Former walk-on wide receiver and quarterback Rob Ezell, a 5-8, 170-pounder best known for his nationally televised impersonation of Alabama Coach Nick Saban, wandered in with a soft drink. “I’ve decided not to run the 40 today,” he announced to the 50 or so media members. “I might pull a hamstring and damage my standing in the draft.” Ezell isn’t on the radar of the pro scouts, but a number of former Bama stars are.
Players could participate in the 40-yard dash and then in position-specific drills. Ezell wasn’t the only former Alabama player to forego the 40. Defensive end Marcell Dareus, who recorded a 4.93-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month, was content to let that mark stand.
Former Tide players participating included Dareus and tailback Mark Ingram, who bested his Combine time for the 40-yerd dash. Both players declared early for the draft. Five players who completed their eligibility in 2010 also participated – offensive tackle James Carpenter, defensive end Luther Davis, offensive lineman Brian Motley, wide receiver Earl Alexander, and linebacker Chavis Williams.
Three players did not participate in the Pro Day event. Julio Jones, also going out a year early, had a tremendous Combine performance with a 4.39 40 and abroad jump of 11 feet, 3 inches. After those marks, it was revealed Jones did that on a broken foot, which has since had a surgical repair. Quarterback Greg McElroy suffered a thumb injury on his right (throwing) hand in the Senior Bowl and will work out for pro scouts later. Preston Dial, a tight end, was reported to have been ill. All three were watching Wednesday.
Also taking part were Alabama players who finished their careers in Bama’s 2009 national championship season. Tailback Roy Upchurch, who caught the winning touchdown pass against Auburn to complete Bama’s regular season undefeated mark, and jack linebacker Eryk Anders, who caused a late fourth quarter fumble that sealed Bama’s victory over Texas in the BCS National Championship Game, participated.
The professional delegation included at least two head coaches, Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers (which has the first pick in the April 28-30 draft) and John Fox of the Denver Broncos. Also on hand was Denver executive vice president John Elway, best known for his days as Broncos quarterback and for winning two Super Bowls, and general managers Buddy Nix (a native of Carbon Hill) of the Buffalo Bills, Tom Heckert of the Cleveland Browns, and Trent Baalke of the San Francisco 49ers.
The day started with players being measured and weighed. A few went through weight room workouts, including standing broad jump, vertical jump, and 225 bench presses, but most did not.
They moved to the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility. First event was the 40-yard dash, and first to compete was Ingram.
Had this been a professional golf tournament and the 40-yard dash been the first tee, the introduction would have included 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, 2009 All-America, 2009 BCS National Championship Game Most Valuable Player, and Alabama’s all-time leading touchdown rusher.
But this is pro football business. As the pro scouts gathered at the finish line, stop watches in hand, one of the handlers shouted simply, “Mark Ingram.”
Current Alabama players, including quarterback A.J. McCarron and safety Robert Lester, and Tide coaches were spectators.
Saban said, “I think every guy has the opportunity to demonstrate what he can do in front of a lot of NFL teams, so it can help. For those who were in Indianapolis, they can improve things. And some of them will have an opportunity to work out individually for teams later.
“I’m proud of every one of these guys. They have been good football players, they have represented The University of Alabama in a first class way, and they have either graduated or have the opportunity to graduate. Most people think their only responsibility is on the field, but the NFL thinks off the field matters, too.”
Saban was asked about the potential of Dareus, a 6-4, 319-pound defensive end who is expected to be one of the first players selected in the draft.
“Marcell is very explosive, a great player,” Saban said. “He has character, he can play multiple positions as he did for us (end and tackle), and you always get a good day’s work out of him. And defensive linemen are always at a premium.”
Dareus said that he had improved his broad jump to 8 feet “8 or 10” inches. He said that his goal on Pro Day was “to let everyone see what I can do, and do it the best I can. I wanted them to see my flexibility. I think I accomplished showing them how athletic I am.”
Dareus said that he had a conversation with Ron Rivera, coach of the Panthers who have the first pick. “He’s a real nice guy, laid back,” Dareus said. “He said nice things about me.”
Dareus said he is hearing from pro scouts that “I can be a good player who could play 10 years in the league. That was good to hear.”
There has been talk of Dareus being the first player taken in the draft. “That would mean a lot,” he said. “It would mean a lot for the school, for my teammates,and for the state of Alabama. It has been wonderful to hear people talking about me possibly being the top pick. I’ve never been the top of anything.”
Dareus is aware that another player from the state, Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley, could be the top pick. “I met him at the Combine,” Dareus said. “He’s a nice guy. This isn’t a competition between us.”
Dareus, who is taking three on-line classes, said he would continue to work out in anticipation of the draft.
“Stay healthy and stay focused,” he said.
Ingram said he was successful in his primary goal for the day, to improve him 40-yard dash time from the 4.62 he ran at the Combine.
“Today’s test was better,” he said. “A lot better. They told me I was 4.47 to 4.5.
“I wanted to compete, to show what kind of football player I am. I wasn’t happy with my run at the Combine. I knew I could run faster. It’s such a short race that any little mistake can be the difference in a 4.4 and a 4.6.
“I came back, looked at my tapes, made some adjustments in my technique, and worked out.
Ingram, who missed the first two games of Alabama’s 2010 season after undergoing pre-season arthroscopic knee surgery, said, “My knee feels great. It’s a lot stronger.”
He said he would continue to work out in New Orleans in anticipation of the draft. He is not worried about when or where he goes. “Whenever my name is called, I’ll consider it a blessing,” he said. “I’ve dreamed my whole life of being a pro football player.”
Ingram said he didn’t get a 10-yard split Wednesday, but knew that he was “one of the fastest at the Combine.”
He said he has spent time talking to various teams. “Mostly they are asking football questions, talking football and getting to know me.”
Ingram said that the process of working up to the draft “can be stressful sometimes, but it’s necessary.”
In addition to the 40-yard dash, Ingram did the position specific drills. “They want to see you transition from your cuts, not get caught up, know your routes, run your routes, catch the ball,” he said.
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