Flashes of NFL Ability Scouts' Evaluations an Inexact Science

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LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Al Roberts wants to see a flash.

The Cincinnati Bengals' special teams coach, when he's scouting college players as he was this week during practice for today's Rotary Gridiron Classic college all-star game, is looking for a glimpse of something that convinces him an athlete may be able to play in the NFL. He calls it a flash, and while he can't completely define it, he said he knows it when he sees it.

"Some kind of movement, some kind of understanding," Roberts said. "I look for flashes, flashes of some kind of athletic ability. The intangible thing of smartness and understanding, you try to pick that up. But I just look for flashes -- height, weight, speed, something that says that he can do some things."

Roberts was just one of more than 30 NFL scouts who attended the all-star game practices this past week at Disney's Wide World of Sport. All have the same goal -- find a player who may be able to help their team. And all have different theories, methods and results.

Roberts looks for flash, but another scout -- like the rest of the scouts mentioned here, he requested anonymity because of team policy -- looks for fundamentals and mental ability.

"If you're concentrating on a defensive back, wide receiver, or quarterback, you want the guy to be able to make plays," the scout said. "You'd like to see a receiver run crisp routes. You want to see a defensive back backpedal and turn, you want to see him use his hands. You want to see a quarterback's footwork -- is he consistent with his drops, does he pitter-patter around back there. Can he throw deep and short with the same consistency?

"You also want to know that a player is learning what he's being taught. If a guy can't pick up things pretty quickly, then you're going to have a problem with the kid."

Another scout who works for an NFC team takes a much more casual approach, at least during practice. He said he was using practice just to familiarize himself with the players and would do most of his work at today's game at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

"I need to see these guys in the game," the scout said. "This [practice] really doesn't do much for me. They're not really practicing hard. Even though they're wearing pads, this is nothing more than a walk-through. This guy [pointing to a receiver] can catch in practice. But can he do it when the DB is locked up with him? That's what I want to see."

Some scouts, like Roberts, are looking at certain positions. Others are looking at certain players. …