The annual NFL Scouting Combine is a valuable tool for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers, but not for any of the reasons that will be showcased on the six days worth of programming to be aired on NFL Network.
“The workout warrior is a scary player,” Tomlin has said. “I tell our football team all the time: our tape is a walking, talking, breathing resume. It is. Ultimately we are defined by what’s on tape. No question you can see what somebody is potentially capable of from a workout, but that’s no indication of what they’re willing to do, what kind of football player they are.”
The Steelers long have believed in using the draft as their primary method of acquiring talent and then building their team by developing these players and retaining the good ones through the prime years of their careers. The development part is important, for sure, but the selection part might be more critical because not everybody is willing to be “developed.”
That’s a big part of what the Steelers are looking to do during the run-up to the draft – determining which of the players who possess the requisite skills to play professional football are willing to be coached – and the best place to be exposed to the largest number the candidates is the NFL Scouting Combine, set to begin today and run through March 1 in Indianapolis.
“For me, I am looking for pedigree that jumps out at me, things you can’t coach,” said Tomlin about what he’s looking to get accomplished during his time in Indianapolis. “Just to start the process of getting to know the draft class, personally what makes them tick, their issues, to start the information-gathering process in terms of putting together a profile on these guys. But in terms of the physical activity, I am just simply looking at pedigree.”
That takes place daily on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium, and those drills will make up the bulk of what’s on TV. That’s one portion, but more important from the sound of things are what the prospect has done during his college career and then how he comes across in the interview process.
Each team is allowed to interview 60 players for 15 minutes per during the days of the Combine, and the Steelers contingent is made up of Tomlin, Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert, either Dick LeBeau or Bruce Arians depending upon whether the guy plays offense or defense, College Scouting Coordinator Ron Hughes, Pro and College Personnel Special Assistant Joe Greene and Kevin Wildenhaus, who serves as the team’s psychologist.
“Most of the time it’s just information-gathering, and it’s the process of building a profile on each individual player. That’s about all you can get accomplished in 15 minutes,” said Tomlin. “Sometimes the sessions go in other directions based on information you have about them going into it, if someone has had an off-the-field incident, or somebody has had a highly publicized on-the-field incident, or academic issues. If there is some background that needs to be discussed up front, sometimes that is capable of taking over the meeting. But more than anything it’s just the beginning snapshot in terms of putting together an initial profile on all the guys.”
Once upon a time, these sessions had a chance of eliciting some honest, off-the-cuff information, but after years and years and years of interviewing, teams have found that players come in prepared for what they’re to be asked. But for Tomlin, a performed response isn’t necessarily a useless response.
“Let’s be honest, these guys are trying to make a good impression,” said Tomlin. “Some people are more fluid and natural in that than others, and some people are working at it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a negative thing if somebody is trying to impress you. I don’t see it as that, but I do recognize when it’s occurring or when someone is comfortable in being themselves.”
And once Tomlin and the Steelers are able to determine when someone is comfortable in being themselves, they are on the road to figuring out if they can be comfortable with him on their team.