Sunseri Shows Out For Pro Scouts
Alabama had its first Pro Day on March 14 when representatives of all NFL teams were on hand to see men who were coming out of the Crimson Tide football program go through their paces in areas of strength, speed, and agility. A handful of players were unable to participate in that first Pro Day, or perhaps unable to participate in all drills, and so a smaller cast of characters representing NFL teams returned to Tuscaloosa Tuesday for make-up tests.
Vinnie Sunseri was a Tuesday participant. He did not take part in the first Pro Day as he continued his rehabilitation and recovery from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. The injury came against Arkansas, the Tide's seventh game of the year, on Oct. 19. To that point Sunseri had 20 tackles and two memorable interceptions, a 38-yard return for touchdown in the season-opener against Virginia Tech, and a 73-yard TD runback in the second game of the year, against Texas A&M and returning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Also taking part in all or part of the tests in the area visible to sportswriters were defensive end Ed Stinson, linebacker Adrian Hubbard, offensive guard Anthony Steen, offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, and placekicker Cade Foster. Cornerback John Fulton and linebacker C.J. Mosley had been on the "possible participants" list.
Among spectators were former Tide players Eddie Lacy (now with Green Bay and last season's offensive rookie of the year) and Dee Milliner (New York Jets).
Following Alabama's Sugar Bowl game, a handful of players with remaining eligibility – Cyrus Kouandjio, Adrian Hubbard, Jeoffrey Pagan, and HaHa Clinton-Dix – joined Alabama Coach Nick Saban in a press conference to discuss their decisions. Sunseri was not among them. When he later announced his plans to forego his senior season, the sentiment was almost unanimous:
What is he thinking?
It seems Sunseri was giving it a lot of thought.
"It wasn't an easy decision," Sunseri said. "I went down to the wire with Coach Saban. All credit goes to this establishment, this university, everything they've done for me. They created me. They have made me the player who I am. If I had to do it all over again, I'd never go anywhere else. Alabama is the greatest university. I love them. I love Coach Saban. I love Coach (Kirby) Smart. I love everybody here. It's like a giant family here."
Although Sunseri elected to keep the conversation with Saban private, he did say that Sunseri got insight from Saban. And, he said, he got insight from his family, presumably including his father, Sal, a former Tide assistant coach and also a former player and assistant in the NFL.
Saban is firmly on record as supporting players going into the draft early if they project as a first round draft choice. Sunseri said his draft grade was between fourth round and free agent.
When Sunseri decided to turn pro, he said that Saban "was behind me 100 per cent. He told me what I needed to do and he would be behind me. He is the greatest coach in college football and maybe the greatest coach in college football history. Obviously he knows exactly what he's talking about. He's a great football coach.
But I felt my film this year (2013) was what it needed to be. I felt like I needed to play like I needed to play this year. I finally got a chance to play at safety, which I didn't get my freshman or sophomore year too much. I got a chance to play at safety I felt really comfortable back there and I was able to make a couple of plays at the beginning of the season. I was an All-American before I got hurt, so I felt I had a great film. I feel like I'm ready to take that next step. I feel like I'm mature enough. I feel like the coaches in the NFL see that."
Sunseri said the deciding factor was "how good my knee felt. A lot of guys were saying ‘He's coming off knee surgery, I don't know if he'll be able to do a lot of stuff, I don't know if he'll be able to do a pro day.' Well, obviously, I did my pro day. I ran fairly good for a safety. I did all my footwork stuff, I did all my drills, showed I was able to open up, showed that the knee was good, had a little plant and drive. My decision...I knew I could trust in myself. I tweeted the four-month countdown and when the four months came I felt very good about myself."
If anything, he feels better about himself after Tuesday morning.
First of all, he said his left knee is "awesome. Just like the right one. Exact same. All the credit goes to Dr. (Jim) Andrews, Dr. (Lyle) Cain, (therapist) Kevin Wilk. They got me back to where I need to be and I feel ready. I feel really, really ready."
In fact, Sunseri said, he thought he had made enough of a comeback that he "could have played in the Sugar Bowl, which is a really sad thing. I felt like I could have contributed, and it really hurt when I got hurt. I wanted to be out there with the guys."
He also felt "awesome" regarding his Tuesday workout. "I ran what I wanted to run," he said. "I was smooth in my drills like I wanted to be smooth. A lot of good things. It was a good day."
He said his 40-uyard dash times ranged from 4.48 to 4.52. "I felt I was right where I wanted to be," he said. "It is a different surface from what I've been running on. I felt like I ran a pretty good time for being five months out of surgery."
He also managed 21 bench presses with 225 pounds, he said. "So everything went good; everything went like I wanted it to go."
Sunseri went through a long period of work showing his footwork and his ability to catch hard-thrown footballs at relatively close range. His quarterback for those drills? His brother Tino, former quarterback at Pittsburgh and now playing in the Canadian Football League. "He's been working out with me in Pensacola," Vinnie said. "We've got a little routine we go through, so it went good."
Sunseri was not only a safety at Alabama. He was also prominent on special teams, and he hopes that it will be helpful to him in landing a job with an NFL team. "Obviously it's a big contributing factor to be able play on special teams," he said. "I was personal protector on punts, I was on kickoff, I was on punt, I was on kickoff return, and I even held on field goals whenever they needed me to. Versatility is a big thing in the NFL and I'd hope they'd look at me as a very versatile player."
Sunseri said he would spend the next month in Tuscaloosa "enjoying that Alabama sunshine and Alabama facilities" and then go to Tallahassee for the draft. He'll also be visiting some teams before joining his family in Tallahassee.
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