Tuesday, March 31, 2015

UConm's Jones, Davis impress at pro day

His audition in front of representatives from 29 NFL teams (Cincinnati, Houston and St. Louis were the only no shows) had come to an end and all that remained was to engage in a little small talk with many of the reporters who covered Byron Jones during his UConn playing days.

Jones admitted that he has become a bit obsessed with fishing and blames former teammate Blake Feagles (son of former NFL punter Jeff Feagles) for this hobby of it. The reality of it is that Jones was reeling in some big fish at UConn's pro day.

The two biggest names to show up in Storrs were NFL head coaches Mike Zimmer of Minnesota and Chip Kelly of Philadelphia.

Quarterback Chandler Whitmer joked that 'is what happens with Byron jumping out of Indianapolis."

Defensive lineman B.J. McBryde said "I have always said that there are human beings and there is Byron Jones."

Jones opened more than a few eyes when he set an NFL combine record of 12-3 in the broad jump. He didn't take long to start trending on Twitter or generating attention from the national media. Since he needed time to fully recover after undergoing shoulder surgery in October for a torn labrum which brought a premature end to his UConn playing days, Jones opted not to run the 40 or do the bench press at the NFL combine. So the pro scouts turned out by the dozens with some teams sending four or five representatives.

Jones did not disappoint. He had an unofficial time of 4.36 in the 40 (since they were hand timed, it will go down as unofficial times) and set a personal best with 18 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press. He also got to go through a 1 on 1 drill with Zimmer towards the end of practice and also spend a little bit of time talking with Kelly.

"It is very rare that you have (head) coaches that come to your pro day and work you out," Jones said. "It was great to have those guys here."

Jones admitted that Zimmer had him drop his hips and have different arm placement than he is accustomed to in the drill and thinks it took a little time to adjust. Still, he had few regrets about his pro day even if he didn't do the rest of the agility drills because of his impressive work at the combine. Nothing was more impressive than the broad jump as he set a world record. Of course, the broad jump hasn't been part of track and field competitions since the early 1900s. Still, a world record is a world record.

"My main goal is not to be a world-record holder or run the fastest 40, my main goal is to be a great NFL player," Jones said. "This is a small step in my journey towards being a great NFL player."

Jones is as explosive an athlete as there is in the draft but he so much more than a guy who puts up great numbers on a track. He was a four-year starter, the first two as a safety and the last two seasons he played cornerback after Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson headed off to the NFL.

The two NFL cornerbacks were among the players who first put the idea into Jones' head that he could be a professional prospect.

"I had a lot of guys giving me the low down on 'hey, you are a good player, keep it up and you will be in the league.'" Jones said. "I didn't believe them at first but as I got older I was able to see.

"We are turning them out (NFL defensive backs). All the guys in the league, they are doing pretty well."

Jones said he recently spoke with Wreh-Wilson for about 40 minutes and Gratz for 30 minutes. Most of the time was spent catching up on things but there was also time to talk a little NFL.

Jones said it doesn't matter where he plays at the next level.

"I am a versatile player," Jones said. "I don't mind if they move me to safety, I actually enjoy that. At the end of the day you are a defensive back, a corner/safety."

In terms of the injury, he said he is fully recovered. Jones was told nobody would downgrade him if he failed to do the bench press since his collegiate career ended with a shoulder injury serious enough to require surgery but he wanted to prove to the scouts and himself that his shoulder was fine.

"It feels strong, I have full mobility," Jones said. "It was surprising with 18 (reps)."

Jones looked back on the frustration of his injury-shortened senior season.

"I was injured in camp and why is it now?" Jones said. "I had pretty much a clean injury report since I started playing football and it is the most important season going into the NFL but as it went on, it is fine I can come back from this no problem, get the surgery and get back to full health.

"It was hard to see those guys struggle. It was hard to do. There was nothing I could do at that point except give them encouragement, coach them up as hard as I can."

Since his remarkable work at the combine, the attention on Jones has just taken off. He is starting to show up as a late first rounder in some mock drafts. Jones was told by his agent to not put much stock into the stuff said and written about him -  both good and bad - in the days, weeks and months leading up to the draft. He isn't pounding his chest about setting a world record either.

"I didn't care then and don't care now and only care about the combine record and took care of that," Jones said. "I guess just more interest, anything that could get more people in your corner, they want to look at you and you physical ability and football ability."

Davis' day was limited to running the 40 and doing position drills.

Davis did 23 reps on the bench press at the combine and was among the top performers among the receivers in the 60-yard shuttle. Former Dallas Cowboys draft guru Gil Brandt tweeted that Davis was one of two receivers at the combine who didn't drop a catchable pass during the 2014 season so he had the hands and size (6-2, 216) to play at the next level. Did he have the speed? That was the major question. If he ran his 40 in the high 4.6 or 4.7 range, his stock might plummet. Instead, he broke 4.5 in both of his attempts. You could almost hear him moving up the draft boards as he finished running.

"You are anxious, a little worried but you have to be confident at the same time. I am a man of faith, I prayed about it and I said I know what happens, You are with me regardless," Davis said.

So how did Davis prepare for his run to glory?

"Speed work. I am a gym rat, I can't leave. I stay after and work on 10-yard starts. I was happy to improve my straight-line speed and prove my route-running ability. I worked hard and can't wait for that day to hear my name called."

A total of nine UConn players took part in the pro day. Offensive linemen Gus Cruz and Alex Mateas, defensive linemen Reuben Frank, Angelo Pruitt and B.J. McBryde, receivers Davis and Deshon Foxx, Whitmer and Jones.

So notes from the day:

Foxx said he ran in the 4.4s, he tied McBryde with the best broad jump of the day at 10-3 and had a vertical of 32 1/2 inches. A Tennessee scout chatted with him after his positional drills.

"I was hoping to run faster but I am pleased with my performance today," Foxx said. "I thought I did well in the route running, I felt like I was able to catch everything, my routes were pretty crisp and I was using my hands so I was feeling comfortable.

"Growing up you dream of playing in the NFL so coming out here and performing in front of all the scouts, it is a great oppurtunity for me. Being able to talk to a few of them afterwards, it really helps my confidence and makes me believe I performed well."

Frank did both offensive and defensive drills since he was a fullback earlier in his career. He looked really good catching the ball and said teams wanted to see if he could handle things as a fullback. He had 25 reps in the bench press, went 9-7 in the broad jump and 33 1/2 in the vertical. I will be writing more on his busy day probably at some point tomorrow.

Whitmer threw passes to receivers at the Georgia and Georgia Tech pro days. He said he drew quite a bit of interest from teams after those events. He is planning to work out for Cleveland and Tampa Bay. I heard one scout said "that's quite a throw" on one of his deep balls today.

"I am making the trips and trying to get in front of as many people as possible," Whitmer said, "I had some great opportunities. I was happy to be back here."

McBryde might have had the most impressive showing when he went 10-3 in the broad jump. This is a guy pushing 300 pounds. Maybe it was just some extra love for a Pennsylvania boy but McBryde got plenty of time with the Eagles' reps there including Kelly, who recently called McBryde's father.

"He was happy to talk to a hometown guy," McBryde said. "I was talking to Coach Kelly a little bit, he was saying that he called my dad and trying to get in touch with him. My dad called me Saturday and he set me up a little bit. He talked on the phone really somber 'I got a phone call today.' I thought 'what happened?.' He said that one of coaches from the Eagles called. I jumped off the table, I am outside screaming."

There were two CFL scouts there to see Mateas, who is the No. 2 rated prospect in the CFL draft. They chatted with him for quite some time (more on Mateas will be coming later).

Pruitt had the best showing in the bench press with 26 reps. I caught up with him about what a crazy ride it has been after an ankle injury forced him to stop playing for UConn after just one game as a senior and will be posting stuff about that at some point.

Finally, former UConn star Anthony Sherman was in attendance. He was rated as the No. 1 blocking fullback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus and I spoke with him about his NFL career as he prepares for his third season with the Kansas City Chiefs and fifth season overall. I'll get around to providing an update on him as well.

Current UConn players turned out to watch former teammates in action at Tuesday's pro day

Byron Jones, Angelo Pruitt and Geremy Davis check out action in bench press at UConn's pro day

Angelo Pruitt gets measured before vertical jump

Plenty of reasons of smile for former UConn stars


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home