MOBILE, Ala. -- Over the last 48 hours, more than 100 college football players have taken the field in preparation for the 2014 Senior Bowl, and plied their respective crafts in front of hundreds of NFL coaches and front-office decision-makers.
While watching practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, Cleveland Browns assistant general manager Ray Farmer said the team is focused on finding players who can contribute to turning around the fortunes of a franchise that has had six straight double-digit losing seasons.
"Right now, our main goal and game plan is to make sure we find every, single player on this field that can contribute and become a starting-level talent," Farmer said. "It's no secret. Most teams will tell you they build their team through the draft.
"In building through the draft, what you have to do is identify guys that become the core of your team. It's too hard and too expensive to try to buy them in free agency, so you've got to hit on the draft. You've got to find guys that you can draft, develop and retain. When you do that is when you start to see your team grow."
Farmer described the Browns' process of building through the NFL Draft as one that "is worth taking your time for."
"Teams that are constructed the right way, they demonstrate improvement," Farmer said. "They demonstrate it in a matter that's going to be sustainable. It's not just, 'Hey, we went out and signed this guy, that guy and then, this is what's going to make the difference for our roster. It's more about identifying pieces that you can grow and your team can continue to expand and get better.
"We want both of our lines to be elite and to be dominant. We want a championship-level quarterback. There's a lot of pieces that come into it. You've got to be able to not only take the talent that you have and put it in the best position to have success, but you've got to make the right decisions on the talent. If the two are not married, failure is inevitable. Keep that in mind."
Senior Bowl Week, like those of other college all-star games, is unique to other parts of the pre-draft process, like the NFL Scouting Combine and college pro days.
At the other pre-draft events, players are weighed, measured and tested in everything from the bench press at 225 pounds to a time in the 40-yard dash. However, at the Senior Bowl, players receive coaching from NFL staffs and have a week's worth of work in football pads.
"The process, specific to the Senior Bowl, is important mainly because they do get pro coaching," Farmer said. "From our perspective, when you start to evaluate players, then, it gives you a real chance to see who's who and how they're competing. The other critical component is, it's really the first time you get to see them consistently going against guys that are potential NFL players. It gives you a better chance to make a truer evaluation of a guy's skills and ability to compete.
"When you run around in shorts, there's a lot of guys that look like they're all-world players. When they're not in their pads, their body control is different. Their movement is different. You put an extra 15-20 pounds on them with equipment, and all of a sudden, they get a little bit more rickety. They get stiffer, more rigid. They get off-balance, so trying to make the most out of practice, you want to see guys in pads because that's how the game's played.
"Nobody's going to play the game without their shoulder pads, helmet and the rest of their equipment. These football practices really demonstrate what these guys are going to look like when he does get on an NFL field, does get on an NFL roster and competes with NFL talent. Carrying his pads is definitely important to how he performs."
Ultimately, though, the process is all about "finding guys that fit who you want to be."
ClevelandBrowns.com's coverage of the 2014 Senior Bowl is Driven by Liberty Ford.