Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik says character is big focus in draft

TAMPA — Few things draw Mark Dominik's wrath more than an early-morning phone call about an arrest of a member of the Buccaneers.

And lately, Dominik, the team's general manager, has been fielding such phone calls too often.

"It's disappointing anytime I wake up the next morning and hear about somebody either within the organization or on the roster who has gotten themselves in a situation like that," he said.

With the draft starting Thursday, Dominik knows preventing future incidents hinges largely on the Bucs picking dependable players. And that's something he vows they will do in every draft he presides over.

So, what are the Bucs doing to screen potential players? It's an arduous, multi-faceted effort, with character now as high as anything else on Dominik's checklist.

Lately, Tampa Bay has seen proof of the notion that players who enter the NFL with character concerns often live up to their reputations. Jerramy Stevens (drafted by Seattle), Aqib Talib and Tanard Jackson each had pre-draft red flags because of past incidents. Since entering the NFL, each has run afoul of either the law or league rules.

But none of those players were drafted by the current regime led by Dominik and coach Raheem Morris, who want desperately to change perceptions.

"I sit here and I feel good about Cody Grimm and Josh Freeman and Roy Miller and Sammie Stroughter," Dominik said. "I think as you look back at the last two draft classes — 15 players — I think if you would come back to me in a one-on-one setting, I think you'd come back and say, 'I think you're doing a good job.' "

There is no foolproof method, but after meeting with the Bucs, prospects know character is being stressed. According to one prospect who recently visited One Buc Place, the team discussed character more extensively than other clubs. Team officials quizzed him about his past, his family and, in particular, his habits.

Aside from raw information, getting to know players through interviews and interaction with the Bucs' college scouts are among the best way to scrutinize players. Area scouts employed by the team and based in various regions of the country work at the grass roots level, getting to know players long before the predraft process begins.

"Your area scout does a very good job of obtaining information," said Gil Brandt, a former Cowboys executive and current Sirius NFL radio host. "He's used to going back to the same schools over and over. Take the Bucs' guy in Columbia, Mo. Seth Turner knows the players in that area that he covers better than they know themselves."

For example, an area scout spent more than an hour grilling Mike Williams' high school coach in a face-to-face interview before the 2010 draft. It was the only such interview the coach had, though he'd spoken to other teams by phone about Williams, the receiver out of Syracuse.

"I really felt the Bucs did their due diligence and their homework on Mike," said Anthony Trulizio, Williams' coach at Riverside High in Buffalo. "They asked how he was as a student, what his behavior was like. They even came right out and asked me if he used any drugs. They got into some pretty serious questions."

Some have argued the Bucs took chances in drafting Williams despite character concerns last year, or by acquiring LeGarrette Blount after his infamous postgame punch in college in 2009. Dominik says his staff's exhaustive research allowed it to grow confident that neither player was risky.

"We can't accurately say what everybody's going to do when they're home alone," Dominik said. "But I try to get as much information as I can. I can say that I'm so focused on character that maybe that took us to a point where maybe we got comfortable with Mike Williams instead of (being) so worried about character that I didn't want to (consider) Mike Williams."

All teams can take advantage of a network of law enforcement sources provided by the NFL that help clubs check players' backgrounds and criminal histories for even the slightest inconsistencies. This compels prospects to be more truthful in interviews.

"They're a bunch of ex-FBI guys and they've got more connections than a 100-car freight train," Brandt said. "So, they can tell you everything you need to know about those guys. The character thing is really, really well-documented."

Yet, sometimes answers still are not clear cut.

"That's as good as you can do," Dominik said. "And then, at the end of the day, it's on me. It's my gut decision on whether I think a guy can be a good member of this football team."

Good decisions now, the Bucs hope, will lead to fewer early-morning calls later.

NFL draft

When: 8 p.m. Thursday (Round 1),

5:30 p.m. Friday (Rounds 2-3) and

11 a.m. Saturday (Rounds 4-7)

TV: ESPN, NFL Network

Quarterbacks

• Top college prospects

• The Bucs' situation

Coverage, 3C

Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik says character is big focus in draft 04/24/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 24, 2011 10:55pm]

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