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News » Pace is in his element in free agency

Pace is in his element in free agency

Pace is in his element in free agency
You've probably never heard of Ryan Pace.

Unless you're an ardent Saints fan or intimate with NFL personnel circles, there would be no reason to know him.

Pace is one of the legions of faceless scouts and personnel executives in the league who perform the thankless yet critical task of evaluating players.

As the Saints' director of pro personnel, Pace spends most of his weekends on the road and most of his office hours tucked behind a desk, staring at replays of Football games on a computer screen.

Nonetheless, the 32-year-old Dallas native has played a crucial role in the Saints' success the past few seasons and has emerged as a prominent player in the club's front office.

Yet, few fans know who Pace is or could pick him out of line at a grocery store.

"That's OK," Pace said. "I kind of like being behind the scenes."

Rest assured Pace has become a known commodity in NFL personnel circles. In a short period he has earned a reputation as one of the game's top talent evaluators.

During his tenure as a scout from 2002 to 2006, Pace routinely earned compliments from former Saints coach Jim Haslett for his thorough and meticulously detailed personnel reports on upcoming opponents.

In his current role as director of pro personnel last season, Pace received almost weekly praise from Coach Sean Payton for his ability to procure talent -- seemingly from under rocks -- during the club's injury-riddled 2008 season.

Defensive end Jeff Charleston was working in a furniture shop in Oregon.

Punter Glenn Pakulak was roofing in Michigan.

Kicker Garrett Hartley was training in Texas.

In all, Pace and pro scouts Terry Fontenot and Ryan Powell helped the Saints identify and sign 23 players during the roster-churning 2008 season.

Charleston, who had been on Ryan's radar for two years, made three sacks in 10 games to rank third on the team.

Pakulak, a heretofore overlooked 28-year-old journeyman, signed in midseason and averaged 5.5 yards more on punts than any other punter on the roster last season.

Hartley made all 13 of his field-goal attempts and converted all 28 extra-point tries.

Pace and his staff discovered the dynamic kicking duo in a midseason three-week whirlwind of punter and kicker tryouts.

"When those two guys showed up, they stood out," Pace said. "You could have turned your back to the workout and not watched it and just listened to the sound of (Hartley's) kicks, and you just knew it was him."

While Pace wasn't happy with the final record, he believed the spate of injuries that contributed to the 8-8 finish might help the team next season.

"You never want to see a player get hurt, but looking at the bright side, we've added some quality depth to our roster," said Pace, a former defensive end at Eastern Illinois, where he played with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

"Last season was exciting for us," he added. "That's kind of what we do. That's fun for us. We put so much work into this that it's definitely satisfying when we see a player that we signed come in and make an impact."

While Pace and his staff work tirelessly throughout the season, their Super Bowl comes a month after the last ball is kicked. Free agency is their heyday, March Madness NFL style, the time when months of long hours and tedious work pays off.

Their board of potential veteran free agents has been compiled since late January. Every potential free agent, cap casualty or trade prospect is ranked on a color-coded grid, evaluated and discussed ad infinitum by Pace and his staff.

From those meetings, a top 10 list at each position is presented to the assistant coaches, who in turn conduct further evaluations. No veteran player is acquired without at least four separate evaluations.

"And it's not just the talent," Pace said. "We are more conscious than we've ever been about evaluating what kind of character he has, how intelligent he is and how he's going to fit into the locker room. That's becoming more important than ever here under Sean Payton."

And no stone is left unturned by Pace and his staff.

"Sometimes I'll ride with them from the airport and just listen to what they say," Pace said. "They don't know who I am and have their guard down. You can usually tell pretty quickly what kind of guy they are."

Pace said both of the Saints' new additions -- cornerback Jabari Greer and fullback Heath Evans -- graded highly in terms of off-the-field intangibles.

Only two years into his current role, Pace said he's not about to get ahead of himself. His focus is squarely on the task at hand. He's committed to helping the Saints earn a berth in their first Super Bowl. He and wife, Stephanie, have quickly become big fans of New Orleans and love the passion of the fan base in the city.

"My goals are mostly about here," Pace said. "I'm proud of how the pro personnel department has strengthened and become an asset here, how much we've progressed and how well we all work together. It's better than it's ever been.

We've got something special going here."

And Pace is a big reason for that, even if few outside of Airline Drive know it.

. . . . . . .

Jeff Duncan can be reached at jduncan@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3404.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 9, 2009

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