NFL teams will spend the next four days in Indianapolis trying to figure out which NFL Draft prospects are stars in the making at the annual NFL Combine.
In an interview with Colin Cowherd on Thursday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said that the high-profile events like the 40-yard dash aren't the best indicators of potential, and gave away one of his secrets for finding impact players in later rounds.
Cowherd: “How much do you get out of the Combine? You watch a lot of college football, you know college football. Where’s the value? Is it in the interview, is it in the 40? What’s the value for you this next four days?”
Carroll: “Well this is one of the major stages of the process. This is the chance, we really get a lot of people, we get a lot of guys face-to-face. We have so many people interviewing players, just trying to gain a greater insight into who we’re dealing with. That’s what the Combine is really special for.
"Of course the height, weight, speed thing in this controlled environment is good, but we can kinda get that information through the course of the process. But to really interact with these guys, and to bring our scouts, bring guys to us to say ‘OK now you take a look, you talk to this guy, see what you think.’ That’s what this is really valuable for. We are flooding the airways here. We’re all over the place with a bunch of people to make sure that we’re communicating with a ton of players so that we can gather as much great information as we can.”
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Cowherd: “You and John Schneider have perfected the third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-round guy that becomes a star, so there’s some secret sauce here with you and John at the combine. Tell me what the secret sauce is. How do you find all these good players in the sixth round?"
Carroll: I’m not telling you that, Colin. I’m not giving that away. It really is a statement of John and his guys that put together the great year-round effort. And really it’s year… coupling onto the years before as they gather information to make really good decisions and choices on guys. We really believe that there’s a great player just waiting to happen all the way throughout the draft, and even into the early stages of free agency as well. And we’ve really dedicated ourselves to that, John’s taken great leadership in doing that for us.”
Cowherd: “Especially on the defensive side of the ball, you’ve had great instincts through the years. You had them in college, and you have them in the NFL. You find the K.J. Wrights and the Kam Chancellors. John Schneider said something the other day, he said ‘offensive lines, they’re hard to build in the NFL.’ And maybe it’s the collective bargaining, maybe a lot of kids, good athletes want to play on the defensive line. What do you make of that, that the offensive line for a lot of GMs and coaches, it’s tougher these days. Why is it tougher?”
Carroll: “Well I think there’s two reasons. One of the reasons, the guys coming in are coming in out of the spread offenses, so there’s a big adjustment that we have to make with our guys to put them in transition, to get them ready to play our style of play. That’s one thing. I don’t think that’s a cop-out, that’s just kind of what’s happening. Guys are playing in two-point stances from the time they’re in high school all the way through college, and then we ask them to adapt to a certain degree.
"But I think it’s [also], you need continuity to develop offensive line play, and that means you have to keep them together. We’ve been very young at the offensive line for years and continue to transition. When our guys come up, they wind up getting paid so much that we can’t afford to keep them, so we have to go back to young guys. That’s been something that we’ve kind of lived with. This year it got exposed a little bit more when we couldn’t run the football as well as we had in the past, so that’s been a problem for us now. We’ve been able to play with young guys, and it’s difficult. It’s such a challenge to play up front. There’s so many things going on, and the continuity, the interaction, the communication, the identification and all those things are so crucial for good play up there.”
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Cowherd: “Sometimes we can look at stats from a college quarterback, and my takeaway is ‘do they have 30 starts?’ I want you to see everything. I want you to play in rain, I want you to play with a lead… When you look at a quarterback [prospect], because you’ve found a gem in Russell Wilson, he had started for years in college. How much did that matter?”
Carroll: “Remember, he might have been the MVP or the Rookie of the Year in the ACC at North Carolina State as a freshman. And now this is a great, great athlete and a great performer, competitor, character, all that kind of stuff, but he has tremendous playing experience behind him and he had always been healthy. So all of that weighed into it.
"It’s such a difficult position to play. It calls for so much. A limited amount of experience is not your best friend. The more the better. The more chances we get to see a guy in, like you said, the special situations to see how they react, but also to learn that they can survive and endure those kinds of situations to build their own confidence so that when they’re faced with it, they can handle themselves at their best.
"It’s a most-challenging position, and very difficult to get these guys at the right stage, but we’re seeing a lot of young quarterbacks be successful. I think that’s due to the great upbringing they’re getting all the way through their high school days.”
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Cowherd: “You’ve had such great success, it almost feels like to me you get more out of finding a third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-rounder than nailing your first-round pick. In most instances, if somebody came to you and said ‘Pete, I’ll give you two seconds for your first…’ You’ve flourished in that situation. Do you get a little high off finding the guy after the first, second round?”
Carroll: “I don’t know why you have to take it there, Colin… I don’t think we get high on the fact.
"We definitely do like the challenges. Here’s a stat for you that I don’t have specifically, but I think we had 26 or 25 guys on our roster that were undrafted free agents. If you look back through the year before, and the year before that… somehow we keep attracting players that can make our squad that aren’t the drafted players. So we know that these guys have a chance regardless of where they come from, regardless of what round they’re picked in.
"One of the things we do try to do, I’ll give you one little secret here. We count everybody the same exactly, their opportunity to play has nothing to do with where they were picked or the money that they make or any of that. I don’t know if there’s a better illustration than what happened with Russell when he came in and the Matt Flynn deal. That’s just been a mentality, and our coaches really play that out. They are counting on these guys to do something good, and they’re pulling it out of them. We’ve seen a lot of great stories, a lot of guys overcome the odds to make our club and to contribute in big ways.”
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Cowherd: “Tell me something in this Combine… what is something you’ve learned over the last five or six Combines that maybe you wouldn’t do now that you would have done then?”
Carroll: “You know I think probably… count on the 40 times, as much. Count on just the measurables. I think I’m less influenced by that, more influenced by the character of the players, the competitiveness of the players than ever. I think that may be something that’s different.
"Back in the day I would say certain guys couldn’t play positions if they couldn’t run this type of speed. I don’t think that’s the way… I don’t look at it that way exclusively now. Although speed is ultimately important. I don’t want to leave that, but I’m a little bit different about that than I was in the past. “