Badger seniors and draft-eligible juniors strut their stuff in front of NFL scouts
MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin football team has always performed better at home than it has on the road, and at least one former Badger mentioned feeling much more comfortable working out in front of scouts in his own facility than at the NFL Scouting Combine in sterile Lucas Oil Stadium.
The University of Wisconsin held its annual football Pro Day at the McClain Athletic Facility, adjacent to Camp Randall Stadium, Wednesday. An unusually large crowd was on hand to see one of the most accomplished classes in UW football history showcase their skills in advance of next month's NFL Draft.
UW Athletic Department officials said representatives from 31 of the league's 32 teams made it to Madison on a wintry day to evaluate the pro potential of Wisconsin's graduating seniors and draft-eligible juniors. Current NFL Badgers, such as San Francisco 49ers safety Chris Maragos, Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, New York Jets safety Jim Leonhard and free agent wide receiver Luke Swan returned to support their fellow alumni. Many more friends, family members, teammates and media members packed the indoor facility.
They came to see a group headlined by probable first-round draft picks J.J. Watt and Gabe Carimi, but one that also included graduating seniors simply hoping to catch the eye of one or two teams and receive an invite to a training camp.
In addition to Watt and Carimi, quarterback Scott Tolzien, running back John Clay, wide receivers David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson, Maurice Moore and Kyle Jefferson, tight end Lance Kendricks, offensive linemen John Moffitt and Bill Nagy, linebackers Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen, and defensive backs Niles Brinkley and Jay Valai participated in some or all of the drills.
No player likely changed their fate on draft day significantly at the showcase that included such drills as the vertical jump, bench press, 40-yard dash and shuttle.
Among the highlights:
John Clay was particularly happy to put a somewhat discouraging performance at the Combine behind him. He said he posted a 4.6 forty time Wednesday and that his goal was to get into the 4.5 range. He lagged near the bottom of the running back group in Combine forty times, which he attributed to losing over 30 pounds over the course of five weeks. Clay said a better diet helped him lose the weight and he looked noticeably trimmed down. He said he now weighs 233 pounds and joked that he hasn't been that light since high school.
Badger fans are probably wondering why Clay couldn't get himself into top shape while he was still in school, and it's a fair question. Clay seems to have benefited from the round-the-clock training that is necessary to prepare for the draft and acknowledged not eating particularly well as a college football player.
Clay remains optimistic about his chances to make an impact in the draft and says he's hoping to hear his name called in the first few rounds. The way things look right now, he appears to be a later round pick.
J.J. Watt continues to creep up draft boards and, if things go as expected next month, his decision to turn pro after his junior season will unquestionably have been the right one. Watt has not only performed well in nearly every drill, he's also impressed in interviews and shown the versatility necessary to succeed in a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense. He has even worked out at outside linebacker.
Watt could easily be a top-10 pick in the draft and pundits would be shocked if he fell out of the first round. He doesn't seem fazed by what could be a lockout for the 2011 season, saying he will just keep training if and when it occurs.
It's been a remarkable journey for Watt from Central Michigan tight end to star Wisconsin defensive end to early draft entrant to potential top-10 pick. He says he enjoys being underestimated and constantly feels like he has something to prove.
Gabe Carimi exuded tremendous confidence at Pro Day, saying matter-of-factly several times that he believes he's the best offensive tackle in the draft. It's hard to disagree. Carimi said several teams have expressed interest in him at the right tackle position and that he's comfortable playing on either side. He even talked about his Jewish faith and mentioned that the holiday of Yom Kippur, on which Jews traditionally fast, won't fall on a Sunday for the next 15 years (side note: because of the structure of the Jewish calendar, the holiday can actually never be on a Sunday).
Carimi talked about the tradition of prolific offensive linemen at Wisconsin and mentioned that it was a goal of his to win the Outland Trophy after Joe Thomas walked away with it following the 2006 season. Look for him to be snatched up in the middle of the first round.
John Moffitt was all fun and games, as usual. He said he was pretty concerned about a potential lockout because his parents no longer give him any allowance. He then joked that since "anyone can be a writer," maybe he'd try our job. Moffitt talked about the need to balance his sense of humor with the all-business approach that many NFL scouts want players to project.
Moffitt's versatility as a lineman who can play either guard or center makes him attractive to teams. It would be surprising to see him last past the third or fourth round.
Bret Bielema even made some news, telling reporters exactly how the new co-defensive coordinator setup would work. Former secondary coach Chris Ash will be the play-caller on Gameday, while former defensive line coach Charlie Partridge will be the co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.
Bielema also said four coaches on his staff, including offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, turned down job offers that included more money to stay at Wisconsin.
The star power among the NFL personnel in attendance had fans and media members constantly turning their heads. Both head coaches from Super Bowl XLV, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin and the Green Bay Packers' Mike McCarthy, were on hand, as was Packers GM Ted Thompson. Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice showed up as well. Tice spent much of his time evaluating All-America linemen Carimi and Moffitt, while Martz evaluated Tolzien as Gilreath and Anderson ran passing patterns.
One last interesting tidbit: Of the players who completed bench press reps, Culmer St. Jean actually did the most (30). Bill Nagy put up 26, while Blake Sorensen did 22.
Stay tuned to Bucky's Fifth Quarter for more coverage of the Badgers' NFL hopefuls.