MOBILE, Ala. – Terry McDonough couldn't be more excited.
First off, it's Senior Bowl week, and for someone who has spent a career in scouting, the unofficial start of the NFL off-season is annually and naturally an exciting time. But for McDonough, the Jaguars' Director of Player Personnel, this off-season is more than that.
There's a new head coach around the Jaguars. A lot of the coaching staff is new, too.
For McDonough and those involved in procuring talent for the Jaguars, combine that with a new owner – Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan – and it adds up to an already important week having added energy.
"Obviously, with a new coaching staff, and the new ownership, there's a certain freshness about it," McDonough said Monday, the first day of practice for the 2012 Senior Bowl, which will be held Saturday at 4 p.m. EST at Ladd-Peeples Stadium in Mobile, Ala.
"There's a newness and excitement."
Mike Mularkey, who was hired early this month as the Jaguars' third head coach, remained in Jacksonville Monday, continuing the process of hiring the coaching staff. But many members of the staff, including new special teams coordinator John Bonamego, wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and tight ends coach Bobby Johnson, attended the South practice at Fairhope High School.
Sullivan, a 19-year NFL veteran, spent last off-season working with NFL veterans, including Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and said he returned to coaching for a chance to work with Mularkey.
"Hopefully, we'll build something you guys will enjoy writing about," Sullivan told reporters.
The Jaguars' scouting department also is in Mobile, and McDonough said communication between coaches and scouts will be critical to the draft process. He also said it's a process that begins with Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith and Mularkey.
Because it begins there, McDonough said the process will be smooth.
"It all starts with general manager and head coach and trickles down from there," McDonough said. "Mike and Gene have a healthy respect for each other, personally and professionally. I'm sure we'll all work well together toward that common goal, which is to win the Super Bowl.
"You never want to draft players that the coaches don't like. It's never good business, typically. There has to be a common understanding."
McDonough said the communication between coaches and scouts can sometimes be a "fine line."
"You want to fit the system that they run," McDonough said. "Typically, the best draft choices in our history have been the guys everyone agrees on. You come to as much of a consensus as you possibly can, then ultimately the coaches and Gene will get together and Gene will make the decision, but you always want consensus. You build trust that way."
While there are several college All-Star games each January, McDonough said the Senior Bowl annually is the best, and as much as the game itself, practices and interviews make the game important. Scouts and coaches from every NFL team watch the South and North practices throughout the week, and McDonough said the chance to watch seniors work against other elite level seniors is key.
"You get to watch them in an environment that gives you tremendous value," McDonough said. "A lot of the guys in this game will become NFL starters, so it's a very important week."
McDonough said while scouts have seen most of the players in the games, this is the first chance to talk to them face-to-face in a setting away from campus. And whereas the players often come across as "coached" during interviews at the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine, McDonough said the Senior Bowl has a different feel.
"In this environment, especially when you catch them coming off the field – certainly they're going to be rehearsed a little bit, but they're tired, fatigued and worn down," McDonough said. "A lot of times you get them unrehearsed."
McDonough said because the players are new every year, every Senior Bowl is unique – just as every off-season leading to the draft is unique.
Two off-seasons ago, McDonough said he heard a player being interviewed during Senior Bowl week. He turned and saw the player and said, "That guy's a stud."
"I watched him all week during practice," McDonough said.
Several months and hour upon hour of research later, the Jaguars drafted that player with the No. 10 overall selection in the NFL Draft.
His name: Tyson Alualu.
"Every year, I have a unique experience here," McDonough said. "Every year, you get something different out of this week. This is the first chance to go beyond what you're told by coaches, or what you've seen on the tape. We have a big database filled with information on these guys, but when you meet them you want to find out what they are as people. You're not going to find out everything you need to know about them, but the first impression is a lasting one.
"You get three or four different exposures during the week and it's three or four different opportunities to see them compete. Saturday is just one day, but there are telling things that will go on this Saturday and every day this week.
"You can see competitiveness and you can see how people perform under pressure. It's a fine line. You don't want to put too much stock in it, but you don't want to devalue it, either."
*McDonough said while there is a limit to the importance of Saturday's game, a player also can stand out with above-average performance. Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware, now a perennial All-Pro, had four tackles on special teams in the Senior Bowl. "That's special," McDonough said.
*John Bonagemo, hired as the Jaguars' special teams coach Friday, spoke to the Jacksonville media late Monday afternoon for the first time since his hiring. Bonamego, 48, spent the 2011 season as assistant special teams coach for New Orleans and previously was special teams coordinator for the Green Bay Packers from 2003-05, the Saints from 2006-07 and the Miami Dolphins from 2008-10. He spent four seasons, 1999-2002, on the Jaguars' coaching staff and was the special teams coordinator in '02. "It's wonderful," he said. "It's coming home. It's great. It really truly is."