Snead has a team and a plan this year at Senior Bowl : Stltoday

• By Jim Thomas

Last year at this time, Les Snead was firmly entrenched in career limbo. He was working the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., as a member of the Atlanta Falcons’ front office, but had already been interviewed by the Rams for their general manager opening.

“Because so much is going on, your mind’s not totally focused on the task at hand,” Snead said. “You don’t know where you’re gonna be.”

Snead would have to wait until mid-February before getting the job in St. Louis. This week, the cycle becomes complete for Snead as he attends his first Senior Bowl as Rams GM. More than 100 draft prospects from throughout the nation have descended on Mobile for a week of practices followed by Saturday’s Senior Bowl game.

For the Rams’ scouting department, things are much more settled this time around. Snead has had time to implement his scouting system, and the scouts know what’s expected of them.

Snead views Senior Bowl week as a valuable part of the process used to put together a draft class. A few of these college all-star games are held every January and used as tools for NFL scouts to evaluate potential draft picks. Among them are the East-West Shrine game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game, both of which were played over the weekend.

To a large degree, those are lesser games, designed more for looking at late-round prospects or potential undrafted free agents. On the other hand, the Senior Bowl definitely is, as Snead calls it, the “A-tier bowl” for seniors.

(Underclassmen who have decided to turn pro are not allowed to play.)

“You’re gonna have first-rounders, second-rounders, third-rounders there,” Snead said. “What’s neat about it is you get to see them live. You get to see ’em compete close up against other people of similar (skills). Pretty good prospects. So that’s always a nice thing.”

And unlike the NFL scouting combine in February, they’re wearing pads and going head-to-head against each other in drills.

Last year the Rams’ entire second round of the draft consisted of Senior Bowl players: wide receiver Brian Quick of Appalachian State, cornerback Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama and running back Isaiah Pead of Cincinnati. Playing for the North Squad, Pead was MVP of the 2012 game.

The Rams had a fourth rookie on their roster who played in the 2012 Senior Bowl — running back Terrance Ganaway of Baylor. He was drafted in the sixth round by the New York Jets, and then claimed off waivers by the Rams on Sept. 1.

Snead has a couple of basic starting points for himself once the Senior Bowl practices begin.

“Who have I not seen?” Snead said. “OK, let me go look at this guy — just physically. No. 2, what’s the biggest question mark I have on any of these players? Is it this person’s hands? Let me focus on him.”

Organizationally, Snead assigns one of the Rams’ scouts to each position unit.

“And that guy’s just zoomed in on that position all week,” he said. “So he can watch (practice) from Monday to Thursday, and we’d like for him then to give us just a quick evaluation of practice, and then they’ll go back and watch the game.”

That may help answer the question of whether a player is a gamer — not so good in practice, but very good on game day. Or it could be the opposite, where a player is a wonder on the practice field but disappears on game day.

“There’s a lot of nuances in this game, and it’s just another (tool) to supplement what you’re trying to do,” Snead said.

For example, there may be a running back who predominantly carried the ball in college. In that case, the Senior Bowl can provide clues to how he catches the football, or how he does in blitz pickup.

Offensive linemen frequently are tried at a different position at the Senior Bowl. A left tackle may be moved to the right side. A tackle may be moved inside. Or a guard to center.

“You can feel it,” Snead said. “How well do they adjust to that?”

Sometimes you can tell just by body language if a player is unhappy over being moved. Remember, most of these guys were stars in college.

Or a wide receiver who played the spread offense in college _ and there are more and more of those every year. How does he handle what may be his first exposure to running NFL-style routes?

“It’s all little pieces of the puzzle,” Snead said.

Meanwhile, the interview process is streamlined at the Senior Bowl. Snead likes his area scouts to interview players from their region in Mobile. The coaches get more involved in the interview process at the scouting combine.

In fact, Snead said Senior Bowl attendance is not mandatory for members of the Rams’ coaching staff, although a couple of them are still going to Mobile. Head coach Jeff Fisher, in fact, is not expected to attend the Senior Bowl.