50 weeks ago, the Cincinnati Bengals had a special teams coordinator and a handful of assistants on both sides of the ball as their official coaching staff. It was during the Media Day session of the 2019 Senior Bowl that Raiders head coach Jon Gruden unofficially announced Brian Callahan would become the Bengals’ offensive coordinator.
Fast forward to the present and their coaching staff of 24, including Callahan, is heading down to Mobile, Alabama to coach the Senior Bowl’s South team.
This will be the fourth time in the last 17 years Cincinnati’s staff will have close eyes on some of the top upperclassmen in the country for a week’s worth of practice and a glorified padded scrimmage. Considering most of their “scouting department” exists in their coaching staff, Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin recognizes the advantage he and his small team has with this opportunity.
“Every team has a chance to talk to players during the week, but as scouts we’ll have extra time with them and more access to what they do. We’ll be able to sit in on meetings,” Tobin recently explained to bengals.com. “When you can put a personality to a guy, it gives you a little more comfort level for what you’re seeing on tape.
“It’s a great opportunity to see their football intellect, how much the game means to them, their ability to transfer information from the classroom to the field,” Tobin says. “See their ability to learn new things quickly, or learn a new technique. It’s something you can really take advantage of.”
Even when the Bengals were scrambling to put together a staff during last year’s Senior Bowl, their draft class reflected an apparent attention to that week in Mobile. Drew Sample, Germaine Pratt, Ryan Finley, Renell Wren and Jordan Brown were the five seniors drafted by Cincinnati last year and they were all on the same Senior Bowl roster for the North. This time, most of their attention will be on the other team.
“It’s the first time we’ve had the South. It’s going to be exciting. It’s a southern game,” Tobin says. “The South has a little bit more fanfare down there. It will be exciting for our guys to be a part of that and we’ll have the rooting interest portion of the stands.”
Brown didn’t make the Bengals’ final roster, but he was one of the FCS players represented in the All-Star game. As a team that rarely targets non-FBS players in the draft, having live eyes on lesser-known players is only a positive for them and the player.
“It’s a great chance for a small college player to really elevate their draft stock against the guys from bigger schools,” Tobin says. “It’s an opportunity for big college players to leave no doubt about how good they are. If you like a guy before the Senior Bowl and he disappoints you a little, you still like him because of what he did on tape for his school.”
The bolded statement is crucial to process. Judgements on players shouldn’t ultimately be made by a handful of practices after most of them have at least two years of film on them. A level head is crucial when an edge rusher is having an amazing week in one-on-one drills just as much as when an offensive tackle is getting beaten every three reps. These are all objectively talented players who are getting their first shot at being coached by NFL personnel.
“The point is to let the guys show what they can do and not try to re-train them in everything that you’re ultimately going to want to re-train them in,” Tobin says. “They got here with their skills and the idea is for coaches to let them showcase what they’ve got.”
Currently with only seven picks in this year’s NFL Draft, don’t be surprised if the Bengals select one or two more Senior Bowl alums in April.