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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Scot McCloughan’s desire for ‘football players’ guides Redskins’ draft strategy




Washington Redskins offensive guard Brandon Scherff (75) watches from the bench during the second half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Anthony Gulizia - The Washington Times

April 27, 2016

Moments before the Washington Redskins were on the clock with the No. 5 selection in the NFL draft last year, Neil Cornrich asked Brandon Scherff where his cell phone was.

It was in Scherff’s pocket, and the hulking offensive tackle from Iowa would be better served if he had it ready, Cornrich told him. Through his wealth of experience as an agent, Cornrich had familiarized himself with Scot McCloughan’s draft history during various roles with the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. He was enamored by two selections in particular: Running back Frank Gore in the third round in 2005 and inside linebacker Patrick Willis 11th overall in 2007, both drafted during McCloughan’s tenure with the 49ers.

McCloughan selected the 6-foot-5, 320-pound offensive lineman with his first pick as the Redskins‘ general manager. It was a widely criticized pick, most notably because USC defensive end Leonard Williams was expected to be selected.

McCloughan hardly cared. He had a vision of a very specific culture — one that emphasizes character just as much, if not more, than talent — that he is trying to shape in the Redskins' organization. Scherff epitomized it. This was the player who, in his senior season at Iowa, tore the meniscus in his right knee in a game against Ball State, had the knee scoped the following Tuesday, missed one practice and returned the next weekend to face Iowa State. During the combine, Scherff dazzled the Redskins and numerous other teams in interviews not only with his football IQ, but his fierce loyalty to his family and teammates as well as an undeniable work ethic.

“There were more talented guys than Brandon was at that pick,” McCloughan said. “I took him more as an entire football player than the talent level itself. I wanted the people to understand this is the way I see football. Big guys. Smart guys. Tough guys. Passionate guys. Competitive guys. That it’s about the team and not the individual.

“This is why it’s not an exact science. That’s why there’s a so-called bust every year. They’re recognizing the talent, but they’re not recognizing the person. I’m not saying we have a prototype or we’re the only team in the league that sees it, but I spend at least half the time trying to find out the person than the physical skills.”

On Thursday, McCloughan will embark on his second draft as the Redskins‘ general manager, this time with the No. 21 pick, and he’ll do so by trusting a philosophy that’s been carefully crafted since he became an area scout for the Packers in 1994.

Over the years, McCloughan, by his own admission, has had his share of draft failures, whether it was when he was vice president of player personnel and general manager of the 49ers, or the director of college scouting with the Seahawks from 2000 through 2004, and then a senior executive from 2010 until he resigned in 2014. Almost always, McCloughan said, he was burned when he sacrificed character for exceptional talent, a devilish temptation in a league where production equates with job security.

“It’s a talent sport, and if you have special attributes, those are the ones that change games,” McCloughan said. “But, if you don’t have the right mindset or right internal fortitude, then you’re going to hurt the team more than you help it.”

That philosophy paid huge dividends in 2015 as five of the 10 players McCloughan drafted made a noticeable impact during the Redskins‘ improved season. Scherff, who became the starting right guard, played all but one snap as the starter and it was because his cleat fell off in a Week 5 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Outside linebacker Preston Smith, selected in the second round, had a slow start but finished the season with eight sacks, the most of any rookie.

Third-round pick Matt Jones split carries with Alfred Morris and is in line to be the lead running back this season. Jamison Crowder, taken in the fourth round in large part because of his punt return skills, supplanted veteran Andre Roberts as the team’s slot wide receiver and caught 59 passes for 604 yards and two touchdowns. Kyshoen Jarrett emerged as a versatile defensive back and played 57 percent of defensive snaps before sustaining a nerve injury in the final game of the regular season.

It didn’t take long for Scherff to notice the type of players McCloughan was invested in, and it showed early on.

“It was great to see where everyone came from, where they played, their experiences from college and how our experiences were different,” Scherff said. “Then to get on the field with them was a great experience. A bunch of hard workers, guys that want to be on time. We had a bunch of meetings early, rookie meetings that held us late, and nobody ever complained.”

There is a term McCloughan favors when describing an ideal candidate for his team. He loves “football players,” though he doesn’t mean it in the literal sense.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who has a strong relationship with McCloughan and shares a similar philosophy, can elaborate. When comparing Scherff to five-time Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda, the Baltimore Ravens’ right guard and former Iowa standout, Ferentz used the same term.

“They’re different personalities, but they love playing football,” Ferentz said. “I don’t mean just playing. They love the meetings, love their teammates, all the hard work you do year-round. Those guys thrive on that. It’s just how those guys are wired, and when you get a guy like that, it’s rare, and they’re not all that common in the NFL, either.”

Those are the character traits that McCloughan covets, and when he feels as if he’s found a player that exhibits them, it’s hard for him to pass them up. That’s why McCloughan was adamant about drafting Scherff with the fifth overall pick.


Draft analysts projected Scherff would transition from left tackle to guard in the NFL, another reason the pick was criticized. A pick that high, most argued, was reserved for franchise-cornerstone left tackles. Again, McCloughan didn’t care. The character superseded the fit, and he trusted his gut based off previous experiences.

“From my stand point, it wasn’t vital [Scherff] had to be the right tackle,” McCloughan said. “We could play him at guard. We took Steve Hutchinson [at No. 17 in 2001] when I was in Seattle and the guy changed the whole offensive line and went to many pro bowls and was a phenomenal player, just because of the type of person he was. He made the person to his left and right better.”

Asked whether Scherff has that same makeup, McCloughan answered with a resounding yes. When McCloughan made his first draft selection as the Redskins‘ general manager, he had the opportunity to make it well-known what type of player he was hoping to build around.

He got more than one in 2015, and the challenge now is to continue finding those type of players. That’s what McCloughan and his staff will set out to do this weekend.

“It’s about the entire package, where I think hopefully it works out the same way here because that’s how we start building,” McCloughan said.

“It’s about the internal fortitude, the passion they have to take care of each other. Maybe I’m off base, but that’s how I build a championship team.”

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