One of the primary benefits to coaching the Senior Bowl is the insight into player’s personalities both on and off the football field.
While interviews – both at the NFL Scouting Combine and throughout this Senior Bowl week – are beneficial, nothing compares with spending seven days with players during practice, in meetings and during meal times.
For Lions linebackers coach Matt Burke, this has resulted in firsthand experience with one of the bigger personalities on the Senior Bowl’s North team: Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
“He’s probably been the vocal leader from the start,” said Burke. “He’s a real enthusiastic kid and has obviously been a great college player. He’s got a pretty outgoing personality and has fun playing football – he likes being out there.”
Weatherspoon, at 6-0 and 241 pounds, played outside linebacker in college, but is rotating between the outside and middle spots this week. It is something many of the position groups are doing: putting players at different positions to see what they are capable of.
While there aren’t headsets to relay calls from the sideline to the huddle as there are at the NFL level, the middle linebacker is still responsible for giving the call to the defense and making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be.
“He’s taken to that aspect of things,” said Burke. “We want these guys to have fun and it’s been good. That first day they’re all nervous and they don’t know what’s going on, but now their personalities are starting to come out and he’s got a pretty loud, infectious personality. So I think that’s where he’s getting a lot of attention besides his playing ability.”
The Lions are already experiencing the benefits of a player who has a loud, infectious personality in safety
Delmas – also in a position that needs to relay information to the defense – was a standout throughout the 2009 season, finishing the year with two interceptions – one for a touchdown – one fumble recovery for a touchdown and a safety.
His personality was a definite positive for the Lions defense and he showed that rookies have that capability to be a leader in their first year.
“All my life I’ve just been the type of person to always be talking,” said Weatherspoon. “No matter where I am, I’m always that guy. Back when I was little I used to get ‘talks excessively’ on my report card.”
Aside from being fun and entertaining, Weatherspoon sees his personality translating well from a football standpoint.
“You’re going to have to step up in front of your teammates and command everyone’s attention in that huddle,” he said. “I feel like I’m definitely the guy that needs to do that being in that position. It’s just pretty natural to me.”
Weatherspoon says he came into college as a middle linebacker, weighing in at 215 pounds.
“It was a little tougher,” he said of playing middle linebacker at that weight.
Now that he is nearly 30 pounds heavier, he feels more comfortable inside and – as are many of the players participating in this week’s Senior Bowl – is more than willing to do whatever it takes to raise his draft stock.
“(It’s) just coming out here and showing my value,” he said. “This week has been a challenge just being around a different system and learning new things, but I felt like I’ve been pretty productive so far and I’m getting adjusted to it pretty well.”
Having that football IQ is important to NFL coaches and scouts.
Though this game is primarily about allowing players to showcase their natural athletic abilities, coaches are also seeing how players can take information from the classroom to the practice field.
“You want to test their capacity to learn different schemes and be able to install it with them,” said Burke. “You definitely want that part, but you don’t want to bog them down with too much where they can’t show their athletic ability and play.”
Burke says they tell players they are being evaluated on everything that happens this week from the way they interact with the equipment and cafeteria staff to the way they execute on the field.
“You always get a different feel for a player being around him at practice,” said Burke. “You watch film and obviously see how he plays the game, but when you’re working with him and running him through drills and seeing that stuff day-to-day, you get more of a tell on his physical nature.
“But it’s everything: personality-wise, how he interacts with his teammates, with all these different of people around, punctuality, all those things. You really get a pretty full picture of all these guys."