Former Gillette standout has new gig with NFL Madden
GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) — Clint Oldenburg once had Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton take off his walking boot after the star NFL player had ankle surgery.
Newton was taking a tour of the EA Sports offices in Orlando, Florida, and he had one thing on his mind.
Newton, listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, is an athletic wonder. He’s built like a linebacker, can run like a running back and has an arm that can make even the most talented quarterbacks envious.
Following the ankle surgery, Newton noticed that his speed and agility rating in EA Sports’ blockbuster Madden NFL video game franchise was a little low.
Before his rookie season in 2011, Newton ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and had always been more of a running quarterback before his 2015 MVP season.
Oldenburg said Newton wondered why were these Madden guys so low on his speed and agility?
“We look down and he’s in this walking boot because he just had surgery,” Oldenburg told the Gillette News Record. “So he takes his boot off and tells us that it’s all healed up and he’s really wearing it around kind of for show.”
That interaction, and many others before and since, is how Oldenburg, the former Campbell County High School standout and Wyoming High School Athlete of the Year, noticed that Madden ratings mean a lot.
Especially to those in the game.
Years before Oldenburg evaluated professional football players, he was being evaluated as a pro prospect himself.
He was an outstanding athlete for the Camels. In 2002, he was the Simpson Award finalist as the best boys prep athlete in the state.
At Colorado State University, Oldenburg started 28 games at every offensive line position except center.
Off the field, Oldenburg earned a degree in technical journalism, was named to the Mountain West Academic All-Conference team his junior and senior years and served as a teaching assistant for a journalism course.
The New England Patriots picked Oldenburg in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL draft. He then bounced around the league a bit with stints in Washington, Denver, New York and Minnesota.
After battling injuries and moving around so much, his older brother showed him a posting for an internship with the EA Sports NCAA Football video game.
With his degree, Oldenburg figured he would become some kind of sports journalist after his playing career. He wanted to write for magazines, then figured he could transition into broadcasting pretty easily.
However, when the EA Sports gig opened up, he didn’t turn back.
Ten weeks into the internship in Orlando, EA offered him a position as an associate designer for its flagship video game, Madden NFL.
“My brother and I would play Madden all the time as kids,” he said. “We would create ourselves in the game and it was a dream come true to see myself in the game once I was in the league.”
Oldenburg was one of the first former NFL players to be hired by the production staff at EA Sports.
Because of his on-field experience, Oldenburg was in charge of offensive and defensive line development. He helped create the way the offensive line blocks in the video game, how players move and how the scheme changes the way linemen block, run and tackle.
In his first year, he also added depth to the game’s playbook for each team, figured out how offensive plays can be broken and used methods to fix those broken plays using schemes on the offensive line.
That is still his full-time job with Madden. But about a year ago, another opportunity opened up and thanks to a tweet, that side gig went viral.
Madden NFL is popular for many reasons: hyper-reality of the game play, the up-to-date play books and the in-game player celebrations.
One of the main reasons it is popular among athletes who are featured in the game is because every one of them — whether they like to admit it or not — keep a close eye on their Madden score.
A player’s Madden score is a cumulative grade of different skill sets a player has. Usually speed, agility and awareness are factored in, along with other position-specific skills.
As the game’s popularity started to grow, more people talked about the ratings. A little over a year ago, EA Sports put together a team whose job it would be to adjust the ratings weekly.
The position is unpaid (save for travel and other expenses) and consists of watching NFL games from the sidelines with a game plan.
The small group worked in secret for a while until early November when someone saw Oldenburg on the sidelines in Washington, D.C, for a game between the Redskins and the Atlanta Falcons.
An NBC sports reporter from D.C. tweeted out a picture of Oldenburg wearing an EA Sports jacket that read, “Madden NFL Ratings Performance Adjuster.”
The tweet — which speculated the wearer of the jacket has one sweet gig — went viral and the small group of talent evaluators was thrown into the spotlight.
“It all took off faster than we thought it would,” Oldenburg said. “Our main rating adjuster couldn’t be everywhere at once, so we put together a small team of five and we each have our primary focus on the field.”
Oldenburg is responsible for evaluating the offensive line and sometimes the defensive line or, as he calls it, the trenches.
Madden has been updating players’ ratings on a weekly basis for a few years, but never had a team that would evaluate in person.
Oldenburg said the most challenging part about his job is turning around all the information he gets on Sundays from the sidelines and from the film room on Monday and Tuesday to get new ratings up by Thursday.
“The turnaround time, especially when you’re working with a video game, is always an obstacle,” he said.
The Cam Newton story is only one of dozens that Oldenburg has about players making their pitches for better ratings.
A memorable one was when Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano (who was with the Washington Redskins at the time) sent in tape of a high school track meet that showed him winning state in the 100-meter dash.
“He wanted us to take a closer look at his speed and get it up a little,” Oldenburg said.
Oldenburg said that’s actually the best way for a player to get a rating boost.
“The eye in the sky doesn’t lie,” he said. “The film tells the story. If a player can send me film and hopes to convince me, I’ll make a change.”
Oldenburg said that special teams players make the most pleas for rating changes. He thinks it’s because they are the unrepresented players in the league and don’t feel like they get their due.
“Kickers, punters, all those special team guys are critical to a team’s success, but it’s hard to recreate that in a game,” he said.
He also said rookies coming into the league have a hard time with low ratings.
“You have some of these guys who were the best college players in the country, but they still have to prove it,” he said. “The veterans have earned it.”
Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com