Road Warriors

I have always felt that the two most under appreciated individuals in pro football are officials and scouts. There should be a wing in the Hall of Fame for both because without them the game would not be as good.

In the high glamour world of pro football, it is the players and coaches who get the lion's share of the credit and the huge salaries. Not much attention is given to the gentlemen who find the players out on the road. Such is the life of an NFL scout. Long car rides, hurried flight connections, cheap motel rooms and fast meals are the norm as is lonely nights writing reports into the wee hours of the morning.

Much like many other NFL personnel, a scout's season begins with training camp. At camp, a scout's responsibility is to evaluate his own team's personnel as well as other NFL team's personnel during the preseason. Teams are always scouring other teams' rosters for guys that might be let go who would be nice fits for the bottom of the roster spots on their own team. During training camp personnel meetings, coaches and scouts can learn to be on the same page as to what type of player is needed at each position. Teams that win are ones that find role players that fit your scheme but may not be a fit for another team. Frank Wycheck was a player that did not fit the Redskins scheme as an on-line tight end, but I felt comfortable that he would fit well in our scheme as an H-back with the team I was scouting for at the time (Oilers).

In addition to scouting duties during camp, scouts finalize their fall college scouting schedule. Each team breaks down the country in regional areas and a scout is responsible for all schools in his assigned region. Scouts stay in that area year after year as they become more and more familiar with the programs and coaches in that area. It's important that there are no gaps and that all prospects are looked at.

There are two scouting organizations that are used by NFL teams, better known as scouting combines. They are National and Blesto. There are a few teams that belong to neither scouting combine, electing to handle it all on their own. The Raiders have always been mavericks in this regard and have been the only team to never take part in a scouting combine organization. The organizations are usually referred to as combines because the scouting information is combined and used as a starting base for all the teams belonging to the organization. Every school in the United States and Canada that plays football is covered and if there is a prospect worth looking at, they are put on a list and the member teams will look at the player during the fall and determine whether further scouting work is needed.

The Scouting Combine jobs are more of a clearinghouse. It is their job to obtain background information on each senior prospect, both personal and football related. They also measure, weigh, time and test all senior players. Along with this brief description of football, playing ability is recorded.

By having a verified height, weight, 40-yard timed speed, Wonderlic mental test score, arm and hand measurement along with a brief description, you have a good idea if he is worth looking at by a team scout.

The early part of a scout's schedule, usually in late August, revolves around looking at small college prospects and major college two-a-day practices. With colleges only being allowed to practice 20 hours a week during the season, not much hitting is going on during the regular season, making it all the more important to see them "go live" in two-a-day practices. If a small college player looks good on junior film or early fall senior practices, he might warrant a further look again in the fall.

Arrive early, stay up late
Once a scout gets into the meat of his fall schedule, the days are remarkably similar to each other. A scout will arrive at the football office by 8 a.m. (earlier if coaches are in) and begin watching film on all the senior prospects at that school. Some time will be spent talking to the position coaches, coordinators, strength coaches, trainers, academic advisors and sometimes head coaches. Most college coaches usually enjoy visiting with scouts as their schedule permits. Football people tend to know each other and there is a lot of fellowship involved.

Film watching will take place all morning and wind down around 2-3 p.m. when coaches need to use the film room to meet with their players before practice. It is at this time that scouts visit with the strength coach and trainer and sometimes the academic advisor. You have an hour or so to do this prior to practice beginning. After viewing practice, a scout heads onto his next stop (sometimes a good distance away) and proceeds to check into a hotel room and begin writing scouting reports on all the players evaluated that day. Report writing is time consuming and often keeps a scout up to 1-2 a.m. The next morning comes early as he must be in by 8 a.m. the next day for another school visit with the same schedule repeated.

In addition to having an area scout report to a school, a team usually has a cross checking or "over the top" scout that also visits the school. A scouting director may also visit, giving the team as many as three to four exposures to players at that school. By having multiple views on a player, a team gets a better feel for the prospect.

Information gathering
Every team has its own scouting form, but they are all similar in nature. They contain space for basic background information, physical characteristics, and information such as body type, height, weight, etc. General information is usually required for every player such as athletic ability, quickness, agility, balance, height, weight and speed, strength and durability, and instincts and intelligence. This information differs for each position. For example, athletic ability for an offensive lineman is quite different than a wide receiver's athletic ability. Players are compared to others at his position.

After the general information comes the position specific information. For example, when grading a running back, you have to describe in detail all the positive and negative characteristics for each specific category. For a running back, that includes his start, inside running, outside running, run vision, toughness, ball security, run blocking, pass blocking, strength and power as a runner, elusiveness as runner, and hands.

In all of these categories, you must describe in detail what makes them average, above average, below average, poor, good or great in all of these areas. Merely saying they are good means nothing. Details explaining why is the key to a good scouting report.

Certain schools restrict when scouts can make visits to their schools. This makes it difficult for the scout since you cannot get proper exposure to the school's players and it also hurts the players at the school since they are not getting as much exposure to scouts as players at other schools.

Scouts and NFL coaches do not get a chance to meet face-to-face with players until the all-star bowl games, Indianapolis scouting combine, and spring school workouts following their senior season.

After a scout finishes his fall schedule, there are usually December scouting meetings followed by all-star bowl games, the Indianapolis scouting combine, more draft meetings, and spring individual workouts at the college campuses. After the spring workouts, all scouts report to their team's facilities and are locked up in draft meetings until draft day. Upon completion of the draft, scrambling begins to sign undrafted free agents for a day or so. Other than watching some of mini-camp practices in late spring, scouts are usually off until training camp begins in July.

The importance of coaching, and scouting staffs working together cannot be stressed enough. How another team evaluates a player does not matter. What's important is how a player fits into your scheme and roles that you ask for of that position. Knowing how another team evaluates a player is important only for the sake of determining where a player may go round-wise in a draft, thus giving you an indication of where you would need to take him if you were indeed interested in drafting him for your team.

The best organizations for the most part are the ones that work well together but keep their scouting and coaching departments separate. Coaches tend to fall in love or hold grudges against players for personal reasons and it tends to effect their objectivity. They like players that are easy to coach and that is often not the player with the most ability and long range potential. It's important to evaluate the player and the person separately then combine the two to make the final personnel decision. Coaches will also look to the short term as to what will help them win now while scouts tend to see the big picture and future better.

Whatever setup your team chooses to employ, the old saying ‘you can't win without players' is true. We'll always remember this. You can't get the players without good scouts. General managers and head coaches are usually the ones speaking at the press conference. But it is the scouts that do the work for these gentlemen and are the ones that ultimately determine their success or failure.

Chris Landry was a veteran NFL scout of more than 10 years for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns. He currently owns a business where he serves as a college and pro football consultant for a number of NFL teams. He assists universities and NFL teams in their coaching and administrative searches. Landry can be heard nationally on FOX Sports Radio as their college and pro football analyst.

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