For NFL teams that prepare well for draft, war room is a misnomer

There's a definite downside to the Colts' run of success. Advancing deep into the postseason each year doesn't do a whole lot for your draft position.

Per usual, the Colts are drafting late in the first round this week, 31st overall. That means team president Bill Polian has to be particularly savvy in determining who will be left on the board when their pick rolls around. He has become so good at it, he's famous around the league for his mock drafts.

"Bill can whittle it down to just a few guys," coach Jim Caldwell said. "More often than not, it's right."

Because of sophisticated preparation such as that, the place known as the "war room," where the coaches and executives hunker down during the draft, is — by design — a pretty dull place.

The name might conjure images of a frenetic, stock exchange-like environment, but it's quite the opposite. Other than the occasional mild debate, it's a pretty controlled environment.

"Usually," Titans coach and executive vice president Jeff Fisher said, "there shouldn't be debate on whether you want a player."

That's a discussion that should happen long before a team finds itself on the clock. And the process is far more elaborate than a few scouts comparing notes. The Texans, for example, conduct dry runs of war room scenarios to avoid being caught flat-footed.

"We practice on a constant basis," coach Gary Kubiak said. "I'm not saying it happens exactly like you practice it. But that helps you form opinions and get enough information so that we can make the right decision. To me, it's very similar to the way you prepare for a game. I think because we're so prepared and we've talked about all the different scenarios, there's not a whole lot of stumbling around in our draft room."

The Bucs utilize similar methods, general manager Mark Dominik referring to them as "war games." The goal is to eliminate the element of surprise.

"I've gone through different scenarios," he said. "If the question was posed: If (we) were on the clock right now with the No. 1 pick, could you make a determination as to what we would do with the pick? And the answer is yes, and it should be because we've had 12 months to work with it.

"We've role-played a lot of that."

That's why draft meetings that last eight hours or longer aren't uncommon for some teams. They involve taking input from an array of sources, from the lowest-level scout to position coaches to members of the personnel department.

In Tampa Bay, that's when those parties have their say. Dominik aims to have "as few people as possible" in his war room so his thinking isn't polluted. Often, position coaches and scouts aren't invited. During predraft meetings, no detail is too small to be considered. Dominik started adding notations that indicate if a prospect was a team captain, which points to leadership ability.

The Colts conduct the process as well as anyone, led by Polian and his son, Chris, a team vice president.

"They do a great job of directing the scouting department," Caldwell said. "Those guys know exactly what we're looking for. The second thing is, when we start to create that draft board, they know other teams' systems very well. They know who is doing the drafting. They know the schemes. They know what they're looking for.

"A lot of times, with other teams, they'll say, 'No, they'll never take that guy, and this is the reason why.' Nine times out of 10, they're right. It's not helter-skelter at all. It's very well thought out. And that's why it takes hours and hours and hours."

One of the rare times things get antsy in the war room is when a player coveted by the team is taken just before its upcoming pick. There's disappointment and regret but not disarray. Plan B — there's always a Plan B — immediately kicks in.

At those times when things go just the way they've been scripted, the war room can be downright laid back.

"There's a sense of peace," Fisher said. "The most you get then is, 'Speak now or forever hold your peace.' And then I always say, 'This isn't my guy. This is our guy. Right?' "

As for the fist-pounding and heated arguments many might envision in the war room, they happen. They just shouldn't happen on draft day.

"Every good draft room I've been in has had its battles before that day," Kubiak said.

"If you're still battling with three minutes left on the clock, then you probably didn't battle enough over the course of the last six weeks when you were preparing."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

For NFL teams that prepare well for draft, war room is a misnomer 04/18/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 18, 2010 8:52pm]

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