John Fox getting an inside look at NFL prospects at Senior Bowl

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John Fox is in his third season with the Bears. (AP)

MOBILE, Ala. — As we know all too well by now, John Fox doesn’t like to evaluate players in the media. So the only time he was asked about a prospect who stood out when he met with Bears beat writers after Senior Bowl practice Tuesday was in jest.

“You guys pick one! You watched practice!, Fox said. “I’m still learning everyone’s name.”

This is a new experience for Fox. The only other time he coached a team that finished as poorly as the 3-13 Bears was when he was fired  after finishing 2-14 with the Panthers in 2010. But that team was on the way down. The Bears are rebuilding, so Fox and his coaching staff — most of his staff, anyway — will get a third year that begins in the deep South, coaching the North team in the Senior Bowl.

While acknowledging the unpleasantness of “the record it takes to get here,” Fox is determined to make the most of the opportunity. The Bears’ coaching staff is getting an up-close look at several top college prospects for the 2017 draft, though almost certainly nobody who will be considered at No. 3 overall.

“The advantage of coaching this is being able to be with them in a meeting setting, Fox said. You have meals with them, you live with them.”

It’s not just nighttime interviews when they’re worn out and tired. You get to see how they conduct themselves in team meetings, how they take notes, and how they practice. And you don’t get any closer than this.

“When you look at tape, you’re looking at a helmet and shoulder pads and a jersey number — they can be robots for all you know. But you get to know the person, the guy, how he competes, how he deals with things, whether it’s stress or adversity. And guys that can handle that the best usually have the best success in the NFL.”

It remains to be seen just how much of an advantage that is, and how well the Bears can parlay that advantage into another solid draft following the stellar job by general manager Ryan Pace and his staff in 2016, when three picks made the Pro Football Writers of America all-rookie team: outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, lineman Cody Whitehair and running back Jordan Howard (only Whitehair was at the Senior Bowl last season).

The Cowboys struck gold with Dak Prescott last year, but he wasn’t even on the team that Jason Garrett and his staff were coaching. The Cowboys made the quantum leap from 4-12 to 13-3 this season. But the most recent coaches in the Senior Bowl didn’t last long — Gus Bradley (Jaguars), Ken Whisenhunt (Titans), Mike Smith (Falcons), Dennis Allen (Raiders), Jim Schwartz (Lions), Leslie Frazier (Vikings), Mike Shanahan (Redskins) among them.

Prior to Garrett last season, the last coaches to make the playoffs after coaching in the Senior Bowl were Marvin Lewis in 2011 and Schwartz in 2010. The last coaches to reach the Super Bowl were the Seahawks’ Mike Holmgren (who coached the Senior Bowl in 2002) and the Steelers’ Bill Cowher (2001), whose teams met in Super Bowl XL following the 2005 season.

With two Super Bowl appearances on his resume, Fox has earned the benefit of the doubt that he can beat those odds. The Bears under Fox are at a critical point after just two seasons. Any advantage — like getting to know what makes a guy tick — can make a difference.

“Anytime you’re dealing with people, it’s not an exact science,” Fox said. “My experience has been [that] when you have that leadership ability, usually it carries over and it’s been a positive trait.”

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