Former Bucs offensive tackle Jerry Wunsch is a regular and exclusive print contributor to PewterReport.com. Wunsch will share expert insight and opinions regarding the Bucs and the NFL based on his observations and previous playing experiences.
The former Wisconsin standout spent his first five seasons (1997-2001) as a pro with the Buccaneers before finishing his nine-year NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks (2002-05). The former second-round pick started 51 of the 113 games he played in during his NFL tenure.
Although he finished his career in Seattle, Wunsch still lives in the Tampa Bay area and is an active member of the community. He owns three different businesses and heads up WunschFamilyFoundation.org.
The NFL Combine is a job interview. Each player is essentially trying to put his best foot forward and show the teams who they are. The combine is one big job fair and interview. All the companies are there, and each team is looking for a certain type of person or player. The teams are trying to determine who you are as a player and person, and whether you're a good fit for what they're looking to do. A lot of work is put into this, and rightfully so since there is a lot of money at stake.
In terms of the questions that are asked, it varies, but most teams have standard questions, like what your goals are, if anybody could say one thing about you what would you want them to say, and those types of things. These types of questions help the teams get a better feel for the player and person.
The athletic aspect is really a small part of the NFL Combine. What the teams are looking for is what type of athlete you are and they want to see you compete. A lot of work has already been put in by time you get to the combine. Now they get to see you in real time and get to talk to you, and get to know you as a player and find out what type of person you are.
The interviews are nerve-wracking. It's your future, and if you don't do well in the interview process you might never go to or play for that team. In the interview process you have to be very careful how you choose your words, pick your words wisely and answer the questions properly. The teams are trying to find the players that fit their system and personality the best.
One thing most people probably can't appreciate is how much work goes into the combine from the player's standpoint. It's a grueling process because you're trying to show teams what type of athlete you are. The hardest part is you're coming off an entire season of football your senior year and immediately training for the combine with no break. Then you get drafted and you immediately go to camp. It's basically the longest two years of your life from a physical standpoint.
I still remember my meeting with the Buccaneers at the combine. I met with Tony Dungy and Rich McKay. It was a long discussion about where I was as an athlete and what my goals were as a person and player. They asked me to rank the priorities in my life. They were difficult questions, but honestly very easy for me to answer because I had been thinking about those types of questions. They asked me what my strengths and weaknesses were, what type of person I wanted to be outside of football, what my ideas were as far as what I wanted to do after football and a lot of big questions outside the realm of football.
For Tony Dungy and Rich McKay, a big part of their decision would be on what type of person they'd be getting. The athletic aspect obviously is important, but it goes beyond that. Are we going to have problems with this player? A very talented player on the football field isn't going to make it if they have a lot of problems away from it.
After I was done with the interview with Tony Dungy and Rich McKay, I really got a good idea for who they were and what they were about. I just remember walking out of the meeting saying, "If I ever get the chance to play for this head coach and G.M. it would be awesome." Once the Bucs drafted me I came to Tampa Bay realizing they were doing everything in their power to make this a winning football team. It really reminded me a lot of Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. I remember Barry asking me one time, "Do you want to be part of a tradition or do you want to start one?" That's how I felt walking into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at that time.
You could just see that Tony Dungy had a calm confidence about him, and it wasn't something I saw or experienced from any other team I interviewed with. There are actually some interesting stories that come out of the combine as well. With one of the teams I interviewed with at the combine I was actually interviewed by the team priest. That was certainly different, but I thought it was good because it showed that particular team cared about your morals. Some teams were cool, calm and collected, and some teams were very cold and not personable. You can tell pretty quickly how your personality matches with the team.
In my nine years of playing in the NFL before my career ended due to injury, I worked to get better each day. Teams have to find guys like that, but a lot of times don't, which is why you see mistakes made in the draft even after all of this work and preparation is put into it.
Ronde Barber and I entered the NFL the same year, and we had lockers next to each other. I remember us talking about how we needed to get better each day. There are a lot of great athletes that only wind up playing a few years in the NFL because they rely too much on that athletic ability. Is your goal to get into the NFL or is it to have a long career in the NFL? Sometimes I think those questions from some teams don't get asked. That's what was so great about Tony Dungy and Rich McKay, and even Mike Holmgren asked similar questions even though I didn't wind up going to Green Bay. How do you see your career unfolding at the NFL level and what are your goals in life? Unfortunately, a lot of guys are satisfied by the money they receive as a first-round pick, but once you get into the NFL it's a whole new learning process. It's a whole new game, and I've said for years that perhaps it shouldn't be called the same game. Guys on the college level can dominate physically, but if they're not smart enough to understand complex schemes you can quickly not be a factor in the NFL.
Mark Dominik was part of the Tony Dungy era, so he knows how Tony and Rich McKay went about looking for good players and good people. Mark has been known to have a great eye for talent, so I have no doubt in my mind that Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik know what they need to go after. You don't have to necessarily get a big-time player in every round. You want a guy that's going to be a consistent player and won't get in trouble off the field or be a distraction on it. There were a lot of guys that were more talented than me when I was playing from an athletic standpoint. What I had was want-to, grit and determination. Ronde Barber handled himself the same way. John Lynch handled himself the same way. Mike Alstott handled himself the same way. If you can find those guys that have that drive to make themselves as good as they possibly can be, you're going to win.
By Jerry Wunsch as told to Pewter Report editor-in-chief Jim Flynn.