In the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh took tight end Mark Bruener out of the University of Washington, with the 27th pick. The 6-foot-4, 253-pounder was never the receiving threat that we see today from Heath Miller, but what he did offer was a wall of granite in terms of his blocking skills, which were often considered the best at his position. He was essentially an extra tackle, and his 137 grabs for 1,197 yards and 15 touchdowns during his nine seasons playing for Pittsburgh is a testament to that. It also speaks to the type of offense he played for under head coach Bill Cowher, which was a throwback, “three yards and a cloud of dust” ground game, with soon-to-be Hall Of Famer, Jerome Bettis, the focal point.
After several years with the new expansion Houston Texans, Bruener decided to hang up the cleats and, much like several other Steelers, found himself back where he began, only for Bruener it wasn’t as a coach, it was as a scout.
“The toughest part of being a scout is the obvious one. You need to be able to evaluate talent correctly,” Bruener said, according to Troy Vincent, the NFL executive vice president for football operations on NFLPlayerEngagement.com. “There are so many factors that go into the evaluation process of a prospective player. After you have factored everything in, your last and final step is to tap into your instincts and listen to your gut.”
One of the things that he feels is an important component to being an effective scout is the fact that he’s been a player in this league, and he’s seen his share of both successful and unsuccessful players. So basically, he feels he has a good gauge when judging the direction a player’s career is headed.
“Part of a scout’s responsibilities is to be able to project, as in envision the kind of player a young athlete will be in the future,” Bruener said, according to Vincent. “As a former NFL player, I’ve already been where these players are going.”
It’s worthy to mention that Bruener may likely have had a major say when fifth round pick Jesse James was still on the clock, considering he played the same position as Bruener and could be the heir apparent to Miller. Bruener could also show James a thing or two when it comes to the blocking department as well, as he was often considered one of the best.
Another skill Bruener has in his scouting repertoire is his ability to connect the dots between players, both from his playing days and the present, and draw a comparison as to their potential on-field impact. He has at his disposal a database of players, whether it be teammates or opponents that he played against. He also uses the tried and true method of word of mouth, as his NFL career allowed him to do some major networking, putting him in contact with hundreds of college coaches or staff members. This allows him to gain insight on a player the team is considering drafting to find out things that no one else may know like practice or locker room habits, film study or whether he’ll cause a coaching staff sleepless nights in the offseason.
He recognizes the Steelers want a certain type of player in their locker room, having played most of his career for the organization, so character is important. He noted that an alarming percentage of players who have had behavioral or character concerns in the past, whether it be in high school or college, go on to have the same types of issues on the NFL level, which is why so much emphasis is placed on getting to know prospects.
“We are a pro team making a commitment to draft a young man,” he said, according to Vincent. “Basically, we use the tried and true gauge that reveals to us what kind of person he is when no one is looking. If he passes that character test and his on-the-field performance is where it needs to be, he is someone we want playing on our team.”