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The Value Of The Senior Bowl


Cardinals right tackle Levi Brown, the team's 2007 first-round pick, participated in last year's Senior Bowl in Alabama.

Steve Keim had already done workups on Penn State tackle Levi Brown by the time both arrived at the Senior Bowl last year.

But that didn't mean Keim, the Cardinals' director of college scouting, didn't learn more about the man who would eventually become the Cards' top draft pick.

For one, Keim said, the Cardinals saw an innate toughness in Brown as he physically battled the other probable NFL draftees, something "you may not see at a school visit."

But more important may have been Brown's presence in Mobile, Ala., in the first place.

"A lot of guys who know they are going to be drafted in the top 15 or 20 don't go because they don't want to get injured," Keim said. "It's a credit to guys like Levi or (49ers linebacker) Patrick Willis that they go. They want to compete and show they are the best in their trade. That goes into (evaluations)."

This week, the Cardinals' braintrust is back in Mobile for the two-pronged event that is the Senior Bowl. The Cards' coaches, scouts and front-office arrived Monday and will remain until Thursday.

The football is the obvious component. But the week also serves as an NFL convention of sorts, as every team – save for the Super Bowl participants – sends their coaches, scouts and front office-types while player agents and NFL coaching hopefuls also descend on Alabama.

"A lot of deals can be made there, a lot of coaching opportunities can be resolved there," Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. "You can learn a lot through discussions on general business that happens in the NFL.

"It is something that has significance not only from a talent standpoint but from a business standpoint as well."

Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt will get a little more out of the talent aspect this year compared to 2007. Whisenhunt was a little more than a week into his job with the Cards at last year's Senior Bowl, and his priority then was lining up a coaching staff.

Graves said team officials frequently can't make it through the hotel lobby without collecting a stack of resumes. And Keim said he felt bad for Whisenhunt and Graves last season because when the two did have time to get over to the stands and watch practice, five minutes wouldn't pass before someone was coming up to introduce themselves.

When he is watching players, Keim said, "I don't have that distraction."

The Senior Bowl is only a piece of the scouting puzzle. Too many highly regarded players don't participate, especially those underclassmen who have declared for the draft. Plenty will be learned at the scouting combine in a month, and many players will also take part in pre-draft on-campus workouts.

What makes the Senior Bowl worth it, Whisenhunt said, is "you get a chance to see these players do football drills and compete in football uniforms."

For the first time, the players will get NFL coaching – the staffs of the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers are running the teams – and Keim said the practices are geared more toward NFL evaluation rather than true game prep.

"You go through all the (pro day) workouts and even the combine, you see these guys in shorts and drills, but you don't get to see them one-on-one," Whisenhunt said.

"Whether it is blocking, whether it protecting, how they drop when they are covering a route, or even when they are coming in out of breaks with their pads on when they are catching the ball, you get to see them in a competitive atmosphere. It's a valuable way to assess them physically and how much work you'd need to do with them."

Keim, who spent last week watching practices for the East-West Shrine game in Houston, has a checklist for Senior Bowl players that are best answered in such an environment (for a link to the Senior Bowl rosters, go here).

Keim likes to see how quickly a player can process information with new things being taught. He likes to see how a player handles playing in a new element. He also watches for coachability and competitiveness.

A player likely won't make or break his draft status, but he will confirm what a scout had seen or maybe raise some red flags, forcing deeper evaluation.

"The Senior Bowl is just one element in the total process," Graves said.

Contact Darren Urban at Posted 1/22/08.

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