The University of Minnesota football team held its annual Pro Day at the team’s practice facility on Wednesday for players whose collegiate eligibility expired after this season and wanted a chance to impress NFL scouts.
The drills mirror those conducted at the NFL Scouting Combine, including the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap and other quickness drills.
Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said the program has been getting more attention from the NFL, noting all 32 NFL teams were represented at Wednesday’s event.
For players like Eric Decker, Nate Triplett, Simoni Lawrence and Lee Campbell, who were at the combine, Pro Day can give them an opportunity to improve upon the scores they recorded there. Triplett said he wanted a chance to perform better in the speed drills, which he felt he did Wednesday.
“The combine was interesting,” Triplett said. “I was pretty nervous for that one because there’s so much riding on just that one day.”
Decker, who was only able to perform the bench press because of a foot injury, also improved his combine score with 19 reps of 225 pounds, compared to 15 at the combine.
Decker said he will undergo surgery Monday, and he expects to be “ready to go” by June.
Both Decker and Triplett said having so many of their teammates cheering them on made it easier to perform at Pro Day than at the combine. Players were particularly boisterous during the bench press, shouting words of encouragement to one another.
“When you got an environment like that, it definitely gets the adrenaline flowing a little bit more,” Decker said.
Members of the Minnesota Vikings, including head coach Brad Childress, made the trip from Eden Prairie to watch the 25 players workout.
“I come over more just to see some of the drill work and watch them do football-related movement,” Childress said. “Their tape is their résumé and we always remember that, but it’s always fun to see them on the hoof and moving around and see how they do with the other guys.”
Vikings Vice President of Player Personnel Rick Spielman, who was also on hand, said Pro days serve as a supplement to the combine and allow NFL staff to spend “individual time with the players.”
“This is just to kind of verify some of the things you’ve seen at the combine,” Spielman said. “It’s just kind of like crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s as you go through the process.”
In some cases, players who performed well at the combine are reluctant to participate in some of the drills at Pro Day, fearing they may not score as highly. Lawrence, who opted not to participate in the vertical leap, said that although he wanted to perform each drill, his agent advised against it. His jump at the combine tied for the second highest among linebackers.
However, since only four of the 25 players were invited to the combine, Pro Day is the only chance many players have to work out in front of NFL scouts. Brewster said that for these players, the event is especially important, and specifically mentioned Nick Tow-Arnett and Marcus Sherels as having standout performances, saying Sherels ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash.
“I think that a number of these guys are going to get opportunities to be on a [NFL] roster this summer for training camp, and that’s all a young guy wants is an opportunity,” Brewster said.
Although most of the nation’s elite college football players are invited to the combine, Childress said it is possible to discover NFL talent at Pro days.
“You’d be surprised,” Childress said. “There are people that make your training camp roster and then find a way of having the will to compete … sometimes those guys have a little extra heartbeat.”
Brewster, who has tried to rebuild a Gophers program that went 1-11 in 2007, said producing NFL players can aid the rebuilding process.
“I think it’s really important,” he said. “I think it’s indicative of the type of program you’re building.”
In addition to the Gophers who work out during the University’s Pro Day, players from Minnesota State University-Mankato, the University of Northern Iowa and Concordia University-St. Paul also participated.