Just get it right. It’s a simple phrase, but one that’s at the heart of the Patriots’ scouting system.
According to director of player personnel Nick Caserio -- who spoke to fans Wednesday night at the Hall at Patriot Place -- the phrase is essential when it comes to the scouts’ role in the overall team-building process. From the most veteran scouts to the newcomers, the goal is the same.
“To get it right,” Caserio said. “It doesn’t matter who found them. Just get it right.”
The 33-year-old Caserio, who spoke for 90 minutes to a group of about 50 fans as part of the Hall’s speaker series and answered questions throughout, talked first about New England’s scouting process.
The prep work for the draft usually begins the previous spring, when the team begins a self-scouting process designed to educate the scouts on specific team needs. Then, senior prospects are identified and deconstructed. After that, area scouts -- who are divided into six regions (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest and West) are assigned players to watch throughout the college season. They work in concert with the two regional scouts (one East, one West).
In December, that initial list is pared to between 300 and 400 players. That’s when the area scouts, regional scouts and scouting director all meet to go through each player that received what Caserio calls “a draftable grade.”
“That’s when you start to put pieces to the puzzle,” Caserio said. “In the end, the goal is to see the player in similar terms.”
The coaches get involved in the process at the end of the professional season, when college all-star season really gets underway with contests like the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and the Cactus Bowl. That segues into the NFL Scouting Combine, as well as the individual Pro Days at each big college.
These are the first times that scouts and coaches can speak with players. The two sides have to really start working together for the final stretch before the draft.
“Coaching and scouting are separate entities,” said Caserio, who has done both for the Patriots. “But in the end, they have to work together.”
The final days before the draft are usually the most important in the process. Each team is allowed to have up to 30 players come in for a visit. While the interviews at the combine are limited to 15 minutes, there are no such constraints for these visits. Designed to get what Caserio terms “a comfort level” with a player, these are key for New England -- Caserio said 10 of the 12 players the Patriots picked last month were either worked out individually by the team or came to Gillette Stadium for an official visit.
While the draft itself can throw you a few curveballs, all you can do is make sure you’re prepared.
“You go into a draft and you don’t know how it’s going to unfold,” Caserio said. “In the end, you just make the decision you feel is best for your football team.”
He was asked by a fan in the Q&A session as to why New England chose not to pursue any outside linebackers in the draft. While he was complimentary of the players the Patriots currently have at the position, he hinted that there may still be some moves between now and the start of the 2009 season in September.
“We don’t play a game until September,” Caserio said when asked specifically about the outside linebacker spot. “This isn’t the last opportunity for us -- the draft -- to find a player we believe could help us. There are other opportunities to build your football team.
“A lot can happen between now and [the start of the season].”
As for this year’s draft, Caserio wouldn’t give the Patriots a grade on how they did. (“You can’t really grade your players until they’re out there on the field,” he said, adding the team keeps its draft boards going back the last four years.) However, he did feel positively about every one of the players that were drafted by New England. He gave a quick thumbnail sketch of most of the draftees:
Patrick Chung: The Patriots were blown away by their interview with him at the combine. “After 15 minutes, we were ready to run through a wall. It was like, ‘Sign me up.’ … This is one of these guys, the more you’re around him, you like what you see.”
Ron Brace: Caserio praised his versatility. “He’s huge. This guy’s big. He’s big and he’s wide. ... It’s hard to find these kinds of guys.”
Darius Butler: Caserio, who was one of six or seven members of the Patriots’ front office who went to UConn’s Pro Day, said “quite frankly, we were surprised he was on the board at No. 41. ... He was kind of a late-bloomer. He didn’t play football until his junior year of high school. ... He’s a pretty versatile guy -- his Pro Day workout, it was a real impressive workout. He’s a good kid, a good character kid. We’re excited to have him here.”
Sebastian Vollmer: “For the life of me, I don’t know why he didn’t go to the combine.”
Brandon Tate: “A versatile guy who played all three receiver spots when healthy. Even though he couldn’t do anything physical (in the predraft evaluation process), we were able to get a good gauge on the player.”
Tyrone McKenzie: “Wherever he’s gone, he’s played and played at a high level. You’d be hard-pressed to find a guy more impressive than Tyrone McKenzie. ... He got dinged up at rookie minicamp -- I can’t speak to when he’s going to be on the field. Whenever that is, that’s when it’s going to be.”
Rich Ohrnberger: “The best way to describe this guy is he’s a bulldog. Tough, smart -- he fits the profile of what we look for in a Patriots’ offensive lineman.”
George Bussey: “He’s very versatile -- he’s played both tackle and guard. He’s agile, pretty quick on his feet.”
Jake Ingram: “The best snapper in the draft. We’ll put him into a situation where he and (Nathan) Hodel will compete.” Caserio was asked about the difficult transition Ingram might face going from Hawaii to the Northeast: “That’s something we’ll have to deal with. We felt his skill as a long snapper will be good enough. ... We’ll just have to see how he does. You don’t know how he’ll respond until he’s placed in that situation.”
Marlon Pryor: Caserio mentioned his game against Louisville last year when he went up against Cards’ highly-touted center Eric Wood where he “jumped off the tape. ... He’s big and agile, and we’re happy to have him.”
Julian Edelman: Caserio said the former Kent State quarterback projects as a wide receiver in the NFL, and made a comparison to Sean Morey. “This little guy was an exciting player in college. ... He has a long way to go, but he’s very receptive from a coaching standpoint. ... He’s football smart -- he loves football.” Caserio was asked whether or not he might be a Wildcat quarterback at the NFL level. “This guy doesn’t even know what Wildcat means right now. Once he knows where to line up, we’ll get to that.”
Darryl Richard: Caserio said he had the highest Wonderlic score of any of the players the Patriots’ drafted. “He’s tough, he’s smart, he works hard. ... We’ll put him in the mix and see how he does.”
Caserio also touched on a number of other subjects, including the possibility of Julius Peppers joining the Patriots and Jason Taylor signing with the Dolphins. He refused to speculate on Peppers inking a deal with New England, saying they couldn't talk about players on another team, and shrugged his shoulders when asked about Taylor.
“We’re going to have to block him this year,” he said.
Christopher Price covers the Patriots for WEEI.com.