The Browns have been in offseason mode for the last month, but Glenn Cook and the rest of the Browns' front office and scout team are knee-deep in perhaps their most important season of the year.
It's already here even though the real draft isn't for another 73 days, but countless hours will be spent by Cook, the Vice President of Player Personnel who's been with the organization since 2016, and the rest of the Browns' scouting team breaking down prospects and sorting out which players will be worth doing extra digging for ahead of the 2022 Scouting Combine.
That event, a week-long gathering where some 300 prospects will conduct drills and complete several meetings with numerous teams, is set to take place March 1-7 in Indianapolis. It's a return to normalcy for NFL front offices and scouts after the event didn't take place in 2021 due to the pandemic, and Cook provided a glimpse on just how valuable the week can be for evaluation purposes.
"It's a nice snapshot for a couple of things," he said on a recent episode of Best Podcast Available. "One, you get the medical information, which is important to understand where they are physically. Two, it's another exposure to them as a person, getting a preview into how they think or the things they believe. Three, it's competition. What are they doing on the field, and what drills do they participate in or don't participate in?"
Even though this year's combine will largely look closer to the normal schedule the Browns were accustomed to before the pandemic, Cook and his squad are still preparing to scout among some slight drill changes the league is implementing for prospects. The changes are being made to better simulate game-related movements and actions.
Wide receivers and tight ends, for example, will run crossing routes instead of wheel routes, where the player runs horizontally behind the line of scrimmage before bursting straight upfield and looking for a pass. Crossing routes will have the players run upfield first before cutting horizontally — a route that is a bit more common for receivers and tight ends in an actual game.
Drills for offensive linemen, defensive players and running backs have also been revised to more closely mirror in-game movements.
"We'll see over time how effective (the changes) were," Cook said. "I like how the league and teams incorporate the feedback, and we need to grow. Things change. We're playing the game a little bit differently. You do want to see if you can absorb or get different information out of doing something maybe a little unique to what we've done the last couple decades."
Much of Cook's work, however, won't revolve around the workouts, but rather the meetings. Teams will meet with several prospects across the week to discuss college film, their football backgrounds and ask questions that will help the Browns decide how well a player might fit on the team — both in the schemes and locker room.
Those discussions, especially for players likely to be drafted in the middle and late rounds, are just as important, if not more valuable than the workouts themselves. And it's something Cook and the Browns are looking forward to doing after completing many of those meetings in the last two years via video calls.
"It's really our first time being able to get a first-hand account of who they are, how they got to the university and what their experience was like," he said. "There are other bits of information that our coaching staff can get, or our other auxiliary groups, into assessing who they are as an individual.
"The way we talk about it is we will not know who they are after a 15 minute meeting … but there are bits and pieces you can get that maybe answer a few small questions along the way."
The work won't slow down for the scouts after the combine as colleges host their individual pro days in the eight weeks that separate the combine from the draft. Free agency will be wedged in between those two dates, too, which could drastically affect the Browns' draft plans depending on who they're able to sign.
So casting a wide net for who to evaluate at the combine is always important. It's still early in the offseason, but the Browns already have a large pool of prospects they'll be monitoring in the next few months — and their evaluations of many of those players are likely farther along than usual after the Browns sent four of their coaches to coach and develop players in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Plenty of work, though, remains ahead, as the Browns' front office and scouts seek to make the most of perhaps their most important time of the year.
"Once we get through this part of our draft meetings, we'll double back and make sure our plan is really tight and clean in terms of free agency," Cook said. "We'll have a full-boar, aggressive process there, and then we'll have our minds on the draft and make sure we bring in the right men and talent into the organization."