NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The largest contingent in Notre Dame Pro Day history – in terms of participants, media representation and NFL personnel – was on hand Thursday at Notre Dame’s Loftus Sports Center as 17 former Irish players went through the paces at the annual event.
Ten 2015 Irish players who were invited to the Indianapolis combine took part in the Pro Day: WR-Chris Brown, DT-Sheldon Day, WR-Will Fuller, C-Nick Martin, DE-Romeo Okwara, RB-C.J. Prosise, DB-KeiVarae Russell, S-Elijah Shumate, LB-Jaylon Smith and OT-Ronnie Stanley.
Smith, on the mend from a serious knee injury on Jan. 1 in the Fiesta Bowl, was on hand but did not participate in drills on Meyo Field.
Three players from the 2015 team who were not invited to the combine but participated in Thursday’s Pro Day included WR-Amir Carlisle, S-Matthias Farley and LB-Jarrett Grace.
Three former Irish players who played elsewhere in 2015 returned for Notre Dame’s Pro Day: DB-Eilar Hardy (Bowling Green), C-Matt Hegarty (Oregon) and QB-Everett Golson (Florida State). DE-Ishaq Williams, who did not play college football again after his 2014 suspension, also participated in the workouts.
Among those who may have helped themselves the most was Brown, the slightly-built wide receiver, who weighed 193 pounds and ran a reported 4.39 in the 40-yard dash after being sidelined in the combine due to an injury.
“During the medical, they found a stress reaction,” said Brown of the leg injury. “It was disappointing because I didn’t feel anything, nor in my training afterward. It was unfortunate because I thought I could run. But it was the policy.”
This time, a clean bill of health allowed Brown to look and feel like a viable draft candidate.
“During my all-star game, somebody said they thought I’d probably run a mid-4.5, and I’m pretty sure I ran better than that today,” Brown said.
Less fortunate was Russell, the ultra-confident cornerback who was coming off a broken tibia suffered in the 11th game of the 2015 season, although you wouldn’t have known it by his post-Pro Day bravado.
Four unofficial stopwatches had Russell running between 4.36 and 4.42 in the 40. That was the good news. The bad news was a tight hamstring prevented him from making his second run, the three-cone drill, the 20-yard shuttle drill, and all of the defensive back drills conducted by NFL personnel.
Russell said he first hurt the hamstring last week and was forced to perform Thursday at less than 100 percent.
“Top five in five or six categories at 85 percent? You tell me,” said the brash Russell when asked how he thought he performed. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t go out there for the DB drills. But I have some private workouts coming up.”
Eight of the participants took part in the 40-yard dash: wide receivers Brown and Carlisle, defensive backs Farley, Russell and Hardy, quarterback Golson, linebacker Grace, and defensive end Williams.
Those not participating in the 20-yard shuttle were Martin, Smith, Hegarty, Okwara, Day and Fuller.
The three offensive linemen – Stanley, Martin and Hegarty – were put through about 15 minutes of blocking drills center stage, and then went down to the east end zone and did considerably more work as the receivers took control of the field.
Golson made all the throws to Fuller, Brown, Carlisle and Prosise – the converted running back – who ultimately did some running back drills, but showed his versatility by running the same routes as the other wideouts, as dictated by Irish offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford.
Sanford was one of several Notre Dame assistant coaches on hand, which also included defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, receivers coach Mike Denbrock, linebackers coach Mike Elston, defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, and tight ends coach Scott Booker.
Of the four players catching passes – Fuller, Brown, Carlisle and Prosise – Brown caught the football most impressively, securing all but one on a comeback route. Fuller allowed a deep flag throw to eat him up late. Carlisle dropped a crossing throw, and Prosise couldn’t come up with a high hard one from Golson.
As Golson and the receivers finished up with posts, one of Golson’s bombs became lodged in the netting tucked near the ceiling. Golson, who was throwing to Fuller, reportedly said he’d either overthrow Fuller or it would end up in the net, and it was the latter.
Hegarty, who bypassed his fifth-year of eligibility at Notre Dame to start at his preferred position – center – at Oregon, was pleased to have the opportunity to come back to Notre Dame and show his wares.
“I injured my knee in (Oregon’s) bowl game, so it gave me an opportunity to have a few extra weeks to prepare for the Notre Dame Pro Day,” Hegarty said. “It’s always good to be back at your alma mater.
“Coach Hiestand reached out right after our Pro Day at Oregon. He said, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’ So I got in touch with some of the personnel here and they were happy to have me.”
Current players in attendance included Isaac Rochell, DeShone Kizer, Jarron Jones, Jerry Tillery, James Onwualu, Brandon Wimbush, Jay Hayes, Tarean Folston, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.
Former Irish players Aaron Taylor, Kyle McCarthy, Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Darius Fleming also were in attendance.
(Look for official times on Irish Illustrated’s Four Horseman Lounge as they’re made available to us by Notre Dame.)