MOBILE, Ala. — Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said attending the Reese's Senior Bowl has given Minnesota's personnel department an opportunity to reinforce what scouts viewed in the season, coaches an in-person look at players in pads and helmets and both groups the opportunity for in-person meetings with draft eligible prospects.
Spielman said the practices and interviews have significant importance in leading up to the NFL Draft (scheduled in 2015 for April 30-May 2). The NFL Scouting Combine will be next month in Indianapolis, followed by pro day workouts at college campuses.
"This is the only opportunity where we get to see these guys get coached and work in pads against each other, because when you get to the Combine, it's all individual workouts, test numbers and things like that, so it's a great opportunity to see these guys in this environment and another chance for these guys to compete," Spielman said. "They competed for the universities, and now they get an opportunity here and will get an opportunity at the combine. That's one thing we're always looking for, are those players when they have an opportunity to go out and showcase themselves, are they taking advantage of opportunities or turning things down, and then it comes up, what are they trying to hide?"
Some players, Spielman said, who declined to play in the Senior Bowl and gave proper notice have legitimate reasons like recovering from injuries or having played in a recent college bowl game.
Spielman said the practices can reinforce grades that scouts assigned players they saw during the season, and the interviews give a clearer picture on how the player's personality might fit into the rest of the team. In addition to the layer of review, scouts have also received a look at players from smaller schools who were invited here or participated in last week's East-West Shrine Game. Spielman cited right guard Brandon Fusco, the only player out of Slippery Rock (Pa.) to ever participate in a Senior Bowl, as an example of a player who used this week (in 2011) to show he could compete with players from more conspicuous programs. Fusco's contract extension in 2014 followed him showing he can perform at the highest level of the sport.
Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who was hired a little more than a year ago, feel like they can build this year on a foundation that's been laid. Minnesota approached schematic needs through free agency and the draft and was able to select Teddy Bridgewater, who they both feel will play quarterback at a high level for a long time. Bridgewater's performance in his rookie season has allowed the Vikings to commit time to other areas.
"We always try to allocate time at every position," Spielman said. "There was a point of emphasis last year on the quarterback, but every year we identify what our needs are, and we're going to try to fill those needs, and that's kind of how we really truly hone in, but we have a great staff, great college scouting staff and pro staff that work tirelessly year-round to just get the global picture. Then, I'll try to hone in the plan as we get closer."
Spielman said he likes the blend of personnel veterans with decades of experience as well as younger scouts on the Vikings staff.
"You want to have that veteran presence, but our young guys are very talented," Spielman said. "One thing I know, just like when you're creating a coaching staff or a team, you want a great chemistry among everybody. Not only do they have to be talented at what they do, but we have to fit together as a group so we all work as one."
They have had numerous meetings this week as the league moved within 100 days of the draft, and that will continue as the combine approaches. Free agency is scheduled to begin in March and will be an opportunity for the Vikings to add players at spots where they might think the draft isn't as deep.
"Once we get out of these all-star games, we'll get together as a scouting staff and have our initial draft meetings before we go to the combine," Spielman said. "Usually by the time you get ready to go to the combine, you have a pretty good sense of where the strengths of the draft are going to be. We also have unrestricted free agent meetings before the combine as well, so we can say, 'It's going to be strong in the UFA market and strong in this area in the draft,' so you can kind of start piecing together potentially where you can fill some of your needs."