Scouting Staff Spending Key Week At Senior Bowl

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2007 Senior Bowl Info:

Date: January 27, 2007

Kickoff: 3 p.m. CT

Stadium: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (40,646)

Television: NFL Network Coverage (Jan. 22-27)

Web site: www.seniorbowl.com

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Preparation for the 2007 NFL Draft makes a significant shift into high gear for the Green Bay Packers' scouting staff this week.

A team of 13 members of the organization, including all of the Packers' college and pro scouts, have descended on Mobile, Ala., for Senior Bowl week to watch the top senior talent go head-to-head in practices and in the annual game, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 27, at 3 p.m. CT.

"It's a big week for a lot of seniors," said pro personnel assistant Tim Terry, a former NFL linebacker. "I remember when I was coming out of college, that's the biggest college all-star game. All the pro scouts will be there, and guys have a forum to really showcase their talents.

"You see how guys handle that spotlight. Some guys can handle it and do well, some guys can cave in under pressure."

The Packers take a very systematic approach to their evaluation process. Each scout in Mobile is assigned to a specific position group, and he watches both the North and South teams practice each day, Monday through Thursday, taking copious notes.

At the end of each day, the group meets to discuss all the players and what they observed. Evaluations then continue upon returning to Green Bay at the end of the week, watching film of the practices and the games and taking more notes to compare with those from watching live.

Ultimately, each scout or personnel staff member is responsible for writing reports on every player in his assigned position group, and that information is used to supplement what will be gathered in late February at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The Combine generally attracts more media attention, but Senior Bowl week is equally important because the players are being coached by NFL staffs. The 49ers and Buccaneers are running the practices this year.

"I think it's valuable because they're doing more football stuff this week," pro personnel assistant Eliot Wolf said. "Watching practice you can see how they compete, how they react."

And, unlike in their regular college practices but similar to an NFL training camp, they're battling against top talent day after day.

"This whole setting is pretty much a football setting, seeing how they take the coaching, see if they can take it from the chalkboard to the field," Terry said. "We'll get that as best we can from a distance.

"You want to see how good guys compete against other good guys, whether you change from Monday to Thursday, the practice days. Do you start out good and get better, or do you start out good and go down?"

Senior Bowl week is also the first real chance to find a diamond in the rough, such as a small-school player who hasn't been seen against the top Division I talent.

Two years ago, Packers safety Nick Collins was an injury replacement in the Senior Bowl, and a somewhat little-known prospect out of Division I-AA Bethune-Cookman. But he held his own at the Senior Bowl, and the Packers ended up selecting him in the second round of the 2005 Draft.

"The way he competed, it showed athletically against the top receivers in the country," Wolf said. "It helped his stock that much more. He's a good example. I wasn't even there, but I remember watching film of (him during Senior Bowl week) and saying, 'OK, this guy can play.'"

{sportsad300}A couple of small-school prospects who may get some attention from NFL teams this week are offensive lineman Joe Staley from Central Michigan and defensive back Kevin Payne from Louisiana-Monroe.

Other players who are evaluated closely include offensive stars who may have played in an unconventional offense, such as Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb. He had a strong college career playing in the shotgun with five wide receivers on a regular basis, but scouts will get a look at him in a pro-style offense for a week in Mobile.

Last year, one player who rose to the occasion at the Senior Bowl was Iowa linebacker Abdul Hodge, and the Packers ended up drafting him in the third round.

"You could see how he stood out in practice and established himself as a leader, taking charge a little bit," Terry said. "The same guy we saw out on the practice field out there was the same guy you saw on tape and the same guy we saw in practice here."

The college scouts have seen many of these players throughout the season in practices and in games. But for the pro scouts like Wolf and Terry, whose primary job it is to evaluate talent already at the pro level, the Senior Bowl gives them their first chance to see many of the young players who will make up NFL rosters the following year.

And even if a player isn't drafted or initially signed by the Packers, those with favorable reports will still be watched closely in case they don't stick with their first NFL team. Linebacker Spencer Havner out of UCLA was a player Terry remembered seeing at the Senior Bowl last year, and the Packers signed him to their practice squad in October after he was released by Washington following the preseason. Havner was signed to a reserve/future contract by the Packers at season's end.

"I don't think it's an exact science, but you hope you can make a good assessment on some of the guys while you're down there," Terry said.

Doing due diligence is the task at hand.

"The whole process is just to gather as much information as possible, and off that make the best decision possible on draft day," Wolf said. "This is an excellent tool to do that."

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