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Senior Bowl: For The Love Of The Game


MOBILE, Ala. – The North team practice ended on Wednesday and reporters gathered on the outskirts of the field and engaged in a hot debate over wide receiver Cooper Kup, a record-setting player from Eastern Washington who has been the topic of a lot of conversation at the Senior Bowl.

"All I know," one reporter said, "is that he catches everything and has good balance and gets open. He's going to be a good player."

"He can't run," said another reporter. "You have to be able to run to play in the NFL."

And on it went. That's what the Senior Bowl is all about, with NFL personnel teams doing the same thing in the privacy of their draft-preparation rooms, with reporters roaming the stands, with the country's football fans watching on NFL Network.

It's a smorgasbord of let's-get-ready-for-the-NFL draft evaluations, with most of the top seniors in the country practicing for a week and then playing on Saturday in an apples-vs-apples setting. It is part of what Eagles vice president of personnel Joe Douglas says is the "process" to narrow down the candidates between now and late April's first round.

It's fun, it's festive – yes, there are fans tailgating in the parking lot of Ladd-Peebles Stadium – and it's the best way to gather information. Players are evaluated in every which way, from their practice habits, their ability to translate what they've learned on the field and how they take that into a game situation on Saturday, how they interact with their teammates and the media, and the answers they provide and the presence they have in the team-orchestrated interviews, which begin in the morning and continue after practice and often pretty late into the night.

And yes, there is debate. Not just among the reporters. And certainly not just among those making their own judgments watching on television. The teams have their conversations, too.

"Oh, there's going to be a lot of healthy debates," Douglas said. "We're not going to agree on everything. In a perfect world, everyone gives everybody the same grade. There's a quote that used to be on our draft board and it said, 'If everybody is thinking the same thing, then there's not a whole lot of thinking going on.'

"Yeah, there's going to be some healthy debates and at the end of the day we're going in with the goal of getting the right players for the Philadelphia Eagles. Along the way, yeah, there are going to be disagreements and that's a good thing."


  last spring. This is an invaluable week for teams, who can interview as many players as they want and visit and spend as much time as they can with players and not have those conversations count against the NFL's limit of 60 interviews with draft prospects and 30 visits to team facilities.

Narrowing the focus is an important part of the process.

"I think that when I first would come here there was such a big pool to look at and you try to see everything," executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. "Now it's focusing on specific things so you can have some takeaways as opposed to coming out here and saying, 'I just saw a lot and I don't really have any takeaways to come out with.' I think that's a big part of it.

"I think the second part of it is just getting the opportunity to meet these guys."

Indeed, the personal side of it is tremendously important as the Eagles identify "Eagles-type players." They want players who love the game of football and who are as ultra-competitive as the face of the franchise, quarterback Carson Wentz.

There are the physical components that everyone can see, and the performance on the field speaks to each personnel evaluator differently. Once the draft prospect sits face to face with a team, everything is on the table.

"Everybody is looking for mentally tough, smart, physically tough guys," Douglas said. "I think there are baseline levels of talent – height, weight, speed – for every position and I think the most important job our scouts have is to go deeper than that, to get to know the player, the person, as best as you can. The way he competes on a consistent basis, how he fits into the team. If he's a leader.

"All the things you don't see on tape."

Every team is here and every team has access to all of the players. Creating relationships during the course of the college football season, when team's college scouts visit campuses and practices, is important in forging advantages.

Once the teams arrive here, everything is out in the open, and the teams that have done the most research to know players have a leg up in Mobile.

"I love it," Douglas said after meeting a handful of Philadelphia-area reporters on Wednesday afternoon. "It's football. It's all football and we have a great team here working hard to bring the very best players to the Philadelphia Eagles. This is my time of the year."

For anyone and everyone who stops by and watches the Senior Bowl, practices and the game, and looks for the NFL stars of the future, it is a welcomed burst of football in an otherwise slow week. What happens here doesn't stay here for long with the offseason rumor mill ramping up and the NFL Draft coming into focus.

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