No Gophers players were invited to last month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Instead, they held their own makeshift version in Minneapolis.
Eight players from Minnesota’s 2011 football team worked out in front of NFL scouts at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on Monday at the University of Minnesota’s Pro Day.
The athletes went through a series of drills and measurements designed to give scouts an idea of how a player’s ability would translate to the professional level.
A handful of players from local Division II and Division III programs also tried out.
Representatives from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the New England Patriots and the Minnesota Vikings were among several NFL scouts in attendance.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was there and said Pro Day serves as a good opportunity to evaluate local talent.
“You try to really hone in on what they are as people and do they fit what you’re looking for,” Spielman said. “It’s their job interview for the day.”
Participants were assessed in the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, three-cone drill, vertical leap and broad jump. Upon completion of those drills, subjects headed to the weight room to test their strength with the bench press, where running back Duane Bennett turned some heads.
The 5-foot-9, 213-pound Bennett completed 28 repetitions of 225 pounds, which would have tied him for the top number of repetitions posted by a running back at the NFL Combine.
“I was banking anywhere 25 or greater,” he said, “but when I knocked out the first 15, I was kind of like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m really going up there.’ I kind of caught myself off guard.”
Bennett said he spent the past two months in Atlanta preparing for Monday’s workout, which he called “pretty satisfactory.”
He caught the attention of Spielman, who intently watched the tailback catch passes and receive handoffs for about 10 minutes.
“I felt like [the training] paid off today. I put up some good numbers,” Bennett said. “I’m feeling pretty confident.”
Tight end Eric Lair impressed some scouts, too. Lair said he spoke with the Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers after clocking a 4.50-second 40-yard dash.
The top 40-yard dash time for a tight end at this year’s NFL Combine was 4.49.
“I was pretty nervous. I was shaking at the line,” Lair said. “It was pretty nerve-wracking at the beginning. After the first 10 yards it kind of goes away. And after the second one you’re just pretty calm.”
Defensive lineman Anthony Jacobs turned in a solid enough performance that the Patriots issued him a questionnaire when his workout concluded.
Jacobs said the questionnaire included questions like, “Do I prefer dogs or cats?” and “Do I like ice cream?”
“I think I passed,” he said with a smile.
Jacobs unofficially ran a 4.70-second 40-yard dash and had a 35-inch vertical leap. He benched 225 pounds 26 times.
Offensive linemen Chris Bunders and Ryan Wynn, linebacker Gary Tinsley, wide receiver Da’Jon McKnight, defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey and tight end Tiree Eure also participated in workouts.
Eure left the Gophers’ program after his 2010 season and did not play college football in 2011.
The NFL Draft will take place April 26-28. Undrafted players will be eligible for free agency.
Lair said 20 percent of the NFL is comprised of drafted players, while the rest are undrafted.
“It really doesn’t matter [if I’m drafted],” Lair said. “All that matters is if you get on a team and be productive.”
-Dane Mizutani contributed to this report.
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