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Archive for Sunday, April 29, 2007

Commentary: Judging character tough task for GM

April 29, 2007

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Former Colts coach Jim Mora, now a commentator for NFL Network, was recalling the predraft debate about quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. After crunching measurable attributes that suggested Leaf was at least Manning's equal, the Colts posed the hypothetical question to each: "You've just been selected by the Colts as the No. 1 pick in the draft. What are you going to do?"

Mora said Manning wanted a playbook delivered immediately and couldn't wait to get to work. Leaf said he was going to celebrate with friends in Las Vegas.

"That told us something right there," Mora said. "Peyton was all football."

Although Manning since has carved out some time to make a few commercials, he remains mostly football. Leaf remains out of football.

Gauging character is such a big challenge for NFL teams preparing for the draft that anxious executives routinely will check Friday night's police blotters before making their decisions.

As the league increases its crackdown on player behavior, the pressure to probe the minds of young athletes grows in direct proportion to the amount of money pouring into the sport that attracts the richest television contracts. Because television money covers player salaries, NFL players union chief Gene Upshaw admits the only people who can "mess this up" are the players themselves.

The people who pick the players always have been under duress. Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, a Bears draft choice in 1981, finds himself bombarded with questions about how he's going to change the way he examines players now that his 2005 first-round pick, Adam "Pacman" Jones, has been suspended for a year after 10 run-ins with the law.

"The emphasis on character is no different than it was in the past," Fisher said. "We have always placed a very high premium on character. It is the first thing that comes up when you discuss a player. (Pacman) had one issue coming out, and we were very aware he had a rough background. But could you predict these choices he would make?"

The prediction business gets harder as the price goes up. Sometimes, the only thing a young athlete can think to do with his money is to literally throw it away, as cohorts of Jones and maybe Jones himself were accused of doing in a Vegas strip club.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said he tells his scouts they have to project how a prospect is going to deal with two things he didn't have in college that he will have a surplus of as a pro.

"Time and money," Angelo said. "How he handles his time and money will have a great impact on his career. It's very hard to do. The guy who wins the lottery is certainly not the same guy he was the day before."

Angelo said he judges character on two levels - citizenship and football character. Although the two levels are not always mutually exclusive, the nature of football isn't exactly compatible with polite society.

"We're in a business, but we're in a business to win football games," Angelo said. "Sometimes you have to compromise some citizenship areas in terms of personality. He might be a little bit of (a jerk). He might have a little bit of a checkered past, but we feel like he's learning, he has made a mistake, he has moved on. I'm focused on that football character.

"What is his football character? His love for the game, his work ethic, his intelligence relative to what you're going to be asking him to do."

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