I came off the road this week after spending Sunday through Wednesday in Lower Alabama for the Senior Bowl, one of the best weeks of the year if you’re in the football profession. It’s football with a side of Mardi Gras in a friendly town reminiscent of New Orleans.

Here are a few thoughts from the road.

  • Most bizarre/sadly funny/semi-tragic plane flight story of the week comes from Jeff Jankovich, an agent I’ve profiled in this space before. Jeff took off from Reagan Airport on Monday morning. About 10 minutes into the flight, the pilot comes over the intercom to say that there’s a mechanical issue and they’ll have to land. That’s the bad news. The really bad news is that they had too much fuel, so they had to circle for two hours before it was safe to put down. Of course, they landed not back at Reagan, but at Dulles. By the time Jeff had deplaned; traveled an hour-and-a-half (through traffic, by bus) from Reagan back to Dulles; then waited in line to be re-ticketed, it was 3 p.m. and there were no more flights to New Orleans. His best option was to go home, then take an early flight the next day to Atlanta, rent a car and drive (about five hours from Mobile; New Orleans is about two). It was not a banner day for American Airlines. Incidentally, big congrats to Jeff for having his first Senior Bowl invitee, West Virginia OC Tyler Orlosky.
  • We all know the expression ‘it’s a small world.’ It came to life for me this week as I sat and watched North Carolina receiver Ryan Switzer catch passes and run routes as a member of the North squad. Ryan’s dad, Mike, was a senior offensive lineman at St. Albans High School, about 20 minutes south of Charleston, W.Va., when I was a sophomore. In 1985, we’re two guys on the practice field in a small town in southern West Virginia. More than 30 years later, we’re two guys at Ladd-Peebles Stadium congratulating each other on making it to Mobile, though in completely different ways. Weird, and kinda cool.
  • I love going to practices because it’s one of the best chances I get to see and say hi to clients and friends. The only drawback is, because I’m there, I always get asked who’s looking good out there. First of all, I’m so engrossed with catching up with friends that I rarely get a glimpse of the field.  But second — and I know this pretty much goes against everything you’re going to read over the next four months — I just don’t know how much all the hubbub about who’s having a great week and who’s not really matters. Scouting is just entirely too subjective, and most of what you read online about whose ‘stock’ is soaring or falling is really questionable. I’ve been coming to these games so long that I can remember several players that ascended after a strong week (North Carolina DT Ryan Sims in 2002, California QB Kyle Boller in 2003, Arkansas’ Matt Jones in 2005 and Louisville DT Amobi Okoye in 2007 are just a few), then went out and had nondescript NFL careers. I’m sure you could name players that had awesome weeks, then went on to football stardom (Oregon State’s Chad Johnson in 2001 was one), but I just don’t see a strong correlation anymore. That makes it hard to really get excited about what happens here. There are just too many variables, too many unknowns. I know that’s not sexy and not really connected to what you find on the Web these days, but I believe it’s true.
  • In keeping with that theme, I’m pretty excited about our coming ITL Combine Seminar set for Wednesday, March 1, at 7 p.m. We’re going to have former Saints and Browns scout Matt Manocherian speak, but not really because he’s a former NFL evaluator. Instead, it’s because he’s now with Sports Info Solutions, a firm that Bill James founded to develop the analytics ideas that have taken hold in baseball (and been featured in Moneyball). I’m not sure analytics translates to football the way it does baseball — just too messy, too much integration between players — but I’m willing to listen with an open mind. I look forward to them discussing how their methods apply to football.
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