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Researching the Rookies

Posted Feb 25, 2011

The Broncos contingent at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine has spent the past two days interviewing prospects, getting a feel for who would be a good fit on the field and in the locker room.

INDIANAPOLIS -- General Manager Brian Xanders, Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway and Head Coach John Fox have been busy.

Along with the rest of the coaching staff and various members of the football operations staff, the group will interview more than 250 players by the time the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine comes to a close.

"We interviewed about 8-10 guys and it was a good night," Elway said of the first night in Indianapolis. "I thought 15 minutes -- because we had 15 minutes (with each player) -- was going to be short, but it was actually just about right."

Some players hit the bench press today, but for the most part, the combine has been about interviews, physicals and weigh-ins to this point.

So until players hit the field, Elway and the Broncos contingent is focused on getting everything they can out of the interview process.

"Obviously, there is a lot of information that is gained from here and getting to see these guys up front and personal," Elway said. "I am looking forward to seeing them work out."

Xanders said the team looks for players with high football character and high personal character. The two traits are kept separate, and the club looks for red flags in either category.

"At the right time you can take some chances, but obviously you want guys that love football -- that's No. 1," Xanders said. "You want players that have a passion for the game and want to do (what is) best for the team. That's one of our first questions in our interviews every night. We try to find out what drives them and what motives them. What is their passion for the game? Are they leaders? What is their work ethic? What is their effort level? What is their temperament? How are they after their wins and losses? We get into all of that with their character."

The general manager said the team will go as far back as high school coaches to research whether a player would fit in the locker room. But it doesn't end there -- they will contact assistant coaches, teachers, trainers and even equipment staff to get a good feel for each player before they even sit down with them.


Elway couldn't stress enough the importance of this year's draft as the team moves forward.

"We cannot miss in the draft, especially with where we are," he said. "We do not have the luxury of having many misses, especially when you have the picks that we have. We have to be dead on and the guys that we do go with have to be able to play for us and play for us early. We know that for us to get back to where we have to get, we have to be good in the draft."

As far as what the team is looking for, Xanders called the depth of defensive players available in the draft "strong," and called the running back crop "deeper than I've seen in a long time." He said the team will look to add players with good instincts, which leads to production. The club covets speed, playmaking ability and size on defense, and explosiveness on offense.

"I think we have a lot of priorities and we are kind of waiting to see how it all falls out until we get into the process," Elway said. "All of the names that you have heard and read about are all great players, but until we get back and start delving into everybody, getting to the pro days and then closer to the draft, we will start pinpointing guys and ranking guys and getting our priorities. ... The fact that we do have several holes. We just have to figure out the priorities and what is available to us."

Even at spots where some might consider the Broncos all set, Xanders said the club will not exclude players at any position as they set the draft board.

"That's one thing Coach Fox and I talked about early, was no matter who we have on our roster, we are going to look at every position group, evaluate it and give it fair due and a fair chance on our board, no matter who we have on our team," he said. "We are always going to try to add competition to every position group and we will try to make the best decisions for the Denver Broncos based on who we have on that board."


During every interview session at the combine, you can count on three questions that will always be asked. Who is your agent? What did you measure in at? What do you plan on running in the 40 (yard dash)?

The answer to the last question is the one that seems to perk every reporter's ears. Over the history of the event, no other discipline receives as much scrutiny.

A good performance can raise a players draft stock faster than the time it took to run it. A bad performance and a slide down the draft board is sure to follow.

"The pure, raw speed like (Oakland's) Jacoby Ford had is a trait that the league wants," Xanders said. "If you look at it, there's been a recent trend where the speed players have really risen fast. Take DeSean Jackson in Philly, or Chris Johnson in Tennessee -- guys that can take it to the house on any play. Or even the guys with the Chiefs -- Jamaal Charles and (Dexter) McCluster -- the guys that have that raw speed, it creates immediate mismatches. Because now that linebacker has to cover him. Take Chris Johnson, in man coverage, it creates problems.

"Now you have to help him with a safety. That raw speed is important. That's why this is really a confirmation of what you see on tape. The workouts here aren't going to sway our draft board up and down drastically, but it confirms what the players' raw traits are in terms of what they can be for us."

Troy State's Jerrel Jernigan hopes his name is eventually among those in the aforementioned list. Widely considered one of the fastest players in this year's draft, the first question asked was about his speed.

"Everybody is looking forward to seeing what I run on Sunday and I am looking forward to it too," Jernigan said. "It is good to know there are a couple of guys here whose speed can stretch the field."

While at Troy, Jernigan's speed set him apart from his competition as a receiver - especially after the catch - and as one of the most explosive returners in the NCAA, taking two returns back for touchdowns.

When asked what he hoped to run, Jernigan made a prediction that would likely make scouts and general managers salivate.

"I have just been telling everyone it will be in the low 4.3s (seconds). So if I do better than that, even better," he said with a confident smile.


This year's draft class features a number of top prospects that are classified as a one-year starter.

Xanders said that shouldn't cause anyone to shy away from them.

"Sometimes it's because of their situation, sometimes it's people in front of them," he explained. "(Alabama defensive lineman) Marcell Dareus, he had three defensive linemen in front of him last year. He played a lot, but he's really a one-year starter. (Auburn defensive lineman Nick) Fairley was a one-year starter. Then there are success stories. (Packers linebacker) Clay Matthews was a one-year starter. He had four sacks and was a Special Teams Player of the Year three times at USC and he had all of these linebackers in front of him. He was a one-year starter but he blossomed in the league. To me, there is risk and reward with everybody in the draft, but the biggest thing is to find the best players that fit your team and go from there."

On the other side of the spectrum, this draft also features a number of players who missed last season, whether it was due to injury or suspension. Xanders said at that point they rely on the tape from the last time they played, and are sure to address the issue at the onset of their interviews.

"There are some questions with what they're going to look like," he said. "We're dealing right now on our team with Elvis (Dumervil), he didn't play last year. But we anticipate that we're going to go off that '09 tape, and he had 17 sacks. Now, in college, you just have to deal with it. You have to go off their talent on the tape."


"Florida! Florida! Ain't no Crimson Tide up here!"
-Florida offensive lineman Carl Johnson, after he was introduced as having gone to the University of Alabama

Stick with DenverBroncos.com for continuing coverage of the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, including coverage tomorrow featuring defensive linemen and linebackers.