Virginia Players Shine at Pro-Timing Day
March 21, 2006
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Under the watchful eyes of approximately 25 scouts, coaches and general managers, members of the Virginia football team went through their paces today at the program’s annual Pro Timing Day.
After three hours of being measured and weighed, and asked to bench press, broad jump, perform a vertical leap, run a 40-yard dash, execute shuttle drills and hold individual workouts, there were plenty of smiles from the players, their coaches and even the scouts who tout their stop at UVa as among the best at any college.
With 14 years experience coaching in the National Football League, Virginia head coach Al Groh certainly knows what the scouts are looking for in their trip to the Cavalier campus and he sets up a perfect evaluation environment.
“This isn’t our day. This is the players’ day first and the personnel people’s day second,” Groh said. “What we’ve tried to do is set this up based on an awareness of what it is the personnel people really want. We try to give them all the access they want.”
Groh starts the day with an informational meeting that includes head strength coach Evan Marcus and head athletic trainer Ethan Saliba. After providing their insights into the draft-eligible players, the group proceeds to the strength and conditioning area at the McCue Center where several of the professional scouts run the players through a circuit of exercises and obtain vital measurements including hand size, wing span, height and weight.
Veteran scouts such as the Carolina Panthers’ director of college scouting Tony Softli say that few colleges run as efficient of a combine day as Virginia.
“They take care of the scouts,” Softli said. “There are several former NFL coaches that are in major college ball now, like coach Groh and Pete Carroll out at USC, that give us good access to everything–trainers, doctors, strength coaches, academic advisors and the coaching staff themselves. It is a good visit. You can come and get all the information that you need and they take care of you.
Softli said the testing results are just part of the experience of interacting with the players in a close, stressful environment.
Marques Hagans talks to an NFL Scout as head coach Al Grohwatches his players during UVa’s Pro Timing Day.
“You want to see everything from start to finish,” said Softli. “You want to see mannerism and see how they prepare and how they focus in a workout. Do they float or are they very serious about it? You have to let them know this is a job interview and to be prepared. They were ready.”
Softli and other scouts such as Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Bruce DeHaven said the workouts are important, but they still rely on hours of video tape review as their most beneficial tool in making their evaluations.
“The best look for me is just tape,” said Softli about scouting a player such as UVa All-American tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. “What you want to see here is him compete and do all the drill work that everybody else has done that is in the draft so you can compare. This is just another segment of the evaluation that we do. It is an important segment and you had to come and watch him.”
“I’m kind of old school and feel the first thing you evaluate is the game film,” DeHaven said. “At the workouts, you can get a little bit of a window into a guy’s personality and watch him work.”
“I worked in the same division with coach Groh for about 10 years up in the AFC East and I got to know him and I trust his judgment,” DeHaven said. “When he says these guys are good kickers and are good competitors and you need to come look at them, well that’s all I need to here.”
DeHaven was impressed that despite some frigid temperatures, the UVa duo agreed to return to the team’s practice field to go through some kicking drills for him after previously working out for other scouts.
Virginia defensive end Kwakou Robinson performs the standing broad jump for the NFL scouts.
“They volunteered to go back out and kick again for me, so I got a chance to see them,” said DeHaven who took note of poor weather conditions. “This is a big day for them and it was good to see them work under conditions that are not optimum and to see how they react when things don’t go as well as you think they might.”
Hughes even jumped into the line for the 225-pound bench press, impressing his teammates by managing 12 reps in front of the scouts.
Another Virginia player making a notable impression was quarterback Marques Hagans, who reported for the workouts weighing 198 pounds. Hagans established a temporary residence in Arizona after guiding the Wahoos to a 34-31 Music City Bowl victory against Minnesota.
Having already completed his undergraduate degree, he used the time after the season concluded to find an agent and begin a strenuous training routine that would allow him to show his abilities as a multi-purpose player for the NFL scouts.
Hagans said he arrived in Arizona weighing around 220 pounds, but thanks to a class in nutrition, and some tips on shopping, he converted to a better eating regime. Hagans said the toughest part of the diet was staying away from cheeseburgers and “the buffet” while some of the other players also in Arizona for the training sessions were encouraged to eat and put on weight.
Ironically, Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney was among Hagans’ fellow training mates in Arizona. Hagans said there was plenty of good natured ribbing regarding UVa’s bowl victory but that ultimately Maroney had the upper hand on him because “he could always eat the cheeseburger.”
Virginia coach Al Groh talks to Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Bruce
Hagans’ routine helped him improve his speed and agility, and his multi-purpose abilities make him an attractive player for many NFL rosters.
“How many guys can say that during the course of their careers they returned punts, were the personal protector on the punt team, covered kickoffs, caught passes out of the backfield, caught passes as a wide receiver, threw the ball and ran with it. And did it all very well,” Groh said of his former signal caller. “That says a lot about his versatility and his competitiveness and his willingness to do whatever it takes. Those are all desirable attributes for NFL teams. Then when you combine that with his locker room presence and his positive attitude, he has a lot of value.”
Hagans made the most of his opportunities during Tuesday’s session. He ran faster 40-yard dash times (4.56 and 4.53) than he was clocked during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February. He also zipped through a shuttle drill with his amazing agility. He then helped with individual workouts on a practice field by tossing passes to his former teammates and then ran routes under the direction of the NFL scouts.
“I felt pretty good today,” said Hagans after the workout. “There is no turning back on a day like this. You have to give it all you’ve got. You run until you can’t go anymore. That’s what I was prepared to do.
“It also helps to be back at home where you have people that you’ve been playing with. I want to thank my coaches for preparing me and my teammates for pushing me. It was a big day today. It was a great atmosphere. I just came out to have fun. It was just like being at home. The only thing I missed was being at Scott Stadium for 60 minutes in front of the crowd.”
Probably the most watched Virginia player during the workouts was Ferguson. Projected as one of the top-five players in the draft, he had not worked out in Indianapolis. He explained his participation in the Senior Bowl was too close to the NFL Combine and he wanted to be in top condition for his appearance before the NFL scouts.
Ferguson was impressive with 26 repetitions on the bench press and a 40-yard dash timed at 5.09.
D’Brickashaw Ferguson performed 26 reps on the 225-pound bench press test.
“I just wanted to come out and do what I can and show my agility and my speed and I’m happy with today’s work,” Ferguson said. “Since my last game I’ve put on about 10 pounds by working out hard and trying to gain extra size and muscle so that I could show that I can play at a higher level.”
Ferguson’s next stop will be to attend the NFL Draft when it takes place in late April in New York City.
“It will be a wonderful occasion. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m glad I have a chance to be a part of it.”
Groh said giving players a chance to shine in front of the NFL scouts, during the season at practice and at off-season testing opportunities, is a tremendous benefit for his players.
“A lot of these players really lay it on the line for us and it is a reciprocal thing,” Groh said. “The least we can do is try and give them maximum exposure. That’s why we have the practices open all year long. The scouts are going to know a D’Brickashaw Ferguson and a Heath Miller. What they find out about by us providing maximum exposure to the program is players like Isaiah Ekejiuba and Marquis Weeks and guys like that can also make a team.”