Pro Day is a day for, well, the pros. It’s for the aspiring professional football players and the employees of professional teams. It’s an afternoon of huffing and puffing followed by high-stakes mingling.
On Wednesday, coaches and scouts from 27 NFL teams gathered to evaluate 11 former Terps. The headliners were linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and safety Sean Davis, both of whom are projected mid-round picks. Defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson and kicker Brad Craddock could go in the late rounds (Craddock is much tougher to predict, because very few kickers are drafted). These four players all received invites to the NFL combine in late February.
Also working out were running back Brandon Ross, guard Andrew Zeller, and defensive backs A.J. Hendy and Anthony Nixon. Two players not on the 2015 squad, Daniel Adams and Keith Bowers, also joined the frenzy. Everyone sported possibly the tightest tights Under Armour makes.
Last year’s pro day featured a guest appearance from Bill Belichick. Perhaps the biggest name in attendance this year was Steelers linebacker coach Joey Porter. Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs was also on hand to cheer on his former Maryland teammates. Diggs strutted around in a blue, sleeveless hoodie that very few people could dream of pulling off.
He actually got closer to the action than any of the dressed-up reporters. Pro days are not "for" media members, but they still show up with stories to write. Wednesday afternoon was my first taste of it, and I wrote a running diary to document it.
The festivities didn’t open up to the press until 1 p.m.; all the lifting, jumping and measuring happened beforehand. I arrived right around then, grabbed a yellow credential that read "media" (scouts got green; family members were credentialed, as well, but they couldn’t leave the Gossett Team House balcony). I began to walk around the field, but quickly realized that my people were off to the side, not allowed beyond the concrete. Here's what happened next:
1:05: The scouts, dressed almost uniformly in jeans and Nike hoodies emblazoned with their team logos, gather at midfield. They form two clusters, with a gap in the middle that features the finish line for the 40-yard dash. Right away, I realize how little access they give the press. I’m more than halfway across the field, with no way of obtaining players’ times short of clocking them myself (I never did find any tangible results from the afternoon).
1:14: Andrew Zeller apparently decided to work on his tan today. He’s running the 40 shirtless. It’s a bold strategy, and we’ll have to wait and see if it pays off for him.
1:17: It’s a windy day in College Park, so after everyone runs once, it’s time to switch directions. The guys ran with the breeze at their backs first; now they’re running into the wind. The scouts trudge toward the east end zone like a herd of penguins.
1:19: It’s Keith Bowers’ turn. As the former Terps defensive end begins his sprint, he emits an incredibly audible grunt. We all heard it on the sideline, and possibly could have heard it from the upper deck.
1:25: The players are now running shuttle and three-cone drills, but a wall of scouts prevents the reporters from seeing what’s going on. So that’s just a blast.
1:37: Our views are still obstructed, so we instead begin watching Diggs throw a ball around while we discuss his outfit. The consensus reached is that he does indeed pull off the sleeveless hoodie, and that none of us would come close.
1:41: Defensive back drills with one of the scouts functioning as a quarterback. I can’t tell who he is or what team he’s with, but he’s throwing pretty well. Maybe he could teach the current batch of Terps quarterbacks a thing or too.
1:47: A.J. Hendy pulls up mid-drill, grabbing at his quad. No telling if he’ll be able to continue.
1:50: He does continue, and looks alright, but limps off after catching the ball.
1:56: Ngakoue has been chilling on the side this whole time, as he and Jefferson declined to re-do any of the combine drills. But as things grow more position-centric, they can’t avoid judgment any longer. Ngakoue discards his shirt. It’s go time.
Maryland single-season sack record-holder Yannick Ngakoue going through drills with Joey Porter. pic.twitter.com/TEOGJkUtIw— Daniel Gallen (@danieljtgallen) March 30, 2016
2:05: They’ve opened up other end of the field to the press. We suddenly have a superb view of the defensive line drills, which are run by the Titans’ scout. He's motivating the guys through every turn, and has me amped up even though I'm just standing around with a notepad.
2:08: The scout fails to get out of Ngakoue’s way during a cone drill. The linebacker pulls up and a nasty collision is avoided, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Ngakoue just trucked the guy. Would that help his stock or hurt it? Would he go on the Titans' "do-not-touch" list? Is that really a bad thing? So many questions.
Here’s a glimpse of what Ngakoue, Jefferson and Bowers went through.
They moved us close enough to see/hear a Titans guy directing Quentin Jefferson through a drill pic.twitter.com/E7eJYQEGyZ— Thomas Kendziora (@TKendziora37) March 30, 2016
Here's Ngakoue doing another drill pic.twitter.com/wTdHRsxLZm— Thomas Kendziora (@TKendziora37) March 30, 2016
2:27: Brandon Ross and Daniel Adams partake in receiver drills. Brad Craddock, who’s been in hiding all day, starts booming field goals on the west end. His kicks make a deeper sound than any I’ve ever heard. The Aussie actually drills a couple from 60 yards that might have been good from 70 or 75 (disclaimer: the wind was helping a little).
2:38: The last guys doing drills are Bowers and Zeller, who are blocking one another. Neither is likely to get drafted, and in a related story, only a handful of the scouts are watching them. Most are socializing with players and each other.
2:48: Time for interviews! Ngakoue comes first, and while I don’t have a good picture of his tan, studded backpack, I will say that it’s quite impressive. It’s the backpack of a man who knows he’s going to make serious money soon.
3:00: As Sean Davis talks about what it was like to see Stefon Diggs again, Diggs himself drops by and snaps pictures of him. It’s difficult to tell if the All-Rookie wide receiver knew he was the topic of discussion, but he was clearly having a blast.
It was a much slower day than I expected. I thought I would have a much better view of the action, or at least find out the players' times and measurements. But as disappointing as that aspect of it was, it was still fun to look on. Everyone enjoyed themselves, even though the day's workouts held so much significance for the start of their pro careers.
Some quotes from the NFL hopefuls:
Ross: "The three months of preparation paid off today."
Ngakoue: "[The goal was] to put the icing on the cake and show my diversity."
Zeller: "I had a chip on my shoulder, not being able to go perform in Indianapolis. I was lucky enough to go to a regional combine, but today was the biggest platform I’ve had throughout this entire process. I think I did pretty well for myself."
Ross: "This season at Maryland, I didn’t have the opportunity to do much catching out of the backfield, so that was definitely something I wanted to show today. The more you can do, the more you’re useful to a team."
Davis: "It feels good that [Stefon Diggs] wants to be back around his guys. He was one of the top dudes and one of the best receivers I checked from my three years when he was here. It definitely felt good seeing him come back to amp me up a little bit."
Zeller: "[Training for specific drills] is just part of the process. You have to embrace this part because if you don’t put up good numbers, you’re not going to get an opportunity to play at the next level."
Ngakoue: "I didn’t expect [the intensity of the workouts], but I like that. I like stepping up to the challenge. Give me a little adversity and showing coaches my toughness and my heart."
Craddock: "I was actually really happy with my kickoffs today. It was one of the best times I hit them. I felt really good, hit them all about 10 yards deep, so I was happy with where they were at."
Zeller: "I think a lot of scouts were surprised with the numbers that I was able to put up today, which makes me feel good about my preparation and what I’ve done to get here."
Craddock: "My wrist still has some work to do. I’m still in rehab, got a couple more months of that, but it’s fine. It’s no impairment to me now. Just getting back in the gym has been awesome, because sitting on the sideline wasn’t too much fun."
Davis: "I embrace [the path from small Maret High School to the NFL]. I was overlooked, I was undersized and coming from a very small school, so I just took that as a challenge. I’ve been battling uphill since high school."
Ngakoue (although everyone said something to this effect): "Wherever I get drafted, it’s just going to be a blessing to be there and be a part of the NFL."