Draw of the Senior Bowl

With a total of 26 former Senior Bowl players named to this year's AFC and NFC Pro Bowl rosters, only the NFL Combines in Indianapolis provides more intelligence into the selection process that is the NFL Draft.

Of the 96 players taken on the first day of the 2005 NFL Draft, 44 partook in the Senior Bowl festivities in Mobile.

"Each of the players here understand this is an opportunity," Tennessee Titans and North Squad head coach Jeff Fischer said. "They understand they are the best and this is an opportunity to grab some eyes in pursuit of their life-long dream to play in the National Football League."

The Senior Bowl differs from its Combines counterpart in that the coaches and scouts get to see how a player practices, and the old saying that many head coaches adhere to is, "practice as you play."

It is also a chance to spend time getting to know the individual players without being constrained to 15 minutes in Indianapolis.

The Senior Bowl selection process has its pitfalls with players turning down their invitations but the talent is unquestioned.

Eighty-three players who went to the Senior Bowl in 2005 ended up being drafted. In total, 97 players were initially invited with a few more injury replacements sprinkled in.

Tennessee went Senior Bowl heavy, selecting six players from the roster and this year they get to coach one of those squads! The Washington Redskins were equally fond of the week-long events, also selecting six players.

"Our staff looks at this as a resource," Fischer explained, noting his Titans owned 13 draft selections last year. "We, obviously, look at this week very, very closely and I think one can assume because of the relationship we have with the players that we will have a better feel. We are going to look at not only what they have done on the field but the relationships, personalities and character off of the field."

Don't think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers enjoyed their spot in the sun? They selected a Senior Bowl participant in each of the first four rounds last year, then took a one-round break before selecting another Senior Bowl member in the sixth.

By contrast, the Oakland Raiders did not find as much usefulness with the Mobile contingent, taking just two players, but at least they were from the team that they coached.

The Indianapolis Colts did not select a single Senior Bowl player but getting knocked out of the playoffs will allow them prime pickings of this year's crop. Other teams that did not have one Senior Bowl player join their rosters include: the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans.

With only three teams out of 32 going in another direction for various reasons last year, the players are clearly auditioning for the masses.

The staff of NFL teams comes in knowing that the practices will be run crisply, giving them a chance to look at every player on the field. A long look at a prospective draftee is granted and they can follow that up with a lengthy interview, accompanied by the quirky questionnaires.

"They put a lot into the player they select so I understand they have to be thorough in the process," Senior Bowl participant Martin Nance, a wide receiver out of Miami (OH), explained.

The more players realize that this is the best opportunity to shine on and off the field, the more players that will end up with a phone call on Draft Day in April.

"Don't let us see you sweat," one AFC scout offered. "In other words, if you are tired and can barely stand, play like this is the your last play. Hard work gets you noticed."

And that is the predominate trait that will elevate some and diminish the value of others. The game means less to these scouts and coaches as they are often on plane rides out of town three days before the Senior Bowl game actually is played. Monday through Wednesday is the time to get dirty for these players. Good practice habits and being yourself during the interview process could land them in their favorite NFL market.

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