*While most of the Redskins' contingent in Indianapolis will be monitoring what college players do on the field, head coach Jay Gruden is using this week to focus on player interviews, a key part of the draft process. *
On its surface – meaning, based on the mediated lens through which most people experience the NFL Combine – the week long football convention in Indianapolis is primarily a place for scouts to watch more than 300 college players work out at Lucas Oil Field.
But past that televised façade, which places all of its emphasis on 40-yard dash times and the number of bench press lifts, the NFL Combine is more crucial time for team coaches and front office personnel to learn about a player past his 15 minutes of sprints and jumps.
The interviews, at least for Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, who calls them his favorite thing about his experience in Indianapolis, are the reason for being here, and the most effective way to help narrow down a large pool of potential fits to an organization.
These sessions, which usually last about 15 minutes, are often joked about – mostly for some of the crazy questions players receive – because they can’t possibly provide a full window into a player’s character or history, components that teams place heavy emphasis on in addition to their production on the field.
“It’s only 15 minutes and people say “Ah, that’s not a big deal, they’re all staged anyway,” and they’re really not,” Gruden told local reporters on Wednesday.
The Redskins have about 60 interviews scheduled for the entire week, and Gruden’s goal is to, as efficiently and effectively as he can, learn as much about the players he’s speaking with beyond their play on the football field.
“I try to see what motivates these cats and see how they handle adversity and situations, and a little bit of knowledge of football, their position,” Gruden said. “But it’s good to get to know the guys, their personal history and where they come from, and how they got to where they are. It’s a great honor to be in this situation and come here and interview with all these teams and compete against the best players in college football, have an opportunity to play the best sport in the world.”
With the 2016 NFL Combine underway, Redskins.com will look back at past Redskins that attended the event. Here's photos of Mason Foster.
Players can attest to the importance these kinds of interviews can have while still acknowledging that they never really tell the whole story – that their draft stock is never solely based on 15 minutes behind closed doors in an unusual setting.
“Every interview is different to so you never know what you’re going to get,” said Redskins linebacker Mason Foster, reflecting on his NFL Combine experience from 2011. Foster recalled one of the stranger interviews occurring with his eventual defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay.
“I remember it was late at night and he asked me to stay and talk to him,” Foster said. “We went there and I was dog tired and he was grilling me all this stuff. I couldn’t take it. It was about defense, about what we called formations at college and what he called them. We kind of got into it, but once you have seen each other you kind of take your official team trips. We laugh about it until this day and every time I see him we talk about it.
“That is what they do, they see how you handle situations but it was a great experience. It was a great experience and the people that you meet. Some of those guys I met at the combine are still really good friends today even though I never played on the same teams as them. I remember walking around with them and doing drills. You’re all in it together and you just have to enjoy it.”
One of the strangest interviews Foster had included a pop quiz right after he had been introduced to a variety of coaches and scouts in a room.
“They came through and they introduced themselves so I introduced myself to everybody and they sat down and asked again me who everybody’s name was again. They asked me if I remembered his name and I just said, ‘No sorry,’” Foster said. “It was stuff like that, and there is always a question like that…They pull stuff up and ask, ‘What was this and why were you arguing.’ They look up everything on your film. They pull up and ask you, ‘We weren’t arguing that is like my best friend.’ Stuff like that but it’s a great experience and you just have to enjoy it. I’ll remember it forever.”