LB Shelton Quarles knows the experience of proving himself during an NFL tryout
The first rule of open tryouts in the NFL is that there are no open tryouts in the NFL.
From time to time, a player in the National Football League may appear to come out of nowhere, but that is rarely true in the strict sense. Players gain workouts with NFL teams on the basis of their football resumes – their lists of experience from high school to college, and sometimes beyond – and the concrete evidence of game videotape.
The weekend-warrior who talks his way into a workout and catches a scout's eye? Pure myth.
"Open tryouts no longer exist in the National Football League," said Buccaneers Coordinator of Pro Personnel Mark Dominik. "When Carolina and Jacksonville came into the league (in 1995), they actually had some open tryouts, but Cleveland didn't and I don't expect Houston to, either."
That doesn't mean Dominik, who schedules and conducts most of the team's pro workouts throughout the calendar year, has a lot of free time on his hands. There are periodic free agent workouts at One Buccaneer Place, only they are initiated by the Buccaneers and they aren't done on a whim. Though a relatively small percentage of the players granted workouts are eventually signed by Tampa Bay, all are considered legitimate prospects before they step on the field.
"We probably sign 10 to 15 percent, one out of every nine or ten guys, that we work out," said Dominik. "But we, of all the teams in the league, are very selective in who we work out. There are teams out there, like Jacksonville, that probably work out 100 to 150 players a year, easily, maybe 200. We bring in 35 to 40, but we don't just bring in numbers. We bring in the guys that we've done a lot of research on that we're sure we really like going into it.
"So we'll bring in our top three or four linebackers, rather than bringing in eight linebackers and seeing which are the best. We've already pared that list down."
For instance, Tampa Bay conducted a workout of five players in early February, four of whom had recently played in the Canadian Football League. Earlier this week, one of those players, DB Antonious Bonner, was signed to the Bucs' roster and will get a chance to compete for a spot in trainign camp. Four years ago, LB Shelton Quarles was in the exact same boat as last week's CFL hopefuls, and was no better known than Bonner, Henry Burris, Dave Dickenson or Winston October.
However, Quarles was signed by the team, made the active roster after a strong 1997 training camp, was an instant hit on special teams and is now the Bucs' starter at strongside linebacker.
Quarles path to success is exactly what the midweek workouts are designed to facilitate. He had done enough in the CFL to catch at least one pro scout's eyes (in this case it was Dominik himself), but needed to show that there was room for further improvement.
"You're hoping that he has a good workout athletically, because you've done the tape work and the tape work is good enough where you're comfortable bringing him in," said Dominik. "Now, the question is: is he a good enough athlete to continue to ascend? If his workout reveals that his athletic ability only goes so far, we know that his play potential is not going to get much better. It's going to be what it is on film.
"But if we see some raw athletic ability, like we saw in Charles Kirby when we brought him in, or Chartric Darby or Shelton Quarles … even though the film on those guys was so-so, we saw enough athletic ability to say this guy could continue to develop. Most of the guys don't have that, and that's why we sign a limited number of guys."