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Old 04-22-2006, 11:59 AM   #1
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Exclamation Bengals ignore Character

Teams more diligent in assessing players' character
By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

Marcus Vick throws a better ball than his older brother Michael, the Atlanta Falcons' star. He isn't quite as quick -- but, then again, very few humans are. They played the same position at the same school, quarterback at Virginia Tech, and left college at precisely the same size: 6 feet, 215 pounds.

But, while Michael was the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft, there is a good chance Marcus won't be taken on the first day.

A series of brushes with the law and poor decisions -- from the alleged possession of marijuana to charges of sex with a minor (later acquitted), the alleged brandishing of a gun and the memorable (and intentional) stomping on the leg of Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil during the 2006 Gator Bowl -- led to Marcus' dismissal from Virginia Tech in January.

As a result, NFL personnel experts project him to fall at least to the fourth round and, more likely, beyond. A significant number of teams say they have removed him from their draft board entirely.

Rick Spielman, former general manager of the Miami Dolphins, who also evaluated college talent for Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, saw Vick play this season against West Virginia.


Marcus Vick is undoubtedly talented, but brings a lot of baggage to the table.

"He has a lot of talent," said Spielman, now an ESPN Insider. "But at that position, the player is the leader of your football team and has to set the tone, an example. If he's not doing things the right way off the field, how can you expect the team to follow him? He flipped off the fans at West Virginia -- that's not how you lead."

Emotion can be a positive factor on the playing field, but the opposite is also true.

"I'm trying to show the kind of person I am, you know, show the world that I'm not the person some people make me out to be," Vick said in his defense at the scouting combine in February. "[It's like I'm] some kind of bad guy, like the villain."

If Vick had made fewer off-field headlines and spent more time on the gridiron, he might well have been a late first-round draft choice. As such, he would have been in line for a five-year contract worth as much as $15 million, including a $3 million to $4 million signing bonus. Now, he's looking at something like a $200,000 signing bonus and an annual contract in the same neighborhood.

The difference between Marcus and Michael Vick? In a word, character.

Defined loosely as moral or ethical strength, character has never mattered more to those who assess college football players. It is a complicated element that encompasses not only a player's body of work on the field, but his police record (if applicable), work ethic, sense of team and passion for the game.

This year's NFL draft, April 29-30 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, will feature some difficult but compelling character decisions. In the past, some NFL teams have paid lip service to the importance of character, but with the annual salary cap now past $100 million, successful teams go out of their way to do their due diligence.

The New England Patriots won three of four Super Bowls by seeking athletes who were willing to subjugate themselves for the good of the team; the selflessness of two-way player Troy Brown is a good example. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who place a similar premium on character, captured this year's Super Bowl title in Detroit.

"It's always important to get good people as well as good players," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "From the Steelers' point of view, from top to bottom, ownership demands that character is a big factor in this organization."

"You can't lose sight of a guy's physical skills on tape, but even good organizations have been hurt by drafting people whose character is questionable," said Scot McCloughan, the 49ers' vice president of player personnel. "Ninety percent of the time, it will bite you in the ass.

"If we have two guys pretty close, we'll take the guy with less talent that weighs in with more character. Half the grade going into this is: How's the kid wired?"

Guessing Game

Judging character is a wildly subjective proposition. Sometimes, teams get it wrong.

When rumors circulated that University of Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino had allegedly abused drugs, he slid to the end of the first round in 1983. Seventeen seasons later, when Marino retired as the game's most prolific passer, no one was questioning his character.

In other instances, though, there is fire where smoke is perceived. The Denver Broncos, defying conventional wisdom, drafted Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett in the third round of last year's draft after he had been out of football for two seasons. He was good-sized (5-11, 230 pounds) and fairly fast (4.55 in the 40-yard dash), but he was dismissed from Ohio State in 2003 after a series of incidents.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who had experienced spectacular success by drafting lightly regarded running backs Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson, felt it was worth the risk. Admitting he made a mistake, Shanahan cut Clarett in training camp.

Shanahan served as the Raiders' head coach in 1988-89 and learned a willingness to gamble from owner Al Davis, a self-styled outsider in the elite men's club that is the NFL. The Raiders have long prized talent over character in building teams. First-round choices Todd Marinovich (1991), Darrell Russell (1997) and Sebastian Janikowski (2000) at the very least raised some questions before their respective drafts and encountered brushes with the law as pros. Russell, whose NFL career was plagued with a string of incidents, including rape charges in 2002, died in a high-speed car crash in December.

It was Davis who traded for wide receiver Randy Moss -- passed over by several teams in the 1998 draft because of character concerns -- last year after seven turbulent, albeit statistically successful, seasons in Minnesota.

The Cincinnati Bengals, who have one of the smallest scouting staffs in the league, also have routinely ignored character as a measuring stick. It has hurt them over the years, particularly in the case of some of their high-profile first-round choices -- defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson and wide receiver Peter Warrick, to mention two.
With the stakes so high in the draft -- if one in seven draft choices is a failure, it can have a profound effect on the roster -- teams spend an extraordinary amount of time and money in pursuit of character references.



Teams with a large veteran contingent or a strong-willed head coach seem more willing to take chances with questionable character. That was definitely the case when the Broncos took Clarett and Minnesota chose Moss.

Yet, it's not just the teams that find themselves concerned with the character issues throughout the draft process.

Long before he began representing some of the marquee players in the league, including Eli Manning and seven other starting quarterbacks, agent Tom Condon was less than selective when seeking clients.

"Early on, we were just taking whatever players we could get," said Condon, who played guard for the Kansas City Chiefs for 11 seasons. "The two characteristics that determine success are intelligence and character. Now, it's a big factor for us.

"As I look through our last few classes of players, you could take virtually any of those guys home and be proud. It makes life so much easier. They're attractive to people in terms of marketing dollars, and later they can move more easily into the broadcast booth."

For the Steelers' Colbert, character will remain a draft key.

"The best-case scenario," he said, "is a good player with impeccable character. That means you have no concerns. Next level, you have one incident or a personality trait that raises concern. The guys with a couple of incidents that suggest a pattern are the ones you stay away from."

This year's draft has players who fit all those descriptions. Here are a few burdened by the baggage of off-field issues that will create some tension during draft weekend:

? Oklahoma offensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek
An interesting case study.

Dvoracek was stripped of his captaincy and missed 10 games in 2004 after he got into a fight in a bar in Norman, Okla. He was reinstated for 2005 after undergoing anger-management and alcohol-related counseling. In Dvoracek's request for a medical waiver, he admitted he was an alcoholic.

Scouts say Dvoracek -- an academic achiever who produced one of the very highest scores on the Wonderlic test at the combine -- has second-round talent but will probably drop into the third round.

That said, the fact that Dvoracek has shown signs of maturity by staying out of trouble once reinstated to the team should keep him from sliding too far.

? USC offensive tackle Winston Justice
A 6-6, 311-pound specimen, Justice was suspended for the 2004 season after he and some friends pulled a fake but real-looking gun on a USC student.

"I'm always going to be sorry about it," Justice said. "But it's in the past. I'm trying to live day by day to show people that I am a good-character guy."

Justice, who protected Matt Leinart's blind side, is projected to be the second tackle taken -- behind D'Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia -- going as high as the No. 8 pick, but no lower than the Eagles' No. 14 overall choice.

? It's always important to get good people as well as good players. From the Steelers' point of view, from top to bottom, ownership demands that character is a big factor in this organization.?
?Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations






Makes you wonder about teams. See Baltimore also.
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Old 04-22-2006, 12:53 PM   #2
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Default Re: Bengals ignore Character

Im glad they ignore Character, its great watching them bring in "quality players" only to get burned.
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Old 04-22-2006, 02:38 PM   #3
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Default Re: Bengals ignore Character

This is why the Steelers are respected and teams like the Ravens,Bengals,and the Raiders aren't.
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Old 04-22-2006, 03:06 PM   #4
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Default Re: Bengals ignore Character

This doesn't come as much of surprise but an interesting read nonetheless. If you take a stroll to the "Blast Furnace" you can see the fans are no different. Makes sense I guess?
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Old 04-22-2006, 06:18 PM   #5
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Default Re: Bengals ignore Character

That's part of the reason I love being a Steelers fan. Good article.
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Old 04-23-2006, 10:08 AM   #6
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Default Re: Bengals ignore Character

In reality though. I think this might change since Marvin Lewis is there.
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Old 04-23-2006, 01:11 PM   #7
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Default Re: Bengals ignore Character

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stlrs4Life
In reality though. I think this might change since Marvin Lewis is there.
pollock and henry were both problem children. lewis thinks he can cure them.
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Old 04-23-2006, 02:23 PM   #8
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pollock and henry were both problem children. lewis thinks he can cure them.
David Pollack? Yeah right.

You mean Odell Thurman?
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Old 04-23-2006, 02:49 PM   #9
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David Pollack? Yeah right.

You mean Odell Thurman?
yeah, my bad i get them 2 mixed up like the 2 marcus defenders drafted for dallas last year, and tebucky jones and terell buckley
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Old 04-23-2006, 05:34 PM   #10
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Default Re: Bengals ignore Character

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yeah, my bad i get them 2 mixed up like the 2 marcus defenders drafted for dallas last year, and tebucky jones and terell buckley
Understandable I guess since both went to Georgia and both were drafted by the Bengals.

I think Odell's character issues are going to be a non-issue in the pros, but Chris Henry's on the wrong path right now.
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