Virginia draft entrants take part in Pro Day

Scouts use Pro Day to conduct “eyeball tests” of prospects, see aspects of players’ talents beyond film and stat sheets

The Virginia football team hosted scouts from 29 of the 32 NFL teams at its annual draft-eligible players’ Pro Timing Day this past Thursday. With the NFL Draft approaching April 25-26, the scouts were eager to get a first-hand look at 12 Cavaliers who had impressed them in recent offseason events and throughout their college careers.

The day started at 7 a.m., when the first scouts arrived at the football team’s McCue Center headquarters to watch game film from past seasons. The game tape — used internally by coaches — is taken from a steady end-zone camera, which follows the action of a play from the sideline angle, unlike television footage. From this angle, any of the 22 players on the field can be watched for an entire play. Ultimately, scouts use these tapes to help evaluate how a particular player handles himself on the field.

Virginia coach Al Groh gathered the scouts at 9 a.m. for an informational meeting with athletic trainer Kelli Pugh and strength and conditioning coach Brandon Hourigan. The players began warming up downstairs in the weight room at 9:45 a.m., and by 10:15 a.m. the show had been turned over to the NFL scouts.

“Down to spandex,” a scout from the Indianapolis Colts instructed. Football pads may sometimes conceal a less-than-impressive physique, but tight-fitting shorts and tank-tops do not. A player’s physical fitness shows to an extent during workouts and on game film, but scouts also use the pro day to “eyeball test” players. In addition to a player’s stats, scouts ask themselves whether the prospect would make a successful professional football player.

The players were then weighed and measured for height, before lining up for the vertical jump, broad jump and bench press. With his teammates cheering him on, wide receiver Maurice Covington impressed scouts with a 40-inch leap; Covington was not invited to the NFL Combine in February, but his vertical jump would have been in the top five among receivers there. The broad jumps were measured with less fanfare, and then the players were given instructions for the bench press.

“Lock your arms out and keep your butt on the bench,” a scout from the New York Giants instructed. When lifting for repetitions, players can be tempted to short-arm the bench bar instead of performing a full press, and arching one’s back is one way of compensating for spent strength at the end of a set.

“The form [scouts] want is stricter than what you’d have in a normal workout,” defensive end Alex Field said.

Field managed a solid set of 23 reps of 225 pounds, which was second to that of senior linebacker Antonio Appleby’s 24. Appleby pressed the bar 27 times, but had three reps discounted for improper form.

Five Cavaliers opted out of the weight room tests: offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back Cedric Peerman, tight end John Phillips and linebacker Clint Sintim, all of whom worked out at the NFL Combine in February.

Just after 11 a.m., the activities shifted outside to the practice field. Scouts were watching closely — timers in hand — as the players ran shuttles and cone drills designed to test their agility and short-area speed burst. Next came the 40-yard dashes, highlighted by an impressive run by Ogletree.

After the last measured drills had been finished, the players split up into groups for position-specific workouts. Monroe went first, drilled by the Cincinnati Bengals’ and Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive line coaches. The drills were intended to test Monroe’s movement out of a set stance, the angles he takes when blocking and his hip explosiveness.

Next, the quarterbacks and receivers completed their drills, which featured three prospects with ties to Virginia football in addition to the players from last year’s team who had declared for the draft. Cavalier tight end John Phillips invited his brother, William and Mary quarterback Jake Phillips, to throw for him.

“He always makes me look good,” Phillips said.

Ogletree invited former Virginia quarterback Kevin McCabe, who played last season for California University of Pennsylvania. Former Cavalier running back Andrew Pearman, whose last season with Virginia was in 2007, was also present , working out as a wide receiver.

Linebackers Appleby, Sintim and Jon Copper then participated in workouts led by scouts from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins. All three have significant experience in Virginia’s 3-4 defense, which appeals to pro teams who use that formation.

“Coach Groh is like a founding father of the 3-4,” Sintim said.

Appleby and Copper are considered inside linebackers, whereas Sintim played the “elephant” linebacker position, a strong side hybrid of coverage assignments and pass-rushing responsibilities in the 3-4. Sintim noted that “a number of teams with 4-3 defenses have talked to me.”

The New England Patriots showed interest in Field, putting him through footwork and agility drills after the linebackers had finished. Field has both the experience in a 3-4 front and the size (6-foot-7, 273) that teams look for in a defensive end for that type of defense.
After the workouts were finished, the players reflected on the importance and pressures of the draft scouting process.

“I’ve been working for four years,” Monroe said. “This is the easy part.”

Sintim added that he thinks the workouts are not as important as they are sometimes perceived to be.

“It all comes down to, are you a football player or not?”

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