Vikings coach Brad Childress and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman sat high above the playing surface at Ladd-Peebles stadium in Mobile, Ala., on Wednesday talking about everything from Childress' new incognito look to the advantages of interviewing players at the Senior Bowl this week.
With a scruffy beard and visor that made it look like he had a full head of platinum-dye hair, Childress sat on the bleachers on one side of the stadium. On the other side were most of his assistant coaches, viewing an artificial field with nearly 50 players from the South team. As the seniors went through their practice, Childress and Spielman seemed satisfied with what they had accomplished in the previous two nights. The staff of front-office personnel, assistant coaches and scouts had interviewed and tested nearly every player there.
Their mission was simple: "Seeing how a guy is wired," as Childress terms it – basically running one player after another through the gauntlet of questions about his playing abilities, his football knowledge and anything else they want to learn about a potential draft pick in April.
"It's a first, but we're going to touch these kids a lot of different times through the process here. It's not just a form (to fill out)," Childress said. "There are some guidelines of information that you need to get, but you are also trying to glean as much information as you can about who he is based on how he plays. Film is your resume, but you want to know how a guy is wired – how does he communicate, speak. You're trying to gain some things about, your sense of his intelligence."
Spielman and his staff of scouts had already been at the East-West Shrine game and will be attending the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game as well. But the Senior Bowl is probably the largest and most important pre-draft all-star game. Each team is well-represented by their scouting staff, coaching staff or, in most cases, both.
While the Raiders reportedly don't interview any players at the Senior Bowl, Spielman believes in taking advantage of every opportunity along the way to get to better know the players, from the all-star games to the NFL Scouting Combine in late February to the pro days in March and April to the individual workouts to the predraft visits.
Both Spielman and Childress agreed that the earlier they can talk to the draft-eligible players, the better.
"We try to get as much of the stuff done here and then when we get to the Combine, we try to get everybody there," Spielman said. "We'll circle back around once we start formulating what we're look at in the draft and what we want to do. A lot of it is we'll circle back in the spring when we go out to these workouts with coaches, start talking to coaches on the phone and verify some of this stuff on the impression you got talking to the kid. A lot of these kids will get polished up by agents."
That process has already started, but the Vikings hope they can throw a few curve balls at the players during their meeting that might catch them off guard and force them into an unrehearsed answer. They also aren't limited in the number of interviews they can conduct in Mobile or the time of those interviews.
Once at the Scouting Combine, teams are limited to 60 formal interviews of 15 minutes each. Conducting interviews at the Senior Bowl gives the Vikings an opportunity for follow-up interviews if needed.
Part of the process involves testing a player's football knowledge.
"There are a lot of different ways that test football intelligence. There are a lot of different methods that everybody has, just like everything else, just different ways to get a feel for if a kid knows it or not. That particular method, we'll give them three particular plays and then erase them and then have the kids redraw them," Spielman said.
Said Childress: "Usually you try to teach them something so they can learn it and then (it's), ‘Talk to us about something you know. Let's see what you know. Tell us about the defense you played or the play you ran or your favorite play."
It's all part of the way the Vikings evaluate players. This week it's been all about the seniors, which, according to some draft analysts, will only make up about half of the first round. With the underclassmen deadline to declare for the draft last week, Spielman and his crew will have to circle back to Winter Park (they leave Thursday morning) to start that process.
His draft board, started in a December meeting with scouts, will be significantly altered when nearly 50 underclassmen are added to the mix.
"We didn't talk about the juniors. We had initial meetings in December with all our scouts coming in, just to do the seniors," Spielman said. "We'll come back and go to the Combine. Now we'll start that process and add the juniors into the mix."
And get ready for another round of interviews as the evaluation process continues.
Vikings take advantage of early interviews
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