Glenn Cook doesn't believe the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl has felt much different than previous years he's spent in Mobile, Alabama.
Cook, the Browns' Vice President of Player Personnel, is still able to watch college football's best seniors from a sideline lens despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He and other scouts are still able to conduct in-person interviews — in a safe setting, of course — and spend casual time with players while learning about their intangibles and personalities.
The only difference this year, however, is that this is the first time all year any scouts have been able to check all those boxes as they evaluate college players.
"This is our first chance to be … up close and personal with these young men coming out in this class," Cook said in an interview Thursday on Cleveland Browns Daily. He made sure to emphasize that 6 feet of social distancing is still being practiced in all settings.
"This is our first time seeing all these guys in person. We really had to adjust to that. It's fun to be down here, and it's worked out so far."
This year's Senior Bowl might not look much different than in year's past, but it could certainly hold a bit more weight for NFL teams looking for as much information and tape as possible on the 2021 draft class.
Mobile will be the biggest site where NFL scouts and talent evaluators will convene ahead of the NFL draft. The league announced earlier this month that the scouting combine, held every year in Indianapolis, will shift to a primarily virtual setting in 2021. Players will still complete similar combine workouts at their school's individual pro days, but teams will be only able to hold prospect meetings — which are integral for coaches looking to grade a player's football IQ and fitness to their playbook — from video calls and other virtual means.
After 10 months of primarily using platforms like Zoom and FaceTime to communicate, Cook believes the Browns still will have all of the information they need to make draft picks with confidence.
"Our job is to find quality players and gather a ton of quality information," he said, "and I feel like we're doing that as we speak."
The process worked well a year ago.
The Browns received strong contributions from nearly every player — aside from second-round safety Grant Delpit, who missed the season with an Achilles injury but is expected to be back for 2021 — from a 2020 rookie class that also had to overcome the virtual challenges of the pandemic. Those rookies still had a full college football season and scouting combine, but a large chunk of pro days and other pre-draft arrangements were derailed or operated through a computer, tablet or phone screen.
The success of that class gave Cook and the rest of the Browns' player personnel department even more faith they can piece together another successful draft class this season.
"The most rewarding thing is that every guy in that class, unfortunately outside of Grant, contributed in key moments in different parts of the season playing a significant role," he said.
But this offseason holds a longer list of differences than a year ago, which makes this year's Senior Bowl even more important. Scouts weren't able to watch most 2020 college games from the field and weren't able to have any previous in-person meetings with players on their college campuses. Several conferences shortened or even canceled their season due to COVID-19, which prevented NFL scouts from gathering the same amount of tape they normally acquire.
The Browns have adapted to virtual, COVID-19 related changes all season. The scouting department is included in that, too.
"We just went through this a little less than a year ago, when we had to take advantage of technology and any of the other tools at our disposal to still get to know these guys," Cook said. "Our personnel staff did a really good job on touching base with as many prospects as we did last year, and I think we're going to use a lot of those mechanisms and build on them to do the same thing."
The Browns are ensuring they won't have any gaps in their talent evaluations come draft time, and that means taking advantage of every minute available for precious in-person scouting time in Mobile.
"There's so many resources," Cook said. "We have no excuses."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday by the Browns photo team