On the NFL combine, workout warriors, talent in this draft
As the Steelers navigate free agency and prepare for the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft, Coach Mike Tomlin will provide his insight and observations to Steelers.com on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.
Q. In terms of the scouting process, what do you get out of the NFL scouting combine?
A. To me, the No. 1 thing is the interview opportunity with the 60 young men with whom we do interviews as an organization. A lot of times, 15 minutes doesn't seem like a lot of time to get to know someone, but with the amount of background work we have going on prior to those meetings, we can cut to the chase and get to some important topics. That is the most significant thing for me.
Of course, to see the workouts is one thing, but you eventually get video on those things. I like to watch informally how guys interact with one another, who has natural leadership skills, who is politely aggressive in terms of opportunities to step out and lead. Those are the things that I value.
Q. In describing the mood of the interviews with the players, is it like visiting with someone, or like a job interview, or is it more of an interrogation where you're trying to put heat on a guy to see how he reacts?
A. I think it varies due to circumstance. What we need and what we want is information. I have to create an atmosphere where we can get it. Sometimes you might notice that a young man is nervous, so you do what you can to make him comfortable. Sometimes a guy is a little too comfortable, so you do what's necessary to tighten him up and make sure he understands that this is a job interview. It differs based on the circumstance.
Q. What do you see as more dangerous – a guy who looks like he can play based on what you see on tape who then has a terrible workout at the combine, or a guy who doesn't look so good on tape and then comes to the combine and lights it up?
A. The workout warrior is a scary player. 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.
Q. What was the most impressive thing you ever saw at the combine in terms of an individual workout?
A. He was kind of an obscure guy, but he was a guy I liked and we eventually took in the sixth round when I was in Tampa. He was a Pitt kid – Torrie Cox. A cornerback. He ran a 3.78 short-shuttle, and in the scheme we played at that time we really valued short-area quickness for cornerbacks. His short-shuttle was as impressive a thing as I have seen at the combine in the 10 years I have been going.
Q. Since the combine doesn't change much if at all from year-to-year, has it become almost like a standardized test in school where you can learn how to do well on the test but not necessarily be a smart guy?
A. To a degree. Guys are training for the drills, but at the same time that's evident as well. Sometimes guys can produce great times when it looks mechanical or measured, when it looks like they're a track athlete as opposed to a football player. In varying degrees you take those things into account, but more than anything you get a general understanding of the pedigree of each guy. Have they trained? Have they not trained for particular drills? If you keep it in that perspective, you get a baseline pedigree for everybody you're looking at. I think it's valuable.
Q. How would you evaluate the talent level in this particular draft class?
A. I think there is a lot of talent. I've been impressed not only by the talent, but also by the quality of the young men. The guys I've been able to interview to this point, to research, have been impressive. The defensive line is very deep, uniquely deep. I've been impressed by the safeties. I think the safety crew is as deep as it's been since I've been going to the combine. It's a deep group across the board, really.
Q. When a rookie comes into the NFL and plays right away, is that more about what the player is, or more about what his team needs?
A. Usually it's a combination of both. That's one of the questions I ask guys at the combine, the guys who went to college and played as true freshmen: Did you take the opportunity, or was one presented to you?
Usually, it's a little bit of both. There has to be a void on the team that creates the opportunity, and then the young man has to show a skill set or the capabilities of seizing it.
Q. For a guy to come in and play right away in the NFL, what kind of characteristics does he need to have, regardless of the particular needs of his new team?
A. Mental toughness and maturity. He's got to be able to withstand the rollercoaster that comes with being a young guy. And not only dealing with the failures, but also with success. It takes a certain level of maturity to deal with that. It takes a certain level of mental toughness to be able to quickly deal with playing this game on a professional level. More than anything else, in my opinion, the guys who are ready-made to contribute right away have both the mental toughness and a maturity that's above the line.
Q. Can you get any inkling of whether a guy has those qualities during the interview process at the combine?
A. I think you can, because of how they've conducted themselves at their colleges and universities. But at the same time, I acknowledge that this is different. It is. Just because somebody made an easy transition from high school to college doesn't necessarily mean the next step is going to be easy. And just because someone struggled in making the transition from high school to college doesn't necessarily mean they're going to struggle in making this transition. I think maturity is evident, but that's just part of the equation in terms of a guy being successful early on.