Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wrapping up UConn's pro day

For the second straight year, UConn's pro timing day was a little anticlimactic.

A year ago the quartet of Dwayne Gratz, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Sio Moore and Trevardo Williams didn't need to do many of the drills since they had such strong showings at the NFL Scouting Combine. That opened the door for Ryan Griffin to impress the Houston Texans enough to draft him in the sixth round and Nick Williams caught the eye of the Washington Redskins who signed him as a free agent.

This year the story is eerily similar.

Shamar Stephen didn't retry the events he took part in at the NFL Combine and a hamstring injury kept Yawin Smallwood from doing any running, jumping or agility drills. Without that duo, who are both expected to be drafted, it gave underrated prospects like Ryan Donohue and Taylor Mack a chance to shine.

Nine former Huskies did the bench press on Tuesday and Donohue's 29 reps at 225 pounds led the way. He also ran in the 48 range in the 40 and was one of five competitors topping 9 feet in the broad jump.

Mack ran an unofficial time of 4.45 in the 40, had the top broad jump of 9-9 and his vertical of 35 1/2 inches finished second to kicker Chad Christen's leap of 36 inches.

Tight end Spencer Parker had a solid day with a 30 1.2 inch vertical, 9-2 broad jump and 22 reps in the bench press.

There are so many different stories to emerge out of the pro day

While it's hard to say whether he will get into an NFL camp, Ryan Donohue probably had the best day as his numbers listed above indicate. Now the question is whether scouts look at him as an offensive or defensive player.

Donohue was a linebacker at the college level but his agent, who also represents former Husky Nick Williams, is trying to sell NFL teams on the possibility of Donohue playing fullback.

"My agent has been trying to sell me a little bit more as a fullback, I came out here and did the linebacker drills," Donohue said. "It was just to see how I could move and I caught the ball anyways."

Not very many teams utilize a fullback and Donohue knows that limits his options but he is going to explore every avenue in order to get a shot at pro football.

Donohue originally wasn't sure if he was going to go through the process of working out for pro scouts but he is glad he chose to proceed.

"I talked to my parents and they helped to motivate me," Donohue said. "I came home after the season and I wasn’t sure if they should really go through with it, they said they have faith in me. I came out and put my best foot forward.

"I watched Nick last year and he opened a lot of eyes and that is kind of the mindset I came in with, let’s shock the world."

Measuring in at 171 pounds, Taylor Mack knows that if he is going to catch the eyes of pro scouts, it had better be with his speed and athleticism.

One of the UConn assistants told him he clocked in unofficially at 4.45 seconds in the 40 and he did well in the jumping events as well.

"I wanted to jump a little higher," Mack said. "I wanted to get 36/37 (in the vertical) but it is still a good number. I was running a little bit faster when I was training, one of my coaches timed me in a 4.45.

"It is exciting, nerve wracking, you wake up at 6:30 here all day but it is an exciting opportunity.
If one team like you maybe you get a chance. If they see you doing well and give you the opportunity, hopefully you have to make the most of it."

The former all-state high school volleyball player was enjoying himself so much on UConn's club volleyball team that is headed to the nationals in Reno that he wasn't sure if he was going to make an appearance at the football pro day.

He certainly made the most of his decision to work out for the pro scouts. He had his issues in one of the drills as he stumbled across the line and landed head first on the field.

"I don’t know what it is, my legs were a little heavy this morning and not doing as well as I would like and how I have been testing and training for," Parker said. "That was just a little comic relief for everybody, ease the tension I guess.

"I came in here, I don’t expect anything to come from it but I am working for something to come from it and do whatever I could do. That would be great to be the next Ryan Griffin because he has been a great player already and Nick Williams too and they are just stories that anything can happen."

As for his volleyball season:

"It is awesome we get to go to Reno for nationals next month, I can’t wait."

Jesse Joseph has already been drafted as Montreal took him in last year's CFL draft but he wants to take his shot at making an NFL roster first.

"This is for my life, this is what you have been training for," Joseph said. "I feel like I have been doing really well, basically left everything I had on the field and hope I get a couple of calls."

"At the moment, I pushed all of that on the back of my head and I am just focused on (the NFL)."

Joseph has been training in Virginia since he graduated and he said "this is the best I've felt in a long time."

Steve Greene and Jimmy Bennett lined up next to each other on the left side of the offensive line for the last two seasons and they have been part of a group training in the Pittsburgh area with the hopes of continuing their football careers.

While they are not expected to get drafted, they are still optimistic that pro teams will come calling.

They had so-so showing on Tuesday. One thing that is concerning is that Bennett had 18 reps on the bench press and Greene 16. Normally an NFL offensive line prospect would be expected to be something in the late 20s in terms of bench-press reps. Still, they both thought they did well in the drills that count the most.

"My personal favorite is just doing the O-line stuff," Bennett said. Most of evaluation is your film, if are playing poorly your numbers can be through the roof and technique was fine. My numbers aren’t where I want them to do but that is fine, I think I played well enough to put myself in position. There are but there are a bunch of teams that I am not on their radar because of my injuries. They say you don’r have to have all 32 teams, you only have to have one. If one team likes me enough, they will pick me up and that is how you have to think."

Greene had a similar train of thought.

"The position drills were good," Greene said. "The work is over and it is kind of the waiting game now. It is nice to get this chance and get this on so we can move on."

Scouts from 29 teams came to UConn with the hope of seeing Yawin Smallwood work out. However, his tender hamstring would not allow that to happen.

"I wasn’t able to show them at the combine because I went down with the hamstring but they wanted to see my up (close and) personal and they wanted to see what I could do, see me move sideline to sideline," Smallwood said.

Smallwood was limited to doing positional drills on Tuesday.

"With the hamstring, it comes down to getting as much rest of possible and it is a tough time to rest so I am trying to get into warm water and do whatever the trainers ask me to do.

"Combine was only about two weeks ago so I only got about two weeks rest and I wasn’t really resting because I had to get ready for this. Hopefully in about three or four weeks I am 100 percent and moving like I want to move. I never really was hurt throughout my career, I never missed any games and stuff like that. Everything happens for a reason, I came down with the hamstring and I have to fight back."

Smallwood's time in the 40 at the NFL Combine was 5.0 but he ran the last third of that 40 easing up because of the tightness in his hamstring. He has time to get healthy and run for individual teams.

"Very excited for draft day to come and get into training camp, . This is all fun but training camp is where the real guys come out."

Usually when I saw Shamar Stephen on a football field, there were a couple of offensive linemen attemping to block him. While he didn't do many drills, he looked pretty smooth in some of the ones he took part in.

"I want to work on my fluidity, work on my balance and make sure everybody knows I can play and be productive. I am trying to do as much as possible. It is definitely exciting but I want to keep focused and keep on working."

Stephen was the team MVP in 2013 and he could very well be the first Husky off the board on draft day.

My day wasn't done after the UConn pro day wrapped up. Former University of New Haven tight end Mike Flacco (yes, he is the brother of Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco) worked out in Tolland along with former Boston College and New Haven linebacker Andre Lawrence and former Yale captain Beau Palin.

The 6-4, 252-pound Flacco ran a 4.69 in the 40 and 7 .0 seconds in the 3-cone drill.

"I felt a little bit of pressure over the last few days because I wanted to do everything to the best of my ability," Flacco said. "I feel like I did everything pretty well and I am excited to move forward from here.

"Hopefully I can start moving onto some more football stuff than just running and get my brother to throw me some (passes) so I can work on my route running and see where this day lands me. He’s been doing his own thing for the most part but I have been able to get with him a little bit. He showed me some of the things that he is looking for when guys are running routes and I need work on my route running so he is giving me a little bit of help with stuff but I am sure he will help me out in the coming months."

Flacco has nothing but positive memories of his time with the Chargers.

"New Haven was a great experience for me and something I will never forget. I enjoyed my year after that and whatever will come after that will come but New Haven will always be a great experience for me."


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