Gene Collier: Combine questioning not exactly a treat for NFL prospects
February 26, 2016 12:00 AM
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
South Carolina tight end Jerell Adams responds to a question during a news conference Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Unknown at the start of this week’s NFL Scouting Combine was the exact position of Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander on the Steelers draft board, but it says here Alexander would improve the outlook for Mike Tomlin’s team almost from the moment it selected Alexander with the 25th pick of the draft.
Unknown as well is the little matter of whether Alexander’s superlative coverage skills will already have been claimed when it’s the Steelers’ turn.
But at least this week, finally, somebody will know something about Alexander’s outlook after the intense round of 15-minute interviews that are part of the combine’s enduring if sometimes suspect process.
That’s because up until now, as a general practice, Alexander has rarely spoken. His supporters claim he’s not to be compared with newly retired Seattle Seahawks legend Marshawn “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” Lynch. It’s not so much that Alexander is hostile to questions, but rather that, according to the semi-official Clemson explanation, “He’s just not interested [in self-promotion].”
Wait, does he know what league this is?
Dabo Swinney, the head coach at Clemson, noting that Alexander rarely joined teammates in postgame celebrations on the those heady South Carolina Saturday nights, preferring instead to study film alone with the Tigers defensive staff, once joked, “I don’t know if he showers. That’s just the way he’s wired.”
So don’t be surprised if that’s among some team’s 15 minutes worth of questions. Don’t for a second put it past some NFL general manager to start with, “Um, you do shower, right?”
Because there’s apparently nothing NFL personnel people won’t ask potential employees who are about to count millions against the cap — exactly what they’re up to and what their various backgrounds might portend here at the gateway to their professional lives.
It’s a stressful time for everybody, and at times the interview questions, shall we say, strain the boundaries of decorum, but it’s important to remember that there is simply no truth to that story that it was at the combine that Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland once asked then-Oklahoma State prospect Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute.
No, no, no.
Ireland asked him that on Bryant’s subsequent visit to the club in April.
So naturally, Ireland had to offer this in a formal statement, eventually:
“My job is to find out as much information as possible about a player that I’m considering drafting. Sometimes that leads to asking in-depth questions. Having said that, I talked to Dez Bryant and told him I used poor judgment in one of the questions I asked him. I certainly meant no disrespect and apologized to him.”
No one ever knew the result of that line of questioning because when the draft arrived, not a 4.4 40 too soon, Dallas took Byrant four picks in front of Miami, the good news being that Ireland still got to pass on the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Sean Lee, Carlos Dunlap and T.J. Ward in favor of Jared Odrick.
Probably should have asked some different questions.
Presumably, in the years since Ireland’s inquiry, the league’s interviewers have refined the process, but it was in that same 2010 time frame that former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Austen Lane was asked some things he remembered vividly recently on Twitter, including the time one team’s interrogator asked if Lane found his own mother attractive.
That’s pretty creepy, but not as creepy as the same team asking other applicants if they found Lane’s mother attractive. All right, I made that second part up, but the point is, it doesn’t stop there.
“If you could kill someone and not get caught, would you?” was another question Lane says he heard at the combine, along with, “If you had to murder someone, would you use a gun or a knife?”
This is some job these guys are applying for, right?
What happened to “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “What interests you about this job?” and “What do you know about our company?”
Of course, the Cleveland Browns would never ask that last one for fear of hearing, “You stink!”
The truth is, the results of these too-brief speed-dating combine interviews aren’t going to get somebody a job, and just about no revelation is going to scare off a victory-starved NFL team, nor probably any kind of NFL team. As has long been established, if Charles Manson could only have run a 4.3, any psychological analysis would have done no more damage than relegating him to special teams, where his mental makeup would have been viewed as an asset.
What Alexander said this week will only encourage his potential employers, most of whom won’t care if he showers or not.
Gene Collier: email@example.com and Twitter @genecollier.
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