An inside look at the player interview process at the Senior Bowl

Posted Jan 21, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman sits in on a player interview conducted by Lions front office and coaching staff at the Senior Bowl

MOBILE, ALA. -- In an effort to better understand what goes on behind the scenes at the Senior Bowl, the Lions front office and coaching staff granted me special access to the process this week.

I’ve been allowed to watch practice with the scouting department and was able to sit in on a player interview Monday night.

The interview process at the Senior Bowl is more casual than it is at the NFL Scouting Combine next month, but it’s still all about the business of getting to know some of these players.

The interview I sat in on involved a defensive back from a Big 12 school.

Martin Mayhew and Tom LewandPresident Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew

To set the scene, the player sits down in a chair and right in front of him is senior director of player development Galen Duncan, along with general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Caldwell. Most of the coaching staff and scouting department are also seated around the player in a full circle, as is team president Tom Lewand and some football administration staff.

Duncan, whose main job with the Lions is to get to know these players and dig deeper into their history, opens the interview. Mayhew, Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are the main figures in the interview process, given this is a defensive player. They ask the questions and they’ll have the most say when it gets closer to the draft if this is a player they want to pursue.

The player sits down and doesn’t seem nervous at all about his surroundings. It could be intimidating to some to have this many people sitting around in a circle grilling them with questions, but the player handles it well.

It seems like the front office and coaching staff has almost set the interview up this way to see if the player can handle the environment and the situation. Questions come fast and they expect the answers to come just as quickly.

They wasted little time with pleasantries and got right to asking about the players background, home life, scheme, his interaction with teammates, leadership and of course X’s and O’s:

  • Where did the player grow up and whom did he live with?
  • What was the process – both athletically and academically – when the player knew football was a real option for his future?
  • What was the players’ role on the team when he got to college, and because the player was a defensive back, what was his role on nickel defense?
  • Has he ever gotten into trouble, failed a drug test, smoked marijuana or drank alcohol?
  • What did he do best as a player?
  • Does he like off or press coverage, what was his practice schedule like in college and what is his injury history?
  • What was the worst thing they were going to see on film from that player?
  • Does he consider himself a tackler or a hitter? (To which Mayhew reminded the player that there was a difference).
  • From the players’ perspective, which games should the Lions watch to see him tackle the best and cover the best?
  • What terminology did he use on defense in college?
  • Was he a captain and did he graduate?
  • What was the base defense he ran in college and his responsibilities within that scheme?
  • What were the base calls and his responsibilities in zone and man coverage and also responsibilities on the strong side and weak side of the defense?
  • What was the No. 1 coverage he ran in college and what techniques did he use depending on the side he was on and personnel?
  • What specific techniques (shuffling, back pedaling and squaring up), were the players’ responsibilities depending on the call, and which of those does he prefer?
  • Did he ever have a game when the secondary was struggling and had to adjust coverage?
  • What is the biggest area of improvement the player needs to make?

The last question of the 15-minute session involved a kind of what-if scenario.

The player was asked if he came in as a rookie and saw a veteran player not holding up his end, would he say something and approach the player?

The question was geared toward learning a little bit more about the players’ leadership qualities.

The interview ended with handshakes and a thank you and some coaches then started talking amongst themselves.

It was short, direct, to the point and informative. Everyone at the session kept notes throughout the process to surely be used in the coming weeks and months as the Lions get their draft board into shape.