DT Anthony McFarland impressed the Bucs' coaches at the last Senior Bowl
It was Friday afternoon at One Buccaneer Place, January 7, and Tampa Bay's General Manager, Rich McKay, had his mind on next Saturday's game.
No, not that game. McKay will certainly be in attendance for the Buccaneers' Divisional Playoff contest against Washington next Saturday in Raymond James Stadium. On Friday, however, McKay was thinking about the East-West Shrine Bowl, the middle contest in a trio of college all-star games that officially kicks off the 2000 scouting season.
McKay and his staff, the Buccaneers' player personnel department, will spend a good part of the month of January scouting the NCAA's outstanding football players at events such as the January 15 Shrine Bowl, the Delchamps Senior Bowl a week later and the already passed Blue-Gray game. Many of the players McKay and his group will see in these games will have their names called early on the first day of the NFL Draft on April 15.
McKay spelled out his staff's travel-heavy January. "The way the off-season starts is the Blue-Gray Game, to which (Director of College Scouting) Tim Ruskell went," said McKay. "And a couple of our other scouts were already there. Then you go to the East-West Shrine Game, which will be (Director of Player Personnel) Jerry Angelo, Tim, myself, (College Scout) Mike Ackerley and probably one other area scout. Then Mike will go over to the Hula Bowl, which is in Hawaii, and all of the remaining scouts and coaches will go to the Senior Bowl, unless we're still in the playoffs, in which case just the scouts will go, and the coaches obviously will stay here."
The Senior Bowl is held on Saturday, January 22, so just one playoff win by the Buccaneers would keep the team's coaching staff out of Mobile, Alabama that weekend. That would be quite a change for the Bucs' coaches, who spent a long but very fruitful week at the Senior Bowl last year.
The NFL team from each conference that comes closest to the playoffs without qualifying sends its coaching staff to the Senior Bowl to direct one of the squads. While it means a prolonged season of coaching for those two staffs, it also allows a closer look at some very good players. McKay indicated that a good number of eventual first and second-round draft picks usually play in the Senior Bowl.
Last year, the Buc coaches and personnel employees were particularly enamored of two standouts at the Senior Bowl, DT Anthony McFarland and QB Shaun King. The Bucs were impressed not only with their stellar play but with the way each quickly became a leader among their fellow collegiate all-stars. Each also became a Buccaneer that April, McFarland in the first round (15th overall and the first defensive lineman selected) and King in the second round (50th overall). Their contributions to the Bucs' playoff run in 1999 were obvious.
Tampa Bay's impressions of McFarland and King last year illustrate rather well the benefits of the college all-star games. For McKay, the important player information is more often gathered off the field.
The East-West Shrine Game is a good game, it's always been a good game," said McKay of the next event, which last year included Buccaneer K Martin Gramatica. "It's probably not quite as good a game as the Senior Bowl over the years, but a pretty good game. I don't get as much out of the practices, because it's more of a relaxed atmosphere. The practices aren't quite as intense. But the purpose of those bowl games for us is as much the interviews as it is the practices."
That's good, because McKay won't be there for the actual game and will have to exit the practice week early. While he, Angelo and Ruskell will head out to Palo Alto, California for the East West Shrine Bowl on Sunday, they'll be leaving after a few days of practice to come back for the Bucs' playoff game. After all, while the draft is certainly important for 2000, there is still a little bit of work left in the 1999 season.