There were times last year when Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano sat through a workout here at the NFL scouting combine and felt as if he was watching a bunch of strangers.
He was only a few weeks into his tenure and, since most of his time on the job had been spent building a staff of assistants, had devoted very little time to scouting prospects for the 2012 draft.
Schiano came to the combine this year far more familiar with the prospects than a year ago and has the Bucs well ahead of last year’s pace in their evaluation process.
“To be looking out there now and knowing a lot of these guys and to have already watched film on them, not doing it after the fact, it makes it a lot more enlightening for me,’’ Schiano said. “That’s huge.’’
It’s huge for general manager Mark Dominik, as well. Dominik’s need to concentrate on the coaching hire last year took him away from his usual draft-day preparation, as well., though it didn’t really show.
The Bucs grabbed three impact starters with their first three picks in 2012 – safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David – and it might be hard to match that success, even if they are more prepared.
“This time last year, it was just such a whirlwind,’’ Schiano said. “So, it is certainly better to be here now with circumstances being what they are, because this is a critical part of the process. It’s all about gathering information, and we’ve done a lot of research already with our scouting department and our coaches and now we have a chance to see these players do some things live.
“And what’s as important as anything is the chance you have to visit with the players live in the interviews. We take that real seriously, and I’m glad we can really take advantage of the time we have with them.’’
Time isn’t the only thing the Bucs hope to take advantage of. Schiano still has unique knowledge of some prospects from having recruited them, coached them or coached against them while at Rutgers.
The same goes for Schiano’s special assistant, Butch Davis, who came to the Bucs last year after being fired at the University of North Carolina the year before. That combination could give the Bucs an edge come draft day as well.
“Knowing information, knowing backgrounds, you can kind of cut to the chase on things,’’ Schiano said. “The other thing is the relationships I had with college head coaches. I think that’s critical, too.
“Whether you went through league meetings with them or you went through national meetings with them, you built a relationship through time to be able to talk to those guys and gain insight that you maybe wouldn’t have otherwise.’’
The Bucs used that insight in at least two cases last year, drafting two West Virginia prospects: linebacker Najee Goode in the fifth round and defensive back Keith Tandy in the sixth.
Schiano coached against both while at Rutgers and could lean at some point again on that rare knowledge the Bucs might have of some prospects, but his primary focus is still on the big picture.
“There’s one thing we focus on and that’s winning a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay,’’ he said. “Every step we take has got to get us closer to that, so whether it’s a Rutgers or Michigan guy doesn’t matter as long as its the right kind of people for the Buccaneers.’’