David White: Poked and prodded by NFL, Derek Carr just trying to be himself

Special to The BeeJanuary 25, 2014 

After dueling during the Mountain West Conference season, quarterbacks Derek Carr (4) of Fresno State and David Fales of San Jose State competed for the attention of NFL scouts during Senior Bowl practices in Alabama.

G.M. ANDREWS — ASSOCIATED PRESS

— Because the kids needs shoes, the National Security Agency took a side job last week.

It apparently now conducts player interviews on behalf of the National Football League, its agents brilliantly disguised as pro scouts and general managers at the Senior Bowl.

Their job: decrypt every piece of personal data on NFL prospects like Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. Think of it as a body cavity search of one's personal encyclopedia entry, only less comfortable.

"Oh man, someone really asked about my dog," Carr said. "They wanted to know his name and what kind of dog it was.

"It was weird."

Carr doesn't know the half of it. All his prospective NFL employers do, though, now that they spent all week asking Carr hundreds of non-football questions -- even when they already knew some of the answers, just to see what Carr would say.

"Every one of them knew about my baby, every one of them knew about my wife," Carr said. "They absolutely want to know everything you've ever done your whole entire life."

That's what the Senior Bowl is all about. Game officials push it as a college all-star game to showcase the best of college football's best, but the game itself Saturday was strictly for the national television audience.

In the NFL world, the invasive poking and prodding was done in private banquet rooms at the local Marriott property. The actual playing of football was moot. By the time Carr started Saturday, all the GMs and coaching staffs -- and most of the scouts -- were long gone, having seen and heard enough.

The NFL knows what kind of football player Carr is; they've got four years of film -- two throwing in Pat Hill's pro-style offense, two in Tim DeRuyter's spread passing game. Nothing he does in a throwing drill is going to change that.

Between now and the draft, Carr's world is all about what he says and how he acts in plainclothes, not in pads. All the pro day and private workouts serve to do is confirm what teams already think about him. Teams that like him will deem his flaws fixable. Teams that don't will call him unfixable.

"He's by far the best quarterback out here," said one NFL scout at the Senior Bowl. "He's got a nice family."

Nice family? The scout would know, because he interviewed Carr's wife and father during a Senior Bowl practice. Because, that's not creepy. It's the NFL version of the background check.

No one wants to leave a stone unturned, because that stone will wind up going through the windshield of the next team to draft another JaMarcus Russell.

So, Carr gets asked about his dog while he's drawing up plays on the whiteboard. He introduces the wife and kid to NFL scouts who already know their names. He wonders what they think about what he thinks as they randomly scribble notes during his answers.

Some, like Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie, say nothing at all. They just sit there, right next to Carr, while he's on the receiving end of 21 questions in an interview room. Listening. Staring. And staring.

Truth is, Carr will never know what teams think about him until the first round of the NFL draft on May 8. That's when NFL teams do their talking.

"They play that chess game with your mind," Carr said. "It's like, 'I answered this question, but what do they think about my answer? What's their philosophy? Do they think that way?'

"Football is what I know, and I obviously know myself, so you've just got to be yourself and tell them how you feel."

And don't freak out when you realize the quasi-NSA agents knew the answer before they even asked the question. The NFL is just nosey that way.

The columnist can be reached at bydw@sbcglobal.net or @bydavidwhite on Twitter.

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