With only two preseason games remaining, the Rams battle their in-state rivals the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium, and will close out the preseason on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
All front-office personnel executives will burn the midnight oil watching tape, ranking players on other teams and comparing them to the back end of their current roster. After all reports have been read, meetings with coaches and scouts completed, and the phone lines have been exhausted on possible trades, interest in bubble veterans and draft picks that have not lived up to the hype or draft status, teams look to stack their 53-man roster and develop a practice squad.
The following is the detailed process that takes place during this important phase of developing the 53-man roster, and where mistakes are made. Aggressive personnel departments start calling other NFL clubs at the start of training camp — prior to the first preseason game — to inquire if a team is heavy at a certain position. For example, a team may have 10 linebackers, but only plan on keeping seven. Because several linebackers on the depth chart have impressed coaches by playing well on both defense and special teams, a few of these linebackers are perfect trade bait, leaving someone on the outside looking in. Personnel departments, as well as coaching staffs consistently look to improve their team’s depth by turning over every rock, looking for that diamond in the rough. Keep in mind “one team’s garbage is another team’s treasure.” Teams will look to trade for a draft pick, or swap a player for a player.
Despite having your 53-man roster pretty much inked, anxiety sets in. Teams continue building the roster. It is a crazy time. Teams scramble to get a jump on their competition throughout the league and especially within their division. Agents are ringing the phones off the hook, calling about team’s positional needs, along with information on clients that are floating in limbo. Teams work to position themselves to pounce on productive players throughout the preseason, and avoid the sexy name player without production.
On the eve of cutdowns, pro scouting staffs grind tons of DNA (player’s film), while general managers field calls from agents. Clubs research players, calling their peers around the league (coaches, scouts and trainers). Teams store data for each of the NFL franchises. This is done on the computer so data can be updated quickly and shared among coaches and scouts (or with binders for some teams fighting their way out of the dark ages when it comes to computer technology). The following information is updated several times a year: Team history, scouting reports on players, character (arrest, DUI, drugs), league suspensions, injury history, current coaching staff, advance scouting reports, division updates, and college scouting evaluations of pro players (summer assignments).
When I ran the pro department, I broke the data down into three areas: AFC, NFC, and lastly, division. Tracking player personnel is extremely important at any time of the year, especially when you’re looking to upgrade the bottom of your roster. It is imperative that data is tracked year by year and season by season on roster movement (team and player statistics and off-field issues along with security background). Keeping all this information current is the key to a successful pro scouting department. The main goal for acquiring the opponent and player data is to identify all personnel in the National Football League and track player performance on and off the field along with team results.
The cut from 90-80 is important but easy. However, cutting to 53 is extremely challenging. Because the goal is to upgrade your depth and the back end of the roster, you must do your homework. Teams must feel good about the player’s character, injury history, playtime, and production. When adding an aged veteran with double-digit accrued seasons, questions must be asked. Does he have a chip on his shoulder? Can he help develop our youth? You need to get a feel for his desire to still compete at a championship level.
For all players that are possible additions to the roster, both general managers and vice presidents make sure coaches and personnel people agree on the level of comfort within the system that is currently in place. Question what system the player presently operates in (offense – pro style vs. West Coast; or Defense – 3-4 vs. 4-3; and is the terminology the same as yours or close) and does he fit the team’s philosophy. Is the football player smart enough to pick up the scheme with little to no issues to allow for a smooth transition? The Wonderlic test score carries some weight here. The bottom line: Are they “football smart” with the ability to absorb the offense and defense quickly?
Billy Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo have done a good job assembling talent on the 2011 Rams 90-man training camp roster. While competition breeds success, the battle among positions is heating up with the preseason clock winding down toward the start of the regular season. One key situation to follow is how they deal with injured players and if those players make the 53-man roster and why.
The heavy question facing these two men: Do you place an injured player on injured reserve or look forward to him returning at the back end of the schedule? Do you take a chance on a player that is injury prone that has struggled to stay healthy for more than a two- or three-game stretch. Or do they add a player to the roster that has a chronic knee, who has flashed play-making and difference-making ability on Sundays, but will need daily treatment and a day’s rest after games, to deal with swelling and fluid extraction from the knee? Do you keep an underachieving draft pick, aged veterans that might possibly take a roster spot from a younger player?
Finalizing the 53-man roster can be tricky. It is not an exact science and a lot is based off gut feeling and a player’s DNA.