Mar. 9, 2011
by Evan Aczon
BERKELEY - For many college football players coming off their final seasons, there are a couple dates that are immediately circled. First and foremost: the weekend of April 28, the date of the NFL Draft. For those cream of the crop prospects, the second date to circle would be February 24, the starting date of the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine.
But for those hundreds of draft-eligible players that don't receive an invitation, there's one day in between that is circled. Every school has its own Pro Day, when NFL prospects showcase their skills in a familiar setting, surrounded by their teammates and coaches. This year, Cal hosted scouts from more than 25 NFL teams on Wednesday, March 9, which has been circled on many calendars since the end of last season.
"Of course we feel like we have something to prove," said offensive lineman Donovan Edwards. "We didn't go to the combine, so this is our chance to show what we can do."
Edwards is one of several former Golden Bears who have been preparing for March 9 since early January, coming back from winter vacation early to get back to the early morning workouts with strength and conditioning coach Mike Blasquez. Blasquez is the man behind the curtain in the whole process, working with players year round to prepare them for this day.
"These guys look like different human beings out there than when we started." said Blasquez. "You're really competing against a clock out here. You're looking to represent yourself effectively in front of scouts. I think all of these guys are extremely motivated to continue to play."
One of those who was itching to prove himself is quarterback Kevin Riley, whose Cal tenure came to an abrupt end with a ghastly knee injury on October 30 against Oregon State. Since then, Riley has worked to get back into the shape that made him the Pac-10's active leader in wins heading into the senior year of his collegiate career.
Riley was a highly touted prospect coming in to Cal, and was one of the Pac-10 passing leaders before his injury. When he went down in his own end zone with "significant damage" to his left knee, it seemed very possible that his days playing football were over for good.
"With [Kevin], it's about getting him comfortable running again and getting back to feeling halfway decent," said Blasquez. "It was a process, but I was amazed at the progress he made coming off that serious injury."
Wide receiver and return specialist Jeremy Ross was also looking forward to this chance to showcase his skills. His numbers pop off the page, with his name all over the top-five lists that hang in the Golden Bears weight room. Ross claims that his numbers have only increased since those were recorded, mainly because of his off-season regiment.
"A guy like Jeremy Ross is an extremely skilled, explosive athlete," said Blasquez. "We're just putting the finishing touches on him. He's just an athletic guy, and should test really well. I think he can show the scouts what he's capable of doing, and they'll see that he's got athletic potential, and hopefully that will equate to someone wanting to pick him up."
Ross is one of those players that had statistics that were good, not great, but his sheer physical ability makes him pop off the page to NFL scouts. He's fast, very fast. And his weight room exploits, which included a 500-pound squat, a 350-pound power clean lift, and a 37.5" vertical jump, are the kind of peripherals that transcend game stats to those scouts that watch them so closely.
On Wednesday, Ross was clocked as fast as 4.39 in the 40-yard dash, the fastest of the day. He also put up a 39" vertical and had the second-fastest shuttle time of 4.15 seconds, behind Bryant Nnabuife's 4.06 mark.
"It could be an advantage or a disadvantage," said Ross about flying in under the radar. "I could come here and tear it up, run some great routes, catch some great balls. I could really shock the scouts and make them say, Wow, where'd this guy come from? You're not really losing anything, but you have everything to gain." Ross's time in the 40 on Wednesday would have been tied for seventh at the combine, and tied for third among wide receivers.