Passing character test is a must

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OWINGS MILLS — Gauging character issues can create puzzling dilemmas for NFL football teams.

What kind of reaction is appropriate in terms of possibly downgrading a prospect that lied about past indiscretions during a job interview at the scouting combine?

Is it worse to admit to a history of smoking marijuana in college, which teams may have been previously unaware of, or to be untruthful?

This weekend’s draft may provide a test case for those questions as well as how teams handle athletes with previous brushes with the law involving domestic violence, burglary, assault as well as drug and sex crimes.

Whether it’s Kansas’ Aqib Talib admitting to testing positive for marijuana or Michigan wide receiver Mario Manningham lying to teams about using marijuana in college and later writing letters to teams apologizing for his untruthfulness, these situations raise tough questions for NFL decision-makers.

"We’ve had guys lie to us in the past," Baltimore Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "It’s not a good thing, just like if your child lied to you that wouldn’t be a good thing. You get upset about it, and it may hurt your opinion of that player. These players have a lot of pressure.

"Sometimes, they make bad decisions like we all have made bad decisions. So, it’s not going to be the death sentence for this guy if he lies to us and then comes clean at some point. We’ve had guys write us letters expressing remorse about how they answered a particular question, and we’ve also had guys answer the questions truthfully. Sometimes, that information that they’ve giving us is not favorable."

Teams tend to use official predraft visits to spend more time with a player to learn more about his personality or a past incident.

Executives, coaches and scouts already have access to legal information due to background checks by NFL Security officials, usually former FBI agents, or their own investigative work.

A projected first-round draft pick, Talib was one of the players who visited the Ravens’ training complex. It’s unclear how the Ravens will adjust Talib’s stock, but the team does emphasize giving contrite players a second chance.

"Anytime we get information like that, we use it," DeCosta said. "It’s never a good thing."

When asked how the Ravens will view Talib’s past, including being suspended for two games for violating team rules, DeCosta replied: "We have seen it impact other players’ draft positions."

Imposing Indiana wide receiver James Hardy was one of the Ravens’ final predraft visits.

In May 2006, Hardy was arrested and charged with domestic battery and interfering with the reporting of a crime when he allegedly attacked his girlfriend and infant son. The charges were dropped after Hardy participated in a pretrial diversion program. 

Hardy was suspended for two games in 2006 for personal issues unrelated to the battery charges.

Finding out as much information as possible when investigating a player’s background is a big part of the equation. Especially given law-and-order NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s emphasis on character and protecting the league’s image.

Sometimes, it comes down to body language or the look in a player’s eye when answering an uncomfortable question.

"Ultimately what you’re trying to do is just incorporate everything: how the guy plays, how he performs in all the testing, the Wonderlic, all the background information that you get and how the guy interviews," DeCosta said. "The interview is a very significant part of a guy’s profile. So if a guy doesn’t interview well for whatever reason, if there are some things that concern you about that player, then that’s going to hurt the guy probably in some way.

"Now with the commissioner, he’s put a huge premium on character. I think you’re going to see even more so than ever before teams really playing hardball with some of these guys that have made mistakes in the past."

NOTES: The Ravens re-signed two exclusive-rights free agents: cornerback Ronnie Prude and tight end Lee Vickers. … The team lifted its exclusive-rights tender on cornerback Willie Gaston, removing him from the roster.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
This entry was posted in The Beat with Aaron Wilson by Aaron Wilson. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson
Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best...more

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