Assistant director of pro personnel Quentin Harris (left) and director of pro personnel T.J. McCreight discuss players at an OTA last month.
Explaining everything T.J. McCreight and Quentin Harris do for the Cardinals takes a little time.
Or maybe just by pointing out Nehemiah Broughton and his spot on the roster.
McCreight, the team's director of pro personnel, and Harris, the assistant director of pro personnel, spied Broughton – a fullback – in the preseason of 2009 playing for the New York Giants. They saw a player who had the talent to perhaps start in the league. Broughton was stuck behind Madison Hedgecock, though, and ended up on the Giants' practice squad.
From there, "we always kind of kept track of him," McCreight said.
The Cards didn't need a fullback at that point. But by the end of the season, the Cards – with starting fullback Dan Kreider banged up – had a spot for Broughton. McCreight and Harris made their pitch to general manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt. And the Cards signed Broughton, who is the leading candidate to be the Cards' starting fullback in 2010.
"We're always looking at the roster thinking, 'Where can we upgrade?' " McCreight said. "It's like putting a puzzle together."
The team's pro personnel department does more than that, of course. In season, the two write up reports on every offensive and defensive player of the Cards' next opponent which they deliver to the coaches. Harris scouts each upcoming opponent ahead of time to ferret out info not normally seen on coaches' tape – who might be struggling to play with an injury, which cornerback is the weakest and the one to attack, how quickly a team sets an offensive tempo or breaks from the huddle. There is some college scouting in there as well.
Mostly, though, it's about their job title – pro personnel. They watch all the players around the NFL, prepare "ready" lists of available players during the season to plug holes due to injury or poor play, and scout the top free-agents-to-be for the following offseason.
"These guys do important work," Graves said. "They don't get as much attention, but they play a vital role."
Harris not only watches tape but can also draw on his experience both scouting games in person, which he does every week, but also his time as a player. Harris, in his third season in the front office, played safety for five NFL seasons including four with the Cardinals (2002-2005).
That came into play last year, when the Cards were looking for offensive line depth and Harris saw Jeremy Bridges – who was Harris' one-time Cardinals teammate – was cut by the Redskins.
"I didn't forget about him, but as a player, I wasn't really into him," Harris said. "But his name came across the wire and I was like, 'OK.' Then you put on the film, and you're like, 'Wow, this guy can play.' He ended up coming in and doing a great job for us."
The "ready lists" appear on McCreight's wall, a color-coded top four at every position in case it is needed. McCreight, who worked in the front office in Baltimore and then his hometown of Cleveland before coming to Arizona last season, can see immediately if a player is practice-squad eligible, if he could work on the 53-man roster, if he could step right in and play if needed.
When the Cards had injuries at safety last season, Hamza Abdullah and Herana-Daze Jones were the two guys at the top of the chart. The Cards flew both in to take physicals and go through a workout. Abdullah was kept and ended up playing significant time at the end of the season and the playoffs. Jones was sent home – although the Cards ended up signing him early in the offseason anyway.
Sometimes, it isn't an injury. Sometimes, Whisenhunt will just come down the hallway, asking for a player at a certain position because a current player isn't getting the job done. Sometimes, the Cards just want to improve a position on the practice squad, with no immediate need to have him play on Sundays.
At the heart of the lists is one of the time-honored clichés within NFL locker rooms: The film don't lie.
There have been plenty of times, Harris said, where there is an available player– both in-season and during free agency – whose recognizable name may be the only good part left of his career. Fans may hope the Cards sign him, but research makes him untouchable.
"We'll let Rod or Coach Whiz, whoever, know the exact details of why that guy won't help or why he'd be a headache," Harris said. "Rod makes the final decision, but they do a great job using our input. But yes, that happens a lot, a guy with a name that people might be familiar with. But when you put on the film, it's like, 'Whoa, they're just not playing very well.' "
The duo's biggest impact probably comes in March, when the two have taken all the "circumstances around the team," as Graves puts it – need, cost, talent – and compiles a free-agent list of about 10 players at the specific positions. Those players are then given to their respective position coaches to rank further, and the Cards' free-agent target list is born.
McCreight and Harris are then at the heart of free-agent visits, taking veterans to physicals and dinners while the team woos them.
Eventually, both would like to become NFL general managers, although their current job keeps them engaged.
"I'm so passionate about it," McCreight said. "It's fun."
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