The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of the NFL landscape, especially the scouting leading up to the NFL Draft, making an already unique, tedious process even more challenging.
Pittsburgh Steelers college scout Mark Bruener joined The Standard, the club’s behind-the-scenes web series, and provided some insight into the past year’s unprecedented scouting process.
The pandemic has presented Bruener with his fair share of challenges, but he has not allowed those circumstances to become excuses.
“My first approach was is I’m not going to make an excuse for the situation that I’m in,” Bruener said. “I’m going to figure out a way to do my job to the best of my ability and know that Kevin (Colbert) is not going to tolerate any excuses. And I needed to get my job done.”
Much like every aspect of our life over the past year, Bruener has had to resort to virtual discussions with coaches, as he was largely barred from scouting and meeting players at facilities.
“The ability for us to make contact with the schools, the individual coaches, all had to be done via Zoom,” Bruener said. “There was no personal interaction that we normally would get. And then you would follow up individually with the coaches to gain the information that you needed.”
Without those in-person evaluations, Bruener has had to watch on film more than ever before to ensure his assessments are accurate.
“But the bulk of my fall was spent in my office, watching film on my computer,” he said. “Instead of just watching three games on an athlete in particular to try to bring the evaluation, I tend to maybe watch five or six games, if that’s available. And because I can’t see that live look in some aspects.”
That being said, the virtually, at-home conditions have granted Bruener more flexibility in his scouting process than ever before.
“If you’re at a school, you have to get to the next school the next day. So you have to make sure that you get all that work done that day,” Bruener said. “Whereas now being home, you’re a little more flexible. So if you’re not able to finish that third game or fourth game by two o’clock, then you can get to it later on that evening.”
Bruener, who resides in Washington state, was able to attend a few games in person last college football season, but admits the atmosphere was bizarre at times.
“I went to a handful of games here in Seattle and in Oregon that I was allowed to attend, but it was so eerie Andy weird because there wasn’t any fans there.”
Selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft out of Washington, Bruener played 14 seasons at tight end. He spent the first nine seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, catching 137 passes for 1,197 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Bruener began scouting for the Steelers organization in 2018.