MOBILE, Ala. - The Eagles' coaches and scouts spent all day Monday getting to the Senior Bowl site, a delay out of Philadelphia causing them to miss a connecting flight from Atlanta to Mobile. They rented four vans and drove the final 5 hours. Andy Reid decided to bail on the whole trip. (So no, the vans hadn't burned all their timeouts by the time they hit Montgomery.)
The scouts, obviously, needed to get here, to watch a decent-sized chunk of the best talent in the upcoming draft work out all week. Ditto position coaches, especially a hands-on guy like offensive-line coach Juan Castillo, who gets heavily involved in the scouting process. But if you're say, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, or defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, do you really need this? True, it's warmer than Philadelphia; the sun is bright enough to turn your face pink if you forgot the sunscreen, and the seafood is fresh, but those attributes are common to quite a few places that don't require one to spend several hours of the day sitting on metal bleachers, with nothing but water available to drink.
Mornhinweg and McDermott said they didn't make the trip just to find authentic gumbo.
"You get to see the fellas up close and personal," Mornhinweg said, nodding toward the South team practice taking place on the Ladd-Peebles Stadium surface yesterday afternoon. "It's the first time you've seen 'em, with the exception of film. In some cases, you sort of confirm what you've seen on the film, and in other cases, you see something a little bit better, or you see [a red flag] you need to go back and look at on the film."
Of course, the coaches will see the players again in a month at the NFL Scouting Combine, but there, as Mornhinweg and McDermott noted, the drills are individual. In Mobile, the players run all the group stuff a normal team runs in a week of practice, including scrimmaging in pads, with live hitting.
"Here, you get to see them play the game," Mornhinweg said.
"You get to see guys compete against good competition. You can watch 'em from a competitive standpoint, go one rep after another rep," said McDermott, who was leaning over an end-zone fence watching linemen joust. "If you can get close to them and see the look in their eye after getting beat, or making a great play, you watch 'em interact. In between plays, you watch the stretch - to me that's part of the overall evaluation process . . . I like to see the intensity level of the players, too."
Mornhinweg said he felt he got extra insight into the players when he coached the South squad in 2003 (just a few weeks before being fired by the Lions). Since Mornhinweg was gone before the draft that year, his insight didn't translate into any benefits for that franchise, which kind of fits the whole Detroit vibe.
Mornhinweg recalled having been really impressed with that Carson Palmer fellow. Mornhinweg said he also took a liking to Palmer's USC teammate, running back Justin Fargas, who was drafted in the third round by the Raiders and has been a solid if unspectacular performer for them ever since. Mornhinweg said there also was "a player, just because of the way he went about his business, I just didn't want on my football team." He declined to provide a name there.
"The best viewpoint is to coach in the game," agreed McDermott. McDermott hasn't had a chance to do that, but he said he was speaking yesterday to a Bengals coach who told him they ended up with at least a couple of players on their roster they'd worked with here last year.
McDermott has been here twice before as a position coach; this is his first trip as a coordinator. The biggest difference, he said, is that now he has to pay attention to three position groupings, instead of just one.
"Also, you look at the vision you have for the defensive side of the ball - what kinds of players fit the organization's vision for the defense," he said.
As for the question of whether getting rudely run out of the playoffs, 34-14, by Dallas a few weeks ago, might have affected a coordinator's vision for his unit, or if anything was gleaned from watching the rest of the playoffs unfold, neither Mornhinweg nor McDermott was willing to talk about the Eagles. They deferred to Reid on that, which would have been just dandy if he had shown up.
Similarly, Eagles general-manager-in-waiting Howie Roseman also declined to discuss anything about the team. (Who is this McNabb fellow you speak of? Will he be throwing before or after Tebow today?)
Many analysts feel the 2010 draft will be largely about defense for the Eagles, especially with two positions of need, safety and defensive end, looking deep in talent.
"It's so early in the offseason to kind of get into any of that," said Roseman, who is the Eagles' player personnel vice president at least for a few more days, until he officially is hired as Tom Heckert's successor. "Right now you're just trying to get your board right, trying to get your ducks in a row as you go through the offseason process."
When all the Tom Heckert-related shakeups are complete, it seems likely Eagles director of college scouting Ryan Grigson and pro scout Louis Riddick will take on greater responsibilities . . . The Birds have greater needs, but they certainly are aware that one of the major standouts this week has been Ole Miss running back-wideout Dexter McCluster, whose speed and elusiveness are remarkable. He also is a strong route runner with good hands. McCluster clocks in at 5-8, 165, but size has not been an issue for the Eagles in the past. NFL Network draft maven Mike Mayock said yesterday that McCluster has probably improved his draft stock from the fourth round to the second round. Mayock likens McCluster to San Diego's Darren Sproles.
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.