I was getting the list of who our scouts liked without really knowing them through the summer because I didn’t have that May exposure and didn’t have verified information unless they called the schools and the strength coaches had it,” Campbell said. “You end up getting the verifieds here and [at the February scouting combine in] Indy — that’s late. I get to see guys that have grown and changed. It’s a great asset and a great tool.”

Exerting more influence

Shanahan has the final say over the Redskins‘ roster decisions, and whoever the organization drafts with its eight picks in April will have his stamp of approval. That doesn’t mean Campbell is powerless, though.

In fact, he believes he and his staff have more influence now than they ever did under past regimes.

“The scouts enjoy working with coach Shanahan through the draft more than anybody we’ve had because he continues up to draft day asking their opinions,” Campbell said. “A lot of times you kind of have a meeting, you sit down and go through the reports, you give your meeting and that’s the last time the decision-makers ever come back to the scouts.

“The fact that he will continually meet again and meet again and meet again asking their opinions — and even on draft day asking their opinions — gets them excited and motivated. They feel like they’re participating.”

Shanahan was emphatic when explaining why he values interacting with the area scouts. Last Wednesday before hosting Senior Bowl practice, he met with them to discuss the prospects on the South roster.

“Not only did they get a feel for what we saw in the first two practices, we heard how they felt, a little bit more about their background, because area scouts usually know what type of guy they are — good guy, bad guy, the reputation he has,” Shanahan said. “We get a chance to be around these guys for three more days, so we get to ask a few more questions after listening to them.”

The results, at least to this point, appear to have helped the Redskins‘ building process. Eleven of 12 players from last year’s draft were on the active roster at one point. And second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins, who meets the new requirements for a Redskins defensive end, would have been a major contributor if he had not torn the ACL in his right knee during the preseason.

First-round pick Ryan Kerrigan played every snap of his rookie season and had 7.5 sacks. Fourth-round running back Roy Helu set a Redskins‘ rookie record with three straight 100-yard games. On the back end of the class, sixth-round running back Evan Royster averaged 5.9 yards on 56 carries.

Of course, it’s relatively easy for draft picks to make an impact on a team coming off multiple losing seasons. But as Campbell sees it, that’s the point.

“I think that’s how you build a football team,” he said. “Most teams that have had success, that’s the way they’ve done it.”