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Unscripted script

Posted Feb 20, 2013

James Urban, the Bengals Energizer Bunny of a wide receivers coach, loves being on the field this upcoming weekend at Indianapolis when he helps run the receiver drills at the NFL Scouting Combine.


Mohamed Sanu

James Urban, the Bengals Energizer Bunny of a wide receivers coach, loves being on the field this upcoming weekend at Indianapolis when he helps run the receiver drills at the NFL Scouting Combine.

After all, it was in that second workout group of receivers last year that the Bengals found major parts of their future passing game in Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers and California's Marvin Jones. If the Bengals were playing the Colts this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium and opened in three wides, those two would most likely line up with Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green in the starting lineup and the Bengals would be happy about it.

But Sanu and Jones are also why Urban is keeping his feet on the ground this weekend when it comes to evaluating what unfolds. Those two cases display the vagaries and whimsy of the combine, indeed, of the whole draft process. It may be scripted, but there is no script.

Sanu felt miserable and drained when he left Indy last year after running a glacial 4.6-second 40-yard dash. Jones felt good enough about his performance with a 4.46 40 and receiver-best 23 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press that he didn't participate in his pro day the next month in Berkeley.

Yet Sanu was Cincinnati's first pick in the third round and Jones was the club's second pick in the fifth.

And while the Bengals scheduled Sanu for one of the exclusive 15-minute interview sessions at the combine and Urban later went to visit him on campus, Jones didn't hear from Cincinnati until a few days before the draft when the Bengals called to check on his draft day number.

It also shows one of the reasons why the Bengals use the tag-team scouting approach with coaches and scouts. The personnel department had done so much work on Jones that Urban says, "There weren't a lot of questions about Marvin Jones."  

Jones does remember saying hello to Urban at what is known at the combine as "The Train Station." Situated next to the prospects' downtown hotel, the station is where every team can grab players for impromptu interviews beyond the scheduled 15-minute sessions.

It's not a pretty sight.

"Chaotic," Urban says charitably.

"It's crazy," Jones says. "You've got people coming up to you saying, 'Come with us,' or 'We're next,' and they're just grabbing you and you're trying to get to the next guy. I think I talked to every team up there but the Bengals. It just goes to show you. You never know. The one team I didn't talk to is the one that drafted me."

But that didn't mean the Bengals didn't know who Marvin Lewis Jones was. The name was on the board before the end of the 2011 season.

Duke Tobin, the club's director of player personnel who also scouts the West, had Jones's career detailed from his campus visit in the fall, and Urban had been attracted to Jones the first time he saw him the month before in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl because of his 6-2 frame.

When Urban got on the field at Indy and saw Jones explode into routes, he knew he was going back to Cincinnati to watch tape of all 62 catches and 13 games of Jones's senior year. The routes might have been a bit rough and raw, but the body and hands were NFL natural.

"The combine is one piece of the puzzle. It's a highly magnified piece of the puzzle, but it's just a piece," Urban says. "The game film is the most important piece. But you can't dismiss the combine. It's interesting to see who puts the best foot forward in a high-stress, highly-analyzed environment. … I'm more interested in how they handle it."

Sanu could get that sense. Even though he thinks the league "would have looked at me much differently if I ran faster at the combine," he also thinks the most important part of the process was how he conducted himself in the interviews.

"It's the chance to get behind closed doors and meet with coaches and GMs and it's where the player can show what kind of guy he is, how smart he is," Sanu says.

Urban admits "I knew a lot about Mohamed Sanu" before he sat down with him in Indy. A product of the Philadelphia area, Urban knew and coached with a lot of guys that coached and recruited Sanu at Rutgers. So the impressive, measured Sanu may have come as no surprise, but it was a big part of the process for Urban.

From what Sanu can remember during his 15-minute interview with the Bengals, there were a lot of big wigs in the room. Head coach Marvin Lewis led the questioning. Bengals president Mike Brown listened. Urban and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden quizzed Sanu about running the Wildcat and how he broke in at Rutgers as a safety.

Sanu remembers at one point they told him to remember eight words and when he came back to it, the one word he didn't remember was "soccer." It certainly didn't kick him out.

"For me it verified everything that I had heard from everybody," Urban says of that interview. "When you get in front of Mo, he's very impressive. He looks you in the eye. He answers every question with the same tone in his voice. He's very sincere and he comes off that way. Sometimes when guys get in that situation with a lot of high-powered people staring at them, they spit the bit a little bit and it's hard. It wasn't hard on Mo at all … it's like everything with Mo. (The combine) wasn't too big for him."

Only three teams scheduled Jones for the 15-minute session (he politely declines to name them), but the Bengals had plenty of time to research him. His combine interview was on tape, the scouts had vetted him, and Urban spent time on the horn with Cal and opposing coaches. And Jones as a guy was never an issue. He was well known in NFL circles as a mature young father of two.

"Marv's rep was impeccable," Urban says. "When you have to do a lot more research, that means there are a lot more questions and like I've said, there weren't a lot of questions about him."

But Jones was also a young man in a hurry in Indy.

"I think I had to show I was a 40 guy," Jones says. "I think that was the big thing for me. I had to show I was a 4.4 guy and that's how I trained. I could have run faster. I had done a 4.43, a 4.44 in training, but I was anxious at the start and probably could have run better. But I did what I wanted to do. I wanted to show them I was a 4.4 guy and to finish at the top of the drills and that I could run precise routes."

He conquered the bench press, a mighty job at 195 pounds. He thought "I should have had 24 but they said I didn't lock out on the 12th one." Urban saw the rest on the field.

"When you see him physically, Marv is what he is. Big. Explosive. That was obvious," Urban says. "Pretty natural hands. That was evident."

Sanu thought he had done himself in with his 40. He couldn't believe how tired and gassed he was by the time he ran it. He had been running 4.4s and low 4.5s during his training in Florida.

"It's a long process," Sanu says of the three days. "You're up for meetings early; you're going to bed late (after interviews and tests). I had a meal at 6 a.m. and ran around 1:30. If you're in the second group and your last name is toward the end of the alphabet, you have to be ready to bring stuff with you. It's a long day."

Sanu may have been worried about the 4.6 40, but Urban didn't get too excited. Although it did make Sanu's pro day in New Brunswick huge. And he came up with a 4.41.

"Most of the time players run a lot faster at pro day. If they don't, then that's what they are," Urban says.

But Urban wasn't watching the watch at the combine. It was other moves.

"You could see how sweet his feet were in person. He has great feet. Getting in and out of breaks. You could see all that," he says.

And while that 4.41 was huge, it wasn't the biggest number Urban was watching.

"He did have 115 catches his last year in college," he says.

Not a bad second group at the combine. Both players' rookie years were hurt by injury and they combined for just 34 catches.

But before a season-ending foot injury, Sanu threw a 73-yard touchdown passes and scored his first four touchdowns in his last three games. Jones, who missed a month with a sprained knee, didn't start until the second half of the season and saved his best game for one of the biggest with five catches for 65 yards and his longest play of 23 yards in the playoff-clincher in Pittsburgh.

"Just go do what you've always done," is Jones's advice to the incoming combine class. "Catch the balls you've always caught. Run the way you've always run and you can build off that foundation."

But don't be surprised if you don't hear from them until the week of the draft. There is no script.

 

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