Teams scout personalities as well as skills in finding best fit


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Jan 22, 2006
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Character study: who's worth risk?
Teams scout personalities as well as skills in finding best fit
- Nancy Gay
Sunday, April 16, 2006

Marcus Vick said the right things. Sort of. The former Virginia Tech quarterback was being grilled relentlessly during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and the questions had little to do with his 2,868 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, 492 rushing yards and six rushing TDs in 24 college games.

He is the younger brother of Falcons Pro Bowl quarterback Michael Vick and possesses similar explosive talent. But Marcus and his lengthy rap sheet, on and off the field, were under intense scrutiny by 32 teams and nearly 300 NFL reporters.

He tried to be engaging and disarming. Yet Vick, who declared himself eligible for the April 29-30 NFL Draft after being permanently dismissed from the Hokies' football program, was feeling plenty of heat.

"I'm just giving them the feedback that they want,'' a smiling Vick responded. "Just trying to show them the type of person that I am. To show the world I'm not the person that some people make me out to be.''

What would that be? The young man who, prior to the 2004 season, was arrested (but not convicted) for having sex with a 15-year-old girl, was convicted for giving alcohol to three underage girls, pleaded guilty to reckless driving and no contest to possession of marijuana?

The player, who, after being reinstated to the Tech program, flipped off fans in Morgantown, W.V., elbowed a coach in the back of the head and was arrested for driving with a suspended license? The guy who capped off an 11-2 season and a Gator Bowl win last season by stomping on the leg of a Louisville player with his cleats, allegedly on purpose?

What kind of person are they making you out to be, Marcus?

"Some kind of bad guy. Like, the villain,'' said Vick, pouring on the charm. "But I'm not that kind of person. I wasn't raised that way. Anybody that really knows me knows that.''

Vick has enormous ability, a player who might excel at quarterback or halfback at the NFL level. But he's also a troubled young man who was charged with pointing a firearm at three teenagers two days after declaring himself eligible for the draft.

All that said, would any team draft Marcus Vick?

"I think it's really important -- and this is just me -- this doesn't have anything to do with Marcus Vick, but for me, with the Green Bay Packers, it's important that we get the right person,'' said Packers general manager Ted Thompson, whose team has the fifth overall pick in the upcoming draft.

"The longer I'm in this, the more I'm convinced that character is overriding. And if someone, even if he's talented, if he's not the right fit for our place, then it's not the right fit.''

This year's draft has a few "problem child" entries, some with serious character issues such as Vick.

What will teams make of Florida State linebacker A.J. Nicholson, who was charged with sexual assault of a 19-year-old girl at the team hotel before this year's Orange Bowl? The charge was dropped and Nicholson was forthright and remorseful when quizzed at the Combine about the incident.

Yet his draft stock has stalled, and Nicholson is projected as no better than a high third-round pick.

And there are others with less egregious histories.

USC offensive tackle Winston Justice, a potential Top 10 pick, was suspended the entire 2004 season, his sophomore year, for brandishing a fake pistol in public.

He returned for a strong junior season, protecting southpaw quarterback Matt Leinart's blind side well. The 6-foot-6, 319-pound Justice declared early, and his draft stock is soaring.

Part of the reason: Justice has impressed teams in interviews, especially when confronted with probing questions about the toy pistol incident.

"You always have to try to understand: Is it a good person who just made a bad decision,'' Cardinals coach Denny Green said. "In most cases, that's what it is, a good person who made a bad decision. Then you try to ascertain what that means.''

That's where the standard varies, from team to team.

The Denver Broncos have been known to expunge potential talent from their draft if those players have been involved in any off-field incidents. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is forthright in his desire to seek good character players.

The Eagles have been among those teams, placing emphasis on drafting for character. Their free agent experiment with Terrell Owens may have readjusted their focus regarding veterans as well.

Over the years, many NFL teams have been burned by choosing potential over character in drafting a so-called "problem player." In other cases, they have been rewarded for taking a chance on a young man whose college-age transgressions proved to be isolated lapses in judgment.

In 1996, the Patriots were among several teams that sent scouts to watch a workout for troubled Nebraska defensive lineman Christian Peter, a playmaker who had pleaded guilty in 1994 to third-degree assault of a former Miss Nebraska. He received 18 months probation.

Peter was a highly regarded nose tackle but also a player with a lengthy criminal history. He had been arrested eight times, drawing four convictions. Among the charges: grabbing a woman by the throat, threatening to kill a parking attendant, failure to appear, public urination and illegal possession of alcohol.

Many teams steered clear but the Patriots, then coached by Bill Parcells, drafted Peter in the fifth round of the 1996 draft. Three days later, amid a public outcry when Peter's criminal past became public by advocacy groups, the Patriots -- at the urging of Myra Kraft, the wife of owner Bob Kraft -- released all rights to Peter.

He sat out a year, then signed with the New York Giants. In six unspectacular NFL seasons with three teams, Peter had 84 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks. He's been inactive since 2002.

The New York Jets gambled in 2000 when they selected Florida State wide receiver Laveranues Coles, a player who made headlines for being involved in a so-called "shoplifting" scandal with Seminoles teammate Peter Warrick, a Heisman Trophy candidate, in 1999. A 19-year-old clerk at Dillard's Department Store had allowed the players to purchase $412.38 worth of designer clothing for $21.40.

Both were ultimately suspended, but Coles' history at FSU cost him plenty. Previously, he had been charged with misdemeanor battery for striking his stepmother, broken curfew, had contact with an agent while still in school and experienced academic problems.

FSU kicked him off the team. The Jets, however, relied on their pre-draft interviews to understand Coles' past and how it played into his actions. They selected him in the third round of the 2000 Draft. Since then, Coles has proved to be an outstanding player, a 16-game starter the past four seasons for the Jets and Redskins.

Last season, he admitted in a New York Times interview that he had been a victim of sexual abuse between the ages of 10 and 13, repeatedly molested by a man his mother later married.

"You have to look at each player and try to determine the reasons behind what they might have done in the past,'' Raiders coach Art Shell said. "Each case is different.''

College is a learning time, on and off the field. Everyone knows the drill. Turned loose into a party keg-filled world without curfews and restraints, freedom sometimes crosses the line.

But when high-profile NCAA football players make the mistake of carrying an open container of beer in front of a police officer or banging on a girlfriend's door at 3 a.m., the unwanted publicity might make a prospective NFL employer think twice.

"There are different issues,'' 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "There are drug issues, academic issues, there are all these things. And the way you deal with them is always different.

"Just to say you want to have a 'strong character' locker room doesn't mean you can control the guy who has guns in his trunk every day. But it might mean you can control the guy who has a marijuana problem.''

Two weeks before the 2006 draft, Vick is rated by the comprehensive NFL Draft Scout site as being the 27th-ranked quarterback in the pack. At that position, his NFL career likely will commence as an undrafted free agent.

"I think that Marcus Vick has had to carry a burden that the rest of the guys don't have to carry, which is a famous, very talented older brother,'' Green said. "I think that he'll probably grow up.

"I'm sure somebody will be realistic in what role anybody in the draft, Marcus or anyone else, can have in helping them.''

But is Vick worth the risk?

"I don't know, I'd have to really look hard into the situation there,'' Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said with a trademark scowl. "It's always a risk when you draft anybody. Some guys more than others.''
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