March 14, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The questions in this job interview weren't always spoken, but it was pretty obvious when the interviewees nailed the answer.
Keith Nichol offered up an unexpected personal revelation to the NFL scouts gathered for Michigan State's annual Pro Day Wednesday when he posted a vertical leap of 39 1/2 inches. Brian Linthicum provided an a-ha moment when he made a diving catch right in front of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who was standing on the sideline of the practice field inside the Duffy Daugherty Football Building.
For MSU's well-established pro prospects, such as defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, quarterback Kirk Cousins and wideout B.J. Cunningham, such tryouts could have a subtle effect on draft position. But for others, like Nichol and Linthicum, it's a chance to make a case to be drafted earlier rather than later, or at all.
"It's an incredible experience," Nichol said. "You prepare so long for this one moment, and it flies by - boom, boom, boom - and then the day's over.
"There was anxiety, of course. This is it, the biggest job interview of your life."
Nichol, who came to MSU as a quarterback and finished out his career as a wide receiver, was trying to impress the representatives of 31 NFL teams with his versatility.
In addition to the performing the bench-press test, running the 40-yard dash, doing shuttle runs and going out on numerous pass routes, Nichol even took a turn at throwing the ball.
"I just wanted to show them I'm a complete football player," he said. "I was just trying to shape myself and show everyone I'm the most versatile player in the country and I can do a lot of things."
The high point - pun intended - came in the weight room where he wowed the scouts with his jumping prowess.
"I didn't expect them to react like that," Nichol said. "They all kind of stood up and went, `Ooooooh.' They've seen thousands of great athletes, so it was great to get a reaction like that. It just kind of showed my competitiveness."
Nichol was less pleased with the way he ran the 40. He was shooting for a time of about 4.4, which he had been hitting during training, but heard scouts had him closer to 4.5 or 4.6.
"I'm going to be thinking about that 40 a little bit, but they saw my speed when I was running routes," he said. "The guy from the (Chicago) Bears said don't worry about it, you looked great on your shuttle runs. They know the speed is there."
Linthicum, who has heard through the grapevine he could be a mid- to late-round pick, thought he helped himself with his performance. He was unaware of how close Tomlin was to him when he hit the turf the difficult catch.
"Was he over there?" Linthicum said. "That's good to know. I'm glad I laid out for it."
It was the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Linthicum's opportunity to demonstrate how he'd fit into an NFL scheme.
"I wanted to come out at a good size, show them that I'm capable of getting down field and making plays in the receiving game, and showing that I have the potential to be even bigger to be more effective in the blocking game.
"And, I thought I ran well, so that helps."
If Linthicum was trying to sell himself for a job related to his general management degree, he would have been wearing a suit and tie. He showed up for this tryout in shorts, T-shirt and cleats.
"It was a little more nerve-wracking than a sit-down interview, which I also had plenty of at the Senior Bowl," Linthicum said. "You have to prepare yourself for everything from the bench press to the 40 to position drills - everything. So, there's a lot more to be prepared for.
"But after two-and-half months of doing the same thing every day, everything's pretty much second nature at this point. I feel confident that my (highlight) tape, what I did today and what I did in the Senior Bowl will put me with the top-rated tight ends and hopefully I'll go earlier than later."
Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said the huge turnout of NFL reps and media was an indication of how far the program has come heading into his sixth season.
"I've said all along that when you win 11 games (in each of) the last two years, you do that because you have great players, and it shows today," Dantonio said. "It all started back when they were recruited here and came here for the first time. It's been a long journey, but now they're seeing the results of their work.
"A lot of these guys put everything into trying to get to this point. As they come in as freshmen and when they were being recruited, they all look forward to this day. So it's come to fruition, and that's a big positive. The winning and the way they've carried themselves has all helped the (MSU) brand, obviously."
Worthy went into Pro Day like any other former college student going after a plum job - he didn't sleep much the night before.
"Every rep, and everything you do, is preparing yourself for the next level," Worthy said. "You want to try to be as NFL-ready as possible, so hopefully you can come in your first year and have an impact.
"It's all about times. It's all about speed, quickness, power. It's just being able to move things effectively and at a fast rate. Especially with the D-line, if you can move 325 pounds at a fast rate, get off the man and get to the ball, you can make a lot of money, and that's what I'm trying to do."