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After Meets And Greets, Bengals' Scouts Welcome NFL Draft

Christian Sarkisian with a rare moment to himself Wednesday.
Christian Sarkisian with a rare moment to himself Wednesday.

If you want to catch up with Bengals area scout Christian Sarkisian these days, and that means a week before the NFL Draft, you have to consult his checkerboard schedule.

Which is just fine because Sarkisian's schedule is the sked for Paul Brown Stadium for much of April. Along with scouting the swath from the Great Plains to the Rio Grande, Sarkisian stitches together the daily itinerary for each draft prospect that visits from late March until this week.

The Bengals already saw them at the NFL scouting combine and probably interviewed them for 18 minutes, but the PBS visit gave them the prospect's undivided attention and marked the first time since 2019 prospects were allowed in the building.

"He's great at it. It's hard planning somebody else's day. 'Hey, I got a life, too,'" recalls Bengals safeties coach Robert Livingston, who had Sarkisian's job back in the day. "Flights. Travel. I almost feel badly for him when I see those midnight e-mails."

For instance, Sarkisian has to make sure the schedules of the pertinent coaches match the visitor. He can't have defensive line coach Marion Hobby and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo in a draft meeting with one of the D-line prospects in the building. Plus, he's got to make sure that trainers are available for doctor appointments and that director of operations Jeff Brickner has made matching hotel reservations and … well, you get the idea. It's enough to flummox the best of wedding planners.

He needs plenty of help and got it Tuesday when Northeast scout Andrew Johnson ran Tuesday's Local Day of area prospects.

"Communication," Sarkisian says. "That's the biggest thing. Everybody has to be talking to each other and we do a good job with that."

The timeline flipped Wednesday, a brisk day at the stadium where the last draft meeting to discuss positions coincided with the Bengals welcoming their contingent of prospects who weren't invited to the scouting combine.

"Can't tell you," Sarkisian says of the size of the group. "Each team handles their (limit of) 30 visits differently. It's about strategy. What we find at the combine is there's a lot of value seeing them interact with a group. It's a team sport and you want to get a feel for how these guys operate in the locker room."

Since there's no medical grade on them because they didn't attend the combine, the Bengals also put them through physicals. They also had an early evening group meeting with head coach Zac Taylor before splitting off to meetings with position coaches.

When they left the building Wednesday night, about the only thing left for the Bengals now is to meet during the next week to discuss strategy and finalize the board as director of player personnel Duke Tobin and director of college scouting Mike Potts supply the finishing touches.

But Wednesday's final visit is far from any afterthought. In the last few seasons the non-combine day has yielded contributors plucked late in the draft or college free agency.

Last season, undrafted run-stuffing defensive tackle Josh Tupou, a member of the 2017 non-combine visit group, played 37 percent of the snaps for one of the league's top run defenses. Also in that visit was current safety/kick returner Brandon Wilson, author of the longest play in Bengals history. Other recent non-combine visitors were long-time undrafted returner Alex Erickson and current undrafted wide receiver Trenton Irwin.

"It's like anything else," Sarkisian says. "You're not going to invest in a player, be it a draft pick or a college free agent, if you don't have as much information as you can get."

Veteran defensive coach Louie Cioffi has been helping Sarkisian all spring with logistics and on Wednesday he basically shepherded the nuts and bolts so Sarkisian could get into the 8 a.m. draft meeting.

Not just a meeting to a guy like Sarkisian.

"You can say it's a feast. Yeah, Thanksgiving if you want," Sarkisian says. "It's not Christmas. Christmas is rookie minicamp when you see all the guys that we drafted out there on the field. The meetings are where you get a chance to show what you know. This is why you're paying me. This is why you're paying me to go on the road. This is why you're paying me to interview guys. This is why you're paying me to watch tape. I love the meetings. It's a culmination of 18 months of work."

Sarkisian is already as grizzled as his hometown of Chicago even though he's not quite 30. He had already been an assistant director of player personnel (Northwestern), interned at two NFL teams and served a stint with National Football Scouting before joining the Bengals four years ago.

He's also the answer to that trivia question, "Which Bengals scout has a grandfather in the College Football Hall of Fame whose rights were traded by Paul Brown?"

"Christian is Northwestern all the way. Bleeds purple and whatever else it is," says Mark Duffner, the Bengals senior defensive assistant. "He's very thorough. Very direct. He gives you the information you need."

Alex Sarkisian was one of those throwbacks before they threw it back, a vet who got drafted by the Eagles right after World War II, stayed in school and led Northwestern to its only Rose Bowl championship in 1949 as a center and linebacker who captained both sides of the ball.

"I've got an uncle who played at Northwestern and one at Valparaiso," Sarkisian says. "Big stuff in Chicago."

So Sarkisian went to school. Before getting his Master's from Northwestern with a degree in sports administration from the old alma mater, he got his undergrad degree in sports management from Miami of Ohio, Paul Brown's alma mater.

Small world, right? Alex Sarkisian's college head coach, Bob Voigts, was the first assistant coach Paul Brown hired in Cleveland.

His grandson's job is to make his world small. Take one of his scouting trips during this last training camp. It consisted of flying into Minneapolis and then renting a car for a trip down Interstate 35 to Austin, Texas. Since his area encompasses the Big 12 (except West Virginia), the Big Ten West and all of Texas, it was a bountiful trip.

But by Wednesday, those reports furnished by the area scouts in August had been long ago digested in personnel meetings with ownership that took place back in December just as the Super Bowl run was taking off and were reviewed by the coaches heading into the March combine just a week or so after the big game.

So what Sarkisian and the rest of the area scouts offered Wednesday were updates. From all-star games, the combine, pro days, interviews. Then a discussion from all corners of the draft room ensued before a grade was given.

"At this point," Sarkisian says, "it's all pretty conversational. It's pretty informal and it should be because, we're what? A week away. We know all these guys and what to know about them. We've been talking about them for a long time and we're just shoring it up."

While Sarkisian gave his view, the rest of the draft room could look at laptops that had the entire data base of the Bengals draft work for this year complete with video clips and evaluations by scouts and coaches. Participants also had at their disposal notebooks, iPads and printouts from scouting services.

Sarkisian still has his notes from the games he scouted with the help of a form created by Tyler Gross, the club's application developer.

"We're information gatherers," Sarkisian says. "Our job is to get the information in the hands of the decision-makers. That means anything. During their visit, did they wear a suit? Were they professional? And you can pick up at things on dinner. Were they late? Anything."

Sarkisian's individual visits with combine prospects started the night before at dinner with a scout, the coordinator and position coach. Then he would meet the prospect the next morning on the PBS plaza at 7 a.m. so he could get them into quick sit-downs with Taylor, Tobin, Potts and Bengals president Mike Brown before the 8 a.m. draft meeting.

Sarkisian would come up with a couple of bullet points for Brown to peruse and he knew the owner would do the rest.

"Mr. Brown can make so many different connection points," Sarkisian says. "He's able to make those guys feel a lot more comfortable very quickly. He might have known a guy that went to his high school or nearby or some other connection. I don't know how many owners these guys meet, but he can put them at ease."

On Wednesday, the meets and greets were over. There wasn't much left on Sarkisian's checkerboard.

"Just strategy," he says after 18 months of everything else.