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Senior Bowl Important Piece of Titans' Evaluation Process

Posted Jan 17, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Titans coaches and scouts depart Sunday for Mobile, Ala., site of the 2014 Senior Bowl, an all-star game featuring the country’s best senior collegiate football stars and top prospects stating their cases for the NFL Draft.

The game will be played on Saturday, Jan. 25, but most of the evaluation will take place during the week when the North and South teams practice and Titans staff meet individually with players.

In addition to head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Titans coaches and player personnel staff will be on hand, including GM Ruston Webster, VP of Player Personnel Lake Dawson, Director of College Scouting Blake Beddingfield and team scouts.

Dawson said the Senior Bowl is a big piece of the team's evaluation process that includes campus visits, the football season, all-star games, scouting combine, pro days and player visits to Nashville.

The Titans own the 11th overall pick in this year's draft that takes place May 8-10.

“It’s a building process and this is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Dawson, a former wide receiver who played in the Senior Bowl before being drafted in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994. “We look at it as a puzzle from the standpoint of how the guy played in the fall, how he played in the all-star games, how he worked and how he prepared. What’s his personality like? Does he have a good work ethic? How does he practice? How did he do at the combine? All of this is going into our computer system and building a case as to whether we would consider drafting a particular player.”

The North and South teams will begin practicing Monday, and Dawson said Titans staff will meet individually with players each evening.

“You can imagine you’re sitting down with a player and here’s the general manager of an NFL team, here’s the head coach of an NFL team, here’s the VP of Player Personnel and here’s the college scouting director and they’re asking questions like, ‘Hey, what happened your sophomore year or your junior year? Why do you think you didn’t play as well the year before? Why didn’t you play as well this year?’ It’s those types of questions. And it’s not all negative. If anything, you’re trying to get to know the person and understand how important football is to them, what this guy might be like in our building, and if he fits into the culture of the Titans.”

Most players competing at the Senior Bowl are expected to be taken in higher rounds of the draft. Rosters from the East-West Shrine game included players that will likely be drafted in later rounds or signed as undrafted free agents.

Senior Bowl players were invited after a thorough evaluation of their ability by scouts around the country. Some choose not to attend, but most feel it’s a chance for them to increase their draft stock.

“Some guys get intimidated by it and don’t like the setting,” Dawson said. “They think if they get hurt they might hurt their draft status. But most guys feel like they’re competitors and they want to compete against players that are considered the top seniors in this year’s draft and in that type of environment. It’s a tremendous opportunity for these guys because they get a chance to get right in front of general managers, head coaches and executives and practice football and play football to show what they’re going to bring to the table."

For Titans talent evaluators, it’s a chance to see some of college football’s top players square off, some competing for the first time in over a month.

“One of the great things about the Senior Bowl is the competition,” Beddingfield said. “Every day they’re going up against the best seniors in the country. Whether it’s 1-on-1 drills or team practice, they’re competing against the best. There’s no second team. We’re also kind of refreshing ourselves with the talent after most of them being off for a while.”

Beddingfield said between both all-star games and the scouting combine, the Titans will interview every player they want to talk to.

“We’re getting to know their personalities and we’re going to find out some things about these players by asking them a lot of personal questions,” he said. “The main thing is just getting a comfort level. We’ll sit down with each player 15 to 20 minutes, then move on to the next guy.”

Titans scouts completed preliminary work last fall. In addition to talking with college head coaches, they interviewed academic advisors, trainers, equipment staff and position coaches – all in an effort to find out more about the person behind the player.

Dawson said the interview process is extremely important to the Titans.

“Certainly guys have to hit a measuring stick when it comes to talent. You need talent to win,” he said. “But it’s just like any job – you want to know that you can work with someone. When things get difficult, how will they respond?”

Dawson compared evaluating a player to a high-end sports car.

“You have this nice, red Ferrari,” he said. “It looks good and you press the button to start it up and nothing happens. You lift the hood and nothing’s under there. There’s no motor there. You need to know what’s going on inside of a person because we invest a lot in terms of the draft pick and in terms of dollars...we need to find out all we can about them and how they tick.

“How do you get the most out of that player? Is he coachable? What’s the best way to coach the guy and get a response out of him? You have to dig on the person not only on the football field, but off it, who he interacts with and what types of people are around him.”

Dawson said it’s the job of the player personnel department to protect the future and brand of the organization. “And that ultimately depends on what type of players we bring here,” he said. “If you bring in a bunch of guys that constantly have issues and are constantly in trouble then it reflects on the organization.

“Ruston (Webster) has been adamant about bringing in guys that are not only good players, but good people. You’re not going to always get it right, but you’re just trying to eliminate as much as possible. Let’s bring in some good football players that are tough, competitive and fit the culture of what the Titans want to be both on and off the field.”

Dawson added it all starts with Titans scouts doing their due diligence.

“The ground work starts with our college scouts doing an excellent job of gathering information and being investigators of every player at the Senior Bowl and in this year’s draft," he said. “Ultimately, the process finishes with a collaborative team effort and the best selection for our organization and overall team goals by Ruston (Webster) and Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt on draft day.”

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