MOBILE, Ala. — Jeff Ireland felt like he was scrambling.
He arrived at the Senior Bowl last year without a job. By the next morning, he was hired as the assistant general manager of the New Orleans Saints. Suddenly he went from being out of football to having to oversee a critical draft for a franchise in desperate need of talent.
“It’s going to be a little different (this year). I’ve got a great feel for the draft at this point,” Ireland said. “Last year, being out, you try to stay up on them, and you’re not as up on them as you’d like to be, coming in fresh.”
Ireland tried to stay current on things last year. But it wasn’t the same as when he was the vice president of college and pro scouting for the Dallas Cowboys (2008-2013), the general manager of the Miami Dolphins (2008-2013) or even as a draft consultant for the Seattle Seahawks (2014).
Trying to stay up with things meant trying to do it on his own, which isn’t nearly the same as going out on the road and watching players and talking to sources about prospects. So, when he came in last year, he was trying to work in a system that was foreign to him and, to a certain degree, off the work overseen by Rick Reiprish, who was ousted to make room for his successor’s arrival.
Because of that, Ireland believes this year will be much different. And if different means better, that’s a good thing for the Saints since they were able to draft several key players on last year’s team while Ireland was still trying to get comfortable in his role.
“It’s a lot easier. Much more familiar with the staff, much more familiar with the players,” Ireland said. “So, it’s a lot more familiar, a lot easier process. I’m not scrambling like I was last year. Much more at ease going into the process like I always have been other than last year.”
It’s also helped that Ireland has now been able to create a system that blends more naturally with his way of doing things.
While scouting is scouting, not all reports or grading scales work the same way. So, over the last year, Ireland has been blending his system with the way things are done in New Orleans.
Ireland says it’s still Mickey Loomis’ show, but the general manager has been open to new ideas and has given him the room to do what he needs to do to be successful.
“Mickey’s kind of given the freedom — I wouldn’t say all the freedom in the world — but the freedom to induce my system and blend it with his system and it’s worked perfectly,” Ireland said. “I think it’s worked very well. I bring ideas to him, and he likes it or doesn’t like it and we either install it or not. It’s been pretty easy.”
Ireland and his staff of scouts have been at the Senior Bowl all week getting a better feel for this year’s crop of draft hopefuls. The team already has an idea of some of the players they want to keep a closer eye on based off the work done on the road throughout the year.
But Ireland said it’s too soon to start separating guys by need since the team is still gathering information and some of those gaps will be addressed in free agency. Things won’t start getting more specific until February, before or to the combine, at which point the scouts will meet and start honing in on specific players or positions.
“This time of year, I’ve always taken a broad view,” Ireland said. “We’re still in information-gathering mode. It’s a little different information gathering, but you still keep it broad, you still keep it in the back of your mind what your needs are, still trying to project certain guys where they’re going to fall. You’re starting to start putting guys where you might have a chance to get them.”
The information gathered on Ireland’s tenure with the Saints has been mostly positive so far. Now, New Orleans will get to see what he can do when he’s fully comfortable.