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Rams' Senior Bowl View Much Different

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  • Rams' Senior Bowl View Much Different

    Rams' Senior Bowl View Much Different
    Friday, January 22, 2010

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    Aside from the action that takes place on the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., Senior Bowl week can also double as a glorified job fair.

    From the Rams’ perspective, the on-field action at the 2009 Senior Bowl might as well not even have happened.

    A lot can change in a year.

    “It is so different that we were trying to figure out today where is the best vantage point to watch practice which is certainly better than being stuck in a hotel room,” General Manager Billy Devaney said.

    Only hours after hiring Steve Spagnuolo as the team’s head coach, General Manager Billy Devaney and Spagnuolo headed to Mobile with the mission of putting a coaching staff in place.

    That meant that the assembled college prospects were getting the short shrift from Devaney and Spagnuolo. For the better part of the week, that duo was nowhere to be found if you were anywhere but the downtown Mobile hotel room they occupied interviewing various coaching candidates.

    Eventually, Devaney ducked his head out of that hotel room and made his way to the stadium for a practice but that was about all he saw and Spagnuolo never made it over to take in even a minute of one.

    “Last year we were stuck in a hotel room interviewing coaching candidates so that just tells you how much it has changed in a year,” Devaney said.

    This year, the Rams have a whole new approach to the Senior Bowl as they prepare for it to kick off next week in Mobile. The only open position on the coaching staff is wide receivers coach after the departure of Charlie Baggett to the University of Tennessee on Monday.

    It’s possible that Spagnuolo could talk to some candidates in Mobile but the focus will certainly be on the field this time around.

    “Coaches are in places, scouts are in place, we can just focus on football and evaluating players,” Devaney said.

    Senior Bowl week begins in earnest on Monday afternoon with a fully padded practice for both the South and North squads. For the next three days, the teams will practice before Friday’s walk through and Saturday’s game.

    That will be a welcome respite for the team’s coaching and scouting staffs. Of course, the personnel department has been doing its legwork on the incoming prospects for the better part of the past year.

    Those scouts are already well-versed on many of the prospects participating. The coaching staff, on the other hand, is just beginning to embark on learning about the college talent and working toward getting on the same page as the personnel side.

    For the past few weeks, the coaching staff has been looking at potential free agents as well as the players already on the team’s roster. Considering that free agency starts almost two months before the draft, that makes sense logistically.

    But in the days leading up to the Senior Bowl, each position coach will begin looking at film of the players at his position playing next week. That’s the first chance the coaches have to get accustomed to at least a portion of the draft prospects.

    “Now they go down and see them live and come back, look at the Senior Bowl game and then look at more college tape,” Devaney said. “It’s the first look for the coaches and it’s a good place to start.”

    Unlike next month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the Senior Bowl provides a real, up close look of how a player performs with comparable talent around him.

    It is Senior Bowl custom for the majority of the NFL world to descend on Mobile for the first part of the week in which the teams conduct padded practices and then take off on Thursday when the practices shift to shorts and a t-shirt.

    In fact, most teams are already long gone by the time the actual game is played, preferring instead to watch the game tape the Monday following.

    “That’s what is great about the Senior Bowl,” Devaney said. “It’s live now. Guys get hit and guys that maybe didn’t look good when there was contact now they are all of a sudden in shorts and a t-shirt and look like warriors. That doesn’t count. You want to grade a guy when there is live action and he is getting hit in the mouth.”

    Beyond the chance to see players practice against other good players in full pads, it’s also the first opportunity for teams to interview players. The Rams did plenty of that last year with their scouting department but since there was no coaching staff, they missed on that aspect, at least in terms of the Senior Bowl.

    The player interviews for teams also differ greatly from the combine where every aspect of the process has rules including how long you can talk to a player and how the interview process works.

    At the Senior Bowl, there are no appointments, no designated teams. Essentially, it’s a feeding frenzy for teams looking to get a little face time with a player.

    “It’s like the old school combine,” Devaney said. “We interview players down there. But it’s a grab fest. The combine is very organized, there is time, and there are appointments. There are time requirements. It is a free for all down at the Senior Bowl. You just go to the players’ hotel and start grabbing players as you can. But we know all of those guys will be at the combine in a month anyhow so whatever you get interview wise is a bonus.”

    In Devaney’s mind, perhaps the best aspect from a scouting perspective is the opportunity to get a look at some of the small school players in attendance. Those players have earned the right to participate by having excellent college careers but haven’t done it against some of the big-name studs from college football’s elite.

    At the Senior Bowl, though, there is nothing to differentiate anyone aside from the logo on their helmet and everybody plays everybody. At this year’s Pro Bowl players like Massachusetts tackle Vladimir Ducasse, Wayne State running back Joique Bell and The Citadel receiver Andre Roberts will get a chance to show their stuff.

    For those that don’t believe the Senior Bowl can provide a platform for such players to explode on the scene, Devaney offers a tall, skinny kid from Akron who participated in the 1997 Senior Bowl.

    “It seems like just yesterday this kid Jason Taylor, he went down there and nobody could block him,” Devaney said. “He was phenomenal. People knew about Jason Taylor, he was evaluated but he was at Akron and wasn’t facing elite competition. He goes down to the Senior Bowl and he just kicks everybody’s butt. He skyrocketed up people’s board.”

    Taylor went in the third round to Miami and has posted 127.5 sacks on his way to what will likely be a Hall of Fame career.

    It is the opportunity for players like that to make an impact that makes the Senior Bowl such an important link in the NFL Draft chain.

    While some of the big name players opt out of going to Mobile for fear of hurting their stock, Devaney says for most teams that isn’t even a possibility.

    “We don’t, as a rule, downgrade players, if they have a bad week of practice or a bad game,” Devaney said. “If we have three scouts give them high grades through the course of the year, you are certainly not going to change their mind because they had a bad week of practice. There could be any number of reasons why they don’t have a great week of practice or game. That’s not going to negate if they have had three really good years of playing football. Most teams only grade guys higher coming out of this. You can really only help yourself down at these games.”

    Recent examples include current New Orleans defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and Houston linebacker Brian Cushing. Both players were already highly rated but boosted their stock even more and went in the first half of the first round.

    This year, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is the biggest name on the list, with USC safety Taylor Mays and Oklahoma offensive tackle Trent Williams among the other big names in attendance.

    Locally, Missouri receiver Danario Alexander and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will also be making the trek.

    By the time the week is over, no decisions will be made but plenty of players will get a long look. Some will help their stock, some may stay the same and some may jump on the radar.

    Regardless, it’s just the first step in the four-month sprint to April’s NFL Draft.

    “We’ll come back, evaluate the Senior Bowl game and practices, put that to rest and start getting ready for the combine,” Devaney said.

  • #2
    Re: Rams' Senior Bowl View Much Different

    Isaac Bruce = Receivers coach.

    Now spend the time saved doing that scouting out those players!