'The NFL Beat': Senior Bowl Recap

And a li'l Super news

'The NFL Beat': Senior Bowl Recap

This is "The NFL Beat" and this morning I heard one media member ask New York Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin a three-part question about the Super Bowl coin flip. Yes, the coin flip.  

I am not going to torture you with more Super Bowl coverage. I'll leave that to every talking head on television and the resident genius sitting in the cube next to you at work. (Tell him I personally demand he quit eating those smelly tuna sandwiches at lunch.) I will say that in my initial analysis of the final four teams, history said we were most likely to have a Giants/Patriots Super Bowl, and those same historical indicators would point toward the Giants winning it all. The Giants also seem to be the en vogue pick right now, as many analysts are siding with the "hot team" and the "best defense." I'm personally off of that bandwagon.

Last night I watched a replay of Patriots QB Tom Brady's 2002 Super Bowl XXXVI MVP performance. The video looked terrible. It was grainy with no HD. There were limited camera angles and old-school-looking text boxes for scores and time clocks. It made me realize something that we often forget: Tom Brady, while still at the prime of his career, has been at this for a long time. Furthermore, it is very rare that he gets the psychological advantage of knowing that many are doubting his team. I think Brady and the Patriots come out Sunday like gangbusters.

Prediction: Patriots 35 - Giants 27 in a game that is not as close as the score would indicate.

After the season ends on Sunday, a whole new season begins. NFL Draft Season. This is the Beat we will be marching to today. The Senior Bowl was played on Saturday in the weekend between the NFL Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl. The Senior Bowl game represents the culmination of months of independent preparation by players, and one week of monitored practices in front of more than 800 NFL coaches, scouts, and front office personnel. It's like the Eminem song "Lose Yourself" minus the part about puking up your Mom's spaghetti on your sweater. I was in Mobile, Ala., last week covering every bit of it.

I am a rock and roller. Most of our loyal "NFL Beat" readers know that I am far more used to being on the "answering side" of interview questions than I am being on the "asking side." I have been asked some odd questions by music reporters and lifestyle bloggers during the last eight years of my life touring with a major-label rock act, but nothing could prepare me for the line of questioning that I heard NFL scouts asking prospects during player interviews.

If you have ever attended an NFL scouting event as a member of the media, you know that scouts and NFL execs ask prospects some of the strangest questions. Their job is to get the most information they can on behalf of their teams prior to their organization making an investment in the player, and rightfully so. If you are going to be paying a 22-year-old millions of dollars, you want to extract as much intel as you can on the individual. The questions they ask are not of the media/tee-it-up-for-a-great-answer variety.

Let me set the stage for you: scouts, coaches, GMs, execs and media are all ushered into their designated area for viewing of the one hour, 15 minute practice, twice daily. The North squad practices before lunch, the South squad after lunch. As you look around at practice, it is obvious to tell who is who. Scouts are adorned in their team gear while head coaches and owners are very visible despite their best efforts to "blend in." NFL super agents such as Drew Rosenhaus and Tom Condon sit anxiously in the bleachers to view their newly-signed prospects, their Bluetooth ear pieces solidly connecting their brain to the outside world. After the final horn is blown to end the last special-teams drill, everyone joins the players on the field to begin the media portion of practice. Agents pat their prospects on the back, telling them how great they did and notifying them of which scouts have asked for interviews. When a player is being interviewed by a team, it is bad form for a media member to interrupt for obvious reasons. This is a job opportunity for these kids and the interview process should not be sacrificed in any way by some idiot asking the kid how he is enjoying Mobile so far, or what he thinks his 40 time will be at the NFL Scouting Combine. Yet, as an alumni of the University of Texas Psychology program, and the son of an expert in corporate psychometric models and advanced interviewing tactics, I could not help but stop and listen in on some of these very interesting exchanges.

The first real question you will hear in many of these interviews is whether the prospect came from a single-parent or a two-parent home. If they come from a one-parent home, they will ask which parent they lived with and follow with seemingly random details about their estranged parental figure’s character and details pertaining to the reasons for the separation. If for some reason, one of their parents is (or has been) incarcerated, this opens up a whole new floodgate of questions. These are tough things for a kid to answer without feeling kinda freaked out. Things like whether their mother is a good cook, and what their favorite meal is that she makes. One scout asked one prospect if they had any family friends who they are not related to, but who they call their “uncle." (Whatever that means.) I heard one prospect from a two-parent home asked which parent he felt he had the “better relationship with." The Saints ask prospects whether they are a dog person or a cat person. I heard one prospect asked when the last time he visited the dentist was. Boise State QB Kellen Moore was asked by one scout who he would rather meet: Christopher Columbus or William Shakespeare. You simply can’t make this stuff up.

These are not questions to put the player at ease with small talk. They are gathering information about the type of home environment the prospect grew up in. These lines of questioning are awkward, but lend insight into how the players have been taught to take care of themselves and others with whom they are in relationships. It also lets them know whether the prospect is likely to have developed healthy eating and lifestyle habits among other developmental markers socially and cognitively. Another common tactic is to "bait" the prospect. I heard one scout ask a player this week if he was still smoking marijuana “all the time” while another asked one high-profile prospect why he shaved the hair off his arms.

This borders on offensive, which is exactly what they are going for. I heard one player (from a major Division 1 team) told by a scout that no real playmakers ever come from (their school). These are not the worst I have heard of, though. I was so taken aback by some of the questions I was hearing that I sought feedback from various scouts and senior media professionals.

One well-known beat writer told me a prospect had reported having been asked if he was gay because he had long hair.

Jeff Ireland of the Miami Dolphins made headlines two years ago when he asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute.

These questions are needling, and are thought to be used to judge how the player will be able to handle the media’s competitive beat coverage that is always looking to steer players toward providing them a headline with a hasty retort. It also shows a level of maturity in being able to answer tough and seemingly pointless questions in an even-keel and respectful manner. If I was applying for a multimillion dollar job, I would answer whatever they asked. Something tells me these players' agents have advised them to do just that.

A Few More Notes Coming out of Senior Bowl Week
Not necessarily earth-shattering news here, but one of our RosterWatch founders Byron Lambert was told by Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins during Senior Bowl week that Cousins will throw at the combine and do “anything that is asked of him”.

It was our (very unpopular) opinion that Cousins was the best QB prospect of the group coming into the week, and was indeed the QB who elevated his draft stock most at the Senior Bowl. He showed consummate maturity as a leader, putting his previously underrated arm, footwork, and delivery on display for coaches, media, and scouts alike all week. He is the No. 4 QB on my initial draft board after Andrew Luck of Stanford, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M. Many others in the draft community are beginning to share the same sentiment; placing Cousins in the position I had him pegged at all along that was most notably attached to Arizona QB Nick Foles coming into Senior Bowl practices.

All three QBs we have ranked above Cousins are questionable at best to throw at the combine. Luck’s camp has indicated that it is very likely that he will let his body of work speak for itself and abstain from throwing drills. His No. 1 status is already sealed and he stands to gain nothing. Griffin will likely have a great pro day throwing to his super-stud WR Kendall Wright and choose to rest on that performance. Tannehill will still be recovering from foot surgery at the time and is unlikely to be able to do any working out in late February, period.

This leaves Cousins in a position of possibly being the top QB prospect to participate in throwing drills at the Combine, which represents a golden opportunity to continue to build upon his burgeoning draft stock as a high-end prospect for success at the next level.

Michigan DL Mike Martin is a beast. I believe he is the player who made himself the most money during Senior Bowl week. He plans on breaking the NFL Scouting Combine record of 49 reps on bench press (225 pounds) later this month. We were at the bar watching the AFC Championship during the NFL’s welcome reception during Senior Bowl Week when Martin walked through. Byron and I both said the same thing: “This guy looks a like a freaking bear – who is he?" At the National Scouting Weigh-in, there were four players who stood out above the rest based on freakish physical stature alone; these were Texas LB Keenan Robinson, Alabama DE Courtney Upshaw, Boise RB Doug Martin, and of course Mike Martin. Martin is not as tall as some teams would like, but he has the sturdiest 6’1", 307-pound frame you can imagine. He’s a former wrestler, and uses his leverage like a monster against double-teams. He’s a two-shade nose that gets deep penetration on virtually every snap and shows an excellent motor. He has uncanny hole awareness and uses his positioning to make tackles that others would simply give up on. He is a nightmare for opposing linemen in the trenches, but also represents a nightmare for opposing backs to scout tape on because of his adept, seemingly natural ability to never let plays develop in the same gaps consistently.

During the week of practice, the Senior Bowl is a convention for media, agents, scouts, NFL owners, GMs, and NFL assistant and head coaches. Playing on a defensive line that was getting orders barked at it by Vikings LB Coach Mike Singletary, Martin shined in practice all week as he did in the game. He interviewed so well that every single scout I talked to could not say enough great things about him.

I came into the Senior Bowl not knowing much about Mike Martin, and based on his tapes, would have graded him as a fourth-round prospect. In my latest mock draft, I have Martin going early in the second round to the Kansas City Chiefs, who are in dire need of interior help on defense and an additional running back.

[Alex Dunlap is the host of RosterWatch on 104.9FM ESPN Radio Austin, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and a featured expert contributor to the FantasyPros.com network. He is also an NFL draft analyst for PlayTheDraft.com.]

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