Danny O'Neil covers the Seahawks for The Seattle Times.
February 23, 2009 12:51 PM
Posted by Danny O'Neil
INDIANAPOLIS - Red carpets are for grand entrances. It was red coats, however, waiting at the entrance to the NFL Scouting Combine.
They were the guideposts. The fellows who checked the credentials required for admittance and who would later confiscate food and they were also positioned to make sure no reporters wandered outside one specific room and hallway. In other words, to reporters from going anywhere near those activities that the NFL executives and coaches from all 32 teams were in town to see.
The scouting combine is a strange little island in the sea of professional sports where 330 different 20-somethings flew to Indianapolis in the dead of winter. Their goal: knock the socks off prospective employers. Meanwhile, coaches and executives come to inspect the most affordable cuts of meat in the league in hopes of carving out the best selection of the assembled mass of athletic humanity when the draft rolls around in February.
And as weird as all that is, the slice that reporters get to see is even weirder, cordoned off in a small part of the building - prevented from watching any of the workouts save for two two-hour intervals on the fourth day. What reporters do get is a chance to talk to pretty much every draft prospect, most of the coaches and at least half the general managers in the league.
So here's what I learned:
6 things I know
1. Offensive tackle Andre Smith answered questions with hands in pockets, admittedly hadn't been at his pre-selected athletic training facility for three or four weeks before what amounted to his biggest NFL job interview and then left without telling anybody. I just kept thinking that if that's the way he acted before he was gainfully employed, imagine what the man might be like after he cashes a signing bonus check with seven figures before the decimal point.
2. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has kind of crooked smile that is totally and completely awesome. It's a cocksure grin that is pure athletic confidence. He also has a stress fracture in a foot that may or may not end up being a big deal, but we'll get to that later.
3. My expert eye-ball test picked up the following details: Eugene Monroe, the tackle from Virginia, has broad shoulders and an impressive physique, but his legs were skinnier than I expected for a left tackle. Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was a little more stout than I imagined, which is a good thing because his size is considered a question. USC linebacker Rey Malauaga was thoughtful, self-deprecating and seemed very much like someone who knows it's not what you say, but how you play, that makes a linebacker's legacy.
4. Quarterack Mark Sanchez looks like Vince from "Entourage."
4. There was a whole lot of conversation in the media room about the impressions people had of something that won't have a darn thing to do with winning a single football game: interview skills.
Multiple reporters were simply incredulous that Ole Miss tackle Michael Oher had not read the best-selling book that Michael Lewis had written about him. His literacy was jokingly questioned. Reading that book, I'm fairly certain Oher did not read the book because he was not interested in reading an intellectualized explanation of why a kid who grew up a disposable member of Memphis' underclass suddenly was discovered to be a perfect fit for one of the most well-paid jobs in all of sports. Oher was even asked if his background - a homeless and undereducated youth who was adopted in high school - would hurt him in terms of draft selection.
"How could it hurt me?" Oher said. "What do you mean by that? I think it should be all about the performance on the field and how I play as a player."
On the flip side, Wake Forest's Aaron Curry conducted an interview that was the absolute hit of the combine. The man was well spoken, charismatic as he drew laughs and tugged heartstrings. When the interview was over, one reporter jokingly whether the collected mass of media should applaud. Another asked whether he could be picked on the spot. As a reporter, I love a good interview as much as anyone. It's fun to ask questions of someone who is engaged and lively and enjoys talking about himself, and I wish Curry well. He seems like a fine dude, and there are plenty of people who consider him one of the best two or three players available in this draft, but that's more likely because he plays like a heat-seeking missile than his personality in an interview.
Imagine what Walter Jones' combine interview was like? It's conceivable he mumbled all answers and never used any more than six words in any one response. And after covering Jones for four years I can safely say that the way the man answers questions has exactly nothing to do with how he plays.
Lofa Tatupu is a lousy interview, and that's no reflection on his performance or even his personality. He's great in a conversation. He's funny, whip-smart with his retorts and unafraid to honestly engage in a question, but if you put him in front of a camera, his personality is suddenly neutered. He is nothing like the person that has been elected captain of the defense for three years running.
6. The dumbest question possible was asked repeatedly: What do you hope to accomplish here? Hmmm. What do you think? Every player was here to make an impression, put on a show and answer any questions about speed or athleticism. Every player was here to do his best*. (*The lone possible exception was of Andre Smith of Alabama, see above.)
I spent four eight-hour days in a single room going to podium to computer to podium. I talked to players from the state of Washington, players the Seahawks might be interested in drafting and players who were interesting like Patrick Chung, the Oregon safety who began college at age 16, or Jarron Gilbert, the San Jose State defensive end who's able to jump out of a pool.
It was interesting and a great chance to talk to those players who will the central characters in the debates and decisions that are part of every draft, but it didn't answer all my questions. Not even close.
[Note: A previously ill-advised list of petty complaints was included by a sleep-deprived Danny O'Neil. He came to his senses and deleted it. Especially the part about security guards throwing away his food.]