26 teams were on hand to watch the Rice seniors (and a few former graduates) go through a lengthy Pro Day workout at Rice Stadium. The main attractions had a captivated audience of scouts, position coaches and a pair of high level personnel executives.
Here are my observations from the day.
The majority on hand was most interested in seeing DT/DE Christian Covington, a junior early entry, who was hurt most of his final campaign. A bit of a mystery to some, Covington is one heck of an athlete and his injury might be what keeps him from earlier round consideration. Regardless, he could push a team to fire on him on day two as it is. He weighed in at 289 pounds and ran a 4.78 40 yard dash (my unofficial), which was faster than some linebackers and a couple of safeties at the Combine.
He put up 24 reps on the bench as well. He played over guards or centers for the most part during his career, but his quickness and upper body build could make him a candidate to play 4/5 technique in odd fronts. That said, if I ran a base 4-3, I'd have Covington near the top of my 3-technique board.
Two NFC North position coaches worked out Covington on the field and really pushed the young Canadian. He didn't seem to have any hitch in his giddy up, moved very well and explosively. He had most every team's attention, no matter the scheme. A note, those were the only position coaches on hand of which I was aware (and both play a 4-3 for what it's worth)
Two years ago during the Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force, WR Jordan Taylor dominated the Falcon secondary and put himself squarely on my radar screen. He didn't set the world on fire the next two years, in large part to some inconsistent QB play and a run heavy offensive game plan. But, he still made himself a definite draft prospect in a receiver heavy draft. He backed that up today with a solid workout throughout the day.
He measured 6'4 and some change and 209 pounds. He then ran mid-4.5 in the 40 (official), vertical jumped 36.5" and broad jumped 10'2". I didn't get a consistent short shuttle time on him, but I did see every one of his routes and catches in position drills. Wow. He ran a deep dig and snatched one well over his head that had the "crowd in the stands" clapping and cheering. He's a long strider with high point ability and he's going to be a day three find for some team looking for a threat opposite a true number one. He may not be ready to star in year one, but there's a ton of potential in Taylor.
When a defensive back is only 5'9", there are some teams that'll completely write him off the board. The thought is that a cornerback at that size just gets overwhelmed with the ball in the air vs. 6'1" wide receivers. But, when said cornerback has a 43" vertical leap, the game changes. CB Bryce Callahan did just that as he skied and got ooohs and ahhhhs from the assembled masses in the Rice weight room.
He wasn't done as he ran a 4.4 40 yard dash and that was a conservative time as I had him in the 4.3 range on my watch. He's so fluid with his movements, explosive with his speed and dynamic in his jumps. He hit 11' with his broad jump and nearly jumped off the mat that the Rice strength coaches laid out for the drill. He also knocked out 15 reps of 225, which was a strong number at 183 pounds. Also, a weird thing I noticed was that he's a drop dead doppelganger of former Texans DB Glover Quin.
What's become one of my favorite things to do at Pro Day is to watch, and most importantly, listen to the scouts on hand. At this time in March, after a season of travel, the post-season bowl games, the Combine and weeks of Pro Days, the scouts are a little ornery. The player taking forever with his steps to get ready for the 40? The player that doesn't touch the line on the shuttle/COD drills? The player who turned the wrong way on a position drill? Trust me, you don't want to be THAT player on the receiving end of that scorn.
When a player didn't run his second 40-yard dash but participated in each of the other drills, oh boy, that didn't sit well with an AFC West scout who questioned the player on the spot. He wasn't the only scout thinking it, either, just the first one to say something.
Rice safety Julius White is a Kempner (TX) HS graduate, which doesn't mean a whole lot to many of you. But, to me, I had to know. So, I asked him
"Julius, you remember Charlene Harris, Mrs. Harris?"
"Yeah, man, she was my math teacher at Kempner. She got on my case pretty good" I just chuckled and said, "Probably not as much as she was on my case for my entire life."
I then told him that Mrs. Harris was my mom and he had a good laugh. What wasn't funny was his workout as it was strong in nearly every facet. He ran 4.51 in the 40, jumped 10'3" in the broad jump, 4.24 short shuttle and 15 reps on the bench. But, in the positional drills, outside of Callahan, White was the smoothest in his transitions and hip turn. Suffice to say, he was solid all the way around. And, no, my mom had nothing to do with that.
I saw a tweet by Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer who said that 30 teams were at Duke's Pro Day today. Throw in the 26 teams at Rice Pro Day and well, it's safe to say that the NFL still values smart guys, even though some in my media world want to convince you otherwise.
Two running backs from the 2013 Rice team worked out at Pro Day. Charles Ross ran for 1,252 yards as a senior and ran in the 4.6 range in the 40 yard dash. But, the guy that got my attention again was Turner Peterson. A knee injury late in the 2013 season kept him from making a true run at the NFL in 2014. As such, he rehabbed and prepared for this day to make a final impression on the scouts and seemed to get some looks from the scouts. He's a physical specimen, to say the least. He vertical jumped 37". He did 26 reps of 225. Running pass routes later in the day, he made a stellar catch down the sideline that truly epitomized his versatility in this game. At 6', 216 lb. with combination skills and the ability to run down on special teams, who knows what can happen?
One WR that intrigued me was Mario Hull. He jumped 10'4" in the broad jump and threw up 18 reps of 225. He got on his pogo stick and jumped 40" in the vertical jump and then ran in the 4.5 range in the 40 yard dash. He caught everything and showed that those 19.4 yards per catch as a senior were no fluke.
It was a long, thorough workout (and hot too, well for March anyway), but it's clear Rice head coach David Bailiff has done a stellar job building this program since he took over in 2007.
Texans analyst and radio sideline reporter John Harris unveiled his top 100 prospects for the NFL Draft. (Photos courtesy of AP)