Months of scouting comes to a head Saturday for the Seahawks in NFL draft
The hours Ruston Webster spent watching videotape of NFL prospects the past couple of months add up to days by the time the draft arrives...
Seattle Times staff reporter
When: Saturday (Rounds 1-2); Sunday (Rounds 3-7).
Where: New York City.
TV: Saturday (ESPN, 9 a.m.; ESPN2, 5 p.m.); Sunday (ESPN, 7 a.m.).
Seahawks' first-round pick: No. 25
The hours Ruston Webster spent watching videotape of NFL prospects the past couple of months add up to days by the time the draft arrives.
The team's scouts spend months on the road, in hotels and at college campuses, harvesting the information the team will use to decide who it will choose.
Effort and observation. They are the two things the NFL draft demands in copious doses, which is what makes Webster's recent reading material so interesting. Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink: The power of thinking without thinking." The book explains the power of rapid cognition, a fancy description for the very simple idea that so often, a person's immediate, knee-jerk judgment of a situation is the right one.
Webster knows that feeling. That visceral reaction that a certain prospect will spawn. A feeling that forms way down deep in the gut and is so much stronger than a hunch.
"When you see a good player, and you know he's a player, your heart starts pumping a little harder," Webster said. "You get a little excited. You can feel it inside."
That's just one part of the scouting process, though. A scout can think fast, but the job of deciding who to pick for a professional team is slow and methodical.
Webster is Seattle's vice president of football operations, and he has an eye for the game. A scout's eye. That's what earned him a foothold in the NFL occupational structure, starting out as an area scout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 1988. Twenty years later, he's an executive in charge of Seattle's personnel department, a position he has held for two years.
Recognizing talent is only one part of the scout's job. The rest requires elbow grease, starting with Seattle's area scouts on up the food chain to Webster and then team president Tim Ruskell. On Saturday, all that work is distilled into a 10-minute window in which the Seahawks will make their first-round pick, the culmination of months of effort and input from all over the country and across Seattle's organization.
If the draft is a franchise's lifeblood, the scouting department is its arteries, responsible for maintaining the flow of talent while operating below the surface for most of the year. This week is the exception. The one time a year when the franchise's scouting arm takes center stage.
"This is our one game," Ruskell said. "Don't be sick."
Ruskell and Webster each began working as Buccaneers scouts about the same time. Ruskell learned scouting first in Canada and later in the USFL before coming to the Bucs in 1987.
Webster had been a graduate-assistant coach in college, first at Alabama and then Tulsa.
He was young and married and not making very much money as he looked around for ways to keep football as part of his career. Webster talked to his former boss, Ray Perkins the one-time Alabama coach who was in charge of the Bucs in 1988. Webster got a job with the Bucs. He worked out of Florida, but scouted the Northeast colleges, meaning he spent weeks at a time living out of suitcases and rental cars during the football season.
Turns out the would-be coach had a jeweler's eye when it came to football talent. He was capable of detecting gems.
"He's an evaluator," Ruskell said of Webster. "Those are hard to find. Those are like gold in the personnel business."
Ruskell became president in 2005 and hired Webster from Tampa Bay after the 2006 draft.
Seahawks scouting protocol is for a scout to visit three times any player the Seahawks will consider drafting. Scouts will conduct a minimum of five interviews with those who know the prospect, from a coach to an academic tutor. A player is evaluated on his citizenship, his football character, his ability and his fit for a system.
A scout must project how that player will fit into the NFL team's system. He must also try to figure out how that player is going to handle the combination of time and money because he's going to have a lot more of both commodities once he reaches the NFL.
"How's he going to handle everything that comes with being part of a pro football program?" Webster said.
This isn't like college, where you have to run laps for sleeping through a workout. That kind of irresponsibility can end up costing a player his job in the NFL. That's why scouts spend so much time talking to the coach, the equipment manager and anyone else who might provide an indication of the work habits of the 200-pound ball of fast-twitch muscle fibers who plays running back or the 320-pound nose tackle who's as wide as he is tall.
All that scouting adds up to months of evaluation and a mountain of information on the players Seattle will consider choosing this weekend.
The power of thinking fast? It's a great subject for a book, but it doesn't really describe just how much effort Ruskell, Webster and Seattle's scouts put into this draft.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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