When the Patriots shuffled their coaching staff last month, they made a not-often-seen change, with Nick Caserio moving from receivers coach to director of player personnel.
Generally, coaches coach and scouts scout. There is the downstairs (coaching offices) and the upstairs (front office).
In his new role, which is still evolving, the 32-year-old Caserio will work under vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli. He will oversee parts of both the pro personnel and college scouting departments, helping fill some of the void created when director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff was hired as Atlanta Falcons general manager.
Caserio's shift in responsibilities highlights how the Patriots view the melding of coaching and scouting, especially at this time of year, with the draft fast approaching (April 26-27).
A good scout must think like a coach, and a good coach must also be able to wear a scouting hat at times. The thinking is that Caserio's experience in both areas will strengthen the team's overall operation, because the essence of scouting isn't just identifying talented players, it's knowing how they will fit into a team's system.
"That overall linkage between the personnel/scouting department and what goes on downstairs from a coaching perspective is critical," said Caserio, who enters his eighth season with the Patriots, having shifted liberally between the two areas.
"That's why when your people evaluate college players, they need to understand how you do things, understand your system, and determine how those players will project to something they've never done before. It's very system-specific, and each team has its own criteria."
Some Patriots-specific questions this year are: How would one-gap defensive tackles Glenn Dorsey (LSU) and Sedrick Ellis (USC) fare in a two-gap style? Could defensive ends like Vernon Gholston (Ohio State) and Derrick Harvey (Florida) play outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment? After playing outside linebacker in a 4-3 alignment, is Keith Rivers (USC) suited to play inside in a 3-4? Of top cornerbacks Antoine Cason (Arizona), Brandon Flowers (Virginia Tech), Mike Jenkins (South Florida), Leodis McKelvin (Troy), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Tennessee State), and Aqib Talib (Kansas), who plays best in zone coverage and is smart enough to adjust to a diverse Patriots defensive package?
Caserio feels that working closely with Randy Moss and Wes Welker last season, and being involved in regular coaching meetings, should aid him in the job.
"You know first-hand the demands placed on our players because essentially when you're coaching a position, you're going through a week with them, so you can see exactly where they need to be, and what they need to do both physically and mentally," he said.
"From my perspective, now as I'm evaluating college players, you're looking for those type of qualities, those type of traits, to see if they will translate over and be successful in our program. That is also important to relay that information to our scouts so collectively we have a good understanding of what we're looking for.
"I think that's one thing that Bill [Belichick] and Scott have done a phenomenal job through the years. Scott understands what Bill is looking for in terms of players and that's why we've been able to find players who can perform, some at a higher level than others, and come in here and be productive in their role."
A native of Westlake, Ohio, and a teammate of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels at John Carroll University, Caserio joined the Patriots in 2001 as a personnel assistant. He spent the 2002 season as a coaching assistant, before serving as an area scout the following year. From 2004-06, he was the team's director of pro personnel, before spending last year as receivers coach.
In running his own crossing route back to the personnel side, Caserio has been in catch-up mode over the last month, trying to learn as much as possible about draft prospects. Considering that Pioli and the team's scouts have been tracking the prospects for more than a year, there is much work to be done on his end.
From an overall perspective, however, most of the Patriots' scouting has been completed for the draft. Now they will send scouts and coaches to college Pro Days, and hold some private workouts with prospects. The private workouts are just a small piece of the overall puzzle.
"What you're really trying to do is spend time with the player, away from any sort of distractions, and get to know them as much as possible - his personality, how he thinks, what are his interests, what is important to him, how smart is he mentally, how does he learn the game," Caserio said.
"It allows you to meet individually with the player and get that information first-hand, which is probably the most important thing taken from it.
"Really, what you are doing is gathering as much information possible on the player, pooling it together, and saying, 'If you take a snapshot of the player, here it is.' "
When Caserio takes a snapshot of this year's draft, he sees a deep group of corners and offensive tackles, while the safety class is a bit shallow. He added that there has been no extra urgency given that the Patriots own the seventh overall selection.
"Regardless of where you pick, the biggest thing is making sure you have the correct evaluation of the player and you understand exactly how that player will fit and what role he might play within your team," he said.
Cant develop QBs in a snapIn his visit to Boston College last week, Chiefs coach Herm Edwards pointed out that NFL teams can do a better job developing quarterbacks, which is partly why he felt it was important to visit with Matt Ryan.
"You're always looking for quarterbacks, and in my opinion, in our league you have to draft and develop them," he said. "That's why you see older quarterbacks still having the ability to play, because the position is one where we've gotten away from developing the guy."
That lack of development has helped a few quarterbacks on the senior circuit land some impressive contracts this season.
In Washington, age seemed to work in Todd Collins's favor when the 36-year-old signed a three-year, $9 million deal. In St. Louis, 37-year-old Trent Green landed a three-year, $8.9 million contract to be a backup.
Elsewhere, the Packers must consider how to fill the No. 2 spot now that Aaron Rodgers steps in for the retired Brett Favre. General manager Ted Thompson has quickly discovered that the options aren't very appealing.
With more than 60 quarterbacks starting at least one game in 2007 - a whopping total - Edwards's point is well-taken. It is surprising that more clubs don't invest more to develop young quarterbacks, considering the importance of the position.
NFL calendarMarch 30-April 3: Annual meeting, Palm Beach, Fla.
April 26-27: Draft, New York.
May 19-21: Spring meeting, Atlanta.
Aug. 3: Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, Canton, Ohio (Indianapolis vs. Washington).
Aug. 26: Roster cutdown to maximum of 75 players.
Aug. 30: Roster cutdown to maximum of 53 players.
Sept. 4-8: 2008 regular season starts.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Bob Hohler of the Globe staff contributed to this report; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used.