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The Scouting Process Part III – The Importance of Camps and Pre-Season

The next James Harrison is waiting to be discovered, but it may take a year or two.

Bo Marchionte

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So you think the job of scouting is over once the curtains close on the NFL Draft?

The process is never ending and recycles through with a new batch of prospects each and every April or May with the annual NFL Draft. Once the draft ends there is a flurry of activity by agents to land their undrafted prospects on NFL rosters. The NFL is busy scouring their own list of available players to add for upcoming camps.

The NFL has rookie camp, OTA’s (Organized Team Activities), Mini-camp and finally training camp. Each of those is an exercise in the scouting process. It is about identifying talent and keeping the best talent on speed dial in case players get hurt or the players’ already in camp simply do not meet the standards required by their current team.

This is an incredibly tenuous time for undrafted prospects.

Each player, regardless of their entry into the NFL, is aiming to have an impact in camp. So much so it will allow them to make it through the gauntlet of offeason workouts. Signing with one team can be brief because scouting departments are breaking down game film of each practice, eyeing who is earning their keep while simultaneously monitoring other rosters consisting of the NFL, CFL, AFL and other free agents.

For example, Pittsburgh Steelers James Harrison was cut four times before finally securing a full-time gig at outside linebacker.

“All I said was your good enough to play and now it’s my job to find a place,” said his agent Bill Parise.

The advice and words spoken by Parise many years ago are the same words agents are telling their new clients trying to carve out a career in the NFL.

Harrison is a perfect example of how the scouting departments continue to scout players once they get past the draft-phase.

Undrafted in 2002, Harrison spent two years on the Steelers practice squad and was released three times. He also spent time of the Baltimore Ravens roster and even played for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe. Each of those opportunities, good or bad, allowed one critical thing to be shown on Harrison’s behalf.

Film!

Pittsburgh and Baltimore, along with nearly every other NFL team were able to keep close tabs on Harrison as he bounced around. The Steelers’ obviously saw something in Harrison and it was their scouting department (along with Parise working the phone lines) that kept Harrison in the loop. Most importantly though it was Harrison himself displaying the ability (on film) to play in the NFL.

Without scouting departments doing their job, Harrison would have been tossed to the curb. We would have never witnessed his instrumental value in two Super Bowl victories and winning the 2008 AFC Defensive Player of the Year.

Across the league at this very moment there is a potential James Harrison being cut and picked up by another team. It may be a couple years from now until we learn the players’ name and his journey to the NFL. It would never be without scouts being the drone of the NFL and keeping surveillance on potential prospects.

Do not every underestimate the value of camps. They are the breeding ground for every undrafted star ever to play in the NFL.

The next phase in the scouting process is dreaded by NFL fans that mock the games and consider them worthless, especially to those who pay the costly PSL (Personal Seat License).

The NFL pre-season.

Despised by many, it remains my absolute favorite time of the year. In reality this could be the final time a player ever suits up for a game he has likely played since Pop Warner football. The announcers joke about avoiding overtime while fans exit stands to beat the traffic home in these exhibition games.

In those laughed at affairs between teams, there is the next James Harrison or Malcolm Butler. Those are the players the crowds miss as they are transfixed are seeing the starters while the scouts are busy jotting down notes on future players to eventually sign for their own teams.

In the press box of those very games are scouts from other NFL teams, adding or eliminating players to pursue in the near future in case they become free agents. The pre-season allows players more film and reps that scouting departments can devour as the endless process to keep the 53-man roster at its peak.

In essence- the scouting season never ends- it is just a game of addition and subtraction on the players’ scouts see best fit to make their current teams the best they can be.

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates College2Pro.com. He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.

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