Bird-dogging not what it used to be

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:56 PM ET

March used to be the most wonderful time of the year for CFL bird dogs.

That's the month when GMs and player personnel employees would grab their passports, book their plane tickets for Florida and go find their next hidden gems under the warm sun at NFL Europa camps.

The six teams would hold their tryouts in the Sunshine State, and those who made the teams would jet across the Atlantic shortly thereafter. The players who didn't make it were one step closer to the CFL if that was the direction they wanted to go.

Times have changed now that NFL Europa is no longer. Throw in the loss of the Arena Football League and it could have a harmful long-term effect on the CFL, according to the men in charge of scouting talent.

"The more football that's played, the better it is for all of us," Montreal Alouettes GM Jim Popp said. "Because we all have extra ways of evaluating people.

"... It's not good for us that there's not another league playing because there's not another avenue for us to evaluate."

NFL training camps remain the primary breeding grounds for CFL prospects, and it will always be that way. In the past, however, those on the fringe of NFL rosters would end up in Europe.

That meant a player's game film consisted of more than just half a quarter of one NFL pre-season game. CFL teams knew what they were chasing.

Now they don't know what they're getting, because the players who don't make NFL rosters are ending up on practice rosters or nowhere at all.

"(The loss of) NFL Europe is the one that hurt us the most," Toronto Argonauts GM Adam Rita said. "Not in a sense that they took a lot of players; it gave us a chance to look at players that we were looking at anyway in game conditions."

That lack of game film is making life tougher for CFL general managers, who have recently turned to tryout camps in the U.S. to make up for the loss of NFL Europa camps.

"They're not in pads, you're trying to evaluate or guesstimate, and it's tough," Popp said. "Because you really don't know what they can do. They can run, but when's the last time you played? You got film? Because I want to see how you are in a uniform. And then you're taking a chance if they don't have that.

"And then you go to camp and then all of a sudden they put a uniform on and they're not the same guy. There's no perfect science to any of this stuff, but it helps when you can actually see them playing and doing something."


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