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Mark Schlereth Interview

Editor's Note: This is the full interview between Cecil Lammey and Mark Schlereth. The interview took place in Mid May. An abbreviated interview appears in the FBG Strategy Magazine.

FBG: Let's start off with the NFL Draft. It has to be one of the most boring things to watch on TV, but my question to you is how did ESPN turn the draft into must see TV.

MS: They realized what a bunch of fervent fans, that football fans are. And their need to follow their team and know what's going on with their team. The fact that football and the NFL has basically become a year round sport with free agency there is very little down time. So they really tapped into the energy that the fans bring and the energy they have for their teams. Well, the draft was kind of an untapped commodity for some time and people get excited about this kind of thing. People get excited about what the future brings. And a lot of it has to do with what the NFL has done to establish itself as a league. The NFL to this day still promotes the team. Fans root for those jerseys, those helmets, that's really what the fans get into. So the fans want to see the next group of players coming in to replace the old guys. So that's why the fans get so excited.

And of course college football has become such a big commodity as well. People love college football. People love to follow their colleges in their region. Because of the way the media coverage is happening, it used to be your ABC/NBC whatever only got one game a week. Now with cable, and ESPN having 5 or 6 different stations, now ESPN U, you look at Fox, and the College Sports Network. I mean you can pretty much catch any game you want, any time of the year. People have become more familiar over the years with all the players that are out there in the college ranks. It used to be that you knew the top 10-12 players, now a lot of fans have educated themselves into the top 2 or 3 rounds. That's fascinating to me. It's grown like crazy, it continues to grow and get more popular.

FBG: Hope springs eternal in the NFL. Whereas in other sports your season is over before it even starts. The NFL has a great balance between marketing teams and players. How did the NFL do that?

MS: Well, #1 I think they realized to maintain popularity, especially when free agency happened, they needed a way to market franchises. They asked, "how are we going to make these franchises exciting?" Obviously with free agency, as you stated, hope springs eternal everybody feels like if we get a couple of players here and there and we have a good draft and a couple of draft picks pan out then we have a good chance of contending for a championship. You mentioned the Colts, they used to be like a bye week when I used to play. Now all of a sudden, they get Peyton Manning, MH, BS, RW, DC they become an offensive juggernaut. And it's going to be that way for several years to come. You have an automatic opportunity to be a contender in the NFL. Probably more so than other leagues. They've marketed the team knowing that we are going to get into a position where some of our guys are going to leave. If we do a good job drafting, and we do a good job managing that cap and we let some of those older veterans leave for financial greener pastures it's not going to hurt our fan base because they root for those jerseys, they root for those helmets, and they root for these franchises that have been here forever. I think that they have done a good job marketing some superstar players. If you look at the draft coverage. Hines Ward and Tom Brady, Ward a 3rd round draft choice, Brady was the 199th overall pick. It's that underdog, overacheiving anybody can win at any time attitude that the NFL has adopted. I've always said the NBA when they were at the heighth of it's popularity they were marketing individual players. They were marketing Bird, Magic, and Jordan. Those 3 guys were all about winning championships. There's very few of those old school guys left. You have to be very careful when marketing an individual that they are about winning a championship and not about their individual personal glory. The NFL said that we need to make sure these teams are marketed primarily. It doesn't matter the name on the back of the jersey. People just want that Broncos jersey. They just want that Steelers jersey. I mean, you walk up in a Barry Foster jersey and I'm thinking Ron Johnson. That thing lasts the test of time and I think that's awesome. It shows that you're a Steelers fan and I love that.

FBG: You mention the Colts. In SB32, Eugene Robinson was against you guys and he was on the sideline saying, "Bust 'em in the mouth! These guys aren't even good, we are playing the Indianapolis Colts!" So it just goes to show you how fast a franchise can make a complete turnaround.

MS: How quick it can happen! And the Colts are a team that most prognosticators are going to pick to go to SBXL. And as far as Cincinnati, it used to be like, "We can sleepwalk through this game." As long as we don't totally self destruct we can beat these guys easy. I'm one of those people that look at them now and think they are a team on the rise and could sneak into a wild card spot.

FBG: Let's talk about another young QB Big Ben. Has BB completely changed the landscape as far as what NFL teams can expect from a rookie QB?

MS: Um, no. I think he is a total anomaly. What you have to understand with BB, is that the Steelers had the #1 D, the #1 rushing offense as far as attempts per game. They had the perfect scenario for a young QB to come in and have success. Because the way they play defense, because of the way they run the football. Because of their commitment to their physical style of football. I know for a fact from talking to his coaches that they made sure he had one read and a dump off. I'm not diminishing what he did at all, but they took these diluted game plans and said, "We're only going to throw it 18 times this game. Here's what you have to do for us. You can complete 14 of these." The thing I was surprised with BB from watching him all year was his ability to freelance. That was the most impressive thing that he did to me. His ability to scramble, he's far more athletic than anyone gave him credit coming out of the U of Miami Ohio. His ability to throw it on the run was awesome. His receivers, and his coaching staff did a great job of preparing these guys. When a play broke down you'd see a deep receiver come back to the ball. You'd see a short route receiver breaking a route off deep. You'd see a guy next to the sideline work his way back to the QB. Whatever the case may be. Whatever adjustments they had to make to a route, they would make for BB. He had a great running game, a very savvy and smart receiving core that knew how to adjust, and he had very diluted game plans, one receiver with a dump off route, and they executed it to perfection. And let's face it, teams drafting a rookie QB aren't the Steelers. Most teams drafting a rookie QB are the San Francisco 49ers, who have more holes in their team than a colander. That's a problem for most rookie QBs.

FBG: The Steelers coming off their embarrassing 2003 season where they went 6-10 were in a unique situation.

MS: Basically to me it was their change of philosophy. They went from a hard nosed physical style of football, and I scrimmaged against the Steelers every year when I was with the Redskins, either in Carlisle PA or in Latrobe, and that's what their history is. If you've played in the NFL you know that if you go into Pittsburgh you're going to get your nose bloodied. That's the kind of game it's going to be. And they got away from that philosophy and identity that has been there since the 70's. In one year, boom it's gone. We're going to tricky dicky with all sorts of passes, and we're going to tricky dicky with reverses and they got away from running the football. And if you look at that season in carries per game and you look at the difference in the last 2 years and that tells the whole story.

FBG: What impressed me most about BB was his leadership abilities. The Dallas game seemed to set him apart and really put him on the right track for the season.

MS: His most impressive game to me was the Dallas game. Just his plays out of the pocket under duress, with a guy in his face, with a guy hanging off his back shoulder, he was phenomenal. I watched that and I went Man, that kid can flat play. That kid is a pressure guy. I was impressed with him all year, but that was to me what set him apart and said to me that kid is special.

FBG: Let's talk about your draft day memories. What were you doing on draft day?

MS: Well, that first day I knew there was no chance of me being drafted. So the first day, I went and worked out, and then me and my boys went and played a wild game of dunk hoops. They had a dunk hoop at about 9 ½ feet. We played for about 3 hours. The following day I got up and hung by the phone. I really thought I was going to get drafted by the Bengals. Their OL coach, who is know with the Bills, Jim McNally started calling me around Round 5 or 6, whatever it was. They were calling me every round, and he was assuring me that they were going to take me. Their pick would come around and they wouldn't pcik me and Jim would call and say, "They wouldn't let me take you, but we're going to pick you." So I sat there and the phone rang and it was always Jim McNally. The 9th round came around and they actually took an offensive tackle, I can't remember the guys name but he never played. The reason I know is because he was actually released and then came to Washington's camp and he was let go after 3 days, so that's how I know he never played. Anyway, he called me in the 10th round and he called me and said, we're going to get you, I've already got it cleared, you're our pick. I believe they had the 264th pick and Washington had the 263rd pick and my phone rang and I thought for sure it was the Bengals, so I answered it and it was the WR, I don't remember who it was but I think it was Billy DeVaney, former scout. He called up and said we just made you our 10th round pick and basically the next week I just flew out for the minicamp. And back then you went to minicamp and then hung out for 6 weeks, so I had made sure and graduated early. I never even flew back to graduate with my class I figured I already have the work done, I don't need to walk across a stage. The NFL was my job and I had to pour everything I had into becoming an NFL football player.

FBG: How was it going to Washington learning from the Hogs?

MS: It was awesome. It was an awesome experience. I've always been a student, I'm a student of the game and I'm always a student of whatever it is I'm pursuing. I was a great student in college and watching guys like Bostic, Jacoby, Lachey, Russ Grim, Mark May and you watch those guys and you steal from them. You pick up as much as you can pick up. You go, I like what they're doing here, or I can't do what they're doing. They were very forthright with their information and they brought me along. There was a lot of things I was doing in college that had me prepared for the NFL. A lot of the stuff that I had worked on throughout my college career was the same stuff Joe Bugel taught. And so I transitioned in fairly easy, about half way through the season Mark May got hurt and I became the starter and that's the way it was ever since.

FBG: Any sort of rookie hazing that you had to endure?

MS: No. You know what was interesting about Washington was that the Hogs were in charge of the team. Russ Grim was the ring leader. Usually they make you get up during meals and sing your fight song or whatever and basically just hazing. Russ came up to me the first day of camp and told me, "You do not sing for anyone except me, or us the Hogs. You don't sing for anybody. I just want you to know that we never go to dinner because we go to Fireside and have a beer, so chances are you won't sing." Monte Coleman who played for 16 years, unbelievable man, unbelievable ball player he said to me one time, Hey rookie get up and sing! I said, I'd like to but Russ told me not to unless he was here. And he was like, OK, next rookie. It wasn't even questioned.

FBG: Who was the toughest person to block? You've been against some of the greats, Reggie White, who was the most difficult?

MS: Well, you know, Reggie is right up there. Guys that can do multiple things. You know, Reggie had that incredibly gifted athletic ability, huge body, deceptively fast. He was a 4.6 40 guy at 315. He could turn a corner on you, dip, bull rush you into the QB, he could hump, that patented hump move. Because you had to respect his speed you'd be off balance. He was just so strong he'd just toss you aside. The guys just had it all. That was a guy that every time you had to go against him you were like, Oh Boy, here we go. Then they'd move him around the LOS and you'd all of a sudden see 92 in front of you and you were like, What did I do to deserve this? LT was just a flippin man. I mean a flat out man. Not as big as Reggie, but speed/strength he understood leverage. When you hit him it was like running into a brick wall. Charles Haley. Little skinny Charles Haley. When you ran into him it was like being hit with a steel pipe. Unbelievable body leverage, and ability at impact to straighten you up. You look at him and you go, there's nothing to this guy. Man o man was he strong, I'm sure he couldn't bench his own body weight but boy did he know how to deliver. And did he know how to get you right at the point of impact. Where right where you're getting ready to hit him, he was hitting you and it hurt. John Randle, in his heyday. Short, hard to get ahold of, greasy guy, could move his body, but also had tremendous strength, unbelievable motor. And he learned multiple pass rush moves. And when he learned multiple pass rush moves he became extremely dangerous. Warren Sapp, he changed the way you play the 3 technique when it comes to pass rushers. He would almost line up on the OT. He would make you commit to getting out to him, and by doing that he would set you up and come back on the inside and beat you. Or he would make you go further outside and beat you. He was great a picking guys in games, setting up for his DE's. He would pick the tackle and take you out, setting the path for his DE. He really changed the way that 3 technique position was played. Luther Ellis, when he figured out and studied on Warren Sapp, he was hard to stop. He's as strong as any human on the planet. Those guys had multiple things that they did well. I could take a guy out if he only did one thing well, because I could study film and figure out what he does. But those guys that do multiple things, it creates havoc on the OL.

FBG: Let's talk about Matt Jones, the most surprising pick in the 1st round.

MS: A lot of people bust the JJ organization for drafting him on potential. Potential is a dirty, filthy word, I've seen a lot of guys that had potential, but couldn't play a lick of football. But with that said, I have to look at this coupled with the 2nd round pick. They lost Mike Pearson with a knee injury don't know if he's gonna be back. They really needed a guy to play LT. I don't know if this was fortuitous that this guy fell to them in the 2nd round, or if they felt scouting wise they could pick up this guy too. But Kalif Barnes from WS a guy that's 305 lbs. And runs a 4.8 40, got good feet. That guy is potential first round talent football player. So to me, you take those two picks and it becomes interesting. Matt Jones automatically gives them something they haven't had, and that's an explosive red zone threat. You couple that with Jimmy Smith, Reggie Williams, Ernest Wilford, and you have Byron Leftwich throwing the ball. All of a sudden to me, here you have somebody because of his size, you can put a 6/7 play red zone package together where he becomes instantly effective. The pick then makes a lot of sense. Another thing they have to look at, is can he put his hand in the dirt and play TE. You want to talk about mismatch problems. You want to talk about tieing up the middle of the field and getting one on one matchups on the edge. Also takes away the run support. You know you could wean him in softly, put him in on the back side of running plays, let him cut off. Put him on the front side when you couple him with a tackle. You could basically bottle feed him for a while, but he instantly makes them better in the red zone. And basically that's where they struggle. They were not a great red zone football team. That pick didn't disappoint me. I expected it at Philly with the #31. But when they coupled it with Barnes in the 2nd I was like, OMG that worked out well for them.

FBG: We've seen NFL teams surround a young QB with as much talent as possible. It was a great move on J's part because Leftwich is an up and coming passer.

MS: It's all those young guns that make me pine for a good young QB here in Denver. I like Jake, he's a buddy, but I like these young guys.

FBG: Could we see the Broncos package their 2 #1 in 2006 for Matt Lienert?

MS: That would be an ideal situation if they could. You gotta have 2 to tango. If they could find a partner to trade with that could work out well. I think it would make sense, and exciting situation to be in. Kinda like when Carson Palmer was taken by the Bengals and Kitna had one year to groom him. It could work out for the Broncos and they could really prepare him to play in the NFL. You watch Lienart and you know there's something special about him.

FBG: Let's talk about Mo Clarett. IMO he had a good, not great freshmen year. What are your thoughts on him?

MS: #1, was it a reach? Yeah, it was a big reach IMO. We used to have a saying in the NFL, don't overestimate your own speed, and don't underestimate you opponents speed. To me, the Broncos have drastically overestimated his talent. I don't put a whole lot of merit into 40 times, to me it's about pad speed. Terrell Davis was probably a 4.6 40, but I saw him break 60 or 70 yarders and nobody seemed to catch him. Here's the problem, I watch MO in college and I didn't see him run away from anybody at OSU. So I know, he can't run away from anybody in the NFL. There are LB's that run far better than MO. Now I saw a powerful guy, a guy that plays hard, a guy that's not afraid to get inside. I see him as a short yardage back. Here's another problem, at 235 240lbs he has the perfect body size for a Broncos FB. But I have talked to former coaches of his at OSU and odds are it's a fat chance getting him to convert to FB in the NFL. He'll be a bigger hindrance than he will be a help. I just can't understand why you would take that guy in the 3rd round. I heard Shanny say if he would've played the last 2 years in college he would have been a first round pick. Yeah, and if I wasn't injured so much I wouldn't have spent so much time on an operating table. Is he contrite and remorseful, or is he coached by his agent to be that way. Is that an act? He's a young kid, and I thank that Lord that I didn't get caught everytime I did something stupid. A leopard can't change his spots.

Here's the other question, Tatum Bell is clearly the starter here. What happens when Mo doesn't get to carry the rock? Is he a guy that becomes divisive in the locker room or does he become a galvanizing force and relish his role on the team, no matter how small it would be? I don't see him being a galvanizing force, I see him being rust.

I picked Tatum in the 2nd round of my ESPN fantasy league. I had the #1 overall and I took LT2, and you can't go wrong with LT2. The entire first round was all RBs and coming back at the end of the 2nd I got Tatum Bell, because to me he's a kid that is going to explode on the speed. He's a much better inside runner than I thought. He can run tough, he lowers his head and I was impressed.

FBG: Do you think the Broncos should just rebuild? They're good enough to make the playoffs and that's about it. What's your opinion?

MS: I am of the opinion that the Broncos are an 8-8, 9-7 football team which begets 8-8, 9-7 football teams. They are mired in the muck of mediocrity. And it's because of the bad contracts, it's because of the aging nature of their veteran core, and it's because they are strapped salary cap wise. I always hear we are a player or two away. I don't buy that. I see that as a bill of goods that is being sold to the fans. I would much rather see this team go through some massive roster overhaul. I believe that they need a legit #1 WR, I believe there is an opportunity to rebuild that OL. I believe that there is a need to rebuild on the DL, and I know some people say that these Cleveland guys are going to be good, you know what, those guys from CLE have never produced so what's going to make you think they are going to start producing now that they're in Denver, the altitude? Do you think the altitude is going to make Gerard Warren stop being lazy and take plays off? I'm of a different ilk, I don't believe that at all. This is a team that is going to be 7-9, 8-8, 9-7 team this season. I talked about the young gun QBs BB, BL, David Carr excites me. I know he's been up and down but he excites me, Carson Palmer. There are a lot of young QBs that are maturing and I would love to see the Broncos go in that direction. To do that you're actually going to have to come to grips and say, you know we're not really as good as we think we are. Then we need to move in the direction of being successful. The Ravens had to do that, the Tennessee Titans are in the process of doing that. They need to manage free agents better and keep the core together, while getting younger.

FBG: I want to talk about these potential holdouts. Whether it's TO or Sean Taylor, I've never seen a year like this.

MS: It disgusts you to a certain extent. There's a certain amount of ambivalence, because I know for a fact that NFL teams, when they don't feel like you're worth it they'll come to you and cut your pay. And what they'll do is come to you 2 days before camp starts when everybody's roster is full and then they'll cut your pay. It's a ruthless business in that regard, but 2 wrongs don't make a right. And it's not about the organization to me, it's about those other 53 guys in you locker room. That's what you gotta think, and you have to put those guys ahead of yourself. When I see a guy like TO who got 8.5 million just to sign a contract last year and now it's not good enough. And he says, well the contracts are backloaded. Well this day and age in free agency, all contracts are backloaded. And bottom line is, if you produce for another 2 years there are outs in those contracts, and some of those outs are the fact that it's so back loaded that teams can't afford you. So what ends up happening if you end up producing another year the Eagles come to you and say, let's re-work this deal and give you another 7 mill just for signing and sign you off for another 7 years. And if they don't want to sign you become an automatic FA because they cut you and then you can have another team pay you 10 million dollars. So for me to act like your tied and handcuffed to a 7 year deal, oh woe is me. Don't claim the victim when you shine the spotlight on yourself and it's a bunch of bologna. Play for another 2 years and you'll be a FA because they can't afford the end of that contract. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Shut up, stop your whining. Take a page from Tom Brady.

FBG: I know you play fantasy football, what has its impact been?

MS: I think it's been huge. It has evolved an entire culture unto itself. It has cultivated an entire new generation of football fans. I grew up watching football because I love football, and I am passionate about football. It was the cat's pajamas back in the 70's. Fantasy football brings all fans together. You don't even have to be a die hard fan to play. You can pick your favorite players and you can be involved every Sunday in your team and your players. And also, it's fun to manage them. It's fun to look at matchups and say, this guy is going to be huge. Or say, this guy struggles, I'm going to sit him for a week. I think it has increased interest from the female audience as well. Everyone can play, and it's a blast. As much as I get stopped in the airports, traveling around the nation, for every guy that stops me to talk about NFL Live or ESPN, I have another guy or gal stop me and talk about fantasy football. I hate losing in FF. I have become a bigger fan of all teams because of FF. If I have a guy from MIN, I am tuned in even more than I usually would be. It increases the fan base and it's great for the NFL.

FBG: Could Patrick Ramsey be the 2005 version of the 2004 Drew Brees?

MS: I think PR, and I have had the good fortune of spending some time with him, he's a good kid, has an absolute cannon for an arm, and he's been in some horrible offenses. I described the Redskins offense last year as 3 yards and a cloud of dust, and I was referring to the passing game. In Spurrier's offense, he was bludgeoned back there. He took a brass knuckle beating like I've never seen, but it's a statement on his toughness because he stood in there and took it. I really like this kids talent. Obviously if they get some OL help. Getting Jon Jansen back will help. Their interior linemen are fairly weak. But if they get some decent play from the guys they have inside they could have a good year. I hope it is. I hope he just explodes on the scene, because I really like his game. I like his moxy, I like his toughness, and I just like his skills. I think he has a chance to really turn some heads. Some said, it was an indictment on Ramsey when they took JC, to me it was more of an indictment on the team for getting Mark Brunell last year. It's a 2 QB league and Brunell is clearly not the answer. JC is going to be a fine pro, but he's a year or two away from really making an impact.

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