The interview: Turner helps NFL prospects talk the talk
The biggest reclamation project in this year's NFL draft is USC defensive back Josh Shaw.
Shaw, you might remember, made national news as a hero last fall when he severely sprained both ankles while saving a young nephew from drowning.
Only he later admitted to fabricating the story because he'd injured his ankles jumping from the balcony of his apartment when police showed up after he'd had a loud argument with his girlfriend.
Now Shaw is entering the NFL draft. He has good size (6-feet-1/2, 198 pounds) and a decent projected 40 time (4.55 seconds) for a cornerback-safety prospect. But his draft status took a huge hit. He missed most of last season because of the ankle injuries and a suspension, and his credibility with future employers was shot after getting caught in the big lie.
Now Shaw is in the middle of a three- to four-month period that can either help or hurt his efforts to rehabilitate himself with NFL teams.
While NFL teams spend much of the time after the college season and before the draft grading players based only on game video and physical testing, they also interview them in different settings: the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game in January, the NFL scouting combine next week, and pre-draft visits in March and April.
And that's where Shaw can improve his standing. He has been working out with XO Sports Performance, where players augment their physical training with interview training by former NFL scout David Turner.
"(Shaw) was a captain of the team, went to Haiti to help build houses," Turner said. "All that gets overlooked because of his lie. Showing the errors of his ways — he's an intelligent kid, he learned, and he really took to heart what I told him — he was able to go to these meetings at the East-West Shrine (Game), to the Senior Bowl and now to the combine and can effectively communicate his story to the decision makers. It's been a beautiful story to watch him mature."
Interview training for players is a relatively new field. Ken Herock, a former Packers front-office executive, appears to be the trailblazer. He began prepping prospects for their meetings with NFL teams in 2002 and by all appearances was the only person in the field for years.
Turner fell into it two years ago, when a friend who is an agent for NFL players asked him to prepare a client, running back Giovani Bernard, for the scouting combine. Turner worked with a couple of agents' players last year, and this year he and his partners are teaching 145 prospects how to present themselvFores to NFL teams.
Turner knows the process because he worked as a scout in the NFL from 2002-10, first as an intern with Miami (2002-03) and the New York Giants (2003-05), then with the Oakland Raiders as an area college scout (2005-06) and assistant director of pro personnel (2006-10). His primary job now is director of player personnel for the Arena League Football's Arizona Rattlers.
There's a real debate about how much player interviews should matter when it comes to drafting NFL prospects. My take is people can fool you for better or worse in the brief setting of an interview, and I'd be wary.
But there's not much debate that they matter. Owners care, especially with high picks, because of the team's image and sponsorship money. Coaches care because they work with players daily and have to teach them each week's game plan.
"If (coaches) can't communicate with you, they can't support drafting you," Turner said. "That's why the informal interviews are key, to be able to sit with them and (have them) say, 'Hey, how did he learn when we were talking to you? How did he communicate with you what he did in college?'"
Turner advises players about the entire interview processes at the all-star games and combine. He tells them what to expect from the moment they get off the plane until they've spoken with their last team. He conducts three-hour seminars for larger groups of players, and if a player wants more detailed one-on-one work, he can hire Turner for that.
At next week's combine, there will be two interview settings.
The first is informal interviews, which are the first night the player's position group arrives in Indianapolis. They're conducted at a convention hall across from the players' hotel and generally last about 15 minutes, give or take, with teams grabbing players as they can.
The second is formal interviews on the second night in town. Each team is allowed 60, and each interview is scheduled and lasts exactly 15 minutes, with players going from hotel room to hotel room to meet with the next club.
Turner advises players on how to meet and greet, to look people in the eye and to treat everything they do, such as filling out paperwork, like professionals. He also suggests they take charge at the informal interviews, keep a list of the teams that want to talk to them, and meet in the order they request him.
For the one-on-one sessions, Turner does a background check, watches game videotape and then talks to the player as if he were a GM. He asks about off-field issues and their play, just as the teams will. He then critiques their answers.
"(The question) are going to be pointed, and (the teams) are going to see if you lie to them," Turner said. "It's all about trust and honesty. Can I trust you with my brand? Can I trust you with being a member of our team? They're going to know your history, they're going to know if you have an injury history. They're going to know everything."
Another player who contracted one-on-one time with Turner this year is Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. The player was concerned about what to tell teams about his father, also named Melvin, who was sentenced in 2012 to a 10-year term in federal prison for being part of a cocaine dealing ring in northern Illinois. He's concurrently serving a three-year term for drug dealing in Kenosha County.
Gordon didn't go to the Senior Bowl and will be meeting with teams for the first time at the combine. He knows they'll be wondering what will happen if they make him a millionaire by drafting him in the first round. Will he end up hanging around the wrong people?
So Gordon told Turner his story then waited with his arms crossed as if bracing for the worst. Turner answered by listing Gordon's accomplishments and strengths — he's one of the best running backs in the draft, he's nine credits away from his degree in life science communication, his mother has been a rock in his life.
In other words, he gave Gordon the peace of mind that his story can be an asset, and that he doesn't have to be defensive.
"You've overcome the adversity," Turner said. "That's something you have to think about. I don't think anybody's ever told him that, to be proud of himself."
Turner also advises players to add a personal touch. Two years ago, he suggested that Bernard, his first and only client at the time, send hand-written notes to the owners, coordinators and running backs coaches from the teams that formally interviewed him at the combine.
Bernard wrote to all eight teams. Cincinnati eventually drafted him in the second round, and when Bernard met with team officials for the first time after being selected, owner Mike Brown shook his hand and said, "Thanks for the note."
"Every note was different," Bernard told Bengals.com. "You're not going to have the same type of meeting with another coach. I thought it would be a good idea. I thought it would be something that helped me out. It paid off at the end."
As for Shaw, he's in the middle of a crucial few weeks to the start to his NFL career. He's already talked to teams at both all-star games and will do it again next week at the scouting combine.
Turner has helped Shaw refine his story so he doesn't over-explain or ramble. He's also suggested that Shaw emphasize how well his coaches and teammates thought of him before his career unraveled. Shaw has strong recommendations from former Florida coaches Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp — he started his career at Florida but transferred to USC to be near his home because his grandfather was sick — and his USC teammates had voted him a captain.
"Second to third round talent is what I'm hearing," Turner said. "Can play nickel corner and safety. I really think the interviews are going to help him move up into the second round."
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.