Matt Patricia hasn't been around college athletes since he was an offensive coaching assistant at Syracuse back in 2003. He made the jump to the NFL and the Patriots' staff in 2004, and has been in the professional game ever since.
Patricia was asked in Miami last week, less than a week after he got done coaching the North Team at the Senior Bowl, what he and the Lions organization got out of the week in Mobile, Ala. He said the team got a lot of valuable intel on draft prospects, but they also had a lot of fun.
"I haven't coached college football in a long time," Patricia said. "You kind of forget what it's like to be around those guys. The first day of practice we go out and we're having a walkthrough, we're off the bus, they're not warmed up, I'm like, 'Okay, walkthrough' and they're like banging each other and I'm like, 'whoa, whoa, whoa.' You forget they can just do that. They are young and it doesn't matter."
The Senior Bowl is a weeklong interview for some of the best senior talent entering April's draft. The Lions' front office and coaching staff got invaluable access to around 70 draft-eligible players for a week -- Not just on the practice field, but in the meeting and film rooms as well.
"It is really valuable," Patricia said. "I'd say the best part of all of it is the kids. I thought our kids were great. Our kids worked hard and practiced hard. They played their (butts) off. I wouldn't say we were the most talented team, but we played harder and better and executed. That was fun. It was just fun being around the kids."
Patricia's North Team beat the Cincinnati Bengals-coached South Team 34-17. He's walked away from the experience having a much better idea of the North Team prospects in terms of who could be a fit, but equally as important, who would not be a good fit.
That was something Patricia said he also took away from talking with San Francisco GM John Lynch and Oakland GM Mike Mayock, whose teams coached last year's game.
"John was like – and Mayock the same thing – he was like, 'it's great, but you'll definitely find out the guys you don't want and it just helps you narrow down the process, which is huge."
That kind of information is what the Lions spend months trying to figure out ahead of the draft, and it's not always easy to come by. Colleges want their guys drafted, it helps with recruiting, so most schools talk their guys up. Players are coached up by agents for their interactions with teams ahead of the draft at the Scouting Combine, at their Pro Day and even when they come for an allotted pre-draft visits.
At the Senior Bowl, it was a week's worth of interaction with these prospects in a football setting.
"You're spending a week with the guys," Patricia said. "We're trying to meet with them and do our due diligence. I would say the other part of it is the bulk of our organization was there, so you can spread out and cover a lot more."
For Patricia and the Lions, it was a valuable week getting a head start on a good chunk of this year's senior talent they'll now take into their draft preparation and ultimately into creating their draft board.