And the NFL turnout was even more prominent with three head coaches in attendance. That’s because the cream of the Alabama crop was participating Thursday.
Trent Richardson, the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation’s top running back in 2011, made a particular impression, and particularly on Cleveland Browns Running backs Coach Gary Brown. In a scene that is being replayed everywhere, Brown was holding a blocking pad for Richardson to pop.
The second pop was Brown’s butt on the turf in Alabama’s indoor practice facility.
Brown had to laugh. So did the other coaches and scouts. Finally, even Richardson allowed himself a smile.
Later Richardson said that he had never knocked down Alabama Running Backs Coach Burton Burns. “He didn’t try to go head up with us too many times when we practice or we probably would have been trying to push him over, too,” Richardson said. “Anytime there’s someone in my way, I’m going to try to knock them over. Either they are going to hit me, or I’m going to hit them. So nine times out of ten, I’m trying to throw the lick.”
Defenders at almost all Southeastern Conference schools are familiar with that Trent Richardson. The NFL will get to know him next year as he is considered a sure first round pick.
Even though running backs are not often taken high in the draft, Richardson is being considered as a top five pick.
Five players from Alabama’s 2011 national championship team are projected to go in the first round, and three of them were being checked out in Tuscaloosa Thursday. In addition to Richardson, the scouts put linebacker/defensive end Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron through their paces.
Among a number of players previously tested, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Dont'a Hightower have been projected as first round choices.
The NFL Draft will be held April 26-28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Richardson, Upshaw, and Barron were joined by some teammates, including Kirkpatrick, who had done only portions of the March 7 Pro Day. Other draft-eligible Crimson Tide athletes participating Thursday were John Michael Boswell, Darius Hanks, Jerrell Harris, Phelon Jones, Marquis Maze, Alfred McCullough, DeQuan Menzie, Brad Smelley, William Vlachos, and Alex Watkins.
Players started the day in the weight room where their weight, height, standing broad jump, vertical jump and bench press were checked. After finishing in the weight room they moved to the indoor football facility where they completed the 40-yard dash, agility testing and position-specific drills.
NFL head coaches on campus Thursday were Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys, and Pat Shurmur of the Cleveland Browns.
Alabama had four players taken in the first round of last year’s draft.
Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban was asked why Bama players are so popular with the pro teams. He said, “I think our players, probably because they play in a pro style system while they're here, a lot of the same stuff we did at the Dolphins or the Cleveland Browns or wherever I coached in the league, offensively, defensively, special teams. I also think that because of things that are important in terms of being able to make it in the league, in terms of our experience, we sort of try to promote with our players from an attitude standpoint.
“Being responsible for your own self-determination, defining the expectations for what we expect from them. Then, them having the accountability to do those things, that's part of being a pro. I think that's what our players learn and understand here. Maybe it's just the influence of the NFL that's had on me and helping them. The goals that we have for our players here is we want them to be successful personally, we want them to be successful academically, and develop a career off the field.
“But we want to see guys have an opportunity to develop a career as football players as well.”
Richardson’s times in the 40-yard dash ranged from 4.45-4.49 while completing 25 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds. Barron, who claimed to be between 80-90 per cent recovered from his hernia surgery, was timed between 4.53-4.57 in the 40 while posting a vertical of 34.5 inches and a broad jump of 10 feet, 2 inches. the 280-pound Upshaw’s 40-yard dash was clocked between 4.73-4.76 with a broad jump of 9 feet, 1 inch.
“The talk is that we will have a lot of guys go first round,” Upshaw said. “Everyone wants to do well and showcase their skills. We all have dreams of making it to the league, and the time is close.”
Richardson said, “Everything I did went good. I kind of slipped on my 40 on my start, but other than that everything was pretty good. As far as catching the ball (he had one nice one-handed snag) and doing my drills and showing everybody I can do it with my knee and showing them that I'm still myself, and I'm ready.”
He said that he would do private workouts for at least three teams – Cleveland, St. Louis, and Tampa.
Some were expected Richardson to do more than 25 repetitions of the 225-pound bench press (although that was fourth among all players who have been through NFL combines and pro days this year). He explained that he might have done better, but at the combine the drills are done over several days and he was doing a full workout in one day Thursday.
He wasn’t pressing quite his weight. He checked in at 227.
Richardson did say he’ll be in Tuscaloosa on April 14, A-Day, to participate in the Captains’ Ceremony at Denny Chimes.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “The team let me do that. It means a lot to me to put my hand in that cement.” Hightower and Barron are also captains who will participate in the tradition.