Some notes and observations from the University of Maryland’s Pro Day Wednesday.
A Quick Pro Day Overview
For those who are unfamiliar with the whole concept, Pro Days are essentially miniaturized scouting combines held by schools as a way of making their football talent available to pro scouts at a specific, organized time. There are a few theories behind the practice — athletes may perform better on their home practice fields is one that you hear a lot — but there’s another, more tangible reason: the scouts will come out to see the big ticket players — in this case WR Torrey Smith, RB Da’Rel Scott, and LB Adrian Moten — and might get a chance to see some less-touted players as well.
Smith, Scott, and Moten had all been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianpolis and had performed well there (Scott had the fastest 40 time for a running back at that event), but each came in to Wednesday with something to prove. Meanwhile, guys like CB Michael Carter, OL Paul Pinegar, WR Emani Lee-Odai, and plenty of others hoped to show enough to catch some attention and start carving out a pro career.
Da’Rel Scott’s Hands
Scott may have run a 4.34 40 at the Combine — good enough that he didn’t feel compelled to run again on Wednesday — but he still knew perfectly well what the knock on him is … and, by extension, what he had to show. “Catching out of the backfield,” he said. “Yeah, that was definitely my focus.”
It’s something he’s been working on since the Combine.
“Just catching a lot of balls with different quarterbacks. I worked a lot with [Maryland QB] Danny [O’Brien], coming back and forth from here and home. Danny helped me out a lot, throwing me bad balls and seeing if I could adjust.”
And, for this day, at least, it seemed to work. Scott looked … if not exactly sharp in catching the ball, not like a liability either. “I feel like I did good,” he said. At this point, if you’ll forgive a needlessly obvious pun, he knows it’s out of his hands.
Actually, the whole “out of his hands” thing was a pretty popular theme during the post-Pro Day interviews. Reporters doggedly asked players where they’d like to go, and players doggedly declined to say. Here are a few examples of the polished dodges that were offered to that question.
- Da’Rel Scott: “I don’t really have a preference. Any of the 32, and I’ll be glad to play for them. It would be an honor.”
- Adrian Cannon, WR: “Any of 32, it don’t matter. Any one.”
- Torrey Smith: “Whichever team calls my name, basically that’d be my favorite team. Everything would be the best about ‘em. I’d just be fortunate just to have my name called.”
Well, okay then. Questions about planning for the current NFL labor situation were dodged with similar ease, albeit with slightly more theology.
Here’s Scott: “Just my faith in God, just got to keep praying. That’s my main source of … just to have Him take care of, I can’t really do nothing about it. I mean, I got to just give it to Him.”
And here’s Cannon, with very similar sentiments. “My biggest goal was to handle the day and just let that stuff work itself out. Keep my trust in God, work hard every day — that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. I just gotta keep God first and work hard. He’s brought me a long way from Pontiac, Michigan.”
Adrian Cannon’s Pink Shoes
Cannon isn’t considered a top receiver prospect and he wasn’t invited to the Combine, but he seemed confident that there were teams that had expressed some interest — provided, that was, that he got his 40 time to where it needed to go.
“Every team, pretty much, they want to see you run 4.5, 4.6,” he said, and bettered that goal by putting up a 4.4. For Cannon himself, the time was the most notable thing; for me, as a relatively uninformed spectator, it was the neon pink shoes Cannon was wearing during the drills.
“They’re actually just soccer cleats,” Cannon explained. “They’re one of the lightest cleats out right now. Good stability, good protection on my ankles, and I can drive, so that’s good.”
Possibly even more unusual than the color of the shoes was the brand; Maryland is an Under Armour squad, and these were Nikes. “This is my first pair of Nikes I’ve put on in four or five years, so it’s a bit different,” Cannon said.
And, as far as the color, “This is the closest thing to red” that the cleats came in, he explained. Then he added, “One of my aunts, she has breast cancer, so why not knock out two birds with one stone.”
Torrey Smith stuck to traditional black-and-white Under Armour cleats, but he confirmed the functional benefits of the pink Nikes. “I saw the pink shoes,” he explained. “A lot of the guys I was training with were wearing ‘em to practice their 40s in. They’re actually very light, just real light soccer cleats.”
For his part, Cannon was pleased with most of his performance. He hit the 40 time he was shooting for. He put on a few pounds of muscle while improving his agility. But he couldn’t participate in the position drills, and that was something of a disappointment.
“I couldn’t really open up or plant my left leg,” he said. “I tweaked my hammy on my second 40, so … I did all right. I’m not used to dropping the ball. I dropped five balls in four years, and I think I dropped one or two out here.”
The Dangers Of Social Networking
Another popular topic was the questioning the prospects had undergone throughout the pre-draft process. There was much talk of poking and prodding and bizarre mind games … but only Cannon discussed the evils of Facebook.
“They ask a little bit of everything, to be honest,” he said, “but you’d be surprised how much they know. I’m not on facebook or twitter or myspace or anything, but those are big things they look at. They do high-definition background checks. But I’m clean. I don’t have to worry about that stuff.”
Twitter and Facebook, Cannon said, were things he might warn future prospects about. “That social networking thing can really get you in trouble.”
Things You Don’t Even Know About Yourself
Torrey Smith explained the Combine like this: “It’s just stressful. I think the biggest thing, at the Combine, you do a lot of waiting. You’re getting medicals, you’re getting pulled, poked everywhere. They find out things about you that you didn’t even know were wrong. It’s just a big stressful process.”
That comment about “things you didn’t even know were wrong” seemed like a throwaway bit of hyperbole, but someone asked Smith what sorts of things there were, and it turned out to be a fascinating little pre-draft anecdote.
“They just found out injury stuff,” he said. “It’s just weird. You’re like, ‘That didn’t hurt.’ And then they’ll tell you, ‘Yes it does.’ It’s just kinda weird.”
Smith continued, “I was actually there when Julio [Jones, a top WR prospect out of Alabama] found out he had a little stress fracture, and he didn’t know what was wrong. He said, ‘My foot feels fine.’ And obviously you saw the show he put on at the Combine.”
As for Smith himself, he said that they found “Nothing crazy. The weirdest one is that I broke my leg in high school — everyone knows that — and they were like, it looked like my screw was kinda sticking out a little bit. And I was, like, ‘No.’ They looked at my knee and it looked like it was sticking out, and they were like, ‘It’s fine, it healed up, it’s a hundred percent, but does it hurt when you put weight on it?’ I was like, ‘No,’ but I never knew that it even stuck out at all. And they said my finger grew in crooked after I broke it one time, so … I dunno, it’s just weird things they find out, but nothing that really affected me. My physical was a-okay.”
Torrey Smith Tries To Save My Life
“Home run,” Smith said, shortly after the anecdote above. It was an inexplicable statement, seemingly unrelated to everything else that was going on.
Everything, that is, except for the batting practice that was taking place on an adjacent field. For most of the afternoon, the only thing spilling over the fence had been music — a mix of pop, rock, and rap that soundtracked the on-field drills portion of the Pro Day and made it seem even more like the first ten minutes of Friday Night Lights.
What had happened here was that a home run ball had come sailing over the wall along with the music, heading in the general direction of the back of my head. Smith was trying to alert me — and Mike Duffy of BaltimoreRavens.com, standing next to me — to the danger, but I spent enough time trying to figure out what he meant by “home run” that I never even moved. Fortunately for me, the ball came up a few yards short, but if there was ever a question that I lack the reflexes of a professional athlete, this incident would’ve put it to rest.
A Possible Sleeper
In addition to not being a professional athlete, I’m also not a talent evaluator — not even close — so take this with a grain of salt. But Maryland linebacker Alex Wujciak certainly looked to me like a guy who would be able to contribute on Sundays. There’s nothing concrete that I can put my finger on — he’s an imposing figure, but so were plenty of other players there — but if you believe in the eyeball test and guys who just have It, whatever It is … Wujciak’s a guy worth keeping an eye on.
It’s not like he was a nobody in college, either. He was a three-time all-ACC selection, has a pretty impressive collection of accolades (10th in tackles in Maryland history; one of only six guys in Maryland history with three straight 100 tackle seasons, etc.), and was one of the more imposing defensive players on a surprising Maryland team.
But he’s viewed as being too slow for the NFL, and possibly not explosive enough. Time will tell. But that makes him exactly the kind of candidate that Pro Days were made for: maybe, if Wujciak gets a little lucky — and if my impressions were at all accurate, some scout that was there to check out Scott or Smith or Moten might have taken note of Wujciak. That is, after all, one of the points of the Pro Day.
Tags: darel scott, nfl draft 2011, pro day, torrey smith, University of Maryland
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