NFL Pro Day At WVU

While the attention of many in Morgantown on Thursday afternoon was focused on the happenings at Madison Square Garden hundreds miles away, a large contingent of people gathered at the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility next to Mountaineer Field to evaluate some very important athletic work outs.

More than 30 NFL scouts and coaches representing approximately 20 teams put their stopwatches to work as a dozen former Mountaineers, who were members of last year's squad, performed in a variety of tests for NFL Pro Dat at WVU.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin was the only head coach present for the Pro Day workouts, but there were a lot of scouts eying a large group of Mountaineers, many of whom figure to land on NFL rosters during training camp next summer, either via the draft or free agent signings. It was the largest contingent of pro scouts to attend West Virginia's Pro Day in the last eight years, except for 2005, when the workout of Pacman Jones and Chris Henry attracted a large number of not just scouts but also head coaches and general managers. Jones wound up being a first round pick (sixth overall), and Henry was taken in the third round of that year's draft.

No current Mountaineer figures to go as high as Jones or probably even Henry, but speculation among those at Pro Day was WVU could have as many as six players picked in this year's NFL Draft. The Mountaineers haven't had that many players drafted by the NFL since 1999, when Charles Fisher, Solomon Page, John Thornton, Gary Stills, Amos Zereoue and Kevin Landolt all went between the second and fourth rounds. You have to go all the way back to the 12-round 1989 and 1990 drafts to find more six WVU players selected by the NFL, as there were eight and seven taken in those respective drafts.

Running back Steve Slaton, fullback Owen Schmitt, receiver Darius Reynaud, quarterback Adam Bednarik, defensive lineman Johnny Dingle, defensive lineman Keilen Dykes, linebacker Marc Magro, defensive back Larry Williams, defensive back Antonio Lewis, defensive back Vaughn Rivers, defensive back Eric Wicks and defensive back Ryan Mundy each went through a variety of workouts.

The offensive and defensive skills players went through some pass catching drills, while everyone went through several timed tests, including the 40-yard dash, short shuttle, long shuttle and three-cone shuttle. Slaton, Reynaud and Dingle opted out of some of the shuttle tests. Those three, along with Schmitt, were the only Mountaineers invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month. Since they went through those shuttles before, they decided not to do them again, though they, like all the other WVU players, did run a pair of 40-yard dashes.

A lot of returning Mountaineer players were on hand to watch and offer encouragement. Senior-to-be WVU quarterback Pat White spent a lot of time during the 40s with a stopwatch of his own in his hand, giving his own reading to his former teammates. A couple older Mountaineers were also on hand for the festivities. Jason Colson, who is finishing up his masters work at WVU, stopped by, and Quincy Wilson, who was picked up again late last season by the Cincinnati Bengals, also stopped by the IPF before heading back to Cincinnati for the start of their offseason strength and conditioning workouts next week.

While the NFL scouts on hand will compare notes with one another, each has his own stopwatch and charts every player himself. When it comes to evaluations, the camaraderie ends, and the competitive edge prevails. Without an electronic timing and with the scouts often keeping their individual hand-held clockings a closely guarded secret, there was no consensus on the times for the players during the workouts. Even if the results were publicized, the final numbers for hand-held times will certainly fluctuate from scout to scout.

The feeling among the participants, though, especially those who also worked out at the NFL Combine, was that their times were slightly better Thursday than they had been last month in Indianapolis. Slaton and Reynaud each ran their 40s in the low 4.4s (generally from 4.41 to 4.44, depending on the watch), while Schmitt, who has lost weight and is currently weighing 249, was clocked at 4.7. Dingle impressed many present by running his 40s in the 4.7s (from 4.74 to 4.78), which is outstanding for a 270-pound defensive end.

Another player who caught a great deal of attention was safety Ryan Mundy, who measured 6-1, 215 pounds and run his 40 in the 4.4s. With that performance, he seemingly went from a player who wasn't getting much attention from the NFL, since he wasn't invited to the Combine, to one who will get a lot more attention between now and the NFL Draft on April 26-27.

Keilen Dykes also didn't get a chance to show his wares at the NFL Combine, but he believes he had an impressive showing at Pro Day on Thursday.

"I won't lie, it's been grueling, but right now it's been paying off," said Dykes, who weighed in at 307 pounds and ran a respectable 5.0 40-yard dash. "You have to put in the work to get out of it what you want. What I'm hearing from my agent is all positive – third, fourth, fifth round (draft pick), something like that. I don't care where I'm picked; I just want to get my foot in the door, and then I'll take care of the rest."

Dykes, who played both nose guard and defensive tackle at WVU, thinks his ability to play multiple positions along the defensive front should help him out.

"I can play inside or outside, zero technique or five technique. Hopefully that versatility helps me out. I'll play anywhere or for anyone. As long it's in the NFL, it doesn't matter," added Dykes, a native of Youngstown, Ohio. "When I was younger, I was a Browns fan, but as I've gotten older, I'm a fan of whoever shakes my hand."

Dykes is one of many hoping for an NFL opportunity in the months to come. Many expect Keilein will be one of as many as six former WVU players to be drafted, but even if that doesn't happen, he, like a number of other recently graduated Mountaineers, figures to get a NFL shot via free agency.

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