CFL teams eye choice college prospects

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:31 PM ET

TORONTO - Bits and pieces of film and snippets of hearsay have given way to the real thing.

General managers, scouts and head coaches across the Canadian Football League will tell you that the road to the Canadian draft on May 8 starts this weekend as the top Canadian prospects gather in Toronto for the league’s evaluation camp.

“The pieces of the puzzle start becoming clearer,” Edmonton Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman said. “In building a team, there are multiple components — free agency, negotiation lists, the draft. The evaluation camp is a huge part of it. There are always some kids who emerge. It’s the principle venue to evaluate young Canadians.”

CFL teams don’t have wads of money to throw around, and scouting departments are not as deep as they would be if the funds were available. So while teams know who the top prospects are and generally what skills they have, the events this weekend will be the first time they can, so to speak, sink their teeth into these guys. Ask anyone in the CFL how important Canadian content is, and part of the answer will be that what comes out of the draft is paramount.

More than 50 prospects will start arriving at a downtown Toronto hotel on Friday; some of those who were not invited will spend the day at another combine in Toronto, run by TSN football analyst and former CFLer Duane Forde and Mike Gough, grunting through many of the same drills their colleagues will get at the official combine.

But it’s not just the physical tests on which the players will be examined. Personal interviews conducted by the teams are getting more crucial as each year passes, as it’s the best way teams can learn whether the 6-foot-4, 250-pound man-child sitting before them cares a lick about football as a job.

“The most important thing is the interview process,” Toronto Argonauts general manager/head coach Jim Barker said, “because you can actually see how passionate a guy is about playing professional football, you can see how important it is to him. We do a lot of background work on these guys.”

Said Forde: “Some coaches will tell you they will flat-out make a kid feel uncomfortable to see how they handle it. It helps to get a feel for a kid’s personality.”

That’s exactly the goal for Tillman.

“How engaging are they?” Tillman said. “Do they look you in the eye? What kind of questions do they ask? You’re not just drafting players, you are drafting people.”

Several of the top prospects for the 2011 draft will skip the camp in order to maintain their NCAA eligibility, and we think you can successfully bet a loonie or two that San Diego Chargers defensive end Vaughn Martin, who is CFL-draft eligible, also won’t be at the camp.

Yet for players such as Rice offensive lineman Scott Mitchell, who some think could be the top pick in May, Calgary teammates Anthony Parker and Nathan Coehoorn, Queen’s offensive lineman Matt O’Donnell and the rest, the camp will help stake their spot in the draft. Of the players who participated in the 2010 evaluation camp, less than 50% were drafted a couple of months later.

The physical testing will be taken with a small grain of salt by some teams, as they know many players will have better results after weeks of training than they would if the tests were done in the middle of the season.

The prospects don’t need a lesson in what is on the line.

“They can watch film on you, but often you’re not playing against guys of the same calibre,” Mitchell said. “It’s really a time when all the guys there will be in the same spot. All I know I can do is my best at each drill.

“And the interview process is so big. If a team is going to invest money in you and a high pick, they have to know what they are getting.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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