Tape crusaders

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Bengals fullback/tight end Ryan Hewitt, after Jeremy Hill their Rookie of the Year, is a Senior Bowl product.

The NFL scout is a master of travel.

He can freeze monstrous fares with a steely blink, flee the chain of connections with the flick of an iPad, leap security in a single bound and cut across the Plains like a tornado.

But Duke Tobin isn't looking for Superman on his staff. Tobin, the Bengals director of player of personnel, is simply looking for the best 20 or so college players to bring into Paul Brown Stadium in May and so he has turned his scouts into Clark Kent with what the club believes is a more efficient agenda.

"I don't think the true value of a scout is how quickly he can get from Hattiesburg to Jackson or from Ole Miss over to Alabama or how early he can get up in the morning to be the first one with the clicker," Tobin says. "The true value of the scout is what he does when the film comes on and how he evaluates the player.

"We're trying to limit the inefficiency in scouting and maximizing the time to do what we're really there to do, which is grading the film. And we're the most effective grading the film here in the office." The Bengals have prepared for this month's college all-star games that begin next week with the streamlined approach that was implemented this past fall. Instead of keeping the scouts on the road until Thanksgiving, they brought them home by mid-October with plans to travel more when the spring scouting starts in March after the NFL scouting combine.

The typical fall visit to a college campus for an NFL scout involves watching tape with other scouts before monitoring practice and visiting with other sources, such as coaches, trainers, and academic personnel.

But this past fall, the Bengals area scouts skipped the tape portion, saving it all for when they got back home to grade.

Technology has allowed it now that the college tape comes so fast and furious into Bengals video director Travis Brammer's data base.

And the road is a terrible place to be efficient. There is no control. When a scout watches tape at a school, he may not be the one with the clicker and has to review the film at someone else's pace. Or, there is always a deadline because the team has to use the equipment or they can shut the place down. Plus, the scout always has to worry about getting to the next stop.

 "We've been to the major places we wanted to go and some minor places that were hand selected," Tobin says.  "We were able to get the background information we wanted to get.  By doing the tape work here, it cuts down on a lot of the travel. It makes you more efficient and focused on the campus visit.

"In the heart of the season, late October, November, early December, those are prime scouting months because there is a lot of evidence on tape and the more tape you can get through and the more efficiently you can watch it, the better opinion you're going to get. So we tried to maximize that part of the season."

For example, when southeast scout Robert Livingston, east coast scout Greg Seamon, midwest scout Bill Tobin, and west coast scout Steve Radicevic were on the road in late October, they may have had five games backed up in their laptops to report but couldn't get to them all because of planes, trains, and automobiles, not to mention someone else's clicker or schedule.

But back in the office, they can knock out two or three schools in a day on tape at their own pace on their big computer screens. With their own clicker. One scout believes he's watched 30 percent more tape at this point this year than last year. And they're watching conference games that matter, not the September cream puffs.

"We cut out some schools. A lot of secondary schools where there are lower-rated prospects or not as many," Tobin says. "Then we'll double back in the spring and see guys that we've identified but didn't visit. The spring scouting is a little more efficient. You don't have to spend the entire day, you're just there for the workout, and then you've got time to check with sources on campus. We get a lot of that work done in the spring.

"Our spring travel might even be a little up this year. That's where I see our trend going. Less in the fall, maybe a little more in the spring. We're still traveling, it's just in a different format."

Like Tobin says, each team asks their scouts to do different things. Some teams will have two guys at a visit, maybe one simply acting as an information gatherer and the other scouting. For Tobin, that's hard to differentiate.

"Our guys don't gather information. They develop it,' Tobin says. "We rely on our guys to have an opinion and the best way to get an opinion is through watching as much tape as you can."

All the scouts will be on site at the bowl games. Next week they'll be in Tampa at the East-West Shrine Game and in Los Angles at the NFL Players Association Game, and the week after that they'll be in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl, which is traditionally where most of the top prospects gather.

The Bengals have plucked some good ones from the Senior Bowl lately. In 2012 they saw an eventual first-round pick there in right guard Kevin Zeitler and a starting wide receiver in fifth-rounder Marvin Jones. In 2013 they came out of it with three straight picks, second-rounder Margus Hunt, third-rounder Shaun Williams, and fourth-rounder Sean Porter. Then last year they saw third-rounder Will Clarke play in both Mobile and the East-West game.

And one of their top two rookies this year, undrafted Stanford fullback/tight end Ryan Hewitt, played in Mobile, where he confirmed his versatility to Radicevic.

"The all-star games are good because you start to get to know the player, whether it's hanging around the hotel or walking off the practice field," Tobin says. "When you see them in person, you're looking for confirmation of what you saw on tape."

A scout could wonder, 'His arms didn't look that long on tape,' or 'He doesn't catch the ball as smoothly in person."

But if players collapse in an all-star game, they shouldn't fear the Bengals draft room. They can only improve their stock in a bowl game. If the Bengals liked what they saw on tape, they're not going to let one bad performance blow it up.

The games are best for the small-school players because it puts them on stage with the players from the bigger venues.

"It's great for those guys. You love to see them in that situation and see how they respond," Tobin says.

That's where the Bengals want to see their Supermen. On the field. Not in the airport.

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