Monday, April 30, 2012
Tying a ribbon around the 2012 NFL draft
By Kevin Seifert
Cleaning out my notebook after the 2012 NFL draft:
It can be difficult to gauge the value of coaching the annual Senior Bowl, but it's worth noting that two of the Minnesota Vikings' draft choices played under their coaching staff for the North team at this year's affair. That included Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, whom the Vikings traded up to draft at No. 29 overall, and NC Sate linebacker Audie Cole, a seventh-round pick.
In the case of Smith, the Vikings were so convinced of his value after the Senior Bowl that they didn't speak again through the entire draft process. They didn't interview him at the annual scouting combine and didn't invite him to their facility for a pre-draft visit.
"When we got into our meetings and we put our board together and seeing how it was going to develop and knowing that we do need some help on the back end to improve our secondary," general manager Rick Spielman said, "that was the one huge advantage of being able to coach the Senior Bowl because we got to know those players inside and out and know what they are about. How they are in a meeting room. How they are out on the field. Our coaches know what it’s like to coach that player so that was a huge advantage for us and we know exactly what we are getting in Harrison Smith."
We've noted that the Green Bay Packers drafted six defensive players to open the draft. Another trend we noted: The Vikings drafted three pairs of players from the same school.
But we probably didn't spend enough time in the latter stages of the draft pointing out that the Detroit Lions finished the draft by selecting six consecutive defensive players -- including three cornerbacks -- while also drafting three players from Oklahoma.
We should probably chalk up the Sooner connection -- receiver Ryan Broyles, defensive end Ronnell Lewis and linebacker Travis Lewis -- as coincidence. But I wouldn't say the same thing about the defensive trend, considering how poorly the Lions' defense played over the second half of the 2011 season.
The impact of that decision is "yet to be seen," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. He added: "Drafting them doesn't do anything other than drafting them. They have to play well in preseason and training camp and they have to prove their draft status. So, yeah, it adds more guys to the roster and creates competition and things like that. ..."
With that said, I would think the Lions' cornerbacks should consider themselves on notice. Third-rounder Dwight Bentley is a smallish but feisty corner who had an excellent Senior Bowl against elevated competition. And fifth-rounder Chris Greenwood might have played at Division III Albion, but he is 6-foot-1 and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. Players with those kind of measurables eventually get their opportunity.
The Chicago Bears' decision not to draft a lineman would appear an endorsement of their returning starters. So it's worth noting that coach Lovie Smith refused to say where offensive lineman Chris Williams will play in 2012, calling into question the short- and long-term future of the Bears' No. 1 draft choice in 2008.
First, here's what Smith said when asked if Williams would resume his role as left guard when training camp begins: "I can't tell you that right now. We have options with him. We'll see how it all shakes out. Chris, of course, can do both [guard and tackle]. Right now, we're two weeks into our offseason program. Let us get into it a little more and we'll be able to define some roles a little better."
That's hardly an endorsement for a player who has started at right tackle, left tackle and left guard in his disappointing career. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune makes some excellent points in suggesting Williams' most likely 2012 destination is a swing backup.
Williams was drafted as a left tackle, but the Bears chose J'Marcus Webb to play there last season and don't appear interested in looking back. Gabe Carimi, the 2011 first-round pick, figures to return at right tackle, making it easy to move Lance Louis back to one of the other guard spots. Louis, Chris Spencer and newcomer Chilo Rachal would be top candidates to start at the other two guard spots.
Everything is subject to change. But clearly there remain some parts in motion along the Bears' offensive line.
I'm sure the Packers have kicked around the idea of signing a veteran backup quarterback, and it could still happen. But after drafting Tennessee-Chattanooga's B.J. Coleman in the seventh round Saturday, the Packers don't appear eager to add anyone else. In other words, former No. 3 Graham Harrell is going to get every opportunity to win that job.
"I don't think you just say, 'I need a veteran backup,'" Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We have the MVP in Aaron Rodgers as our No. 1, and now we feel that we have three really good candidates to compete for two spots. ... The roster will shake that out."
Those candidates are Harrell, Coleman and Nick Hill, a former Arena Football League player who signed in January.
Some people cringed when the Coleman spoke reverentially about his pre-draft work with and respect for Brett Favre. Coleman seemed oblivious to the hard feelings surrounding Favre's departure in 2008 and his return with the Vikings in 2009 and 2010.
Maybe Coleman was a bit na´ve, but I thought his giddiness was instructive as much as anything and perhaps illustrative of the big-picture way most of the football world view the relationship between the Packers and Favre.
In the big picture, the Packers-Favre separation was a small portion of a two-decade marriage that is destined to be reconciled. We are hypersensitive to that blip because we lived through it on this blog, but not everyone was as affected. If we aren't already, we'll all be closer to Coleman's perspective than we probably ever thought possible.