Jim Anderson has been doing this longer than Isaiah Pead has been alive.
In fact, the year Pead was born, Anderson, the long-running Bengals running backs coach, had been out on the road quietly and intently scouting for a running back and in 1989 the Bengals traded out of the first round to take a Rose Bowl hero from UCLA named Eric Ball.
"Still looking for the same things. Effort, change of direction, how they catch the ball," Anderson said Friday as he eyed Pead during the University of Cincinnati's workout for pro scouts. "Focus. Concentration. And you like to see how guys respond in their own environment and to coaching."
Just like then, Anderson is vacuuming for any morsel of information. When the scouts and prospects began the parade from the weight room to the bubble for the workout, Anderson made sure he walked with Pead. While Pead pointed the way like a student leading a tour of incoming freshman, Anderson asked him about his class plans, how one set of plays was called in his playbook, and complimented him on his weight.
"Hey, you went up a pound from last week," Anderson said of the NFL Scouting Combine.
And just like then, Anderson can't say anything about Pead to the media. But he can stand up for his position, which in the last year or so has been taking heat as being devalued in the wake of a record-setting passing game.
At the combine the NFL Network's Mike Mayock piled on when he offered that there were no running backs since Adrian Peterson in 2007 worthy of a top 10 pick.
All Anderson knows is that in the last few years since Peterson there have been some fine Pro Bowl backs worthy of their first-round pick.
"You've got some guys, now. Rashard Mendenhall is a tremendous back. Chris Johnson has put up big numbers in Tennessee. Beanie Wells has been hurt, but he's been effective when healthy," Anderson said. "I don't think it's been devalued. You just don't get a lot of chances to see a back do what has been historically done in the National Football League."
What has changed, Anderson says, is the college game and so the challenge for the NFL scout is to project what a back can do in the pro game without seeing hardly any of it all on tape. When Anderson refers to the "home position," he's talking about the back lining up in the "I" behind a fullback.
"They don't line up back there and do it all the time," he said. "In the '80s and '90s they lined up there and did it. Very few now. The guy that can do it has more versatility, but you'd like to see it a little more. The college game didn't have all these spread-out offenses. You've got to project that guy in the home position if you haven't seen him do it a lot. Now they line up in the shotgun with backs offset. It's like a third down situation even though it's first down."
Duke Tobin, the Bengals director of player personnel, led a group of Bengals scouts and coaches into Clifton to view a field of hopefuls headed by Pead, the 5-10, 200-pound Columbus native who shot himself up the draft boards with last month's Senior Bowl MVP outing.
Anderson, otherwise known as "The Dean," who has been with his team longer than any other NFL assistant coach at 29 years, has a special presence among a gathering of NFL types.
The UC staff directed the workout, but Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes ran the D-line drills and Bengals scout Greg Seamon oversaw the bench press. Special teams coach Darrin Simmons got to see Pead catch punts from a jug in a drill that went pretty smoothly.
Plus, Bengals receivers coach James Urban was able to watch a pair of former UC receivers now Bengals in Armon Binns and Vidal Hazelton taking throws for quarterback Zach Collaros's workout.
(That smile tugging at Urban indicated his two guys looked good.)
And during the passing drills, the players would check with Anderson every few snaps to see what he wanted from Pead.
After Pead caught the last snap of the workout, a deep corner route from Collaros, his first stop was to check in with The Dean. They spent a bunch of time together at the Senior Bowl and caught a few moments last week at the scouting combine, so they are easy around each other.
"Coach, did you get what you wanted to see?" Pead asked.
"Good job," said Anderson, who then gave him some tips.
"He told me to always finish drills. Always end with a burst. Whether it's a Pro day workout or an individual workout by myself, don't take it for granted," Pead said a few minutes later.
He shook his head. Anderson is going to have Pead all to himself next month when the Bengals host local players for a day at Paul Brown Stadium, so all Anderson wanted to see Friday was Pead catch the ball.
That's supposed to be a Pead strength, but he was talking to himself after what he saw were three drops.
"I dropped a couple of balls. Since that's my last image of the workout, I think today was kind of below average," Pead said. "That was a corner route from the backfield. I think Coach Anderson wanted to see that and the angle, slant, five-yard in-route, the wheel route, the jig (a drag across the middle)."
Pead can take heart. There's plenty of time and the workouts are just starting. The Browns are in there next week. And he's got a second-round buzz about him now.
In 1989, when Pead was born on Dec. 14, the Bengals stunned the world by getting a back in the second round because that was a year after they had taken 1,000-yard back Ickey Woods in the second round.
There will be no such surprises this year. Since Anderson became the running backs coach in 1984, the Bengals have gone more than four years between drafting a running back in the first or second round just once. And that was from 1998-2003, when they had Corey Dillon, the franchise's all-time leading rusher.
Well, there's no all-time leading rusher around and it appears Cedric Benson won't be back, and it's been 2007 since the Bengals drafted Kenny Irons in the second round.
"If you're still worried about rounds, you're in the wrong game," Pead said when asked if he's got a round in mind. "You still have an opportunity to play football. The stats say the rounds and the numbers go out the window once you get in."
John Thornton, the former Bengals defensive tackle who shows up in more roles and more places than former U.S. presidents, surfaced at UC. Thornton is a sports talk radio favorite and a social network butterfly. But his passion is his JockBiz company that helps young players get acclimated in their new NFL cities with charitable and business opportunities.
Pead is now a client, but only after Thornton survived an exhaustive family interview that featured Pead's grandmother, a lawyer.
"Very impressive family. Very solid. They care about him," said Thornton, who has been dreaming about a Pead-Bengals match. "It's too good to be true. Almost never happens where a guy goes to the same team where he played college. How many University of Miami guys go to the Dolphins? But skill sets, it's a fit.
"He's multi-purpose, he can return punts, he's tough. People think he's a small back, but he's been a power back in college."
Pead certainly carried it more than some bigger backs. His 545 carries are more than the 5-11, 225-poud Trent Richardson's 540, the 5-10, 215-pound Lamar Miller's 335, and the 5-9, 205-pound David Wilson's 462.
Anderson has seen the carries work both ways. A lot and not a lot. He says the one common denominator is having success carrying the ball at every level. Pead would seem to qualify with an Ohio Division III Player of the Year award in high school.
"Craig James and Eric Dickerson split time," Anderson said of the old SMU backfield. "So they didn't get many hits on them and that was good. Eric Dickerson became a Hall of Famer because of that. Other guys did the exact opposite at their schools. Marshall Faulk touched it all the time and it didn't hurt him."
Anderson is symbolic of how Bengals president Mike Brown likes his coaches to be very involved in the scouting process, along with the personnel people. It's controversial, but when guys like Anderson believe they have a good feel for what a prospect can do in the Bengals scheme, Brown believes that's a plus for player and coach.
Anderson is now in the gathering mode. His plan Friday was to return to the office and get it all down before going to the next frame, the next campus, the next back. After catching up with Thornton he assured him he'd be in touch to talk more Pead.
But before he left, Thornton introduced him to Pead's mother, Leshawna.
Anderson had heard she had cooked up some spaghetti for Pead and some of the guys for the workout and that got them into a conversation about Pead's weight and how he's trying to keep it on. Then that led to a conversation about brothers and sisters and then it was time to go back down the hill.
"Productive? Oh yeah," Anderson said. "You're always trying to know what you don't know."
That's one in the category of the things that haven't changed.