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On The Road To Pros

Posted Mar 20, 2012

Pro Days a necessary piece of the draft puzzle

Cardinals quarterbacks coach John McNulty watches an Arizona player streak past him during the 40-yard dash portion of Monday's Pro Day in Tucson.

TUCSON -- Hail wasn’t invited, but it came nonetheless.

The normally perfect weather during an Arizona spring was absent Monday on the campus of the University of Arizona, meaning the handful of NFL scouts on hand for the Wildcats’ Pro Day – including, from the Cardinals, quarterbacks coach John McNulty, receivers coach Frank Reich, assistant defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend and scouting assistant Josh Scobey – were inside most of the time.

The draft remains more than a month away, and the school’s talent level isn’t as robust as some years. There’s wide receiver Juron Criner, quarterback Nick Foles and cornerback Trevin Wade, all vying to at least get drafted. With the Cards just 90 minutes north, there’s no reason not to check it out with a few coaches.

The weather, however, is making it a little more difficult.

“It’s not too bad,” McNulty says at one point once the group finally moved outside, not knowing precipitation was moments away. “Years ago, (receiver) Laveranues Coles at Florida State, we had to go inside the gym and he had about three or four balls hit him right in the face because he was out of his element.

“I felt bad for the guy. But sometimes that happens.”

The cattle call of the morning, the Pro Day staple when all the NFL personnel move inside the weight room for height/weight measurements along with vertical tests and bench press, provides a mass of onlookers. It’s not nearly as crowded as at some schools – again, because of the players involved – but new coach Rich Rodriguez still allows press and agents. Some schools do not.

Rain keeps the 40-yard dash and shuttles inside, however, so everyone lines the relatively thin slice of turf along one wall as the player take turns sprinting. McNulty finds a seat near the finish line. Reich and Townsend – who is timing players himself – stand a few feet past the line, while Scobey is perched inside the final five yards.

None of these things mean anything unto themselves. Like the Scouting combine in February, these are simply more statistics to put into the blender that each team eventually uses to spit out a draft grade. Indeed, most of the 20 or so athletes on hand will not be drafted. This is a chance to get them in front of scouts, if for no other reason than to confirm what has been seen on tape – that they aren’t worthy of a pick.

But talk happens. Personnel men bring up names, and sometimes, it triggers a reminder to go back and do extra work on another player at another school. If nothing else, it’s an introduction to coaches with players, with whom the scouts are familiar but the coaches are not yet.

“It’s as much putting a face to a name,” McNulty said. “When it comes down to draft day or an undrafted guy and you’re getting a guy on the phone, if you have been at the pro day and you have had a chance to meet them, it helps.”

It was cold but clearing when the group finally went outside, mostly to give Foles – who did participate in the drills at the Combine – a chance to throw on his home field. This is another benefit of the Pro Day, because the Combine quarterback drills are relatively simple and at the Pro Day, scouts and coaches can actually move quarterbacks around and see different parts of their skill set.

There is more of a chemistry at Pro Day as well, since these receivers have worked with the quarterback before. The bright lights and pressure of the increasingly-made-for-TV Combine is one way to judge players, but it isn’t always the best judge either.

As Foles throws, however, the hail begins to drop, slowly at first, and turning heavier as he finishes up. Townsend takes over running the few defensive backs through some paces, but as the weather hammers the group, the workout comes to an end.

The bulk of the Pro Days across the country are over, although Scobey talks about heading to another later in the week. Soon, the Cards – like most teams – will get into their intense draft meetings, setting their board for the backbone of team building.

In the draft room, the elements won’t be the factor they were in Tucson.

“It’s good to see them in this environment,” McNulty said.

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