For the Carolina Panthers, the most important part of the scouting combine is the player interviews.
“I think the interviews are the biggest part of the combine,” Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. “This is the first chance you really get to talk to the kids at length.”
It gives the team really their only chance to get to know the players from a football and intelligence perspective. They have already broken every prospect’s game film down, and pretty much know what they are capable of on the field, but the interviews are a chance to get to know the men behind the helmet a little bit.
“You get 15 minutes with them. It’s not a ton, but you get a feel for their intelligence as far as football goes and their feel for the game,” Hurney said. “What we started doing about three years ago is making some highlight tapes of their plays – good and bad. We’ll go through each play and have them explain the formation, the play, what his assignment is and what happened.”
The Panthers also take the interviews as a chance to see what the players think of their teammates and rivals.
“If you have a guy in the room that has some teammates here, you’ll ask him about them. You’ll ask an offensive lineman who’s the best defensive lineman he went against. You try to get as much information in any way you can.”
The Panthers interviewed their top 60 targets at the Crowne Plaza, and then did around 200 more interviews at the nearby train station. The train station interviews are rapidly quick. Each interview is 15 minutes, so around the 13 minute mark a two minute warning will sound. Ron Rivera does his best to throw the prospects off balance a bit, to see who they are as a person instead of hearing their pre-conceived answers to questions.
“Our job is to throw them for a loop a little bit, to make them think a little bit,” Ron Rivera said. “We’ve got to come up with something to get them off of rehearsed answers because most of the guys have prepared for this process with their agents. We’ve got to get them off their game to get to know them a little better.”
Ron Rivera himself attended the combine as a player 1984 when he was selected in the 2nd round by the Chicago Bears.
“It was a long, drawn-out process,” Rivera said. “Now things are scheduled, but then they would just grab you. You could be milling around, and someone would come running up to you and say, ‘Hey, can I talk to you? It wasn’t as structured then, but now it’s a machine. Plus, I think the stakes are a lot higher now with the money involved in it.”
Ultimately for these young men, they are trying to get a job, and the Panthers are trying to get the best available players to don the Black and Blue next year.
“It’s a job interview, and those guys want to put their game face on and put their best foot forward,” director of college scouting Don Gregory said. “This is the Carolina Panthers’ investment, so we want to make sure we get the right players for the city of Charlotte.”