March 25, 2009

Going inside UT's Pro Day

Call it Pro Day or Pay Day. Either way, the NFL came to Austin Wednesday looking for pro talent. The checks will be in the mail soon - some bigger than others.

More than 30 scouts and NFL personnel gathered first in Moncrief Neuhaus for heights, weights and measurements. For vertical and broad jumps, the 40-yard dash and shuttles.

Then it was off to the bubble at Denius Fields for some more cone drills, positional drills and for receivers to catch the ball.

Quan Cosby measured 5-9. Ryan Palmer 5-8. Aaron Lewis 6-3, 277 pounds. Henry Melton 6-3, 269 pounds. Brian Orakpo 6-3, 262 pounds. Chris Ogbonnaya 5-11, 220. Roy Miller 6-1, 312 - up 23 pounds from his playing weight in the Fiesta Bowl.

After the workouts, when Miller ran a 4.9, he talked about how hard he's worked to gain "good weight."

"It's easy to go to McDonald's and eat a bunch of fat," Miller said. "It's hard to put on good weight. I've been eating a lot of pasta and wheat, trying to consume 4800 calories a day. I want to show people I can play in a 3-4 or a 4-3."

At Moncrief Neuhaus, along with the UT players fans watched all season, there were a couple familiar faces - former receiver Myron Hardy (6-1, 219), who ran a 4.6 40, and former linebacker Eric Hall (6-1, 237).

Players stripped down to their compression shorts to run and jump as family and friends looked on. Some teams - like the Tampa Bay Bucs - had three scouts watching the proceedings.

The first oooh and aaaah came when Henry Melton posted a 36 -inch vertical jump, then a 10-1 broad jump. Minutes later, Melton would run a 4.58 40. He sent scouts scurrying to compare their times. The day hit a somber tone, when the NFL scout conducting the 40 yelled, "Aaron Lewis. Left hamstring. Won't run."

"I felt it pop when I did the broad jump," Lewis would say later. "It's disappointing when you don't get to show everything you've been working on."

Lewis said he had been putting up 4.7s in his workouts. But the NFL isn't about taking someone's word. Now he has to hope someone will take a chance.

The vertical jumps - every player got two attempts - went quickly: Lewis (30 ), Melton (36 ), Rashad Bobino (31), Quan Cosby (33 ), Cedric Dockery (28). Miller, Orakpo, Ogbonnaya, Cosby and Palmer didn't jump because they did it at the NFL combine. Only Palmer decided to run his 40 again. He was disappointed with his 4.5 40 at the combine, but posted a 4.49 and a 4.51 in his two 40 attempts Wednesday.

"I was hoping to do a little better," Palmer said.

The bench press portion of Pro Day is one of the highlights. Current and former UT players gather around the bench to cheer on the player lifting. Lamarr Houston had a prominent spot. Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley, Christian Scott, Chykie Brown, Ben Alexander, Adam Ulatoski, Kyle Hix and Antwan Cobb were all on hand. Former Longhorns Derrick Johnson, Kwame Cavil, Cedric Woodard, James Brown and Cedric Griffin were also there to see Lewis bench 225 pounds 22 times, Melton (23), Bobino (21), Cosby (16) and Dockery (28).

Then it was off to the bubble, where Cosby and Ogbonnaya caught passes from Jeff Blake and former Iowa quarterback Drew Tate of Baytown. Hardy looked rusty and didn't get the extra attention Cosby and Ogbonnaya got from scouts asking them to run a few more routes. Both Cosby and Ogbonnaya caught everything thrown at them. Cosby even slipped and fell out of one of his breaks, but got up in time to catch the pass.

"Caught everything they threw," Cosby said.

Cosby was asked if it's fair that his age - 26 (he turns 27 in December) - should be factored in when teams consider drafting him. He laughed and said only one team has asked him about it.

"I see it as a positive," Cosby said. "The maturity. They know I'm a dad and a husband who takes care of my business, that I have a professional attitude and approach."

About 10 to 12 scouts watched the passing drills. The rest were over watching the defensive linemen. The stars of the show were Orakpo, Miller, Melton and Lewis. Poor Dockery. When he was doing his drills, only one coach stood and observed.

Orakpo did everything that was asked … and more. If a coach wanted to see him drop into coverage as a 3-4, outside linebacker - he did it. Agility drills around pads and through tackling dummies - he did it. Exploding into a tackling dummy from his knees - he did it.

"I wanted to show the coaches I've got nothing to hide," Orakpo said. "I'm here ready to go to work."

The player, however, who probably helped himself the most was Melton. When a 269-pound man explodes for a 4.58 40 with a 36 -inch vertical and 10-1 broad jump, the whole NFL knows he's explosive. Now the scouts will all call Will Muschamp, a former NFL defensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins, and grill him. They'll grill him about Melton's work ethic, practice habits, study habits, locker room demeanor, attitude, you name it.

Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford was asked by a psychologist hired by the San Francisco 49ers to talk about how his parents' divorce affected him. Teams want answers - about everything.

Melton was asked if he had been under the radar before Wednesday.

"That's what a few scouts have said. They've seen me during games and when I'm on the field, but they didn't really know what I'm actually capable of doing," Melton said. "They said they saw some athleticism that they didn't know I had. It's been great for me."

Yes it was.

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