Celebrate! It's a new year.
For scouts, this is a new year. Refreshed from a month’s long work-free vacation, this is such an exciting time of year to be a scout. Fresh scouting blood has entered the building from the post-draft hiring cycle and there is an aura of both excitement and anticipation of the new year.
Training camp is the first real legitimate look at the entire roster (minus minicamp, sort of). It also signifies that you’re less than 3 weeks away from live-action preseason games. For a scout, naturally, your focus gravitates to the rookies. It can quickly spark lasting hopes or internal despair. Did the player show up in shape? Does this player flash the skillset that I saw on tape? Do they fair well against the vets? Are they showing enough to compete for a starting job? For area scouts, that anxiety and internal dialogue are 10-fold. Nothing is worse than watching a player you stood on the table for, underperform in camp. You hear stories about guys like Dan Marino or Randy Moss who immediately light it up and you just know, you stole the pick. More frequently though, rookies take significant time to adjust to the NFL level. Some never do. What you hope for as a scout is flashes of talent and continuous improvement. If a young player continues to struggle, you can’t help but get a little nervous. What causes serious red flags though, is noticeable character or maturity flaws. A lack of effort or an inability to take hard coaching is a nightmare for a scout. Especially if it was your duty to vet that player pre-draft. With your top picks, you want nothing more than to see immediate success. What you don’t want is inconsistent effort, poor body language, inability to grasp the offense, and poor performance despite ample opportunity. Unfortunately, there were a few times when I saw the latter. The other group that you gravitate toward is your free agent class. Are they as good as advertised? Do their teammates gravitate toward them? Are they respectful to everyone in the building? Do they provide leadership on and off the field?
You’re not just looking at the top rookies and free agents though. You’re also hoping some of those players signed to training camp deals surprise and make the team. Finding a gem amongst the training camp group has great long-term benefits for the roster. It allows you to shed higher-paid and underperforming vets or provides much-needed depth and special teams value.
Beyond just watching the new additions, scouts have actual duties to execute. Frequently, that means getting assigned a position, evaluating that position, and stacking the group how you see it. Meetings and dialogue about the roster are frequent. GM’s, at least the good ones, take all information at their disposal to make roster decisions that put the most competitive team on the field while also keeping in mind sustained future success and cap health. In my experience, Training camp also meant the opportunity to sit in on meetings and learn as installs are being presented. This provided invaluable knowledge about philosophy, scheme, coaching style, player dynamics, and player retention. To me, it’s a great piece of the evaluation puzzle.
A typical day in Training Camp for a player looks something like this:
8:00am- Special Teams Meeting
8:30am- Offense Lift/Defense Meet
9:45am- Defense Lift/Offense Meet
11:00am- Walk Thru
11:30am- Special Teams Walk-Thru
3:00pm- Offense/Defense Jog Thru
7:00pm- Special Teams Meeting
7:45pm- Team Meeting
8:00pm- Offense/Defense Meetings
Repeat the next day.
Training Camp is a race to get prepared for the season. From a scout’s perspective, that means properly evaluating your teams’ roster and opposing rosters so can put the most competitive roster on the field come week 1. For a player, that preparation is only expedited with a decrease in preseason games. Less on-field time just increases the importance of mental capacity and the ability to grasp what’s being taught. If a player can’t, they may find their dreams of playing in the NFL dashed in a hurry. That’s the cruel reality of the NFL (NOT FOR LONG).
Once preseason starts, much of the focus for scouts switches to other teams. Evaluating rosters and projecting their 53 to help identify cut candidates that you can add to your roster. More on that in the coming weeks.