March 11, 2014
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State held its annual Pro Day Tuesday afternoon at the Duffy Daugherty Football Building indoor practice facility. Seventeen former Spartans, including 15 seniors from the 2014 Rose Bowl Championship team, auditioned in front of National Football League scouts in preparations for the upcoming NFL Draft.
Fifty personnel representing 31 NFL teams and one CFL team attended the event, including Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert, and credentials were issued to more than 50 media members.
"I think when you win, good things happen to you," said Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio on the national attention of MSU's Pro Day. "If you're being successful, other things are going to follow you. This is a springboard to that. This is an opportunity for our guys to take a look at the next step. When you win, and you show yourself that you're a 13-1 team, you go to the Rose Bowl, you're Big Ten Champions, you do that with players. And I think there's an interest from the people that are at the next level."
All four of Michigan State's invitees to the NFL Scouting Combine - linebacker Max Bullough, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, wide receiver Bennie Fowler and safety Isaiah Lewis - participated in drills for scouts and coaches.
Projected as a first-round pick, Dennard did nothing but boost his stock at Pro Day, as he recorded a broad jump of 11'2", which would have ranked first among cornerbacks at the NFL Combine and tied for first overall. He also had a leap of 36 inches in the vertical jump. Dennard only tested in the 40-yard dash (4.51) and bench press (15) in Indianapolis.
"I think it's more comfortable," Dennard said of his workout in the familiar confines of the Duffy Daugherty Building compared to the vast amount of empty seats at Lucas Oil Stadium. "You see a lot of faces you've known over the last four years. Just seeing your teammates, it gets you back in the comfort zone like you're back in school.
"At the combine, I was limited due to some circumstances; I came here to Pro Day and I think I did a real good job with all of the events that I did. I think I turned some heads and hopefully concluded some things about me. (In the drills) I thought I caught the ball well. I came in off my breaks explosive."
"I think he's the type of guy who's going to be around for a long time," Dantonio said regarding Dennard. "He's extremely disciplined and he's got great intangibles. It's the off-the-field things, the makeup that he has as a person, that are really going to present him as a (first-round) pick I would think. There are certain guys who can run fast, they can play the ball and those kind of things, but can you continue to get better? He's the type of player that's always never satisfied. He's extremely competitive; that's what I think makes him unique."
The NFL Network was on hand to get highlights and interviews from Pro Day, including a spotlight on Dennard. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who was in attendance, has Dennard ranked as his No. 1 cornerback in the draft.
Bullough and Fowler both improved on their 40-yard dash times on Tuesday. Fowler opened eyes with his 4.38, a time that would have ranked third among wide receivers at the NFL Combine and tied for fifth overall; he ran a 4.52 in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, Bullough went from a 4.78 at the combine to a 4.69 at Pro Day.
"I think the biggest difference is the people," said Bullough on the contrasting experiences between Pro Day versus the NFL Combine. "Being around ex-players, your teammates that you played with for four years, there's a comfort in that, there's a brotherhood in that; it makes it more lighthearted and easier to do things. I think it's the people, not the place, that makes it more comfortable.
"I thought I did pretty well. What I really wanted to show was that I'm a tall guy who can bend my knees, move my hips, and I'm a three-down linebacker; not that I'm just a two-down linebacker, but that I can do it all, and I think I did that today."
Lewis kept a majority of his test results from the NFL Combine and participated in the position drills, along with the shuttle run and 3-cone drill. At Indianapolis, Lewis ranked tied for third among safeties in the vertical jump (36.5 inches), fourth in the broad jump (10'2"), tied for seventh in the three-cone drill (7.05 seconds), seventh in the bench press (15) and 11th in the 40-yard dash (4.60 seconds). \ "Today, I just wanted to show my footwork again," Lewis said. "There were a lot of questions again about my hips, how fast I am on the field, can I get to this ball; I just wanted to show them those things and my quickness running the shuttle drills and the 3-cone drill.
"It was a fun day, but those questions can take a toll on you after awhile," joked Lewis, regarding the interviews with the pro scouts. "It's good getting those things over with. (The scouts mention) how I'm everywhere on the field, and they like my ball skills. They like my energy as well."
For the 11 seniors who weren't invited to the NFL Combine - linebacker Denicos Allen, offensive lineman Henry Conway, defensive end Denzel Drone, linebacker Kyler Elsworth, offensive lineman Fou Fonoti, offensive lineman Dan France, defensive lineman Tyler Hoover, quarterback Andrew Maxwell, kicker Kevin Muma, defensive tackle Micajah Reynolds and offensive lineman Blake Treadwell - Tuesday was their chance to showcase their skills to nearly every team in the league.
That was especially the case for Allen, a third-team Associated Press All-American as a senior who didn't get invited to the NFL Combine or any postseason all-star games. A three-year starter, Allen was productive for the Spartans throughout his entire career, ranking third all-time in Spartan history with 46 tackles for loss and sixth with 19.5 sacks.
"I talked to some coaches, and they said `you're a playmaker,'" said Allen, who benched 225 pounds 26 times on Tuesday. "At the end of the day, that's all that really matters. You're not going to run a 40-yard dash or do a vertical jump in the game.
"(This day) has been on my mind since the Rose Bowl ended. I'm real relieved. I have no control over what happens next; I'm just going to relax, and whatever happens, happens."
MSU's two starters on the interior of the defensive line from last season - Hoover and Reynolds - had impressive showings at Pro Day. Hoover, who played in the College All-Star Bowl last month in Greenville, S.C., recorded a vertical jump of 29 inches and had 27 reps on the bench press. Reynolds led all players with 32 reps on the bench and also had a 29-inch vertical.
Elsworth, who made the game-winning, fourth-down stop against Stanford in the Rose Bowl, also had a good performance at Pro Day. He ranked second among Tuesday's participants in the bench press (29) and vertical jump (34 inches).
"This was my one opportunity," said Elsworth, who prepped for Pro Day by training for five weeks in Gilbert, Ariz. "I really worked on explosion, speed and power. I was talking with Andrew Maxwell, and he said, `For guys like and you me, all we can do is help ourselves. We're not projected to go in the first, second or third round, or whatever it is. So just go out there, be relaxed, and do your best.' And that's what I did today."
France and Treadwell, both starters on the offensive line last year, put up 27 reps apiece on the bench press.
The 2014 NFL Draft will be conducted May 8-10 (Thursday, May 8 - first round; Friday, May 9 - second and third rounds; and Saturday, May 10 - fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds) at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.