INDIANAPOLIS—The lights were turned out at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday afternoon, and then the lights went on in a lot of hotel suites, where the NFL's 32 teams conducted player interviews. The first player entered the Jaguars' suite at six p.m. The last one left at 11.
General Manager Gene Smith will always tell you nothing trumps the tape, but he also can't hide that twinkle in his eye when you ask about the interviews. This is GM Gene's thing. This is when he takes his look inside the young men he'll consider selecting in April.
Are the interviews important?
"Some of them are," Smith said. "They try to control the interview because they've been coached, but we're prepared for that."
Once upon a time, scouting was a stopwatch business. How big and fast is the guy? Those days are over.
In the modern NFL, scouts have to be one part talent evaluator and two parts psychologist. Mike Mayock and "NFL Network" can tell you how big, fast and talented a player is. Kiper can do that and so can McShay, but they can't look inside the guy because they're not privy to the interviews.
That's where GM Gene and his boys go to work. Somewhere in all of that "don't write that" explanation Smith offered to the sleepy-eyed jaguars.com reporter Saturday morning was a meaningful dissertation about a scientific evaluation of what makes these guys tick, especially, what makes some of them tick like time bombs.
For the record, GM Gene and the sleepy-eyed reporter were the first to buy coffee at the hotel Starbucks on Saturday. The store opens at six a.m., but they made an exception for us. The dotcom guy had a Starbucks card. "Insufficient funds," the manager said. "Keep the change," the dotcom guy said.
The dotcom guy wanted to talk about the workouts. He and GM Gene ended up spending the next hour about the interviews process, much of which, of course, is intrigue.
What we know is that GM Gene, with the help of people whose last name is preceded by "Dr.," has created personality profiles by position. We also know that of the nine players the Jaguars selected in the 2009 draft, GM Gene's first as the team's GM, not one of those players was guilty of anything last season that might qualify as an off-the-field incident.
GM Gene was also willing to share that he isn't real big on the Wonderlic Test because some guys just don't do well in a 12-minute timed test. GM Gene grudgingly shared that he has his own little test and that it has been highly revealing.
You can't look inside a man? The truth of the matter is that you have to be able to look inside a man in today's NFL. There's too much at stake to risk on a player of suspect character.
"I've never had a bad interview. Each one is revealing," Smith said.
The Jaguars are all ears in the interview room. The idea is to learn much about the player but tell him little about the Jaguars the player might spill to the competition in the interview he'll do down the hall when this one is complete. Fredo talked too much, right?
"You have to weight it accordingly because some guys are prepared and some aren't. If there are alerts on players, we're going right after them. You have to know how to ask the right questions and how to interpret the answer. I'm watching body language. I'm watching the eyes," Smith said.
He wants to know about "the substance of their character. What coaching style they respond best to, their best method of learning," Smith said. "I think it's three things: character, talent and competitiveness.
"Passionate is a big one," Smith said when asked for the qualities he seeks in prospects. "You like gym-rat mentalities. Highly competitive, smart and aware. We like leaders that put the team first."
He'll find plenty of those types over the course of this weekend. This is a strong draft class. Finding talent won't be a problem. Smith's problem is that he has only five picks. He does nothing to mask his desire to add more.
"Yes, I'd like to garner picks. I'd always love to have more than seven," he said.
Smith refers to the Jaguars' coin toss victory on Friday as "our first win in 2010," and he hopes it will help him recover the second-round pick he traded in last year's draft to select cornerback Derek Cox.
"If you embrace the best available player philosophy, it puts you one notch higher on the cord, in terms of talent," Smith said of the coin-toss win. "That might get you into another level of player."
It might get the Jaguars into a level of player somebody else wants and is willing to part with a pick or picks to acquire.
Meanwhile, the interviews continue. Who wants to be a Jaguar? Who's worthy of wearing the uniform? It's all heady stuff.
"I've never had one player start a fight. Every one of them was breaking it up," Smith said.
"What if a player said he started it, he beat the heck out of the guy and he's glad he did?" Smith was asked.
"Everybody in the room would enjoy the honesty," he said.