I’ve spoken to Scott Campbell, director of player personnel, before. His position means that he’s essentially responsible for preparing the team for all aspects of player acquisition, from the pro and college level, and I had found him to be candid and straightforward in the face of some difficult inquiries. so when I had some questions about the recent roster cuts — several of them raised by commenters and emailers — he seemed like a good person to talk to.
All right, talk me through the process of the cuts.
We started meeting the day after the Jacksonville game, the entire coaching staff, [Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Vinny [Cerrato], myself, [Director of Pro Personnel] Morocco [Brown], [Vice President of Football Administration] Eric Shaffer was in there as well. And basically just as a staff, we worked through each position and decided how many to keep, and the cons and pros of each guy, and why we should go maybe more one position than the other.
How does it work in the room? Do different people champion different guys or positions, or is it all just consensus building?
Sometimes it’s as simple as, you try to keep your best 53 football players. Sometimes, instead of saying, “we have to keep X amount of players because you’re supposed to keep X amount,” you decide, “well, we’ve got this amount at another position that we really like and think they can play, think they’re really good prospects,” and so you go a little heavy at that position. It’s all just based on the football players on hand.
The other thing that starts to factor into it is injuries. Not so much now, but later in the season there’ll be a lot of juggling that goes on just to get week to week. But we had some injuries with Kareem Moore getting hurt, and some other positions, we just had to make sure that we were fortified and could get through the week of practice and suit up enough guys for the game.
As well as tying it all in to [Special Teams Coach] Danny Smith and special teams, because it’s really important that when you dress your 45 for the game that they all contribute on special teams. So it’s not just the guys that are good at their positions — if they’re going to back up, they have to help over there on teams.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that Alfred Fincher played his way onto the team with an impressive performance in that Jacskonville game. Does that actually happen? And is it what happened here?
I think it’s a gradual process for him, but it certainly helped his cause. He got here somewhat late and had gradually learned the system, made a few plays, and kept improving and improving. That last game said a lot to make his case.
So it certainly helped and didn’t hurt him. To say that was the only reason he made it? I’d say that would be a strong statement. Probably everything combined, but it certainly did help.
What about not keeping a sixth receiver? That seemed to take people by surprise – everyone seemed to assume that ONE of those guys was going to make the team.
In terms of … I’m trying to remember here. I don’t remember the coaches ever saying we’ve gotta have a sixth receiver in the meeting.
Okay, but with Malcolm Kelly injured and not likely to play, and Coach Zorn having been somewhat critical of Devin Thomas so far, it seemed like the so-called sixth wide receiver might actually be a fourth wide receiver, and therefore more important. No?
That might be a better question for [Coach Zorn]’s viewpoint. Mine’s more for assessing the talent at hand. That’s up to him for deciding what he wants to keep balance-wise. In his mind … you just don’t know what he’s thinking in terms of what he needs. He’s the coach and he’s gameplanning.
Also, Malcolm Kelly, he’s kind of day-to-day, week-to-week observation. He could be fine next week. He’s cruised along through certain periods and then all of a sudden felt something, like before the Jacksonville game.
But to discount him or Devin at this point… they’re not starters or anything, but they are young players the coaching staff is trying to develop and groom. Maybe in a month they can contribute a lot more. Who knows? Nobody has a crystal ball for stuff like that.
But if someone in the meeting had really wanted that sixth receiver, they would’ve made it known, right?
Each position coach usually makes his case for why he needs more guys than he has. And then you go short at one position and hope you don’t get dinged there. There’s a calculated risk in every decision. You just want to make sure that you have adequate depth at every spot. You’ve just gotta weigh it all and take your best calculated risk.
Does the possibility of signing a veteran to non-guaranteed contract after week one play into the decisions of who gets cut?
Definitely plays into it. You’ll see a lot of activity across the league – the vested guys will all start appearing on rosters after this first game.
Okay, one of the cuts – or, actually, non-cuts – that surprised a lot of people was Justin Tryon, especially coming off a visibly rocky performance against the Jaguars. What happened there? Was there any thought to trying to put him on the practice squad, or do the coaches really have faith in his abilities?
They have faith in him. We all do in terms of the skills he brings to the table as a prospect. In the Jacksonville game … he is short, and he was guarding two guys who were real tall. He was at a physical disadvantage, but he was right there on their hip. They went after him, and they did pick on him, and that’s just part of the growing process. You don’t cut your losses after one preseason game.
Our thoughts going in to the draft was that he was a guy who could come in and develop and improve.
For his stature, he’s aggressive, he’s not afraid to hit you, he’s got quickness and man coverage skills, and he’s got good speed. We want to see him learn and grow.
With a lot of prospects, you are taking into account if you put him onto your practice squad that you might lose him. A lot of the guys that we did put onto the practice squad – Richardson, Clark, Crummey — guys who played well for us, we were concerned that they might get picked up and we had to make plans in case that happened as well.
I’m not quite sure how to ask about the punter decision, but–
They felt that Durant Brooks‘s potential to improve was a big upside. With all the young guys who get drafted, and even the free agents, you have to factor in the potential of what they’re gonna do, not just what they’re doing right now. Some rookies come in and light it up right away, but that’s probably the minority. A lot of them come along through time.
Most of these guys were taken with the idea of building depth on the team, and having young guys to groom and improve. It’s easier to develop a rookie than a thirty year old guy who’s only got a couple of years left.
Another thing that raised some eyebrows was bringing back primarily guys who had been here in the preseason for the practice squad, rather than looking to guys who had been caught in the numbers game for other teams.
The thought generally, even leaguewide, is that they know the system, they know the plays. If disaster strikes and you get hit at a certain position with a couple of injuries, at least you’ve got a guy who knows your plays. You bring a guy in from another team, he may be a very good athlete or a very good prospect, but he’s got no idea where to line up. It takes a week or two just to learn the basic plays – you can’t just plug a guy in one day and the next day have him play. So at least these guys have been trained, and the coaches are familiar with them. There’s some trust there if they have to play. But the practice squad will fluctuate as time goes along.