MOBILE, Ala. — During Wednesday's North practice, Norv Turner sat in the bleachers with members of the Chargers' staff, sipping a coffee and enjoying the morning.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and his staff were on the field running around leading a practice.
When I first got here, I wondered if the staffs who get assigned to coach the Senior Bowl would rather be like Turner, and enjoy a relaxing few days in Mobile, Ala. Yes, the coaches in the stands are working hard in their scouting and interviewing players after practice — it's certainly not a vacation. But it seems to be much more relaxing than having to lead the squad on the field.
Of course, the coaches of the teams will tell you how valuable it is. But when I listened to a few coaches describe why it matters, it really clues you into the advantage the Bengals' and Bills' staffs have this week.
"You get to learn the intangibles of the player. We understand exactly what makes a guy tick after spending a week with him," Bills head coach Chan Gailey told me. "You get to understand his thought processes his work habits, you get to understand a lot about a guy that you don't get when you're sitting in the stands."
These teams are about to invest millions of dollars into rookie players, and Gailey already has a sense of what the player brings in addition to just his football skills.
Bengals TE coach Jonathan Hayes said that getting to know a player's style of learning through the practices also gives the staffs an edge.
"Are they audio learners? Are they visual learners? Or are they a little of both?" he said. "Do you have to walk through it to get them to understand it, or can they grasp it verbally? You really get to know what they're like."
Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland spent Tuesday's practice watching from the stands with head coach Tony Sparano. Last year, Sparano's staff coached one of the squads. Think they got a lot out of that experience? The Dolphins' first four draft picks in April all participated in the Senior Bowl.
"When you're coaching it, you just have more exposure with the kids. You eat with them, you're in meetings with them, you walk the halls with them," Ireland said. "When you're coaching, you're ahead of the game, and that's the advantage the league has put in place."
Looking at Gailey and the Bills, in particular, they have the third overall pick in April's draft. The Bills would love an outside linebacker who can put pressure on the quarterback, something they have lacked since Aaron Schobel retired. PFW draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki has the Bills selecting Texas A&M OLB Von Miller, the Butkus Award winner, with that pick. And guess what, Gailey gets to coach Miller all week on the South squad.
Miller is the best player here in Mobile and has looked the part all week. He's quick and a hard worker. One thing that I noticed during Tuesday's practice was Miller's praise of his teammates. He was quick to run from wherever he was on the field to give a pat on the back to a defensive player for making a big play.
Yes, the hundreds of assistants and scouts in the stands saw that as well, but there's more to Miller that Gailey and his staff will get to see all week.
Gailey, Hayes and Ireland all made it clear that as cushy as it seems to just relax all weekend without having to yell at players, run drills and prepare for a game, the staffs that coach the squads have a clear advantage.
And even for the staffs that attend each of the practices as spectators, they're not on the field learning what the Bills' and Bengals' assistants are working on with the players. They don't know what the coaches are asking the players to improve upon. Gailey made this point at Wednesday's press conference when discussing Texas DE Sam Acho.
"Some guys (in the stands) will just watch the game and see how they played. We get to see what they've taken that we've given to them and applied it from the practice field," he said. "We know what they're supposed to do. We get an advantage there and we'll have a better idea if (Acho) can transition to (OLB) by the end of the game."
That extra advantage is the key — watching a young player progress during the week and seeing how quickly he can pick up plays and improve his technique.
The work might be harder for the coaches of the Bills and Bengals this week, but those teams need to turn things around, and they are off to a head start this week in Mobile.