NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With the Titans' offseason in full swing, there are four events that will keep Director of College Scouting Blake Beddingfield and the team's player personnel department very busy in the coming months. The Senior Bowl, the annual college all-star game featuring the country's top players, is first on Jan. 24, followed by the NFL Scouting Combine from Feb. 17-23. Each school then hosts their respective Pro Days in weeks prior to the 2015 NFL Draft that begins April 30.
Beddingfield, who is in his 15th year with the Titans and fourth in his current role, said the events leading up the draft all play a key role in the team's evaluation process as hundreds of college athletes make the transition to the NFL.
First on the docket are the college all-star games highlighted by the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. From Tuesday, Jan. 20 to Friday Jan. 23 the two teams – broken into north and south squads – will practice with an entire NFL coaching staff leading up to the game itself on Saturday, Jan. 24.
Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff will coach the North team, while Gus Bradley's Jacksonville Jaguars staff will coach the South team.
"The Senior Bowl is really the start of what's called the second phase of the scouting process," said Beddingfield. "The first phase is all the games in the fall – going to practice, going to visit the schools. The second phase is starting the all-star games."
Players must be at least four years removed from high school in order to be eligible for an invite, including redshirt juniors.
Prior to the game, Beddingfield and his team of scouts – made up of five area scouts, two regional scouts and one combine scout – will comb through all the participating players and make sure they're familiar with each one. This will ensure that there are no surprises when they're watching a player on the practice field or interviewing them during the week.
One of the biggest benefits of the Senior Bowl is the loose interview structure that allows scouts to talk with players without limits on the length of conversation. Beddingfield said it's important to go into an interview with at least cursory information on each player.
"This is the first time we get to sit down and interview a player for a significant amount of time," he said. "We get to learn a little bit more about their background, their work habits and that type of thing."
With Titans coaches leading one of the squads, Tennessee scouts get more time with players behind the scenes. Scouts will sit in on both team and positional meetings, an opportunity that wouldn't be afforded to them if another coaching staff was in charge.
"We're going to see how the players respond during those meetings – how they respond to position coaches and how they sit in on the meetings," Beddingfield said. "Are they taking notes? Are they paying attention to the coaches? What's their personality trait? Are they leaders in a group?
"This is a new group for the players in each position breakdown. Do leaders emerge during that week or do players take a back seat? Those are all things that are important to see that if we weren't coaching the team, we wouldn't actually have a chance to be a part of."
Beddingfield added that most scouts look forward to the week of practices more than the game itself. It's a unique opportunity to see the best players in the country go through drills together and compete against each other.
It's these practices that are most meaningful for players coming from small schools outside the power five conferences.
A defensive back from Wyoming by the name of Marqueston Huff can attest to that. Huff went from a nice player at a small school to the Titans' fourth-round draft pick in 2014, thanks in large part to his week-long performance at the Senior Bowl.
"When you bring up Marqueston, he played out in Wyoming and our scouts really liked him," Beddingfield said of Huff, who posted one sack and one pick-six as a rookie this season. "The Senior Bowl was a really good place to see him step up with the competition.
"He's a great example of a small school guy getting to go against top notch receivers, top tight ends and top running backs. We knew he was a fast player and an athletic player but we didn't know how that speed would translate against better competition. It showed up well."
The game itself still carries plenty of significance from a competitive standpoint, showcasing which players step up in critical situations and make big plays to lead their team to victory.
"They (Titans coaches) want to see which players will give them a chance to win," said Beddingfield. "They're going to rotate guys in and out to get enough reps during the week, but once Saturday hits, the competitive nature really kicks in. They're competing against the other team and they want to win."
The following weeks will consist of conversations between the coaching staff and Tennessee's scouting department. Both sides will run through the list of players at the Senior Bowl, discussing each player's traits, strengths and weaknesses.
The goal is for the coaches' evaluations through the week to correlate with what the scouts have gathered throughout the college season.
The Senior Bowl is the last chance for draft hopefuls to play football, prepare as a team and compete against the nation's best talent. After the 24th, the entire draft process turns into measurables from the combine, individual drills, and eventually a ranking in a war room.