What inevitably comes with the annual NFL Scouting Combine is a glut of rumors and other odd accusations about team representatives and the impending prospects. Almost every year, we catch wind of teams asking some different questions to prospects, some of them controversial. While they weren't so much controversial, the Bengals were targeted as one of those team asking a prospect "weird questions" last month.
Former Oklahoma offensive tackle, Lane Johnson, is pegged to land somewhere in the first round of this year's draft. The Bengals did their due diligence in Indianapolis and interviewed the young man--undoubtedly as a fallback option in case impending free agent Andre Smith can't be re-signed. After the sit-down, Johnson called the Bengals' interview practice "weird" because they asked him to remember an odd array of things at the end of the interview. We made the conjecture that perhaps it was either a test of concussion-related trauma, or a simple intelligence quiz, seeing how much Johnson could recall, after processing so many things in such a short time window.
"If a player walks out of there feeling a little unprepared or challenged, then we accomplished our goal," Tobin says. "What we're not wanting is the player to tell us what he's rehearsed with his people prior to the Combine. The core of our interview is having the player come in not prepared and react to it. That's the core of what football is. How quickly can you think in unfamiliar circumstances? Football is thinking and reacting quickly and that's what we try to put the player through when we're interviewing him."
It's actually a really smart angle to play. Teams only get a short period of time to directly talk to a player and it's very common that these youngsters have canned responses to give to all 32 clubs. Having them think on their feet and see what they can retain in a small window of time could give representatives a different view of them as a player, instead of saying: "Hm. Seems like a nice kid".
"You can’t find out everything about anybody in 15 minutes. But if you're going to get value out of the interview, you can uncover things that you want to find out more about later," Tobin says. "We blend cognitive skills, memory skills, background issues. We also do football and that's how we like to end the interview. It's not a bad thing when questions come from multiple people in multiple areas," Tobin says. "That gives you another opportunity to see how quickly they react in an unfamiliar situation. And that's what football is: reacting not only quickly physically, but thinking quickly on your feet when you see something different."
Tobin continues with the Enquirer:
"Cognitive skills, background and football intellect are all tested in varying ways, and always within accepted interview protocol. We feel that predictable questions can lead to rehearsed, predictable answers, and those don’t advance our knowledge of the player much. Football is a quick-thinking and reacting sport, often to unexpected, challenging and surprising events. Poise, composure and accuracy in the face of these pressures are vital to success in the NFL, so if a player leaves our interview feeling challenged, surprised or even a bit unprepared, then we have achieved our goal. The vast majority of the players we visit with have fun with the process and enjoy their time with us."
Excellent points, Mr. Tobin. And if you're wondering if the Bengals are one of the NFL teams that infamously inquired about a player's sexual orientation, Tobin put that to rest by simply saying that the Bengals don't even go there.
If anything, it's good to know that due diligence is being done in the interviews (in an ethical manner, no less) and that things that seem "weird" by some reports actually have some value. It's good to hear that the Bengals might be doing something a little bit different than other clubs. Ahead of the curve? Maybe.