By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
The interview game: On the first day of the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month, new Browns GM Ray Farmer talked of the importance of face-to-face interviews with the top prospects.
“You really want to get a chance to truly interact with the player,” Farmer said. “The number one thing at any of these events is really to get a good takeaway of the person. Everyone’s talent has kind of spoken for itself. You’ve watched the film. There’s no more football being played. These guys have been judged on how they play football. The athletic gifts and the tools they’ll display on the field are really just confirmation of what your eyes saw. What you really want to look for in these events is to truly get to the core character of the kid.”
Every team was permitted formal, 15-minute interviews with up to 60 players at the Combine. As it turned out, the Browns did not devote a single interview to a quarterback, which, presumably, is their No. 1 priority in the draft.
How could this be? What are they doing? Why would they waste their time interviewing prospects at positions other than the most important one on the field?
The likely explanation is that the Browns will reserve their time with quarterbacks for the individual visits closer to the May 8 draft, when teams are permitted up to 30 player visits to their facility. In those visits, the Browns can have each of the top quarterback prospects run through their gauntlet of football and psychological questioning without the constraints of a 15-minute time limit.
These longer sessions will give the quarterbacks ample time to ponder the now-infamous query reportedly posed by the Browns to some prospects at the Combine: "How many different things can you think of that you can do with a paper clip?"
A cottage industry evolves: This whole over-psychoanalysis of draft prospects probably can be traced back to Ryan Leaf, the No. 2 pick after Peyton Manning in the 1998 draft who blew up as perhaps the biggest draft bust in NFL history.
“He exhibited a lot of behavior that people thought should have been determined before the draft, and wasn’t,” said an NFL source deeply involved in the draft process for many years.
After the Leaf experience, teams began dedicating time and resources to psychoanalyzing prospects more closely. Face-to-face interviews were conducted for the purpose of extracting hints of a player’s character and psychological makeup that may foretell future success or failure.
Unsuspecting prospects were subjected to not one or two coaches in an interview but to five to nine team representatives, including, at times, a team psychologist. The interview was videotaped and broken down like a game video.
As teams became more sophisticated in conducting their job interviews, so too did the prospects. Agents started training clients for the pressure-packed 15-minute interviews, ostensibly to avoid bombing out and costing themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in draft position.
About 12 years ago, retired NFL team executive Ken Herock (Raiders, Bucs and Falcons) saw a real market and started his own company, Pro Prep, to prepare prospects for the grueling pre-draft interview process.
Herock said he has about 20 agents as clients and worked this year with 80 draft prospects – all that he can handle in his one-man shop.
“I’ll take a kid and train him right from the beginning of the process, starting with how to walk into the room, just like he would for a job interview with IBM or Coca-Cola,” Herock said. “I will address every question they may be asked.
“I train my guys not to be robots. I want them to be natural. When they answer a question, I don’t want them saying the same damn thing.”
Herock said he is prepped on a player’s background by his agent. If there are off-field incidents in the player’s history, Herock will pepper the player with the same questions he will hear in the team interviews. He also preps the prospect on specific football questions he may encounter. If the player is deficient in explaining plays, he receives tutoring from a coach retained by Herock.
There is also training for the off-the-wall questions like the one purportedly posed by the Browns.
“I tell them, ‘You will hear some dumb questions, and they mean nothing. Just respond naturally. That question will have no importance,’” Herock said.
“I heard one question, ‘Would you rather be a dog or a cat?’ Those kind of questions, that’s a neophyte asking those questions. I don’t know their point. You’re not there to stump the players. You’re there to find out information.”
Back to the quarterbacks: At the Combine, the training received by the top quarterbacks was evident in their mass interviews with the football media.
Johnny Manziel sought to dispel his image as a selfish partier off the field and a schoolyard scrambler on the field. He spoke at length about his commitment to his team and also to a commitment to stay in the pocket more as a pro.
And Blake Bortles sought to depict himself as the anti-Manziel. He used the word “trustworthy” to describe himself five times in a 15-minute press conference.
The Browns will sort out Manziel and Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr and the other QBs in their personal visits closer to the draft. Whether or not the Browns wasted their 15 minutes at the Combine with these prospects is an issue that comes with the territory of Farmer being a first-timer in the role of GM.
“NFL fans for some reason enjoy seeing how the sausage is made,” said the league source, who has represented quarterbacks. “What does it matter, as long as their team gets the result right? I just want to have a good kosher beef dog. I don’t care how it’s made.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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