Gearing Up For 60 Combine Interviews

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At this week's NFL Scouting Combine, all eyes will be on the 40-yard dash, and the bench press will make for good television.

But some of the most-important information gathered in Indianapolis comes from the player interviews.

The Ravens are gearing up for 60 interviews in less than a week at the Combine. To ensure they get the most from their meetings, they typically become tough grill sessions.  It is critical to get an insider's look as to what makes a player tick, especially when you're giving millions to a guy that hasn't played a down of professional football.

"A lot of the interviews might be your only exposure to the player on a personal standpoint," noted director of player personnel Eric DeCosta.  "You get a chance to gauge his background, his personality, is the guy driven, his core beliefs, and if he has a solid support system."

Led by general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh* *and DeCosta, the Ravens always have a set strategy heading into an interview.

Of course, there is general "chit-chat" and a quiz on simple football knowledge, but the real results come when pressing a player's buttons.

No matter who is asking the questions, the Ravens pull no punches when firing away.

"The interesting thing is to watch the interplay between Ozzie, me, coach Harbaugh and the scouts," DeCosta said.  "A lot of times, we'll take a different tact, where I may hit a guy hard, and then Ozzie will be the good cop.  In other situations, Ozzie may be the bad cop, and I'm the good cop.  You want to push a guy to the limit until he cracks."

Running back Ray Rice remembers what it was like looking across the table at the Ravens' officials.

A second-round selection out of Rutgers in 2008, Rice recalled a probing discussion, but one he took in stride.

"Drafting a guy is a big investment," Rice said.  "When that person's name is called in the first, second, or third round, their life is changed forever.  You'd better know what you're going to get.  I would do the same thing if I was in their shoes.

"But, it's more than just playing the game at this level.  They're evaluating what you know about the game of football.  In the NFL, you have to know your Xs and Os, not just plays.  You also have to be a public person off the field.  So, you're really tested."

Another benefit of the interview process is the chance to speak with a talented group of juniors.

Many of the top senior prospects were available during January's Senior Bowl, but this essentially marks the first time juniors will sit down with teams for a face-to-face meeting.

Fifty-three of the approximately 330 total invited players are underclassmen, including such standouts as cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Jermaine Gresham and wideout Arrelious Benn, just a few of the names that have been associated with the Ravens in mock drafts.

"We're seeing some of these juniors for the first time in most cases, and that's always a fun part of the Combine," noted DeCosta.  "I believe we have about 30 juniors to interview at the Combine in a group setting.  And then, the majority of the other juniors will be interviewed by position coaches and scouts."

As important as the interviews are, however, there is still some sleight-of-hand that takes place.

On occasion, a team might not talk to a player on its radar.

Safety Dawan Landry was not formally interviewed by the Ravens at the Combine, and he was a fifth-round draft pick in 2006.  Fullback Le'Ron McClain, a fourth-rounder in 2007, didn't hear from Baltimore.

The same went for Tom Zbikowski, who said he only briefly spoke with a Ravens scout at the Senior Bowl.   What happened?  The Ravens took him in the third round in 2008.

"Honestly, this was the last place I thought I would go," Zbikowski said. "They never really talked to me at the Combine.  I was happy to join that defense, but it was unexpected."

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