The NFL Combine kicks off on February 17th. The scouts and coaches are going to congregate in Indianapolis in the great meat market to try and find players worth using their valuable draft choices on. The Underwear Olympics will have us all poring over times, measurements, and hoping to find out about medical reports. But the things that can be evaluated with tape measures and stop watches are not the only thing going on.
Combine is basically four categories: Testing, medicals, measurements and interviews. Prospects w/ most to gain/lose: http://t.co/s6czhZpW4R— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 13, 2015
The interview is at least as valuable a tool for evaluation as any of the other three parts. This is where representatives of the teams get to sit down and talk one on one to the prospects. It can be of great importance in deciding if this is a player to put on the team's board, since great talent can be offset by a player who has the wrong attitude or is just not sharp enough to play the game at the NFL level.
The Dallas Cowboys put a great emphasis on finding players with the right mental makeup and approach to the game. This is a key part of the RKG profile that Jason Garrett has used to build his roster. They may not always find what they are looking for, but for the most part the process has worked out.
We don't know how the Cowboys approach the interviews. We do know that the ones at the Combine are limited in time, unlike when the team has its 30 national invitees and the Dallas Days players in. And we all like to imagine what we would do if we were part of the management or coaching staff, so I thought it would be interesting to try and figure out what kinds of things the team might want to find out during their interviews. Here are some possible questions to ask, and why.
What were your responsibilities on the field in college? This is to try and see how close the player's assignments were to what he would have in the NFL. It is also a way to get an idea of the football IQ of the player.
What was your typical week of practice and preparation for a game? This is looking to find out a little about the work ethic and motivation the player has. Did he spend some extra time on film study? Was he willing to put in the hours, or is he someone who tended to rely more on his athleticism to make up for poor technique or lack of preparation? You would likely probe a little to find out if the player was content to just show up and put in the minimum, or if they have a little fire in their belly to excel.
Did you tend to be early or late for meetings and practice? Obviously you are looking for the level of responsibility the player exhibited. This will need to be backed up by what the scouts may be able to find out to see if the player is also being straight with you.
Can you be a contributor on special teams? This is more relevant for the players off the line of scrimmage. Since rookies often will have their most impact as teams players, you want to know if the prospect is willing to make his mark initially there. Find out what experience he had on teams in college, if any. It would be very helpful to be able to read the nonverbals here to make sure that the player is not just saying what he thinks you want to hear.
Who on the team do you look up to or want to try to emulate? Of course this is going to be affected a good bit by how closely the prospect follows the Cowboys, or perhaps even the NFL in general. If he is not really familiar with the team, that is not necessarily a mark against him if he was just someone who focused more on his opponents than the pros. But if he does have a favorite Cowboy, it is interesting to see who it is, and why.
What do you do in your off time? OK, the smart ones will probably see the trap here, but you do want to find out if partying is a big deal to the player or not. I'm not going to mention a certain Cleveland Browns player, but someone who is more famous for their drinking and the girls they pick up is not someone that you want to have high on your board.
What do you do in situation X? This is where you have something canned for each position. Again, you are trying to get a feel for the football IQ. You might ask a wide receiver what they do when the quarterback is forced out of the pocket. You want to see not only what his instincts might be, but how he was coached, to perhaps get a read for what he might need to unlearn. Coaching them out of the bad habits they might have been taught is going to have to be done for many players, given how different the college and pro games are.
How does the prospect react to coaching? Here again you would need something canned, in this case for each individual. This is where you take some flaw or weakness in the game, and tell him what you would work on with him if he was drafted. This is a pretty blatant attempt to see if he will react defensively or show some push back. You don't want players who think they don't need to improve.
That's one man's opinion on how to approach the prospects. No cute questions or real mind games, just sticking to football and what kind of player he is. During all the questions, you are of course watching demeanor and attitude. It is not going to be very in depth and you have to rely on first impressions, but you also are trying to see how the player matches up with what is on video and the information the scouts may already have gathered on them.
Are these the questions you would ask? What else might you want to know if you were sitting across from a player as part of the Cowboys' staff? Let us know in the comments.