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The Practice of Evaluation


Linebackers coach Bill Davis gives pointers to Travis LaBoy (55) and Bertrand Berry at a recent training camp practice in Flagstaff.

FLAGSTAFF – A year ago, there was no way that Antrel Rolle, Eric Green and Rod Hood could all start.

Rolle was still a cornerback at the time, and with two cornerback spots, one of the three would be the odd man out. After a pair of preseason games and most of the training camp practices, the new coaching staff had seen what they needed. Green and Hood were their choices.

Preseason games don't count in the standings. Practice is a controlled

When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
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environment, and often involves little contact. But the coaching staff has its way to evaluate players, and players know they are always being evaluated.

"We know. Trust me," Green said. "Coaches don't have to say anything. You know if you are on the bubble. If another guy is doing good, you're like, 'Hey man, I better make some plays.' Because at the end of the day, that's what it is about.

"If I go out and don't do well and Hood does well and Dominique (Rodgers-Cromartie) does well, guess who's going to be on the sidelines?"

Grading the players each day at practice – or even in a game – is, in the words of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, "not rocket science."

It is, however, a comprehensive process, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, based on a player's body of work.

Practices allow coaches to break down a player's game. Sometimes there are 11-on-11 drills and coaches watch how players interact. Other times it is one-on-one with, for instance, an offensive lineman against a defensive lineman. Coaches can key in on a player's technique in such a battle.

In games, the unknown factor of the other team gives coaches another way to grade the roster. Can a player put into play the lessons learned on the practice field and in the meeting room?

The actual plays aren't the only measure. For quarterbacks, Whisenhunt said, coaches are looking to see how the player handles the huddle, handles the team and handles certain situations. If a guy throws a few interceptions in practice, his reaction may reveal as much as the throw itself.

"(Former Steelers coach) Bill Cowher was very firm in not making snap judgments based on a guy having a great game or practice," Whisenhunt said. "I see the logic behind that."

But over the course of training camp practices and the preseason games, Whisenhunt said, "a lot of times, the decision is easy."

Haley tells the offensive players "don't be a yo-yo."

"I don't want you to be great one day and bad the next two," Haley said. "I want you to be the same guy every day. They quickly know where they stand with me, because we are not going to let things slide and if I am continually harping on somebody, they know they are not doing it the way they are supposed to be doing it."

The official depth chart doesn't always give a correct indication where a player is – right now, for instance, rookie running back Tim Hightower is the fourth running back on the chart, behind even Steve Baylark.

Players know where they stand, however. They know based on how many reps they get in practice and with whom they are next to during drills. Recently released running back Marcel Shipp had an idea he may be cut ahead of time when his reps dwindled in workouts.

Reserve offensive lineman Elton Brown enters his fourth season having seen exactly what practice can mean. Brown showed so little in camp in 2006 that he was inactive the entire season. Last year, Brown revived his career in front of the new coaching staff during practice at camp.

"You have to understand you just have to be the same guy every day," Brown said. "As a young guy, you don't understand the speed or tempo. You get out and maybe try to cruise through it.

"But this is the NFL. This is the best of the best."

Contact Darren Urban at Posted 8/15/08.

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