Director of Player Personnel Tim Ruskell says game film, not combine tests, is the real key to the evaluation of a player's skills
Tim Ruskell has lived in Tampa for a good portion of his life. If he wasn't the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' director of player personnel – if he had instead followed the radio career he also dabbled in – Ruskell would probably still be an avid Buccaneers fan.
Perhaps he would expect great things from Keyshawn Johnson in 2001 and hold a soft spot for first-year quarterback Joe Hamilton. Maybe he'd want to see the team's players build good images in the community while also contemplating the Bucs' depth at running back.
Well, Ruskell is the team's director of player personnel – he took over that position in June in his 15th year with the team – but that doesn't bar him from sharing the feelings of many a Buccaneers fan. This much became clear during Ruskell's Your Turn interview, during which he fielded questions sent in by Bucs fans themselves.
The first half of that interview is appeared on this site last week. Now you can check out the second half, with Ruskell addressing such issues as the Bucs' running back situation and the evaluation of player character. To watch the video of the second half of the interview visit the Buccaneers.com Video Archive or use the Broadcast Network box on the home page. A full written transcript also follows.
Transcript: Your Turn with Tim Ruskell, Part II
Moderator: "We're back for part two of our Your Turn interview with Tim Ruskell, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' director of player personnel. As usual, all the questions we're going to give Tim were sent in by Buccaneers fans using Buccaneers.com."
Aaron Senecal of Tampa, Florida: Please explain the eligibility of players in relation to the practice squad.
Tim Ruskell: "If you're a rookie and you've been waived, you're eligible for the practice squad. But you have to have been waived, and every team in the league would have a shot at you (on waivers). If they don't pick you up, then you're eligible to be put on the Buccaneers' practice squad.
"But, basically, it comes down to accrued seasons. If that number is zero, no matter what you've done in terms of other teams' training camps, and trying to make teams but not making them, if you're accrued seasons count up to zero, then you're eligible for the practice squad."
Warren Ball of Tampa, Florida: After a new signing, some players become expendable or need to be let go for cap space. They are usually traded for low round draft picks, like Eric Zeier was. Couldn't these players have been packaged for a higher draft pick?
Tim Ruskell: "Trading is real hard in our league right now, because you're trading contracts and not just players. You don't see much of that happening anymore. Package deals, as they happened in the '70s and '80s, have just kind of disappeared. It's very difficult and a lot of things have to be worked out in terms of money that accelerates onto your team and your salary cap. Teams don't even do it much anymore.
"So, yeah, it sounds good on paper and fantasy football-wise it's fun to do, but it just doesn't happen much anymore."
Kevin McDaniel of Greenville, South Carolina: What is the team doing to address the need for a backup running back for Warrick Dunn?
Tim Ruskell: "Well, we have a pretty good backup running back for Warrick Dunn right now, and the guy's name is Mike Alstott. Should Warrick Dunn go down, Mike has done this before and he's pretty good at it, as we all now. So we feel pretty good about, if something did happen to Warrick, Mike would be able to fill the bill.
"We're also excited about Rabih Abdullah who, when he's in there has done a fine job. So we don't see that as a problem right now. Should a couple guys get nicked, then we'd have to go out and look and there'd be some candidates out there. But right now we feel pretty good about the position."
Mark of Paducah, Kentucky: One of the biggest differences between college and pro football is the speed. Do you have a test or drill that can measure a prospect's ability to see and react quickly enough to play in the NFL?
Tim Ruskell: "That's what they pay us for. You've got to watch the tape to do that, really. You've got to see quick reactions on how guys are getting tackled or beaten on the film. The film is the true key to judging a guy's true field speed. Yes, we have a bunch of tests that we do – the shuttle, the 10-yard on the 40-yard dash is measured, the 20-yard on the 40-yard dash is measured, we have a shuttle drill that's a back-and-forth, five and 10 yards, and those are nice gauges. But unless you see that on the tape (you're not sure), because it doesn't necessarily transfer. There's a part of it that's mental. A guy has to recognize where he has to get to in order to get there quickly. If he doesn't recognize it, it doesn't matter how quick he is innately. It's a part mental and part physical evaluation."
William Dunn of Atlanta, Georgia: I am a huge fan of Joe Hamilton. With the acquisition of Brad Johnson and Ryan Leaf, where does this leave Joe?
Tim Ruskell: "I agree with him. I'm a huge fan of Joe Hamilton. What a fine college career he had, and when he's been put in the fire for us he's performed admirably.
"Yes, it looks like it's going to be a difficult situation for Joe, but if you know Joe, that's not going to dissuade him from giving his best. He's a true competitive guy. Joe Hamilton will end up playing, somewhere, somehow. He'll figure out a way to get it done.
"I wouldn't count Joe out now. He'll be given an opportunity in camp to make this team, and if somehow it didn't work out, you'll see Joe Hamilton playing somewhere."
Brent Bailey of Groves, Texas: What do you consider the greatest moment of your NFL career so far?
Tim Ruskell: "I would go back to…it was my greatest and saddest…going to the championship game, watching the team get to the championship game against St. Louis. What a thrill that was to be a part of that ride. To think, it went down to the last few moments and we had a chance to get to the Super Bowl with a play here or a play there. That was an exciting time and it was just fun to be around the team. We hope to do that again and again and again. But, to date, that was the most exciting time."
Erick of Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Can Keyshawn Johnson flourish in the type of offense the Buccaneers run?
Tim Ruskell: "Absolutely. Keyshawn can be, and I expect will be, a major factor for our offense. Brad Johnson's going to be looking for him and they're excited about how it's gone with him in the offseason. He's such a powerful, physical, clutch performer in this league. He wants to be the best, he wants to win, we want him to succeed…all the factors are there for him to have just a bust-out year."
Dr. Mark Bamberger of Cincinnati, Ohio: What is the biggest personnel need and/or concern for the team, heading into camp?
Tim Ruskell: "There's no glaring need going into camp. We feel like we've filled the holes that we had after the draft and prior to the draft, with the draft and some of the free agents that we've signed. I would say right now that what we're concentrating on right now is just depth, having emergency people ready in case somebody goes down at every position. We don't go into camp thinking, 'Ah, we're just not adequate.' We don't feel that way at any position, which is a great feeling.
"Now, things will happen and guys will go down for short periods of time and we'll have to pluck from our emergency list, our 'out-there' list, but right now we feel very good about our roster."
Ian Dembsky of Belmont, Massachusetts: It's pretty rare in this salary-cap era for a team to have so many all-stars. How much longer will we be able to enjoy all the players on the Bucs' roster before we have to see a Cowboys/49ers style youth movement?
Tim Ruskell: "You can do something about that. Yes, we're excited about all the good players that we have, and that's a combination of drafting well and hitting on some of these guys that were free agents. The way to avoid the Dallas/San Francisco situations is to constantly bring in young players that are good players. Those are the guys that you want to re-sign, and as older guys go beyond their productive playing years, you have to make the tough decisions and say, 'That's it, we can't re-sign you to the big contract.' We've done that.
"But the key to keep the wheel moving is to draft well and re-sign those younger players to better deals than you would get on the open market if they weren't from your team. That's the key. What happened to Dallas and San Francisco is that they had some lean years on the draft. They didn't re-up on their star players and the void was there. They had to keep re-signing the older guys, and at some point the productivity falls off and now you're running into trouble."
Mike Hallman of Wilmington, North Carolina: What type of factors do you look at when selecting a possible draft choice besides ability to play and how much do you let the media play into possible off field problems?
Tim Ruskell: "Character is very big. It's fairly easy to judge a player's ability level. We can do that, we have practice at that, we have many looks at that. The key is to be a good detective and ascertain the guy's football character and character overall. Those factors, if you get them right, will determine the chances of that player living up to his potential, meaning the grade that you put on him as a player.
"We grade those guys with a letter grade, A being top character down to F. If we put an A on a guy, we're saying there's almost 100% chance he will live up to whatever his playing ability is. It's a combination that's just as important as the player's ability level.
"You don't want (to have the media dwell on problems). We live in this city, too. We want everybody to be proud of our team. You don't want a guy that's going to be in the papers a lot, that's going to have trouble. We try to avoid that, not for that reason, but if he's doing all that he's probably not doing what he needs to do to be a good football player. We don't let the media dictate who to take and not to take. We do our own research and then we make a decision based on what we know and what the facts are. 'Is this guy going to be a productive citizen and a productive player for us or not?'