While the event is more known for the on-field testing players go through in front of scouts, coaches and key NFL decision-makers, the often forgotten interviews with various players are just as important. At the Combine, teams will put many of this year’s prospects through extensive interviews so they can better learn about each other, thus building a relationship toward possible draft day selection. Each team is allowed to conduct 60 formal interviews with prospects at the combine, but countless other informal interviews and meetings take part, too.
The Bengals, like every other NFL team use the Combine as a chance to meet and get to know this year's crop of NFL talent And among the Bengals representatives who will be there is director of player personnel Duke Tobin.
Tobin will once again be looking for future stars to bring to Cincinnati, and that includes combine meetings with various prospects. How he picks out which players to interview all depends on how much information Tobin already has on a prospect.
“We try to choose guys we need to find out a little more information,” Tobin told Bengals.com. “It’s our first chance to get to know them as people, know their personalities. See what makes them tick. We’ve got a personality component and a football component.”
Among the various questions asked in these 15-minute interviews are ones that, you guessed it, relate to football. Tobin and Bengals coaches want to see how much these prospects love the game they play, as well as how much football intelligence they posses.
“This is what makes a lot of the guys light up. This is what they live for,” Tobin says. “We’ll show him a play and when it’s quad up on the board even before its run, they might say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember this.’ We’ll take a play and ask him what his technique was, what the coaching points were, and what were his corrections.”
But, not every question asked of players is related to them or even football. Teams will occasionally toss some curve balls at players to see how they respond, as Bengals corner Darqueze Dennard learned in 2014.
Dennard was asked by the Bengals about the capital of Italy, and says he’s still stunned nearly three years later. “That threw me a little,” Dennard said. ‘I think I said Rome. Then I just started running through the defense at Michigan State. I guess it was OK. They still took me.”
It seems odd to ask such a question, but what it does is get these guys out of their comfort zone and force them to give genuine, original answers, not ones they practiced with their agents leading up to the combine. It also shows how smart they are outside of the game.
“I hate to say this, but maybe we unsettle the player out of his comfort zone so we can get to his true personality a little bit,” Tobin said of the Bengals’ strategy. “These guys are all very well-schooled on how they want the interview to go so we don’t give them everything they’re expecting and sometimes things they’re not expecting. We want to see how quickly they can think and adapt and react and converse and how fast their mind works and how they react to a somewhat stressful job interview type of environment.”
How well a player does in these interviews can help the Bengals ultimately draft him, just as it did with Giovani Bernard in the 2013 NFL Draft.
“We try to keep what happens in the room in the room for the sake of the player. You hate to single guys out,” Tobin says. “But Giovani Bernard kind of lit up the room. He was engaging. His personality came through immediately. He was As across the board in every component. I think now after a few years the media sees him how we saw him early in the interview process. We have to try and dig in a very short time frame.”
Prospects can certainly help their standing with the Bengals by doing well in the various on-field testing, but it’s become clear over time that the Bengals put a lot of stock in interviews, which is why the interview process has become such a big part of the annual scouting event.