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Baking an NFL player 

If you're going to Bills training camp at St. John Fisher you might as well get something out of it. So, starting this week, I'm issuing scouting guides to help keep your mind occupied through all the stretching and hydrating. Now your trip will be more useful than a tube of toothpaste.

This information is based on a book by the late Tony Razzano called Secrets of an NFL Scout. Razzano scouted for the 49ers, Patriots, Chargers, and Redskins, and helped build the great 49ers teams of the '80s. I baked his insights down to a scrumptious soufflé of qualities NFL scouts look for at different player positions. Then I see how three current Bills compare. This week I focus on defense. Next week, just in time for the start of camp on July 31, I take a look at the offense.

Defensive linemen

They should be at least 265 pounds and have speed, though quickness is more important. Bills defensive tackle Sam Adams grossly exceeds the 265 mark and isn't speedy, but he positions quickly and is rarely off balance as the play begins.

A DL must be agile, strong, and have smarts. He has to think quickly, but doesn't need a quarterback's intelligence, though it helps to be smarter than say, Rob Johnson.

            This guy has to have good hands, arms, and shoulders, with excellent upper body strength. There must be flash of quickness when the ball is snapped, and the quicker a lineman gets his hands on his opposition, or eludes his opposition, the bigger his advantage.

            A DL must have explosion, and can't waste time getting his hands off the ground and to the opposition's body, or to a move that eludes his opposition. Pass rushers must successfully hand-fight a guard, tackle, fullback, or halfback, and must not relent in reaching the ball carrier. Pursuit, stamina, and competitiveness are essentials.

            Razzano: "The pass-rushing man outside has to have more ability to run, chase, and contain. The interior linemen, in contrast, should be a little bigger and quicker with better and stronger use of the hands."

            Analysis of Bills RDE Aaron Schobel: Good pursuit, has strong upper body and is fearless, but needs better hand-fighting to get free, make tackles, and harass quarterback. Left tackles often neutralize him and make him a non-entity.

Linebackers

They should be at least 6'1" or 6'2" and 230 to 235 pounds, because there is just too much offensive-line bulk upfront. Size is more important for an inside/middle linebacker than for an outside linebacker.

            Weakside linebacker (plays outside, opposite side of tight end) has to cover running backs and doesn't need to be as heavy as a middle or strongside linebacker. He must pursue and blitz and do all the things a middle linebacker does.

            An inside linebacker must get upfield. When he tackles a ball carrier five yards down the field, something is wrong. To be most effective, he must quickly get inside so interior linemen can't block him. He must be mentally strong and have stamina, because he runs everywhere, and he must tackle consistently, exploding into the ball carrier. He should be able to ward off blockers.

            Razzano: "Scouts should look for ability to take on, stabilize, neutralize, or even avoid the offensive linemen while getting to the ball. That is the major consideration --- getting to the ball. A linebacker may be big and fast enough but still have a problem getting to the ball because he's not smart enough to read the offense.... Look to see if linebacker gets bogged down in traffic.... Look to see how often the linebacker is tied up on a blitz from the inside or gets to the ball carrier when coming from the outside. Watch to see if he gets in clean, or if he's blocked, how he reacts to that. Can he free himself?"

            Analysis of Bills ILB London Fletcher --- Excellent speed and pursuit. Explodes into tackles, but does not have height for defending passes. Is most effective when he's protected upfront by a big defensive tackle, such as Sam Adams, which prevents interior linemen from engaging him. Does anything to gain advantage, including playing dirty. Needs to do a better job of anticipating plays.

Defensive backs

Cornerbacks should be 5'10" or 5'11". Safeties are bigger because they usually play inside. Cornerbacks can be smaller if they're good in coverage. Speed is essential to stay with receivers who run the 40 in 4.4 seconds. DBs must be smarter than in the past, because of new defensive complexities. Quickness, agility, and balance are essentials.

            Competitiveness, stamina, strength, and explosion are also important, especially at safety. Safeties must have intelligence because they coordinate the defensive backfield.

            The strong safety (plays on the side where the tight end is) must be a better hitter than the free safety. He must read plays, and come up to tackle in run support.

            A good coverage player cannot be mechanical. He has to have good hands, and have closing quickness. Scouts should determine why the DB gets to the ball. Does he have exceptional closing quickness or does he just like to gamble?

            Razzano: "Here's what to look for: a defensive back who is getting to the ball, batting it down, intercepting it now and then, showing proper support and good reaction to the ball. Defensive backs do a lot of tackling too. Sometimes too much, in fact. Again, the safeties are supposed to be the hitters, while the corners must be able to stop someone. There are a few NFL corners who simply don't like to tackle, even though that's what they're getting paid to do."

            Analysis of Bills SS Lawyer Milloy: Once excelled for the Patriots. Still a strong hitter, but needs better positioning for the tackles, forced fumbles, and interceptions that have been his career's trademark.

Buffalo Bills Bausch & Lomb Training Camp at St. John Fisher College, Sunday, August 1, to Thursday, August 26. First practice: Sunday, August 1, 2:45 to 5:15 p.m. Browns scrimmage: Saturday, August 7, at 10 a.m. Night practices: Wednesday, August 4 and Wednesday, August 11, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 1-800-441-5942.

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