Un giorno intero passato a guardare giocatori di football fare esercizi d’atletica, in due università diverse. Tutto durante la partenza infiammata della Free Agency NFL. Circondato da scout ed altri membri dei media, da ex grandi come Joey Porter e Joel Dreesen.
Ci sarebbero tante cose da raccontare, tante storie assurde che non sembreranno sempre vere.
Come Stephane Nembot, un ragazzo del Camerun, che non ha spiegato ai propri genitori che sta facendo provini per l’NFL dicendoli semplicemente che sta cercando lavoro.
O come, arrivato al Pro Day di Colorado, sento uno scout dei Falcons vicino a me che vedendo il suo cellulare dice ad un altro scout “Abbiamo preso Alex Mack” con una faccia un po sorpresa, un po’ confusa, ed un po schifata dice “son tanti soldi per un centro.”
O come uno scout dei Colts che a fine dei due Pro Day, chiede a uno studente se Colorado e` forte nel basket. Appena il ragazzo gli dice “decente”, al telefono dice a qualcuno (sembrava essere il suo allibratore o bookmaker) “ok allora puntiamo su Colorado.”
A volte e` stato difficile immaginare che tutto questo chaos in un giorno intero potesse dare veramente delle risposte concrete su questi prospetti. Ma prima di tirare le somme, ripartiamo dall’inizio e poi potrete essere voi quelli a decidere.
Colorado State University
Si parte a Ft Collins, Colorado casa dei Colorado St Rams. C’eravamo gia stati due volte lo scorso anno per il Pro Day e poi mini pro day dedicato esclusivamente a Garrett Grayson. Quindi tutto va liscio, arrivo ed hanno il pass per il parcheggio ed anche il pass per l’accesso ai media.
La stella della giornata e` Rashard Higgins che con coach McElwain (ora HC di Florida) e il QB Garrett Grayson (terza scelta del draft 2015 dei Saints) e` diventato All-American da Sophomore al tuono di 96 ricezioni, 1,750 yard, e 17 TD.
Ma non solo lui, anche Corey James un LB strepitoso per i Rams gli ultimi 4 anni (38 TFL), il CB Deandre Elliot e le due Safety Trent Matthews and Kevin Pierre-Louis. In aggiunta al OL Sam Carlson, i DL Martavius Foster, Justin Hansen e Terry Jackson, i RB Jesse Haas e Jasen Oden, il WR Joe Hansley, il LB SteveO Michel, e il TE Steven Walker.
Riesco ad identificare 25 squadre diverse rappresentate dagli scout presenti, sento più tardi che sono 29 le squadre che hanno portato personale a valutare i ragazzi di CSU. Le squadre che riesco ad identificare sono; Broncos, Patriots, Texans, Cowboys, Saints, 49ers, Panthers, Falcons, Titans, Bucs, Seahawks, Chargers, Colts, Raiders, Lions, Jaguars, Steelers, Giants, Rams, Bears, Jets, Bengals, Cardinals, Eagles, e Vikings.
Nei primi esercizi, sui salti Corey James ha subito impressionato. Il LB di CSU ha saltato 35 pollici nel Vert Jump, con una reazione da tutti gli scout, media e compagni con un “Uhh, Ohh!” generale sentito per tutto il campo indoor. E` una cosa vedere qualcuno saltare in alto in televisione e` un altra quando vedi un ragazzo di 229 lbs saltare cosi in alto, da fermo, a neanche due metri di distanza. La giornata positiva di James e` continuata per tutto il pro day.
Higgins dall’altra parte ha migliorato il proprio salto di mezzo pollice da quello fatto alla Combine (321/2). L’altro giocatore che ha impressionato e` il TE Kivon Cartwright che ha saltato 34.5 pollici non ostante i 243 lbs che si porta dietro. Anche per Cartwright la giornata ha dato buoni risultati. Purtroppo due dei DB, Trent Matthews e Deandre Elliot non sono al 100% e non partecipano.
Dopo il salto in lungo (con poche emozioni) si e` cominciato a fare le 40 yard corse, l’esercizio che più ha attratto le attenzioni di tutti. Ovviamente l’osservato principale era Higgins, che e` stato capace di migliorare tutti i tempi dalla combine. Sopratutto abbassando il tempo alla 40 e correndo una 4.59 per i cronometri degli scout. James ha corso una 4.57/4.58 altro tempo impressionante, mentre Cartwright ha fatto una 4.69. L’altro osservato speciale, Kevin Pierre-Louis ha corso una 4.60 dopo un buon vert jump di 35.5 pollici.
L’atmosfera si e` calmata dopo le 40. Con i test d’agilità come ultimi test atletici rimasti. James tra tutti ha impressionato con un 3-cone drill fatto in 6.67 secondi, per darvi un idea il 3-cone più veloce di un LB alla combine e` stato fatto da Nick Vigil che ha corso una 6.73, solo 3 altri LB a Indy hanno corso sotto i 7 secondi.
Da li siamo andati agli allenamenti specifici per ruolo. Sam Carlson ha ricevuto allenamenti da un membro dello staff dei Bengals, mentre Joey Porter (Coach dei LB degli Steelers) ha dato istruzioni ai LB. Finiti questi allenamenti, siamo passati agli esercizi di lancio e di ricezione. Keith Price ex QB di Washington University, ha lanciato a Higgins, Cartwright e Walker. E durante il tutto certi giocatori sparivano a parlare con scout e allenatori. Durante i workout della OL, Higgins e` andato a parlare con rappresentati di Lions, Texans e Saints.
Higgins ha corso bene le tracce e ricevuto ogni passaggio nella sua direzione. Più tardi durante la conferenza stampa, quando gli hanno chiesto cosa ha fatto meglio in giornata, ha risposto subito “La mia abilita di correre tracce, voi tutti sapete quanto vado fiero delle mie abilita nel correre tracce. E sai, quello che perdo nella velocità, viene recuperato con la mia abilita di route running. Penso d’aver primeggiato nella route running oggi.”
Higgins e` stato soddisfatto della sua giornata: “Sono migliorato oggi, mi sentivo d’aver fatto numeri un po fiacchi alla combine, ma oggi son riuscito a migliorare, e` andata bene.”
La dichiarazione di forza la fa quando gli viene chiesto se la 40 e` sopravalutata?
“Si per me e` sopravalutata, man. Se sai giocare, sai giocare, Jerry Rice non era il più veloce ma sapete tutti cosa ha fatto, e` il GOAT (Greatest of All Time) man, e` il più grande di sempre.”
Dopo un po di insistenza mi ha raccontato che ha parlato con più o meno 15 squadre alla Combine, facendosi poi uscire che i Saints sembravano parecchio interessati.
“Ho appena parlato col tipo dei Saints…quando ci siamo salutati mi ha detto ‘saresti un bel fit nel nostro attacco’.”
Un collega gli dice, giocare con Brees non sarebbe affatto male, con Higgins che risponde: “Si, e giocherei ancora con Grayson! sarebbe fantastico man!”
Deandre Elliot che con Higgins era l’altro partecipante a Indy, non ha fatto gli esercizi oggi per colpa di un infortunio al tendine del ginocchio subito proprio durante la Combine.
Report recenti di Walterfootball raccontano che Elliot aveva incontrato Panthers, Steelers e Colts nei giorni prima del Pro Day. “Sto ricevendo molto più interesse da squadre NFL adesso. I numeri della Combine stanno mostrando a tutti quel che posso fare.”
Poi spiega l’importanza della Combine: “Mi ha aiutato molto, solo mostrare…sai non ero un nome grosso in entrata, quindi solo mostrare che posso competere contro tutti gli altri giocatori nel paese ed essere tra i primi era importante. E` stata una benedizione.”
Ma non pensate per un secondo che Elliot sia soddisfatto di quello fatto alla Combine, dove ha fatto il secondo miglior salto verticale di 41 pollici. Il CB di 6-1 per 188 lbs, mi risponde cosi quando gli chiedo se avrebbe potuto migliorare i risultati di Indy e sopratutto la 40: “Si sicuro, penso di poter correre una 4.38 tutto il giorno man. Appena avrò l’opportunità cercherò di dimostrarlo.”
Poi abbiamo aspettato diverso tempo per intervistare Corey James, che dopo la sua prestazione stellare al Pro Day e` stato intervistato da diverse squadre in privato dove non potevo vedere chi erano i diretti interessati.
Nonostante una giornata magnifica James, e` parso molto calmo coi piedi per terra. A spiegato che ci teneva a fare una 40 buona, “da pass rusher devi avere velocità, ed ho mostrato d’esserlo oggi.”
James si e` descritto come un LB versatile ed atletico: “Io mi sento di poter giocare in qualsiasi ruolo che mi viene chiesto di fare. Ho giocato outside linebacker la maggioranza della mia carriera, poi quest’anno mi hanno spostato sul interno e col proseguire della stagione mi sono sentito più sicuro nel ruolo. Quindi veramente, dopo il cambio mi sento di poter giocare da qualsiasi parte.”
Dopo che ci ha spiegato come gran parte delle squadre NFL con cui ha parlato lo vedono come un Will o Weakside LB (LB che gioca dal lato opposto del TE.)
Ho chiesto se pensava d’avere l’abilita per coprire TE e RB di livello NFL, non ostante le doti atletiche appena mostrate, mi ha risposto: “Penso di poter fare tutto man, veramente. Dio mi ha benedetto con delle abilita per farlo, e per fare giocate. Mi sento sicuro di poter coprire chiunque.”
Le doti più impressionanti di James a parte l’atletismo e` senz’altro l’abilita di creare pass rush.
Quando gli chiedo se per lui sarebbe possibile anche giocare da Strong Side LB mi ribadisce: “Si, l’ho gia fatto, mi sembra d’aver giocato a 240 lbs il mio anno da junior, e stavo giocando da OLB e DE.” L’ultima risposta interessante che ci da James e` nel ammettere la sua delusione nel non aver creato lo stesso numero di Sack da ILB “si e` stato deludente, stavo cercando di fare il record per sack quest’anno. Pero non ci potevo fare niente.”
Dopo l’intervista di James il pro day di CSU e` finito, tanti dei colleghi si sono piazzati nell’aula dove abbiamo fatto la conferenza stampa ed hanno cominciato a scrivere.
Per me invece era il momento di andare a Boulder, casa dei Colorado Buffalos per osservare un altro pro day…
Qui di seguito, le interviste in originale.
Pro Day Quotes and Notes CSU
- How did today go? “Today was fun man, I got to reunite with my boys, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them, it’s been about 3 months. We came out here and competed today, and I feel like we put our best foot forward and we came out with a bang.”
- What was best for you today? “My route running ability, y’all know I take pride in my routes man, and you know were I’m not fast at my routes running ability picks up so I feel like I excelled in my route running today.”
- On improving on the combine numbers? “You know I could have improved on everything, I didn’t want to bench I did 13 at the combine, I improved on my vertical jump, my long jump as well. So I got better today and that’s all the matters”
- How’d you feel about your 40? “You know what like I said, I’m not gonna be the fastest guy on the field. But you know what, my technique beats all so that’s how I feel about it.”
- Is the 40 overrated? “Yeah! I feel like it’s overrated man. If you can play ball, you can play ball, Jerry Rice wasn’t the fastest but you know what he did man he’s the GOAT man, he’s the greatest of all time.”
- Were you better than at the Combine? “I got better today, I feel like my numbers at the combine were a little sluggish but then I picked it up out here, and it went good today.”
- AS: How did you develop your route running ability? “I give credit to my trainer David Robinson, man we work on our craft every day.”
- Is your tape what really matters at the end of the day? “Yes sir, absolutely! I know I had a lot of formal meetings with teams at the combine, and they were just telling me how, man you ran a good rout right here, what was your mind set? little things like that so, I mean teams notice it and so that’s a good thing.
- What would it mean to represent CSU in the NFL? “It means a lot man, I’m going to represent the green and gold till the day I die. This was the college for me, this was my offer, this is where I came and I’m a proud alumni now.”
- What’s your expectation for the draft? “You know what I haven’t got there yet, I’m still going to be working out, I haven’t thought about that yet and when the time comes, that’s when I’ll be prepared.”
- “Whoever would have thought a guy from Dallas Texas, would go to the Combine, coming out of school with one offer would have made it to the combine. I was just telling him how it’s a dream come true, but at the end of the day he (Crockett Gilmore) was telling me that the combine is gonna be Hell! Fortunately day one, wasn’t hell, but day two that was a pain in the ass man! At the end of the day it was fun, it was a good experience.”
- Did the combine help or hurt you? “I went out and did what I was supposed to do, I didn’t feel like it helped me, I didn’t feel like it gained me, I just showed people what I was able to do.”
- What about your shoes? “You know the motto man, If it ain’t gold you ain’t cold man. That’s the motto that I live by.”
- Is your mom getting excited? “Yeah absolutely man, she’s posting pictures on instagram, faceboock everywhere, she’s excited, I’m excited, my whole family’s excited and I can’t wait to see what team I end up with.”
- What’s a team getting if they draft Rashard Higgins? “they’re getting a playmaker, they’re getting a guy that can make the catch in tough situations the third down guy…”
- AS How many teams did you interview with at the Combine, and how’d you feel the Interviews went? “At least about 15 teams, I had a lot of phone meetings a lot of informal meetings, everybody liked me, they liked the my personality they liked who I am, they were just telling me to be who I am. They want to see how I am in the film room, can I draw up different plays, different coverages, so I mean just little things.”
- No crazy questions? “No, no crazy questions man.”
- I talked to your trainer David Robinson, he said that were you were different from other WR’s was your knowledge of the route tree, how is that going to help you at the next level? “Yeah you know what, I give credit to coach McElwain on that. I know coming in my freshman year, man we ran about every route, so then just knowing that and taking it to the NFL it can take me a long way. Because when guys don’t know how to run a certain route, I’m already a step ahed so I can take that into the NFL.”
- He also said you were prepared in the Film Room as well, how do you feel you did breaking down film and routes? “I feel I’m pretty good in the film room, I mean there’s always room for improvement. I like to look at different coverages, how guys run different techniques…if I step this way how’s he going to react? so I mean it’s just little things that can help you in the film room going against teams.”
- AS You admitted it yourself, you aren’t the fastest guy what are you trying to improve on? “I say my speed man, when I’m not doing my route running I’m doing my speed or I’m just relaxing. My agent always tells me that I’m overworking myself, so I’m just trying to relax and get off my feet, catch up on my sleep.”
- Do you have anything you want to say to CSU fans out there? “I wanna say thank you, thank you for this process, thank you for just loving me man, thank you all man. I really appreciate it and it doesn’t go unnoticed.”
- If you had to put a guess on who will take you, you said you talked to 15 teams? “I know I just met with the Saints guy…when I left man, he was like ‘you’d fit good with our offense’. yeah I mean…” Playing with Drew Brees would be good too “yeah and I’d play with Grayson again! yeah that’d be great man!”
- “I know if I was picked up by the Broncos that I’d have a huge fan base.” Broncos talk to you at all? “No they’ve not, and It’s a coincidence you say that because a lot of people been telling me man, teams that don’t talk to you more often than not are the teams that pick you up. So if I get to go to the Broncos that’ll be a dream come true.”
- You’ve played in that building before, what was that like? “Man…that’s the rival man! I’d say that’s the biggest stadium I’ve ever played at, and I know my freshman year I was jus like ‘wow man’. Because I’ve never played in anything like that, it was a lot of fans. This side CU, this side CSU, man it was crazy, just that experience was overwhelming.”
- Seemed like you really impressed at the combine, how do you think that helped or hurt your draft stock? “I feel like it helped a lot, just showing…you know I wasn’t a big time name coming out, so just showing that I can compete against everyone else in the country and come out on top. It’s blessing.”
- How did you feel about your performance? “I’m fairly happy with my performance, like I turned a lot of heads and a lot of people are starting to know my name.”
- AS Have you been getting more responses, more contacts from NFL teams since Indy? “I’ve been getting a lot more responses and contacts from NFL teams. The numbers are really showing everybody what I can do.”
- AS are you mostly getting interest from teams who want to use you in press coverage? “They really just want to see me play both, so a lot of teams…want to see me in off coverage and press coverage and see that I’m versatile and a lot of teams are starting to like me.”
- AS are you getting any interest from teams wanting you to convert to Safety? “I haven’t heard, you know anyone telling me to play safety. But if they want me on the team I’ll play anything they want me to.”
- What would it mean to represent CSU in the NFL? “It would mean a lot, it’s were I graduated from. I mean who wouldn’t want to be from CSU.”
- “At the end of the day we (the team and his graduating mates) are always brothers.”
- How have they supported you through this? “Everybody’s been pretty supportive, I mean they all want the best in everybody so you always gotta root each other on.”
- Was there anything you wished to improve on from the Combine? “I wish I could have ran, but I didn’t run here. But you always wanna shoot for a higher number.”
- It was a hamstring? “Yeah a Hamstring.” How’s it feeling? “Uh it’s feeling good, I just didn’t want to come out here and tweak it again.”
- AS do you think you have it in you to run an even slightly faster 40 time? “Oh yeah I think I’m at least 4.38 all day man. As soon as I get the opportunity I’m gonna try to prove that.”
- What’s an NFL team getting if they draft you? “They’re getting an athletic, smart, cover corner, who’s gonna hit, play special teams, just an all around player and great teammate.”
- AS what feeling are you getting as far as getting drafted or not? “It’s all in god’s hand man, I don’t know. If somebody call my phone…hey of course I’ll be happy, if not as long as I get a shot and an opportunity I’ll be fine.”
- Assuming you get drafted what’s the first thing you want to do with that contract? “I’m probably gonna get a new car, I’ve probably had this car for about 6 years. About 309 miles on it, time for a new one.”
- What’s it like having Joey Porter back and not necessarily workout with you? “
- What were your hopes coming in and showing? “Probaly my 40. Being down in the 4.5 range…my agent was telling me that I did that today, so I’m happy with that.”
- Coming out as a freshman you ran a pretty quick 40 too didn’t you? “I did a 4.53 something like that coming out of high school.”
- How much has that (40 time and speed) helped your pass rushing ability? “I mean I feel like, as a pass rusher you got to have speed you know, and I showed that today and think that would help me later on down the road, speed in the NFL.”
- When Joey (Porter) was running you through individual drills, was it kind of nice having a familiar face “Yeah it was. He was giving us confidence and giving us good motivational speeches and stuff like that…”
- How important is it on a day like today? “It was good man… what you call it? yeah it was good.”
- What do you feel like is your best position as you transition to the next level? “I feel like I can play really anywhere that they put me. I’ve been playing outside LB most of my career, then this year they moved me to middle and as the season went on I gained confidence so really after that change I feel like I can play anywhere.”
- Do you have any sort of feeling where teams like you most? “I heard that they want me at the Will LB, but I’m not sure about it.”
- Do you feel like that change this season helped you become more versatile as a LB? “Oh yeah, most definitely. I really appreciate coach Summers for moving me to middle, so I can get those reps and stuff.”
- Does the hard part mentally start now that it’s the waiting? “I feel like the hard parts done after today, just hope and pray that you can make a team.”
- AS How do you feel about your coverage skills against TE’s and RB’s in the NFL if they played you at WLB, obviously you have the athleticism? “I feel like I can do it all man, really. God’s blessed me with the ability to do that and make plays and everything, so I feel like I got big confidence that I can cover anybody.”
- AS are you getting interest as a situational pass rusher? “I haven’t heard.”
- What’s a team getting if they draft you? “They’re getting a hard worker, a versatile player, a person that can play anywhere and a person that can make the team better.”
- When we talked to Rashard a few weeks ago, he said people were sleeping on you and that they wouldn’t be sleeping on you anymore (after Pro Day). Do you feel like you did that today? “Yeah I feel like I did with the 40, especially with the 40.”
- Was that what was most important for you (40 time) How much importance do you put into the shuttle and other stuff? “We put a lot of work, but everybody blows up the 40 and everything so I really wanted to prove people wrong. Because people were saying, I was 4.7 or something, I think I got a 4.5.”
- Do you think the 40 is overrated for a linebacker? “Yeah I think it is. Because people like Shaq Barrett didn’t run great, Aaron Davis he ran a slow time. I mean I feel like it is overrated a little bit.”
- What’s the difference between 40 time and football speed? “I guess probably showing what position you can play. If you can play at a 4.5 you can probably play outside.”
- Have you talked to Shaq and guys, and what you expect from the league? “Yeah I talked to Shaq probably whenever I was at the East-West game and everything. You know what I’m saying, just telling him how it is. Also talking to Joey (Porter) Bernard Blake, they’re just telling me how it is.”
- What’s the biggest advice they’ve given you? “Learn the playbook! so that’s what I’m gonna do.”
- AS How did you feel the East West game went? “I feel like I did pretty good, I think I showed scouts that I can play with people from big power 5 conferences. So I feel like I did pretty good over there. “
- AS as far as 3-4 teams are concerned are they projecting you more as an OLB or an ILB? “I’d have to talk to my agent about that, I’m not sure.”
- AS What did you weigh in at? “I was at 229 today, that’s not my normal weight like 235-240 something around that.”
- How many bench reps did you do? “19 I ain’t too happy about that either.”
- AS At 240 do you think you could play as a SLB in a 4-3? “Yeah, I have before, I think I was 240 my junior year, so I was playing Outside and DE.”
- AS what would you say is the best part of you game, is it your pass rushing ability? “pretty much getting to the ball, anyway. wether its as a pass rusher, or playing mike and finding the ball and getting to it.”
- Did you prove something to yourself with switching positions this seas? “I guess just that I can do it all.”
- Was it frustrating not getting the sack numbers? “Yeah it was, I was trying to break the record this year. But it is what it is.”