INDIANAPOLIS – Doug Whaley is preparing himself for some long hours over the next five days.
The Buffalo Bills’ assistant general manager arrived in Indianapolis Wednesday for today’s start of the annual NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Whaley will be joined by the team’s entire football operations department as 333 NFL hopefuls get their chance to impress would-be employers on the field and in the meeting room.
It is, in Whaley’s mind, the best time of the year.
“It is, I have to say, just because you get to do what you get paid to do, and that’s scout,” he said. “You get to see – in one place – all the top guys. It’s less wear and tear on you, especially the traveling aspect of it. And then you can grade them on a consistent, level basis. Everything’s the same. Same turf they’re running on, same weights they’re lifting and there’s no differentiation, no variables.”
That grading begins today, as teams can begin the interview process. Each NFL team can conduct formal, 15-minute interviews with 60 chosen prospects. They can also conduct as many informal interviews as they choose in an area known as the “train station.”
“The most important things we take out of here are two things: the medical evaluations and the interview process,” Whaley said, “because the coaches get to talk football with the players and you get to talk to players about anything that you have a question about.”
For a high-profile player like Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o of Notre Dame, that means answering plenty of questions about the scandal surrounding the death of his non-existent girlfriend. Whaley confirmed to The Buffalo News that Te’o is one of the players the Bills are scheduled to interview.
“We’ll interview him just like the other 59 guys and we’ll try to get as much information as possible,” Whaley said. “I think everybody’s going to ask him about that drama, but it’s just going to be a piece of the puzzle. We’ll treat it independently, just like we’re going to treat all the other 59 guys that may have issues or may not have issues. This is one of the things we’re here for, is to fact-find about all that stuff.”
Offensive linemen, tight ends and special teams players will be officially weighed and measured, go through their medical exams, meet with the media and begin team interviews today. On Friday, they’ll meet with the NFL Players’ Association, go through psychological testing, have their turn on the bench press and continue team interviews. Finally on Saturday, they’ll have their on-field workout, which will be aired on the NFL Network.
That same three-day sequence will be repeated by the other three daily groups – starting Friday with quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, Saturday with defensive linemen and linebackers and Sunday with defensive backs.
For Whaley, it means some long days.
“You’re basically on the go from the time you wake up around 6:30 until 11 p.m.,” he said.
With the eighth overall pick in April’s draft, the Bills will be under pressure to acquire an impact player to help improve a team that underachieved last year to the point that Chan Gailey was fired as head coach.
New coach Doug Marrone brought in a whole new staff – including defensive coordinator Mike Pettine – but Whaley said that has not changed the scouting department’s approach.
“It’s still find the best players out there,” he said. “I mean, you try to find guys that can increase the competition level on our team and guys that can make plays. Especially on defense, they want guys that play like Bills. And that means tough, competitive playmakers.”
Whaley said his role has not changed after the organizational restructuring last month that saw Russ Brandon take over as president. Whaley is still General Manager Buddy Nix’s right-hand man. It’s believed Whaley will take over as GM when the 73-year-old Nix steps aside, but a time frame has not been established for when that will happen.
“I always tell people my job is to make Buddy’s job as easy as possible. I want to go out there – and for lack of a better term – be the foot soldier to track down all this information,” Whaley said. “I need to take all the information out there, funnel it to the best three or four choices and give Buddy the options to make that choice. It’s been the same since I got here.”
The Bills spent about eight days after the Super Bowl building a preliminary draft board, but that process won’t be complete until the week of the draft. In the meantime, they’ll gather much of the information that Whaley referred to here and at on-campus pro days.
“You go in there with eight guys that you want and you say ‘heck yeah, I’d love to have that guy at 8.’ So you’re happy no matter what happens in the draft,” Whaley said. “Everybody says, well is draft day all crazy and stuff? If you set your board right and you’re comfortable with it, you just sit back and let the names peel off. Then you say ‘well out of those eight guys, that’s the guy left.’ That’s what we want.”
The interview portion of this week is particularly important for teams because it allows scouts and coaches, as Whaley says, to “get a synopsis of how they are learning and talking football.”
“We’re trying to pick out anything we can about the guy’s ability. His retention of schemes, his ability to apply that scheme to another scheme,” Whaley said. “Just his football knowledge.”
Sixty formal interviews mean 60 potential chances for the Bills and all other teams to be impressed – or let down.
“It’s such a subjective thing. We’re just trying to get a feel,” Whaley said. “There’s no, all right, well this is right or this is wrong. Now, there’s some good interviews and there’s some bad interviews, but I wouldn’t say there’s a perfect interview.”
So how would one blow said interview?
“To basically come in and not be a professional,” Whaley said. “Not take this as, hey, this is my job interview to set my family up and myself up for the rest of our life and not take it as seriously as it is.”