Tuesday, April 21, 2009

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Only days before his first NFL Draft as a head coach, Steve Spagnuolo has been doing a lot of the same thing he has done for most of the time since he was named the leader of the Rams.
That means, much like when he was interviewing potential coaches for his staff or looking at free agents, Spagnuolo has been neck deep in meetings. Position by position, Spagnuolo has sat in on every pre-draft meeting with scouts, assistant coaches and general manager Billy Devaney.
Like the rest of the offseason, it’s been something of an exercise in tedium.
“It’s been a grind but it’s been a wonderful grind,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s the best way to describe it. It is a grind. I have been used to it. I have seen guys go through it and with Andy (Reid) and Tom (Coughlin) they have gone through it. I know how they have done it, the ways they have done it. I have tried to do the same thing because you learn from people who you work with. I am enjoying it. Every day is filled. I can guarantee you that. My poor wife has had to do all of the unpacking of boxes. I haven’t done any of that yet. God bless her, I tell you.”
The Rams’ increased emphasis on getting as much input as possible from the scouting staff as well as the coaching staff has made Spagnuolo’s presence as important as anyone’s.
Soon after his being named head coach in January, Spagnuolo met with the scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Part of that process was intended to help give them an idea of what type of players will fit in to his vision for what the team would be like going forward.
General manager Billy Devaney said that process was relatively pain free and the scouting staff was able to adapt quickly to figuring out what type of players would fit the mold of what Spagnuolo was looking for.
In truth, there wasn’t a big difference between Spagnuolo’s ideas and what Devaney had already instilled.
“It’s been tweaked a little bit, position specifics have been changed a little bit, but again the scouts have done a great job adjusting on the fly,” Devaney said. “Remember, they were out in August, September and October looking at players and evaluating players geared for a certain scheme and different coaches. So, they’ve had to, kind of in their mind when we came in for these meetings go back and when we got into the meetings and started talking about these players, we had to kind of preface by saying, not all the time, but in certain cases. You know what, I liked this guy a couple months ago, but for what we’re talking about right now, this guy’s going to play, we acknowledge that, but he’s not exactly what we’re looking for. So, it’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but again, I think the scouts have done a tremendous job of adjusting it on the fly.”
The events of the past few months have also helped Spagnuolo get used to looking at the big picture of the draft rather than a defensive specific view or a position specific look.
The early April minicamp wasn’t the ultimate indicator of anything because the team was not in pads but it was Spagnuolo and his staff’s first up close look at the players that are already in place.
And though the Rams are focused on getting help in a variety of places, it also gave Spagnuolo at least some idea of where the team’s greatest needs lie.
For instance, on numbers alone, Spagnuolo was able to see the need for help on the offensive line because the Rams had just 10 offensive linemen dressed out and participating in the minicamp.
“It helped me a lot because you really don’t have an idea until you get them in here and see if they can take it from the meeting room out to the field,” Spagnuolo said. “We did that. And I think I mentioned this the last time we talked, the one thing you still miss and you don’t know yet is that the game is still played with pads. We are further along than we were before the minicamp but I’m glad we did the minicamp before the draft. I thought that was the right way to do it. So we know a little more about the team.”
Since that one, short opportunity to actually get on the field and do some coaching, Spagnuolo has retreated back to the bunker to attend the variety of meetings that go along with putting a draft board together.
That part has been an education, to say the least. Spagnuolo has spent most of his days in meetings with little chance to come up for air.
“Certainly the meetings have been longer,” Spagnuolo said. “The last few years it’s been half of the meetings because you’re on one side of the ball, but it’s been great. It’s been smooth and the scouts have been terrific. The wealth of knowledge that these guys gather is amazing and it always amazes me what they’re able to find out. We’ve dug deep and we have all of the information. It’s documented; we’ve factored it all in and hopefully we’ll make those smart decisions over the weekend.”
Making smart decisions on draft day has never been much of an issue for Spagnuolo looking at his track record. Although Spagnuolo hasn’t necessarily been the one calling the shots, his input in New York and Philadelphia as defensive coordinator and a linebackers and defensive backs coach has yielded some impressive returns.
As Philadelphia’s defensive backs coach, Spagnuolo was part of a group that spent three picks in the first two rounds on cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown as well as safety Michael Lewis. All turned into above average starters for the Eagles.
When he moved to linebackers coach, Spagnuolo was part of a group that drafted Chris Gocong and Omar Gaither, a pair of productive players who have started or still start for Philadelphia.
After taking over the defensive coordinator duties in New York, the Giants seemed to develop a knack for drafting talented defensive backs.
In 2007, the team took cornerback Aaron Ross and defensive tackle Jay Alford, a pair of young cornerstones for the defense. Last year, safety Kenny Phillips and cornerback Terrell Thomas were the choices.
Spagnuolo’s defensive history has not yet been any kind of distraction, according to Devaney. In fact, Devaney says Spagnuolo has been open minded to all possibilities and hasn’t pushed for help on either side of the ball in particular.

“Steve has been in every scouting meeting that we’ve had,” Devaney said. “He’s been there every step of the way. I think he has a great grasp on the personality of this draft, what our needs are going into it. Again, I couldn’t be more pleased to be in the position right now. I feel really comfortable that we’re in a place now where we can make great decisions.”

After the draft, the Rams will hold two more minicamps and the usual amount of organized team activities before the usual pre-training camp hiatus.
For as long and arduous as just getting to this point has been, though, Spagnuolo expects training camp to be here before we know it. He, for one, can’t wait.
“We are getting close because it’s the draft now but before that, it’s like this,” Spagnuolo said, snapping his fingers. “I know we are going to be at training camp and away we go. It will be like ‘What happened? Where’d the last five or six months go?’ it’s something every day, the days just drop and you turn around and another month has gone by. But it’s been fun.”