Marcellus Wiley chats with The Scores Report

As the 2010 NFL Draft nears, Marcellus Wiley feels for players that are about to get their first taste of playing professional football. As a rookie second round pick of the Bills in 1997, he cut his teeth playing alongside guys like Bruce Smith, Bryce Paup and Phil Hansen. He learned quickly that in order to succeed in the NFL, athleticism can only get you so far; you also have to have a sound work ethic, great technique at your position and a solid football IQ.

Wiley, now a NFL analyst for ESPN’s NFL Live and sometimes a co-host on “Mike and Mike in the Morning” and “SportsNation,” was kind enough to chat with us for nearly 25 minutes about a variety of topics recently, from why young defensive ends tend to struggle their first couple years in the league, to what it was like to play for coaches like Marv Levy and Bill Parcells. Wiley even shared a couple of stories with us from his playing days as a Bill, like the time Ruben Brown taught him a lesson about technique in practice and the shocking surprise Ted Washington had crumbled up on the front seat of his car.

The Scores Report: Hi, this Anthony.

Marcellus Wiley: Hey, this is Marcellus Wiley.

TSR: Marcellus, how are you, man?

MW: I’m good big dog, what’s going on?

TSR: Not much – you getting ready for the NFL draft, or what?

MW: Heck no! (Laughs)

TSR: No? You’re not getting ready for the draft?

MW: Well you know, my role for the draft this year is just to do a bunch of meet-and-greets, interviews and talk to the guys at parties. I don’t have to do the Xs and Os like I used to in years past, so I’m kind of pumped.

TSR: (Laughs) Yeah, it used to be a long two days for the analysts and now it’s even longer seeing as how it’s spread out over several days. What do you think of the new format?

MW: It’s going to be interesting because I think that you can really hype it up and get it in that prime time platform so that’s going to be fun to see. It’s going to be interesting to see if people pay attention after the first two rounds. You know, are people really going to give a damn to see the Jets’ fifth round pick when its just rounds three through seven on Saturday? We’ll have to see how it plays out.

TSR: Yeah, I’m wondering about how everything is going to play out, too. The league has risked upsetting the true draft nuts out there by moving it to prime time, but like you said, if the event gets more viewers in that Thursday night slot then mission accomplished.

MW: Yeah exactly, and I think that’s the goal of it, to have it challenge the other big time shows out there on a Thursday night because people definitely want to see the first round. So that’s going to be fun.

TSR: Any rumors that you’re hearing about that you can share with us?

MW: No, not really. You would think that we would have some knowledge or some insider scoop, but it’s pretty much what Mel (Kiper) and Todd (McShay) say is going to be half right and half wrong. Last year, it seemed like Mark Sanchez was a guy everyone was talking about and how he was shooting up the draft boards. This year, I think there’s a lot of talk surrounding how high you take Eric Berry at safety. I’m one of those people that believe that the safety position is important enough that it warrants a top 5 pick, where as in years past that wasn’t necessarily the case. So, it’s going to be interesting to see where he’s picked because people are saying Kansas City is the last stop before he’s off the board. Other than that, who the Raiders are going to pick is always interesting. Are they going to go with workout warriors or proven football players, you know, the same ol’ Al Davis line of thinking. You know he’s going to mess up someone’s board eventually.

TSR: Definitely. (Laughs)

MW: Once he picks his guy, some guy that can bench press 40 reps in the weight room but can’t bench press someone on the actual football field, everything goes down hill from there. (Laughs)

TSR: (Laughs) Exactly. Last year there’s Michael Crabtree for the taking and Davis winds up taking Heyward-Bey in the first round. What are your thoughts on teams drafting in the top 5 that base their picks on contracts? For example, the Rams might be more inclined to take Bradford over Suh because they can justify paying a quarterback top 5 money, but not a defensive tackle.

MW: I can’t be ignorant to the business side of the NFL. There’s a political side, there’s a business side, and while players wish it were just a pure talent evaluation when it comes to the draft, it’s really not. You have to weigh in other factors. But I will say that the NFL is more of a pass-happy league and now the passing games dominate and really dictate a team’s success. Three of the top four finishers last year were passing teams. You talk about the New Orleans Saints obviously, the Indianapolis Colts, who didn’t have any running game, you look at the Minnesota Vikings, whose passing attacking led by Brett Favre actually got them over the hump, and then there are the Jets, who played great defense and ran the football. But even they had a rookie star-in-the-making quarterback in Mark Sanchez.

TSR: Sure.

MW: So three of the final four teams are predominantly pass-happy teams and you look at the teams that are right under that tier, the Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers, I mean to be elite in this league right now you have to throw the football. So obviously if you have to throw to win on offense, you need players in the secondary defensively. The cornerback position has always been highlighted, but I think the safety position now – you look at the Ed Reeds and the Troy Polamalus – and you look at now what Eric Berry can do, and you have to get a guy like that to neutralize your opponents’ passing game. Conversely, look at what happened to Pittsburgh when Troy Polamalu was out of the lineup. You saw their secondary struggle and the same for their defense at times. That playmaker back there making those calls, the last layer of insurance, is now justified to be a top 5 pick. We saw what Darren Sharper brought to the table last year with the Saints, and we saw the negatives of what happened when the Steelers didn’t have Troy Polamalu. Things started to go wrong.

TSR: You were a defensive end Marcellus, so you know what it takes to be a young player trying to succeed at that position. Why is defensive end one of those positions that rookies have trouble making an impact at right away?

MW: Well, the first thing is that you have to learn an entire new set of moves. The moves you learned in college don’t work in the NFL for various reasons. You’re going up against grown men with great technique. Trying to run around blockers because you’re faster and more athletic won’t consistently work in the NFL. So, you already have to learn a different skill set. The second thing is that you’re still developing your own technique. At 21 years old, very few players have developed a technique that will work against someone that is 31-years old and has developed great technique. The next thing, which is kind of funny but true, is equipment. The jerseys and shoulder pads in the NFL are almost glued onto players. I mean, it’s almost impossible to grab cloth in the NFL, compared to the college game, where guys are still wearing flabby shoulder pads and loose jerseys. You can still see guys using those old school swim and grab moves, where they grab an offensive lineman’s shoulder pads and completely turn them around in circles because they’ve got cloth. There’s no cloth in the NFL and that is something that really helps guys in college succeed with their moves. The last thing is, some of the guys in college may turn out to be accountants, judges and lawyers. In the pros, they’re offensive football players – they’re professionals. We’ve weeded out all the other players – they’re gone, they’re working 9-to-5. You’re going against grown men and I know from personal experience.

TSR: Sure.

MW: I come in my first day of camp and I’m going against John Fina and Ruben Brown. Ruben was already coming off of seven Pro Bowls at the time and on the first rush, I came in there full of fire. I got around John Fina and Ruben had to help him, so Ruben looked at me like, why are you playing like it’s a game? This is practice – I’ve got something for this rookie. So the next play, I try to counter with a move and go inside and Ruben was fan blocking from the guard position. That dude hit me so hard, and not only did he hit me so hard, but his technique with his inside punch lifted me up so there was no way that I could counter it. He took me to the fence!

TSR: (Laughs)

MW: I mean literally – to the fence. He looked at me like, all right puppy, slow it down now. You learn.

TSR: (Laughs) Right!

MW: It’s funny because, I was stronger than Ruben. I’m a guy that lifted 225 35 times at the Combine. I used to squat 700 pounds – I’m stronger than Ruben. But technique neutralized all of my strength because he had leverage and intelligence. So it takes time to take what you learned in college and then develop new techniques to use at the pro level.

TSR: That’s a great point. There are many scouts and fans that get enamored with size, strength and athleticism when it comes to grading prospects. But like you’re saying, having a great football IQ is just as important, if not more important when it comes to the success a player will eventually have. Can you grade a player on his football IQ when he comes out of college, and whether or not he’ll be able to develop right away?

MW: I think it’s tough to get a total grasp of it. You never know what a guy is going to do because in the professional ranks, you become 9-to-5 football, or 24/7 football. But there are other factors that change a guy’s focus, and change a guy’s work ethic. Some guys when you give them the entire day to do nothing but football, they actually take advantage of that. And there are some guys that you give them the entire day to do nothing but football and they don’t do anything with it. They think they have freedom, and they can go chase girls, and they can go run to the mall, and they can go to every event, and they can play PlayStation all day. The thinking is, man, I still have eight hours before I have to go to practice, or do another workout. It’s weird how the mind plays tricks on you when you talk about giving a guy so much money and so much free time. I think the intelligence of a player can be based on what his circumstances are. Is there going to be time for a player to learn at a comfortable pace? Or are you going to force a guy into a situation where his confidence is affected, therefore it affects his ability to focus – affects his ability to grasp all the techniques. I was truly blessed because I was a second rounder behind Bruce Smith, so obviously I had a couple years to really soak it all in and really internalize what was going on. Then there are other guys who look up in their third year in the pros and they’re already starting. It can work to your advantage to be thrown to the fire, but a lot of times you’re going up against someone who’s a grown man who knows what he’s doing and you have no idea. Like, you’re just sitting out there trying to react with athletic ability and this guy is using his brain and his ability.

TSR: Right.

MW: It’s kind of like using the analogy of the Tortoise and the Hare. You’re always looking at the Tortoise like there’s no way he’s going to win because he’s slower and looks like he’s not even trying, but he’s smart enough to know that the Hare is going to spin his wheels. An efficient, intelligent football player can take took steps in the right direction and you, the younger, more athletic player will take 10 steps and he’ll get there faster than you will. It’s pretty interesting how it works out.

TSR: That’s a good point. With how much money young players make coming out of the draft, there’s pressure on them to play right now. For someone like you, you were allowed to mature and develop behind veteran players. But it’s a different game nowadays – rookies are expected to play.

MW: Yeah, they are. Everyone has a boss. The GM that selected this guy has to justify to the owner that yeah, I know you just wrote a $40 million check, so he’s going to get on the field, owner. The head coach wants to justify to the GM that yeah, you picked this great talent and now I’m going to maximize his abilities to get him out there and display him for everybody. Plus, the fans are excited and the players are excited. When you draft someone, there are two brains at work if you’re a player. One is, okay, I’m pumped – I’m excited. We have a young talent, so let’s go out there and see if this guy can play. Then the second mind is, all right, let’s see how good he is because this is job security too. Is he coming to take my job? There are always dynamics to picking a guy and seeing how he’s going to fit into that locker room. You just hope that this guy is really taking football seriously and that’s why when people say that Tim Tebow isn’t going to be a good quarterback, even though I can understand and agree that it’s going to be very difficult for him, you never bet against a winner and a worker. Guys that I played with like Phil Hansen and Bryce Paup – they were just workers, man. It’s almost to the point where you look at them and say, there’s no way they’re going to have two or three sacks today. But then at the end of the game you look at the stat sheet and say, oh my goodness. They learn, they adapt, they stay at it, they stay persistent enough to where success has to come their way. Where as, I’ve been around a lot of other guys who could jump out the building, who could ran faster than everyone else, but they didn’t stay consistent, they didn’t put the pedal to the medal, and things didn’t work out for them as well as the guys that put in the work.

TSR: You played many years in the league on a couple different teams. What’s the most fun you had in the NFL and with what players, teams, etc.

MW: The most fun I had in the league is kind of two-fold. I think coming into the league playing with guys like Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, you know, legends, that was fun. Those guys took all the pressure, all the hits – I was just on the team learning and contributing when I could. But that was just so fun because the dream was realized. You know, you finally had realized your dreams – that was fun. And they were rich!

TSR: (Laughs)

MW: They were so rich that they took care of everything, man. I remember one time I got in a truck with Ted Washington, who was giving me a ride because something was wrong with my car. He had a bunch of little trash in his front seat, so he told me to just throw the stuff on the floor and sit down. So I’m throwing the stuff on the floor and I noticed two envelopes from the Buffalo Bills. Now, those envelopes to players meant paychecks. That’s the only time we got a letter from the team. So I was like, you’ve got some checks here and he said, really? Let me see. So I tried to hand him the checks but he was driving so he says, just tell me how much they’re for. (Laughing) So I read them…I’m a rookie right? I opened the first check and it was for $400,000. It was un-cashed, balled up amongst McDonald’s wrappers, Twix wrappers and it was trash to him almost.

TSR: Jesus!

MW: And then in the second one…it was $900,000. All he did was tell me to put them in the glove department and didn’t say another word!

TSR: (Laughs) Ah, man!

MW: (Laughs) I’m looking at him like, can I marry you? Are you single? What is this?

TSR: (Laughs)

MW: He was just like, welcome to the NFL big fella, welcome to the league.

TSR: Wow, that’s unbelievable. Now, what was the one coach that you most appreciated during your time? Because you played with some of the best NFL coaches to have ever walked the sidelines.

MW: Wow, I played with some great ones, man. I started off with Marv Levy, who is just a brain. He was so smart, someone that could reference the civil war and compare it to a game against the San Diego Chargers. He just knew football, knew how to treat players and was one of the first coaches that wanted practices to feel like a game, as far as tempo and style, but we’re not going to kill each other. People really respected Marv Levy and he had tremendous success. I also had Wade Phillips, who I loved just the same. He was smart. He isn’t going to say a lot of extra stuff, he’s not going to feed you stats, but he’s going to give you the Xs and Os and he’s going to trust you as a player to be responsible, be accountable, be leader, and to know your stuff. That’s why I love Wade and that’s why Wade is good in Dallas because no matter the circus, he’s going to be the steady force.

TSR: Right.

MW: From there, I went to San Diego and had Mike Riley, who, ha! Is the nicest human being ever. (Laughs) Mike Riley was so cool and so nice, but he knew his stuff as well. I had tremendous success playing with Mike because of the defense we ran out there – we really got after it, so I enjoyed playing for him. Then (Marty) Schottenheimer came and here comes the pain, baby! Here comes the pain!

TSR: (Laughs)

MW: (Laughs) I like Schottenheimer too because you know, his reputation preceded him. He’s a very emotional coach, who at the drop of a dime, would shed a tear and he really cared. It came across in how he prepared and tried to motivate us. He’s a very caring coach. From there I had Bill Parcells – good lord, I love me some Bill, man.

TSR: (Laughs)

MW: Bill is the best football evaluator I have ever seen. You can take Bill out to a practice field and say okay, I’m going to give you five minutes to look at this entire field of 100 players. And I want you to go back into the film room and tell me about each and every player’s weakness. I guarantee you he could sum up every player’s strengths and weakness to a T. To the point where he could forecast, this guy right here, he’s going to start fast and tail off. This guy right here, there’s no way he’ll ever be able to cover but he’ll be a great pass rusher. And this is only based on two or three reps. From the punter to the defensive end, Bill knows football. From there, Jack Del Rio really had a nice balance of how to be a disciplinarian, but also be a player’s coach. Obviously because he played the game, he understands the tempo and pulse of the players. He was also a great communicator, so I wish him a lot of success and I hope the Jaguars can get over the hump because he’s doing a great job in my eyes. So, you’re right – I had a great body of coaches who I loved all for different reasons and hated all for different reasons! (Laughs)

TSR: (Laughs) Great stories. Well Marcellus, I’ve taken up a lot of your time. I just wanted to thank you for sitting down with us and chatting with me today.

MW: Oh, no problem, big dog. Man, you take care and you call me any time you want.

TSR: Thank you Marcellus, have a good one.

MW: All right, you too.

Special thanks to Lindsey Deierling of EAG Sports Management for setting up the interview.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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