Years ago, players and coaches could come to the Senior Bowl and know that they were the only ones in the stands. They could confer with each other, say hello and talk shop. Now, there is a relative anonymity to the process. With the media explosion throughout sports, teams play cloak and dagger with the process, trying to keep their intent private.
That extends beyond the scouts. Fiery head coach Jon Gruden is not into the media blitz – he just happens to conduct a good interview.
However, as the media hype grows, Gruden has had to change his game face, so to speak. He still contorts his features into a multitude of positions.
So with ESPN crews in the background, it is the head coach of the South that is tempering his game.
“I have cleaned my act up tremendously over the last few years,” the coach said candidly. “I am trying to be – I don’t really know who I am – I urge these guys to do well (instead of the usual yelling). They are nervous. All we are trying to do is teach these guys what we are trying to do and get them ready to play. Hopefully our players sense that.”
The Tampa Bay led squad has had a nice tempo to practice and seem to be living up to their commitment to the players. They are teaching every step of the way and trying to get the most out of each player with their futures on the line.
What he does not want to see is the media interrupting the cohesiveness of the group. If he tells a quarterback to hold the ball a little higher in an effort to improve his game, Gruden does not want to see it blown out of proportion, as the media tends to do.
“I have no disrespect for the media but wiring players, wiring coaches…I would just as soon leave it private,” Gruden added. “Some of your conversations that you are having with players individually, behind the scenes, should remain as such.
“It is good for television and a lot of these young players need the exposure and this helps them, prior to the draft. We are here to help them and are cooperating any way we can.”
Gruden may have toned down his act, but it would appear the message is still getting across. He is honest in his assessments – and the players are responding to his teaching and that of his staff.
On the other side of the ball, the North squad practices seemed to lack any fire. Drills were scattered and there seemed to be no rhythm to the sessions.
While Gruden could comment on any player on the roster and make it sound compelling, Norv Turner drew a blank when asked about up and coming receiver Courtney Roby.
“You are going to have to help me out with that one,” Turner said in relation to a question on Roby.
When given further details about whom Roby was, Turner still would not comment.
“If our receivers’ coach was here, he could tell you all about him,” said Turner.
What it breaks down to is a coach knowing his team and their strengths as opposed to a coach who may not know how to use a player properly when he needs help remembering he is even on the team.
The only exception to that rule established for the North squad was wide receivers’ coach Fred Biletnikoff. Many players praised his teachings and said he has taught them things they had never before known.
“Coach Biletnikoff has helped me tremendously,” Okalahoma wide receiver Mark Clayton said.
When pressing other players regarding the Oakland coaching staff, they all spoke in generalities and no one mentioned Norv Turner as having a positive influence.
After making a run through the stands and polling some scouts in attendance, they all agreed that the North has more talent, but the South has looked like the better team.
Saturday is game day and it will be interesting to watch if the banter through the week proves to be telling on the field.
“It will be a real physical football game,” Gruden said in finality. “I can assure you of that.”