Player Personnel Assistant Ethan Waugh is in his fourth season with the 49ers and has become a jack of all trades for VP of Player Personnel Scot McCloughan with duties that cover both the pro and college side of scouting. In 2007, Waugh will be out on the road more frequently scouting schools in the Western region and will share some of his experiences in this online column.
Keeping with a three year tradition, Stanford was the first school I visited this fall. New head coach Jim Harbaugh stays closely involved with every facet of his program and really seems to have the Cardinals headed in the right direction. They have a number of interesting prospects this year, including two talented receivers, Evan Moore and Mark Bradford. To give you some indication of their athletic ability, both were recruited to Stanford to play basketball as well as football. Moore owns rare size (6'6) and uncanny ball skills. Bradford was poised for a breakout season in 2006, but his year ended abruptly with a foot injury in the opening game. When healthy, this duo causes match-up problems for Pac-10 defenses. Additionally, quarterback T.C. Ostrander, a Bay area native, finally has an opportunity to start full-time. For the past three seasons, he has been a spot starter behind Trent Edwards, a third round pick by Buffalo in 2007. T.C. possesses two qualities necessary in an NFL quarterback – intelligence and arm talent. With a strong senior campaign, he will become a hot item. Despite having a number of pro prospects, the highlight of my visit was listening to Stanford's pro liaison, Matt Doyle; try to explain the game of football to a curious international graduate student from Germany – pure comedy.
My next trip was the shortest of the year – San Jose State. A number of members of the Spartan athletic department are former 49ers and all of the friendly faces make SJSU an enjoyable visit. Head coach Dick Tomey (a former 49ers assistant coach) also serves as the pro liaison. I really respect him for meeting with each scout who comes through – sacrificing his valuable time for the benefit of his players. Spartan cornerback Dwight Lowery could well be one of the most intriguing players of the fall. A junior college transfer who recorded 9 interceptions in 2006, Lowery's size, instincts, ball skills and dedication to his craft will bring scouts to San Jose in droves.
My last trip of the week took me to the East Bay to visit Cal. The notion that the Pac-10 is a "soft" conference is dispelled quickly at a Cal practice. The Bears practice the way they play, fast and physical. Despite losing some talented players to the NFL, pro prospects abound on both sides of the ball. Receivers should keep their heads on a swivel as they pass through the Cal secondary. Thomas DeCoud and Brandon Hampton are both heavy hitters and have experience at corner and safety. Offensively, running back Justin Forsett lacks the ideal size of his predecessor Marshawn Lynch, but could post similar numbers. He has a quick burst and a knack for slicing through the smallest of holes. Receivers Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan might play in the shadow of DeSean Jackson, but are dangerous in their own right. Tight end Craig Stevens and offensive lineman Michael Gibson both have the size, toughness and blue collar mentality to succeed at the next level. Cal's football office in Memorial Stadium also has one of the most unique views of any office in America – not of the Bay, but of the stand of trees where protesters of Cal's expanding athletic facilities have been camping for months. I am not sure I agree with their stance, but one has to admire their tenacity.
After spending a little time on the road, I returned to Santa Clara for the toughest duty of the year – trimming the roster to 53 slots. Over the course of eight days, we cut 29 players. My role in the process is that of the "turk" – I notify each player that he has been released and then walk him through the process. I truly believe the way we handle roster reductions shows how much respect we have for the players and the effort they have given to the organization. After I notify the player, they report to the facility, I collect their playbooks and escort them immediately to Coach Nolan's office. There, he will explain the reasoning behind the decision, and answer any questions the player may have. Next, the players meet with their coordinator and position coach before moving on to schedule a flight. The last stop is to the locker room where they make arrangements to have their belongings shipped home and to say some quick goodbyes to their former teammates. This is an emotional time for all involved. No one likes to see a player cut, but all understand it is simply part of the business. Each player handled it with class and dignity, and we wish them all of the best in the future.