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Saints Draft Room Part IV

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; http://sportsline.com/nfl/story/6345803 Part IV: When night falls on NFL Draft, Day 2 Another installation of Glazer: METAIRIE, La. -- The NFL ignores daytime and nighttime and is divided by responsibilities rather than hours or time zones. Day Two of the NFL ...

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Old 05-01-2003, 02:05 AM   #1
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Saints Draft Room Part IV


Part IV: When night falls on NFL Draft, Day 2
Another installation of Glazer:

METAIRIE, La. -- The NFL ignores daytime and nighttime and is divided by responsibilities rather than hours or time zones.

Day Two of the NFL Draft began the moment the third round ended. There was no noticeable break in the action aside from turning off the television. The primary change that distinguished Day Two -- which began Saturday night -- was the fact that Saints personnel director Rick Mueller and his scouting staff really take front and center and general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Jim Haslett step back a bit.

The clothes are a bit more relaxed, but draft room action stays intense on Draft Day Two. (Provided to SportsLine)
The Saints took a 10-minute rest after the third round ended before Mueller regrouped his posse and asked for opinions, input, comments -- anything to help them prepare for Day Two.

"Was everybody alright with Day One?" he asks his room of scouts. "I know I feel great about it. Mickey and Jim feel great. I am extremely pleased that we were able to get our guy with that sixth pick."

Their next pick would not arrive for another 14 hours yet Mueller's crew began to hold an impromptu scouting meeting. The "embedded reporter" (which they jokingly referred to me as about 75 times during my stay) was more than a little surprised by how much scouting was done during the evening. There would be film work, interviews to watch, interrogations of people close to their fourth-round targets and even interviews with kids' coaches and family members.

Despite the fact that the Saints had spent 10 hours a day for the past six weeks grading players based upon film, in-person workouts, interviews, tests and drills, they actually put in another night of it.

Here's the scenario: New Orleans was picking fifth in the fourth round. They still had one player valued in their first round available on the board. However, he had some off-field issues that caused him to be bypassed by every team in the league. Two other players with high second-round grades -- sans character concerns -- were also available.

(The Saints asked that I not reveal the troubled player's name due to privacy issues).

"If we look at it as it is, we have three players we can choose from and we're going to go and watch the combine interview and highlight tape of the one guy before we go any further," said Mueller. "I'd be very happy with Montrae Holland, you guys all agree?"

"Yeah, I do," said Mark Sadowski, the team's scout responsible for the southeast. The team has incredible confidence in Sadowski, evidenced by the fact that their first two picks of the day and last year's first-rounder, Charles Grant, were Georgia Bulldogs and all personally scouted by Sadowski during the year. "I like him a lot and I think we'll be getting a darn good player at that spot. He's going to be a starter in this league."

"If he's healthy, I like him too," says fellow scout Mike Faulkiner, the owner of the sharpest tongue in the room and supplier of many of the day's witty lines.

"As you can see, guys, we have Holland rated very high," said Mueller. "I'm in agreement with you guys."

Head trainer Scottie Patton is waiting in the front of the room, armed with extensive and detailed medical reports of the kids remaining on the board who are fourth-round considerations. As the group discusses different possibilities, they check with Patton to ensure that they will make a decision without any injury surprises.

They have unanimously decided they like Holland as the safe pick and now burned the midnight oil trying to decide if their other candidate was worth the risk.

Earlier in the evening when it was apparent the first-round player was going to slip into Round Four, Loomis informed owner Tom Benson of their interest and the risk and then pulled out a book with the unmistakable "Confidential" emblazoned across its cover.

The book contained complete writeups, police reports and results from interviews for kids who have certain off-field concerns. Benson and Loomis discussed the question marks, then he, Mueller, Haslett and the scouts actually pulled out film of his combine interview.

The lights were dimmed and his interview was replayed as the men in the room tried to reacquaint themselves with the young man. It was mind-boggling that these personnel folks would go through this much detail to actually review an interview conducted two months ago.

The interview session was then followed by a tape of his "cut-ups" -- clips compiled by a staff member from different games that allows scouts to properly assess without having to watch every play of every game.

There was no question the youngster had talent, even to the one pair of untrained eyes in the room. The scouts were mesmerized, but was the talent enough to counteract the off-field concerns?

"You don't see that type of explosion every day," said scout James Jefferson, a Seahawks defensive back who loved the pure talent that he was watching. "Man, turn it off, I can't take it anymore. I'm getting too pumped up by watching him. Man, I think he's just too good to pass up."

Others chime in with their opinions, but everyone agrees with Jefferson's assessment of the talent.

Haslett then took over when the lights were flicked back on. He worked the phones like a rapid-fire auctioneer jumping from one bidder to another. Haslett, within minutes, had tracked down a number for his college coach, spoken to one of the kid's best friends and even grilled a friend of a friend of the kid. His access to this youngster's life was amazing if not alarming.

The folks inside 5500 Airline Drive in Metairie would sleep on the quandary overnight.

A good night's rest?
The period between the third and fourth rounds is good for one thing: regrouping.

Exhaustion had set in with hours to go in Day One and the thousands of bits of information exchanged and analyzed began to melt together.

Jim Haslett even gets second-guessed by his son. (AP)
Head coach Jim Haslett got the most out of his short draft-room reprieve. On the way home that night he spent the ride working his cellular phone, delving into the life of the youngster with the character question mark.

When he awoke, his answer was clear that guard Montrae Holland would be the better pick for the team.

"Weighing the whole thing and what everyone told me -- between the player, the player's mother, one of his assistant coaches -- for our football team he just isn't what we were looking for," said the coach. "His best friend is on our team and that played a big role in the decision. We felt that if he screwed up, we didn't want that to affect our guy. We don't need to screw up two kids on this team."

Haslett informed Loomis and Mueller of his thoughts and the two concurred. After all, when picks are made it is the coach who must live with these kids on a day-to-day basis.

The draft provides the most glaring depiction of perhaps the strangest NFL relationship. It's the coach's job to mold the players he is given. He must trust the personnel folks to give him players he can coach and the personnel staff must be able to seek players who best fit with the coach. The personnel chief grades the players, the GM must make the final decision on the player but the coach must deal with the player for hours on end each day.

The triumvirate of Loomis, Mueller and Haslett all seem to appreciate the process and work in complete unison. As the rounds progressed and the Saints picked up DE Melvin Williams and wideout Kareem Kelly, it was apparent all three were been happy with every pick.

It was a far cry from the Saints' first draft in franchise history. In that draft room, then-GM Neil Armstrong and head coach Tom Fears actually got into an all out fistfight over their first pick. Legend has it that one jumped a table and they unloaded their arsenal on each other.

This group? Not a peep. In fact, the trio worked so well together that they whispered among themselves for most of the draft. A voice was never raised. An argument never ensued.

"That was all done in the weeks before the draft," said Loomis. "By the time this weekend arrives, we have all gotten on the same page. We come to these grades together and they become 'our' choices, not one guy's choice or another's."

Last round
By the time Round Seven arrived, the question of character again arose. The team had decided to take a chance on Florida State receiver Talman Gardner, who was arrested three weeks ago on a felony gun charge and misdemeanor marijuana charge.

Had the arrest not arisen, Gardner would have been gone between the second and fourth rounds of the draft. The Saints extensively discussed the risk versus rewards of using a seventh-rounder to grab him, but they also relied on their own version of "Scared Straight" to make sure the pick will not be a waste.

"The only reason we are thinking about taking you is because you are from here," Haslett told the receiver via phone. "If you screw up one time, I'll make sure that you not only don't play here, I'll make sure you never play in this league."

With that, Haslett hung up and relayed the conversation to Mueller and Loomis and explained that he was comfortable having to coach the former Seminole.

"It would have been different to use a fourth-rounder on a kid with these types of questions," said Haslett. "But Talman is from down here. If I need help with the kid he has family who can help me. I thought the easy access to his family would really help.

"I asked him what happened with the incident, what the exact charge was and whose gun it was. Were the drugs his? What was involved? He told me what he says happened and we decided to give the kid a second chance. We were all comfortable enough to make the pick."

A family affair and backseat drafters
The Saints had made Gardner their final pick of the 2003 Draft, but the coach, GM and the personnel director were not out of the woods. The second-guessing would begin once the smoke cleared. ... sometimes from the most unlikely of on-lookers.

Even 10-year-old sons of head coaches wanted their opinions heard.

"Hey, Chase what's up buddy," Haslett says when his son rings the coach's cellular phone. "Who did we just take? We just got another receiver, Talman Gardner.

"Ken Dorsey? No, we're not taking Ken Dorsey (Miami QB). Sorry buddy. Chase, we already took the pick. No, wait, er, um, wait..."

Haslett pulls the phone away from his ear as his son loudly criticizes the pick.

"Hey, Rick, Chase is angry at us for not going after Ken Dorsey. He wants us to trade for him," he says to Mueller. "Can you please tell him that we don't want to trade for him?"

But just as Haslett goes to hand Mueller the phone, hoping for a quick rescue, the line goes dead. Haslett junior just hung up on poor ol' dad.

"Can you believe that? He told me we don't have a clue and just hung up on me," said Haslett, cracking up. "I can't believe it, he just hung up. Man, that's pretty bad when your own son is criticizing you already."

It would get worse. Haslett would say later that Chase informed him when he arrived home Sunday night that the 49ers were going to beat the Saints in preseason due to their decision not to draft Dorsey.

"The draft is hard enough already without your family telling you who to draft," he laughs.

After witnessing the inner workings of the draft room first hand, it's easy to see why the draft brings forth so many backseat drafters. Now that one reporter has had a front seat view of the craziest weekend of the offseason, the view will be forever different.

(Coming next -- Gathering the rookie free agents, the final piece of the draft puzzle)

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