Monday, February 20, 2012

Rams prepare for NFL combine, draft


For coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead and everyone involved in player evaluation at Rams Park, Monday was like the first day of school.

"The scouts came in Sunday night with the express purpose of going through and talking about the players that are going to be at the (NFL scouting) combine with the coaching staff," Fisher said. "But before we started, we introduced the general manager to them."

No one wore name tags, but even Fisher had not met all of the scouts until that Monday meeting.

The group will be spending a lot of time together over the next two months or so, through the start of free agency March 13 and leading up to the draft April 26-28. So with most of Fisher's coaching staff in place, the focus at Rams Park has shifted to personnel, personnel and ... personnel.

"The coaches that are here are looking at the (current) roster, looking at their position groups," Fisher said. "Now that we've got Les on board we can sit down with the coaches and discuss our evaluations and our opinions. And what spins out of that are the needs."

The needs are many for a franchise that has lost 65 of its last 80 games and hasn't had a winning season since 2003. They must now be tailored not only to Fisher's coaching style and philosophy, but also to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and even special teams coordinator John Fassel.

With the combine starting Wednesday in Indianapolis, time is of the essence. Snead doesn't have the time to implement his system of scouting, or some of the finer details of how he wants things done in the personnel department.

"When you get bogged down this time of year, when there's only so much time left, trying to implement your system or your process — now is not the right time," Snead said. "Because there's so much to the change, the language, data bases, how you do things, how information's spit out."

So the entire group must come to a quick consensus on the kind of players Fisher and his coaches are looking for, identify and prioritize the team needs, and just go. The time squeeze also means Fisher and Snead must adjust to the scouts, and not vice versa.

"There's a lot of them, and there's two of us — Jeff and myself," Snead said. "So it's easier for us to adapt, and (the scouts) have a system that's in place. What we know we have to do is adapt the system we have, be creative with it ... there's a lot of ways to skin a cat."

But in terms of basic player evaluations, Snead and Fisher have no other choice for this draft and, to a degree, free agency. They must trust their scouts.

"Absolutely," Fisher said. "Those guys are rolling their sleeves up and getting the information. You can't do it without them. And so you listen to the reports, and to the summaries, and to all those things. Let's face it, I haven't had a chance right now to do any college evaluations."

It's an interesting dynamic, because Snead was told during the GM interview process that no one in the scouting department is untouchable. But since scouting department contracts usually don't expire until after the draft, nearly everyone in the department is trying to prove himself.

After the first couple of days of meetings, Fisher said, "You can tell they've done a great job. This is the culmination of all their hard work. Their information is being presented to us."

The scouts aren't the only ones with something to prove. This will be Snead's first draft as the guy in charge. During his 17 seasons in the NFL most of his experience has been on the pro scouting side, not college scouting.

When first promoted out of the scouting role, Snead was named director of pro personnel. He didn't become director of player personnel — which puts a lot of emphasis on the college side — until three years ago. (Snead said he performed many of the duties of the player personnel director four years ago, just without the title.)

He also pointed out: "Even when you're in pro, you'll dabble in the college. That's a big part of it, so you're not just doing pro personnel. And the last four years have been very extensive college."

In those past four years, Snead was near the top of the pyramid in terms of draft decision-making, but at the end of the day Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith made the pick. So how much input did Snead have on the Falcons' picks?

"I would say definitely, significantly," Snead said.

Before Dimitroff and Smith made their decision, Snead said he was frequently the last person to give his input. Much, but not all, of Snead's draft philosophy has been culled from watching and working with Dimitroff.

"You better be well-prepared to make that decision," Snead said. "And that's a little bit Tom Coughlin. When you play a Tom Coughlin team you know that they're going to be prepared."

Snead spent his first three years in scouting, 1995 to 1997, as a scout for Coughlin in Jacksonville.

"And there's ways you prepare," Snead said. "It's not just late hours or manual labor. But I think you need to be well prepared. And take all things considered into that pick."

"All things considered" is one of Snead's pet phrases when it comes to adding talent.

"It's not just how good the player is," Snead said. "It's what kind of teammate he will be. How coachable he will be. It may be a lot of intangibles."

How valued is the player's position in the scheme? Is there a player at the position lower in the draft who's not much different in talent, who would thus be a better value? For Snead, it's not just a player's ceiling, it's whether the team can live with his floor if he doesn't live up to expectations.

Those are just some of the factors Snead takes into account in drafting a player.

"If you're well prepared — all things considered — you should get it right the majority of the time," he said.

Which would be something new at Rams Park.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Offensive lineman leaves Leos for Rams

There appeared to be a competition at times over the last two months for Jovan Olafioye, whether the amount of guaranteed salary he would earn with the NFL's St. Louis Rams would equal the number of frequent-flyer miles he gained to secure the next step in his burgeoning career.

It would seem as if the 24-year-old offensive lineman with the B.C. Lions did reasonably well when it came to upgrading on two fronts.

Olafioye agreed to terms on a minimum two year contract with the Rams on Friday, shortly before the Lions allowed defensive line coach Randy Melvin to take a surprise three-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It wasn't a completely down weekend for the Lions though. An agreement to keep 31-yearold receiver Paris Jackson with the CFL team for his 10th season has been concluded and is expected to be announced at the start of the week.

Olafioye's mileage and bank accounts grew as a result of the thorough nature of his agent, Dan Vertlieb, who not only got him to 14 NFL workouts since leaving Vancouver Nov. 30, but creatively worked with the Rams on a deal which will pay him roughly $90,000 in guaranteed salary even if he does not make the roster. The strapping tackle was limited in collecting an NFL signing bonus, owing to new rules governing undrafted free agents in the league's new collective bargaining agreement.

The result was additional airplane pretzels and middle seats.

"We felt there was no reason not to go," Vertlieb said Saturday. "Jovan truly enjoyed the experience and it helped him understand the respective organizations."

It didn't curb his wanderlust. Olafioye was en route from his Detroit home to Ohio Saturday and couldn't be reached.

The loss of Olafioye maintains the Lions' distinction of losing more players to the NFL in the past four seasons than any CFL club (see chart) and will be more difficult to replace than Solomon Elimimian, who left Jan. 25 to sign with the Minnesota Vikings.

Coach Mike Benevides will start with tackle Nick Hennessey, who spent the majority of last season on the practice roster, but will look at other import prospects and won't likely invest heavily in free agency when the open market signing period opens Feb. 15.

"I don't see us changing the ratio," Benevides said.

First up will be to replace Melvin, who agreed to return for a second season and was flown in for a news conference last week only to be unexpectedly offered a three-year NFL deal.

Melvin twice previously has worked at Rutgers University with Greg Schiano, who was hired by the Bucs as head coach only nine days ago, and though the Lions had recently committed to making his position a full-time spot, the team didn't think it could stand in front of a more lucrative offer.

Olafioye, on the other hand, was destined to leave not long after the Lions made him a starter in his rookie season. He'll try to make a 2-14 NFL team that didn't have a coach when he worked out in St. Louis on Jan. 5, and still doesn't have a general manager.

But the Lions harbour no illusions as to their chances of getting him back soon.

"He's 24, and he's played two years already. It's a helluva find for [St. Louis]," Benevides said.

Just don't ask Olafioye to name the last 14 airports he visited to get there.