Antwaun Woods knew what to expect. He went to Indianapolis last month for the NFL Scouting Combine. He had been weighed, measured, poked and prodded mentally and physically by the front office personnel from across the league.
But his four fellow Trojan senior defensive linemen hadn’t been invited. Their best opportunity to shine came on Wednesday when USC held its annual pro day at Cromwell Field and their captain was there to guide them in the right direction.
“I gave them advice on what type of player to be from here on out and what the NFL expects from you,” Woods said. “From here on out, it's a job interview. It's no longer a sport. It's a business. You've got to really understand that that everything is a business and approach every day as a pro.”
It was an up and down day for the group as a whole with Woods straining his hamstring on his second 40-yard dash attempt and players performing both above and below expectations in certain drills. On one end of the spectrum, Claude Pelon and Cody Temple both pushed out 33 bench press reps, but on the other, Delvon Simmons ran a 40-time of 5.41 seconds.
But all of the defensive linemen felt they performed well individually with Pelon being the most optimistic of the group.
“I actually thought I did awesome to be completely honest. I tested well inside. I tested well outside,” Pelon said. “I was told that I ran under a 5. Then I did 33 on the bench. I jumped 9'2" on the broad, 35" on vert. I came out and did well.”
His official 40 time was clocked at 5.11, though individual teams’ hand times can often be vastly different. But Pelon was the top defensive line performer in the broad jump, vertical leap and bench press.
After missing four games and all but three snaps of a fifth, Pelon only participated in 264 defensive snaps — less than half of what starters Simmons, Woods and Greg Townsend Jr. played, so for him, Wednesday was an opportunity to open some eyes the may have missed him on film. Pelon’s goal was to “let the coaches and all the GMs or whoever is out here get to see how I perform under certain variables” and he did that.
He said he spoke with representatives from the Saints, Jets and Raiders at the event and has also talked with the Patriots, Bills and Lions organizations. Most of the conversation centered on his injury history and why arguably USC’s most explosive defensive linemen had missed time.
Pelon felt teams could be undervaluing him at this point, but has faith that the process will work itself out as long as he continues to go out and perform.
While Pelon was excited about his pro day performance, Delvon Simmons’ enthusiasm was a bit more tempered.
“I think I did good. I felt like I could have did better in a lot of parts in my game. I did what I can do. I did what I can control. It looked good.”
Simmons said he had a private workout with the Texas and was hoping to garner more interest after Wednesday.
“I just want to get my shot, so I can show people what I can do. Any doubt that they have, hopefully I can change that and fix that. I know I can, but I've just got to show them that I can do that.
“I'm competitive. I'm hard working, coachable. I make adjustments whenever they're told to me. An all-around player that's just going to commit and be all in whenever it's time.”
Townsend Jr. mentioned many of the same characteristics when describing himself and believes he can be a versatile player able to adapt to a team’s needs. That’s why he spent time Wednesday with both the defensive line and linebackers position groups.
Though he never played the position at USC, Townsend Jr. said when he went to the NFL Player’s Association Collegiate Bowl senior showcase in Carson, Calif. multiple coaches told him he should prepare himself to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He slimmed himself down since the January event, weighing in at 258 pounds after being listed at 275 during his senior season.
Townsend Jr. focused his training on what he knows best, but also familiarized himself with the linebacker drills “a little bit here and there.” Wednesday’s defensive line work felt normal, the linebacker drills “weren’t too uncomfortable.”
Throughout his career, Townsend Jr. has at times played a standup defensive end position in nickel and dime situations, so it wasn’t a completely foreign concept for him.
“It definitely helped me a lot to get comfortable. It's different when you stand up and get in a two-point than in the three-point.”
With his patriarchal NFL lineage and versatility, Townsend Jr., like the other Trojan defensive linemen is just hoping for a shot.
“I just want to get my name out there, show them I can play a little bit and hopefully, get an opportunity. [Pro Day] was a great opportunity just to showcase some more talent.”