Director of College Scouting Tim Ruskell works across from the burgeoning draft board that will display all of the team's interesting prospects
If you strolled through One Buccaneer Place on Monday, you might have thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had suddenly filled all of their coaching vacancies.
There, in the office of former Linebackers Coach Lovie Smith, was one Dennis Hickey, watching videotape. Same scene in the emptied-out meeting room of former defensive backs coach Herman Edwards, where Joe DiMarzo, Jr. had set up shop. There was a certain Mike Yowarsky in the bare-walled digs of former offensive coordinator Les Steckel.
Hickey, DiMarzo and Yowarsky are, in fact, Buccaneer employees, though none are new hires. They are a few of the regional scouts for the team, unfamiliar names simply because NFL scouts toil mostly in obscurity. But these men, led by Director of College Scouting Tim Ruskell, Director of Player Personnel Jerry Angelo and, eventually, General Manager Rich McKay, are the conduits of the information that will form the team's draft strategy.
And the formation of that strategy began on Monday, when Yowarsky and the rest of the scouts – Hickey, DiMarzo, Ruston Webster and Lloyd Richards – hit town for a week's worth of prospect meetings. They quickly scattered to wherever they could view highlight tapes, often in unoccupied coaching offices.
"The scouts are in town for the pre-draft meetings, which actually are the pre-pre-draft meetings," said Ruskell. "That means we get together and organize the board (on the wall in his office) and we do highlight tapes on all the prospects that we like. So, this week, we do highlight tapes and any catch-up work we need to do on juniors who came out two weeks ago."
The board to which Ruskell refers to hangs on the wall directly across from his desk. Behind Ruskell hangs a map of the United States, segmented into the scout's five regions and topographed with pins at college locations. A computer monitor and a separate laptop grace his desk among various written scouting reports. He usually works with the room illuminated only by the dim light coming through blinds on the windows facing Tampa Bay's practice fields.
But it is the board that is the focus of all that is done in the team's personnel department between now and the late-April draft. Every prospect the team is interested in goes on the board on a magnetized strip and is eventually assigned a grade between, hypothetically, 2.0 and 8.0. Very few prospects approach either extreme end.
Getting to those grades is what Ruskell and his crew began on Monday. The scouts will spend this week poring over tape and exchanging thoughts, then we'll take a week to return to their homes around the country one last time before the big crunch.
"What we're doing now takes about a week; we do about 150 highlight tapes," said Ruskell. "Then, on February 12, we'll have our big meeting where we slow down and talk about every player for about a half an hour to an hour, decide which ones are Buccaneers and which ones aren't. We do that position by position, and that takes 10 days.
"That leads all the way into the (NFL Scouting) Combine, which starts February 22nd. That goes four days, then you have a month and a half of workouts before we come back for the draft.
"This week of work - this gets us going."
What they are left with, after a month of meetings and combine workouts, is a fairly solid draft board from which, among other things, they can conduct serious mock drafts and compare players across positions.
"We tinker with it," said Ruskell. "It does not get into cement until after those meetings on the 22nd. Then I go high-security. Where they are at that point, they won't change much. Some guys will change because they didn't run what they were supposed to or they got hurt or whatever."
At the moment, there are roughly 350 names on the big board, a group the team will try to pare down to about 210 players for the draft. Of those 210, at least 180 will have been scouted in person by at least three members of McKay's personnel staff. A few will have had only two visits, but none will have been seen by just one person.
"That's our goal," said Ruskell. "Anybody that's a prospect, we want to get three looks at. Usually that's a scout, a cross-check – meaning another scout goes into his area – then either myself or Jerry as a director."
Those various grades for a player are combined somewhat arbitrarily into a single number on the scale by Ruskell, and this is a rough starting point.
"Right now, they're up there based on all of the grades, from which I pick an average," said Ruskell. "When we talk about them, I'll suggest that we put a guy at a certain grade, say 5.9 . If I don't get a disagreement from (Head Coach) Tony (Dungy), Rich or Jerry, then that's where he goes. If there's disagreement, we'll talk about him some more and watch some more tape before we come to a consensus grade. Usually, they just listen, hear my suggestion based on what we just heard, then go with it."
On April 15, a week before the draft, the board will be relocated to the war room – or, more accurately, a complete duplicate of it will be created and hung on one long wall. The board in Ruskell's office is maintained as a private meeting room for he, Dungy, McKay and Angelo, a conversation spot for possible last-week changes.
That final week of rigorous draft preparation is still quite a ways off, though it might not feel that way for the Bucs' personnel department. Nearly every day between now and then is set aside for the completion of a draft strategy, and it officially got underway on Monday.