With a national TV audience, intensive medical examinations and the unfamiliarity of being on the road, the NFL Scouting Combine can be a nerve-racking experience.
That’s why Ohio State’s Pro Day on Friday was such a welcomed relief for former Buckeyes looking to break into the pro ranks and hear their names called at the NFL Draft during the last weekend of April.
“I think it’s a lot better. You’re in the place you’ve been training for your whole career, so I think it puts you a little more at ease,” offensive lineman Justin Boren said. “Combine — all the cameras, so many people — it’s nice working out here.”
The pre-draft process is an arduous one of being constantly evaluated in nearly every way imaginable, from on-field positional drills to personal interviews that gauge players’ personalities and character. A school’s Pro Day represents the end to the constant needling of prospects until NFL teams invite players to their facilities to have private workouts just prior to the draft.
Wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher expressed relief that the Combine and his Pro Day were over and likened the process to something everyone looking for a job has to go through after college.
“It’s a big job interview,” he said. “Not many of them are fun but they’re necessary evils, but it’s to get to do what you really want to do.”
Sanzenbacher was one of the big winners of Pro Day, reducing his time in the 40-yard dash to 4.48 seconds on Friday from 4.59 at the Combine.
“You haven’t been poked and prodded by doctors for three days so I mean, it felt good. It felt better,” he said.
Sanzenbacher said he has no idea where he will get drafted come late April. He said teams will likely question his slight build, but he proved a lot by running a sub-4.5 40-yard dash. He hopes that his solid career and game film at OSU will be enough for scouts to form a solid impression of the Buckeyes’ 2010 MVP.
Buckeye coach Jim Tressel was in attendance and watched his former players participate in drills from afar.
It was announced last Tuesday by the school that Tressel would be suspended for the first two games of next season for allegedly violating the school’s compliance policy and NCAA Bylaw 10.1 by not reporting e-mails he received last April from local attorney and former Buckeye Christopher Cicero, who indicated that Terrelle Pryor and DeVier Posey had sold OSU memorabilia to Eddie Rife, the owner of Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor.
Other performances on Pro Day that helped players’ draft stock came from linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, defensive lineman Dexter Larimore, Boren, defensive backs Devon Torrence and Jermale Hines and running back Brandon Saine.
Homan improved his time in the 40 to 4.6 seconds from 4.68 at the Combine, Torrence improved to 4.5 seconds from 4.68, Hines to 4.57 seconds from 4.68 and Saine to 4.4 seconds from 4.43.
One of OSU’s most interesting draft prospects is Rolle, who is considered undersized for an NFL linebacker and might be asked to make a position change to safety. The four-year letterman has plenty of solid game film to go with his decorated career as middle linebacker for the Buckeyes. He won four Big Ten Player of the Week awards and was selected by coaches for the Randy Gradishar Award for outstanding linebacker.
Weighing 230 pounds, 12 pounds more than his playing weight his senior year, Rolle said he would play wherever he was needed and participated in position drills at both linebacker and, for the first time Friday, defensive back.
“It’s not really hard because I’ve heard ‘You’re short’ my whole life. It is what it is. God wanted me to be 5-foot-9 and 7/8 for a reason,” Rolle said. “I’m not going to shy away from playing linebacker just because somebody says I can’t do it. I’m going to compete and work hard at what I’m good at. When a team looks at me as a safety, I’m willing to do it.”
Despite being undersized by traditional standards, Rolle’s 4.51 in the 40 proves that he’s fast enough to be a safety. At the Combine, he put up 28 reps of 225 pounds. Only Homan (32) and Boston College’s Mark Herzlich (29) did more reps as linebackers.
Rolle said the biggest difference between linebacker and defensive back is the pack pedal used to drop into coverage. He mentioned that linebackers at OSU would sometimes get into a “lazy backpedal,” but that his athleticism would show teams he’s more than capable of learning how to drop into coverage.
In the NFL, many non-starters are asked to play special teams — an area that seemed to excite Rolle more than playing defense.
“That’s the first thing they ask, ‘Are you willing to play special teams?’ I love special teams. I don’t feel like there’s nothing more (fun) to do,” he said. “It’s great to play defense, great to play offense. Special teams, you get to set the tone of games … or change the momentum of a game … that’s something that at the next level, I think can really help me out.”
Homan is one of the most sure-fire picks in this year’s draft of the Buckeyes coming out. Both his 40 time of 4.6 and his performance in the bench press at the Combine ranked highly for his position. He’s added 13 pounds of muscle since the season ended and is up to 240 pounds.
“They say they evaluate you on 90 percent of your game film and 10 percent of your combine, so I’m happy with that because I think my game film speaks for itself,” Homan said.
Homan was a three-year starter, first-team All-Big Ten performer, Sports Illustrated honorable mention All-America and academic All-Big Ten. He amassed 287 tackles (17 for loss) in 54 games as a Buckeye. He also has the outstanding pedigree NFL executives associate with linebackers from OSU, something Homan attributes to his position coach.
“Luke Fickell is one of the best coaches, I believe, in college football,” Homan said.
Hines is another Buckeye in flux when it comes to a position at the next level. He played the “star” position at OSU, which is a hybrid of safety and linebacker. The four-year letterman with three career interceptions participated in drills for both defensive back and linebacker on Friday.
Aside from improving his 40 time to 4.57 seconds at his Pro Day from 4.68 at the Combine, Hines broad-jumped 9-feet 6-inches. He said he thought he played well at both safety positions as a Buckeye but only had one regret.
“The only thing I wanted more of during my college career was people to take more shots at me … throw the ball at me more. … Every time I’m in the middle of the field it’s a slant or a curl or something like that,” Hines said.
Larimore and offensive lineman Bryant Browning weren’t invited to the Combine, but were excited to workout for scouts for the first time since ending their college careers.
For a defensive tackle, Larimore ran an impressive 4.97 in the 40 and bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times. Browning participated only in position drills because he said he tweaked his hamstring last week. He said he will participate with defensive lineman Cameron Heyward during Heyward’s personal Pro Day on March 30.
Heyward injured his elbow in the Sugar Bowl win against Arkansas and subsequently needed Tommy John surgery to repair a tendon in his elbow. He was present at Pro Day, but didn’t work out. He’s been a regular at the team’s 6 a.m. workouts all last week and, prior to his injury, was considered a first-round pick.
Defensive back Chimdi Chekwa ran a speedy 4.4 at the Combine and decided that was enough. All he did at the Pro Day was participate in positional drills.
Former Buckeyes James Laurinaitis of the St. Louis Rams and Malcolm Jenkins of the New Orleans Saints were in attendance.
Representatives for 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams were at OSU’s Pro Day — only the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals did not have anyone in attendance.