THIS WAY TO THE DRAFT
During bowl week, NFL prospects learned they're always being judged—and not just by future employers.
In the coming months, every inch of a potential pro quarterback will be poked, prodded and analyzed. But predraft exams are about more than 40 times, verticals and Wonderlics. How prospects handle questions from reporters will be just as scrutinized by NFL GMs. In our second installment of This Way to the Draft (to see the first, search ESPN.com: NFL Draft '08), we break down the final weeks of competition for USC's John David Booty, LSU's Matt Flynn and Kentucky's Andre' Woodson. Scouts Inc. draft guru Todd McShay handles the game analysis. And some PR vets critique the players' performances in an even harsher environment: bowl press conferences.
MATT FLYNN, LSU
For three consecutive days leading up to the Tigers' title-game win over Ohio State, reporters threw every manner of hardball, softball and oddball question at Flynn. They asked him about his banged-up shoulder ("It's fine"), Ohio State's defense ("It's good"), and more than once he was asked which questions he was tired of hearing ("About my shoulder and the Ohio State defense"). But he stayed calm under pressure-just as he did when he tossed four touchdowns in the Tigers' 38-24 BCS win-even when LSU reserve center T-Bob Hebert pulled out a microphone and started grilling him. Here are two tough exchanges, with analysis from LSU's SID, Michael Bonnette.
BCS championship media day, Jan. 5
Q: Who's your fantasy date?
MF: My girlfriend.
Q: What's her name?
Q: Last name?
MF: That's kind of personal.
Q: You never look at other girls?
MF: Uh, no.
Bonnette's breakdown: Matt spends time with our school media coach. He knows he's always being watched. We tell him to enjoy himself but to be careful.
Later that day …
Q: How's it going, Matt? T-Bob Hebert here for LSUsports.net and TNTB News or, uh, I don't know. Matt, word on the street is you're in a Guitar Hero band and are very efficient at the drums and singing. Can you confirm this?
MF [laughing]: Yeah, I can confirm it. You're part of the band too, and you're pretty good.
Q: That's true. It seems you have to deal with fat kids a lot. In fact, every day you have to bend over and touch a very fat, sweaty butt. You've done it for years. I don't know if you like that kind of thing. I'm just trying to get your opinion on it. How does it feel to be so out of place as a skinny man in a fat man's world?
MF [still laughing]: It's okay.
Q: We're big and cuddly, right?
MF [uncontrollably laughing]: Absolutely.
Bonnette's breakdown: I didn't see this interview, but I heard about it. It showed Matt's not-so-serious side. He's got a good sense of humor and a quick wit.
McSHAY'S STATUS REPORT
In the title game, Flynn was tough, aggressive, competitive-just what pro teams are looking for. But he still needs to show he can make pro throws. At the Jan. 19 East-West Shrine Game, scouts will be able to compare Flynn's arm directly with those of NFL-caliber slingers Anthony Morelli of Penn State and Joe Flacco from Delaware.
JOHN DAVID BOOTY, USC
When Booty arrived at USC, in 2003, everybody wanted to hear from the nation's top recruit. To handle the scrutiny he asked his older brother Josh, an ex-QB who played for LSU and later the Browns, and his SC predecessor, Matt Leinart, for advice. Josh taught his li'l bro to lay low. And Leinart showed him what can happen when QB1 doesn't. "I was observing, trying to learn, so that when I got to that spot one day I would have a good understanding of what I had to do," says Booty. Before the Trojans' 49-17 Rose Bowl win over Illinois, Booty showed off his media skills. And one expert-Booty himself-says there's a method behind each maddening mouthful of kindness.
Rose Bowl press conference, Dec. 29
Q: Can you talk about Illinois linebacker J Leman?
JDB: He's an unbelievable player and their leader on defense. He gets the team fired up. It's important for us to keep them down the best we can.
Booty's strategy: Before a press conference, go through likely questions and the best way to answer. Don't write down answers. Just play it out in your head, and never give extra motivation by talking smack.
Q: Has USC been changing things up at practice?
JDB: We haven't changed a lot. Coach Carroll runs the first-team offense against the first-team defense all the time. Usually the game isn't as hard as practice because our defensive talent is so good.
Booty's strategy: Credit teammates. Even if a question is asked about you, figure out how to turn it back to other guys.
McSHAY'S STATUS REPORT
I was on the sideline for the game, and Booty's poise was overwhelming. He let the game unfold without forcing anything, which is key to running a West Coast offense like USC's. He never panicked and hit receivers perfectly out of their breaks. You couldn't help but think, Wow, that's an NFL quarterback.
ANDRÉ WOODSON, KENTUCKY
When scandal hits, spinmasters stay on message. That's true even if they're playing in a December bowl game in Nashville and they're not the ones in trouble. Just ask Woodson. His Wildcats played Florida State in the Music City Bowl after 25 Seminoles were suspended for cheating in school. How should Woodson have handled the media crush that ensued? Follow the leader, says George W. Bush's former press secretary Ari Fleischer. "You can use a football analogy," says Fleischer. "If you're at the podium, your job is to execute the play. If you don't do it right, the press is going to sack you."
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
In a message rollout that began 12 days before the game, Woodson got his marching orders from coach Rich Brooks, who said: "Florida State is still Florida State." Then Woodson preached Brooks' gospel.
Dec. 20, weekly UK press conference: We never plan against one guy. We plan against the schemes that we have seen and the different looks.
Dec. 29, postpractice interview: They'll be using the same schemes, coverages and looks, just wearing different numbers.
Dec. 31, after throwing for 358 yards and 4 TDs in UK's 35-28 win: They probably were limited with depth, but their guys gave everything they had.
Fleischer's analysis: Perfect. He reinforced the message, said it repeatedly and in different ways. Repetition is about drilling something into the head. Whether that head is wearing a helmet or a reporter's hat or belongs to a voter, the same discipline applies.
McSHAY'S STATUS REPORT:
Woodson performed well, controlling the game; there are zero questions about his athletic ability. But as he has in the past, he looked shaken at times. He threw a pick-six on a bad read. And at one point in the second half he was jumping up and down, screaming for a pass interference flag. NFL teams don't want to see that much emotion.
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