"This is where you really gotta buckle down."
So says Redskins Director of College Scouting Kyle Smith, who spent time with Redskins.com last week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., reflecting on a week of evaluations and looking ahead to the mammoth couple of months for his entire group as the NFL Draft approaches.
"That's what we talked about with the scouts before they got in here," Smith said, sitting on the bleachers at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. "It's get locked up, get locked and loaded, and when we go through these meetings the next couple weeks, any answers that we don't have, any clarity that we don't have, we need to do it, we need to figure it out."
Last week in Mobile served as a small reunion for the Redskins' local scouts, who reconvened with team President Bruce Allen, Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Doug Williams and Smith for several days. The task, besides watching the competitiveness displayed on the field, was primarily to cross check all the information they'd acquired over the season – to speak with players in formal and informal settings to augment or dispute their previous evaluations.
For the scouts, Smith said, those meetings happened after practice, from 8:30 to 11 p.m., a time "to kind of break the ice with the guys, look them in the eyes, see what kind of personality they have. It's not a long time period that we have to talk to the kids, but it's enough for us to confirm or deny some of the information we've gotten through the fall visits," Smith said.
What exactly are the conversation points in these interviews?
The obvious question pertains to how much they love football. Any prospect can say he loves the sport, but Smith and the scouting staff's job is to ask more probing questions that might provide better complexion into a generic answer.
"You've got to try to ask certain questions," Smith said. "Talk about their process, what's your process through the week, how much tape do you watch, how do you take care of your body, what's your practice schedule, what's your workout schedule, how do you eat and take care of your body off the field when you go back home? If a guy is really detailed in what they do, and you can tell he's disciplined then it answers some of the questions for you."
As Smith will clarify, he's not a psychologist. Relying on testimony from college-aged prospects is not always a safe bet, but his experience over the last few years and his ability to discern a player's makeup and mentality has given him a better feel for these kinds of interactions.
"You've seen players that might be a BS artist, you can get a feel for that just through their answers and how they talk," Smith said. "Also, like I said, it's confirming and denying what you got on the school call from the coaching staff who's been around him for 4 years. So you get a little bit of that, you're trying to read between the lines a lot of times and it's really important for us."
All of this becomes especially prudent considering the Redskins may be in the position to draft a quarterback, potentially in the first round of this year's draft. It's a position that needs the most scrupulous work from a scouting perspective.
The Senior Bowl, in recent years, has become a good launching pad for prospects on the fringe of the first round discussion, or for those looking to separate themselves from the pack (think Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield from last year). For Smith and the scouts, it's one last opportunity to see them in a competitive environment playing against some of the best in the game.
"The bottom line, it's the competitiveness," Smith said of what he looked for last week. "How fast is the tempo, the play tempo, every rep, are they competing, are they playing hard, are they finishing reps? You know, a lot of the times, DBs, wide receivers, offensive linemen, it's seeing a guy athletically move, and the movement skills are different in person than it is on tape. So that's really it, the body movements, the athlete's body types, that's what you're getting out of this, and the competitiveness.
"I'm not watching every single guy – you can't, it's impossible – so that's why we get the tape. After we leave here, we'll break down the tape, and more individuals, each guy, run it back three, four times. But here first look, it's really, who's flashing? Who's making plays? Who's competing? And obviously also the athletic movement skillset."
Area scouts will convene this Friday at the Redskins' facility and for the next two weeks will scour film in dark rooms over 12 hour days, something Smith, a film junky, calls "an exciting process." It's all crucial work as the group prepares for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, the next step in the draft process.
"That's really our time to shine is in those two weeks, kinda doing our thing."