There has been a lot of talk about character in the weeks leading up to the draft. More than ever, there seem to be several really talented prospects with character issues. Teams have to identify what specific character concerns a player has. Some players reportedly have drug issues. Some have had violent incidents in their past. Others have simple maturity and work ethic issues. This all falls under the banner of character, but they certainly are different.
NFL teams aren't made up of choirboys. Owners, coaches and personnel executives understand that they'll never have 53 perfect players on the roster. They look for 53 guys who can play football and function together. Some will be high-character players. Others will be character risks. It is up to the team to build a strong environment so that troubled players aren't as likely to fall into their old habits. Players answer to ownership, the coaches and other players. Don't overlook the importance of peer pressure.
Teams do their research and figure out which players they can deal with. Jimmy Johnson could live with his players being "bad boys" off the field as long as they played at a high level on it. Fringe guys had a different standard. Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick let Lawrence Taylor do all kinds of crazy stuff when they coached him in New York. He was such a dominant player that they weren't about to break out the rule book on him. Those coaches were rewarded with success, although the players eventually got in serious legal trouble and it greatly affected their lives. We still see LT getting in trouble now after almost 20 years out of the league.
Other teams have brought in troubled, but talented players. The Cincinnati Bengals did this for years. They had little success with it. There wasn't a strong enough structure in place and the players were hard to control. Jon Gruden gambled on some players late in his stay with Tampa Bay and that led to some erratic seasons and eventually his dismissal.
You can't write off every troubled player as someone not to touch. You also can't simply ignore character just because a guy is talented. Teams have to look at each individual case and decide if that player is worth the risk and if the player can succeed for that team.
|Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He's followed the team for almost 20 years. Tommy has been trained by an NFL scout in the art of scouting and player evaluation and runs www.scoutsnotebook.com.|
We have to be careful at this time of the year with the leaked media reports on players. Most character concerns we hear about are based in truth, but they can be exaggerated. Some agents will spread gossip about players of a rival agent. Some teams might spread rumors, in the hopes that the player will slide down in the draft to a point they have a chance at him. I certainly don't think that is a common practice, but you can't be naive about pre-draft shenanigans. Teams/players/agents will do and say some strange things.
Back in 2008, I heard from someone in the scouting community that offensive tackle Ryan Clady was doing poorly in his team interviews. He was reportedly coming off as immature and having a bad attitude. I was told he would slide into the late part of the first round. Clady went 12th overall and has been a terrific player for the Broncos. I don't know if the reports on Clady were true or not. They are irrelevant at this point because he's been a model citizen for them from what I can tell. Whether the Broncos took a chance or those rumors were untrue, the bottom line is that the Broncos got a very good left tackle.
You never know how a young player will react to joining an NFL team and being in a highly structured environment. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles was kicked off the Florida State team as a senior. The Jets took a chance on him in the draft. They made Coles sign a contract with all kinds of clauses that protected them in case he got in trouble. Coles never had any issues in the NFL and in fact became a high-quality veteran player eventually. He was a good influence on young players.
Football is a game for kids in high school and college. The NFL is a business. Football is a job. That clicks with some young guys and they grow up. The knucklehead behavior becomes a thing of the past. I wish I could say that was the case with most guys who have character concerns, but that would be an exaggeration. The Eagles do have an advantage when it comes to dealing with troubled players. There is continuity with management and ownership. The coaching staff has an established way of doing things. Players know exactly what is expected of them. The Eagles also go out of their way to make sure the locker room is built around the right kind of players.
The Eagles specifically focused on character last year. I think that was wise. Howie Roseman and Andy Reid wanted to get tough, productive, "football guys." There were no athletic projects or character risks. That foundation allows them the flexibility to take a chance or two this year. We'll find out if that happens in a couple of weeks.
Random Draft Thoughts
• If the Eagles want to go for a one-gap defensive tackle late in the draft, Karl Klug from Iowa could be a player of interest. He is 6-3 and 275 pounds. Klug had 31 tackles-for-loss in his career. That should tell you how disruptive he is. Klug is the kind of quick, attacking player that would fit in well in Jim Washburn's system.
• The Eagles have looked at a variety of running backs. If the team goes for a guy with size, I hope Alex Green from Hawaii is the target. I watched several Hawaii games recently and was more impressed with Green every time I saw him play. He's got the power to break tackles and be a physical runner. He's got the speed to deliver big plays when he gets some daylight. If the team goes for a smaller player, I would love Taiwan Jones to be the choice. He is explosively fast. Jones had a great pro day, running 4.35 in the 40 and recording a vertical jump of 40 inches. His speed shows up on tape. I watched him break several long runs in one game. He's also deceptively strong. Jones isn't a finesse back.
• Safety is another position where the Eagles have been looking high, low and in between. Smart. They aren't focused on a free safety or strong safety. The Eagles are trying to find the right safety. Get the best player possible. UNC's Deunta Williams is my favorite mid-round guy, but he's coming off a nasty broken leg. That hurts his value. I watched an Iowa game last night and Tyler Sash played well. He should be of definite interest. My favorite small-school player is Mark LeGree from Appalachian State (my alma mater, to be fair). LeGree came up with 22 interceptions in the last three years. He also forced a pair of fumbles. He is a one-man turnover machine.