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Monday, April 20, 2009

Ravens' Ozzie Newsome and talent spotting (of all kinds)

Lots of interesting stuff from Sunday's NY Times article on the Ravens and Ozzie Newsome's approach to the draft. But maybe most interesting is this approach to identifying organizational talent -- guys within the organization who are smart, hardworking, and are willing to eat, breathe, and sleep football. All organizations and businesses look for this kind of person, but Ozzie Newsome has an interesting technique, though unsurprisingly he learned it from Bill Belichick.

In a program Newsome borrowed from Belichick, the Ravens rarely hire a scout from outside the organization. Rather, Newsome has his 20-20 club. He pays 20-somethings who hope to rise through the personnel department $20,000 a year. They work 20 hours a day filing tapes, picking up free agents at the airport and cleaning out the refrigerators of released players who have abandoned their apartments. In 1996, Coach Ted Marchibroda used to give DeCosta $100 and ask him to get an oil change for his car and keep the change. DeCosta dutifully scouted out the places that would do an oil change for $9.

In the meantime, Newsome and his staff get a read on an up-and-comer’s work ethic and intelligence. The older scouts tutor the younger ones in what to look for, so everybody’s eye is trained the same way.

“We even grade our lunches,” DeCosta said. “If I say it’s a 6.2 lunch — all the guys know what that means, pretty good, but not great. A 7.5 is like the Pro Bowl is, if I say the soup is a 7.5 today, everybody runs to get the soup.”

I will have more to say about the NFL draft in this next week, but it's worth pointing out that this is yet another area in football where you can only deal in probabilities, can only do your best and hope the dice roll works in your favor.

Newsome’s first draft as the director of player personnel in 1996 may define his career. Convinced the Ravens could support a troubled player, Newsome was prepared to take running back Lawrence Phillips because the Ravens needed a rusher. But offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden fell into the Ravens’ lap at No. 4. Ogden was rated higher on the Ravens’ draft board, so they took him. Phillips, eventually taken sixth, washed out of the league after playing only 35 games. Ogden is a near lock to join Newsome in the Hall of Fame. The Ravens got Ray Lewis later in the first round, too.

As he prepares for next weekend’s draft with his reputation burnished, Newsome can afford to laugh at his early good fortune. “I might not be here if it had gone the other way,” he said.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Chris! I've been trying to learn more about scouting and player personnel in general, so it's good to see this stuff here.
I know it's somewhat of a long shot, but I've been thinking about trying to get into this stuff as a career. Do you know of any places, books, websites, etc. I can go to learn more? Thanks for the help!


Anonymous said...

John Feinstein's book, "Next Man Up," is a great look at this, using Newsome and Billick as examples.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Hurt! I'll be sure and track it down and read it sometime this summer.