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Bills Coaches Sizing Up Talent at Senior Bowl

Everyone knows that every NFL coaching staff and scouting department is prominently represented at this week's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. And the Bills are no different.

But exactly what are the coaches from the Bills' staff looking for when they watch practice? And how does the staff interact with one another through the course of the practice week to make sure they get a good look at every one of the 100 prospects in attendance? with the help of Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell sheds some light on the process.

The practices are generally of the most interest to the coaching staff. It's their opportunity to see how the players operate.

"What we as coaches like to do is watch their individual drills," said Fewell.

But it's not all about a player's physical ability in the practice setting. It's much more than that.

"While we're watching we're checking to see if they have a good work ethic," Fewell said. "Do they enjoy practice? When they're practicing is this guy a talker? Is he a focused guy? What kind of demeanor does he have on the field? You watch how he accepts coaching, how he does his drills, how he interacts with other players during the drills. Is he a team guy? Is he a 'me' guy? How does he fit into the scheme of things?"

By acquiring information about a player's on-field personality Buffalo's coaching staff believes it aids each and every one of them when it comes time to evaluate those same players on tape in real games from last fall.

"It gives you a feel for the player a little bit because what you normally see in practice is what transfers to the ball game," said Fewell.

Seeing all 100 players however, is almost impossible for one coach so the Bills staff takes the approach of 'divide and conquer' though they make a point to overlap on players they believe could be a fit for Buffalo.

"We split up during practice because of all the individual drills that are going on," said Fewell. "The defensive line will be working in one place while the linebackers will be working in another area. After each of the Senior Bowl practices we'll be able to get together and share some thoughts.

"A conversation might be like, 'Hey did you see player 'x'?' And the other assistant coach might say, 'No I didn't really see him,'" said Fewell. "So the first assistant would say, 'Boy you should take a look at him tomorrow.' And that's another day for another assistant to review him and we can get another set of eyes on that player."

The coaching staff's biggest responsibility is assessing whether or not a prospect is a fit for what the Bills do offensively or defensively in terms of scheme. To help them make that determination they often employ comparisons to players already on Buffalo's roster.

"The coaches basically do the same type of drills that we do," said Fewell. "So I have in my mind how Donte Whitner looks when he does this particular drill, so when I'm watching a prospective player I have that comparison handy. And I might say to myself, 'He looks as quick as Donte, or he looks slower than Donte.' Or 'He looks like Ko Simpson here and he has the range.'"

When it comes to 7-on-7 or 9-on-7 team work the coaching staff is looking to get a handle on the mental processing skills of the players.

"When they're practicing we're just trying to see if he knows his alignment, if he knows his assignment," Fewell said. "When he carries out his assignment does he finish the play? What are his practice work habits like? Is he a sprint to the ball type of guy? Is he a loaf guy? Does the coach have to coach him to run to the ball? Does a coach have to tell him to finish the play? So we're just trying to look for all of those little things to see how he might fit into the personality of what we're trying to build with the Buffalo Bills."

Of course a prospect's physical play is of importance too which is why the most important practices to attend according to Fewell are the padded ones.

After Wednesday's padded practice the Bills' coaching staff will return to Buffalo. Coming home with them will be tapes of all the practices for further review later this week and later on in the draft evaluation process.

"We'll refer back to those practices on tape," said Fewell. "You really have to critique and scrutinize these players to a larger degree. We'll review the game tape too from this weekend. As the draft nears you're trying to gather as much information as you can. You may want to apply the player's combine times with some of the things you saw on tape. Is the player stiff or fluid and does he have that burst that he showed in a shuttle drill? You're trying to make the best possible decision that you can about each and every player."

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