The final week of the regular season for teams like the Ravens that will not make the playoffs is very hectic for players, coaches and staff.
There are a lot of distractions in terms of meetings, paperwork, holiday schedules and — oh, by the way — a football game on Sunday to end the season.
For the players, many will spend the week exchanging offseason phone numbers and addresses, getting various pieces of memorabilia signed for their personal charities and collections. There is a sense of looseness in the locker room and on the practice field, knowing that the end of a long season is at hand.
The coaches are pulling double duty as they gameplan for the Steelers. The position coaches and coordinators also fill out evaluation forms on the strengths and weaknesses of each player in their group that will be brought to both the head coach and general manager for review the week after the final game.
The staff are also getting ready for the offseason. Pro scouts, who have been watching the teams the Ravens play for two weeks prior to each game are back in the office watching tape of potential pro free agents.
Each NFL team gets tape of each game in the league by Tuesday of each week. The tape is broken down into offense, defense and special teams from two angles — the 50-yard line camera and the end zone camera that each team uses every game. Just before the snap, the camera operator shoots the scoreboard to show down, distance and time remaining. This is matched up with the official play-by-play sheets distributed in the press box.
During the season, the tapes are used to scout the upcoming opponent’s tendencies. Now, the scouts use them to evaluate players and produce reports which are entered into a computer database. The internal database has every player in the league with transactions, scouting reports and scouting grades based usually on the same system that college players are graded on prior to the draft.
One pro scout might also be in charge of self-scouting the Ravens, and breaking the team down like he would for an upcoming opponent — strengths and weaknesses and how a team’s coaches call a game in terms of plays used in particular situations like first-and-10, third-and-5, etc.
The college scouts who have been watching games each Saturday during the season have been back in the office to file player reports on potential draft-eligible players. These same scouts are spread out again at the college bowl games over the next two weeks. They will also head to the college all-star games that dot the schedule later in January.
The video staff, who are in charge of uploading the team’s game and practice tapes into a computer system broken down by game situations, are also receiving tapes from colleges through NFL Films and are putting together highlight tapes of top players. They will also make tapes on possible pro free agent targets as given to them by the player personnel department.
The athletic training staff are treating the current injured players, rehabbing those on reserve/injured and tending to the everyday bumps and bruises. They will be setting up the end-of-season physical exams each player will take on the Monday following the final game. These will be matched up with the ones administered before training camp begins to get a picture of a player’s overall health. They will also work with the player and team doctors to set up any surgical procedures that will be needed in the offseason.
Once the final game ends, the entire football side of the organization zips into overdrive for the next day. The equipment staff will be in the locker room early on Monday to help players bag up personal belongings to ship to their homes. Other staffers might collect used and unused equipment for donations to local teams or use as potential auction items at some of your favorite charitable events in the offseason. The media also gets a chance to come into the locker room to get their final end-of-season review interviews and find out about offseason plans.
In the coaches offices, the activity level is high as position coaches will meet with each player to go over their season’s effort, what they need to work on in the offseason and to thank them for their hard work. In the head coach’s office, each player meets with the man in charge for a quick overview of the player’s season. Each player will give his offseason contact info to the administrative assistants and get their travel money or plane ticket to return home.
Players, before they leave for the offseason, have their final physicals and check in with the trainers if there are physical issues to be dealt with. They will also receive a schedule of when offseason workouts will commence and when minicamps are scheduled to be held. They also get a list of coaches and key football operations staff phone numbers in case anything comes up while they are away on vacation.
Once the players have been dealt with, the coaching staff finishes their reports before the entire football staff meets over a couple of days during that week to go over the entire roster (active, reserve/injured and practice squad) and begin to formulate how the roster for next season might look. Meetings also take place between the owner and GM, owner and head coach, GM with head coach and head coach with assistants. The GM will also usually meet with the directors of football operations areas (trainers, video, equipment staff) to go over any outstanding issues. The public will get a small glimpse of the philosophy of the upcoming offseason when the owner, GM and head coach meet with the media to give a review of 2007 and what issues in a broad sense they face in 2008.
By the end of the week, assistant coaches will know whether they are staying on the staff or leaving by choice of the club. Some coaches may interview for college and pro head coaching positions. Those who are staying on the staff will get back together for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, in late January where the top college players will play. The out-of-work coaches also attend the Senior Bowl as it is an unofficial job fair for NFL teams in the week before the game in Ladd Stadium.
After a brief break, the football staff will begin the “heavy lifting” of putting together the 2008 squad as they look at pro players expected to be free agents in March. Player personnel staff and college scouts will also begin to meet on draft-eligible player grades and discussion of which players they may target in the NFL Draft.
The NFL has become a 24-7-365 operation in the salary cap era. What goes on behind the scenes during this time of year in offices and meeting rooms will set the tone of how the 2008 Ravens will look on the field.