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Draft machinery grinds on


Marvin Jones

With the on-campus workouts firing up this week, the Bengals head into the one of the last phases of the draft process before the extravaganza gets underway in seven and a half weeks.

Tuesday is the first semi-busy day of what has become known as "pro days," with such diverse schools as Auburn, Northwestern and Buffalo opening their gates to the NFL scouts. Then it begins to get extremely active later in the week with Syracuse, Arizona, Illinois, Missouri and Mississippi just some of the colleges and universities holding workouts on Thursday.

But the Bengals are taking what they learned from the previous phases of the process (fall campus visits, all-star games, the NFL Scouting Combine) and using them on-site during more interviews and timing while the parade of pro days continues for the next five weeks or so.

Including using what they took away from the 15-minute interview at last week's Combine, a procedure that is undergoing more scrutiny than the sequester for some of the more personal questions that were asked.

The Bengals weren't criticized for getting personal, but for asking just plain weird questions, according to Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson. And that was a compliment to director of player personnel Duke Tobin.

"If a player walks out of there feeling a little unprepared or challenged, then we accomplished our goal," Tobin says. "What we're not wanting is the player to tell us what he's rehearsed with his people prior to the Combine. The core of our interview is having the player come in not prepared and react to it. That's the core of what football is. How quickly can you think in unfamiliar circumstances? Football is thinking and reacting quickly and that's what we try to put the player through when we're interviewing him."

Ever since the NFL came up with 15-minute interview sessions at the Combine with 60 prospects for each team about 10 years ago, the Bengals have been tweaking their interviews each year. In fact, they tweak between one day and the next because not only is each position different, but so is each player.   

At the risk of giving anyone questions before the test, Tobin doesn't want to give anyone a heads-up on what may be coming at them during a 15-minute Bengals interview.

But conceivably it could range like this:

Name the president during World War II. What's the capital of France? Remember these five words. What happened during that incident when you were a sophomore? On this play in the Senior Bowl, what was the huddle call and what was the left guard's responsibility?

"You can't find out everything about anybody in 15 minutes. But if you're going to get value out of the interview, you can uncover things that you want to find out more about later," Tobin says. "We blend cognitive skills, memory skills, background issues. We also do football and that's how we like to end the interview."

Tobin says anyone in the room can ask any question of the prospect at any time, but there are areas of professional expertise. The position coaches ask the technical questions using two or three plays on video, or asking the player to go to the "white board" to show his knowledge of the game. A psychologist leads the cognitive section and the club's director of security handles background questions while the personnel department asks the players about things it has uncovered during the fall scouting.

"It's not a bad thing when questions come from multiple people in multiple areas," Tobin says. "That gives you another opportunity to see how quickly they react in an unfamiliar situation. And that's what football is: reacting not only quickly physically, but thinking quickly on your feet when you see something different."

There has been a ton of fallout from the "Do you like girls question?" allegedly from one team that the NFL says it is investigating. Tobin says the Bengals don't go there.

"We have professionals in the room. We follow standard protocol and guidelines in any interview situation. We are very respectful of the player and his privacy in certain areas," Tobin says. "We try to follow guidelines that are accepted nationally."

Tobin says the Bengals never rule out a player after one of those 15-minute sessions. But if a red flag crops up or if a player has been particularly impressive, then that goes on their list of things to watch/ask at the pro day, or if they decide to offer a pre-draft invite to the facility.

But don't be fooled by where the Bengals show up in the next five weeks. Or better yet, don't be led by the list of 30 prospects they can invite to Paul Brown Stadium before the draft. Or, who they sat down to interview at the Combine.

Because Marvin Jones, one of the club's three fifth-round picks last year who started the playoff game at wide receiver, wasn't on any of those three lists. And that's a game teams play, too.

"You have to assume everyone knows who is coming into your room (at the Combine) and who is coming into your building," Tobin says. "The league doesn't give out that information, but if other teams want to find out through agents, the media, and the players themselves, you can cobble together a list pretty quickly.

"We'd like to maintain a certain degree of unpredictability league-wide. You don't want (other teams) having a design on your universe of players. As in the case with Marvin, we were comfortable with the player from tape and a campus visit and talking to others. Just taking the names of those 30 players visiting, those aren't the only players the Cincinnati Bengals are thinking of drafting."

So welcome to the draft's next phase. Just don't believe everything you hear or see.

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