MADISON - All 32 NFL teams were present at Wisconsin’s Wednesday pro day, and a few former Badgers took advantage of their respective audience.
Sixty-five assistant coaches and other personnel - including Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson - were in attendance inside the McClain Center to watch several former Wisconsin athletes and two Division III standouts work out.
Wide receiver Rob Wheelwright and safety Leo Musso capitalized on their initial interactions with pro teams in this combine-like atmosphere, while running back Corey Clement rebounded nicely from a disappointing N.F.L. Combine performance.
Wheelwright, listed at 6-3 and 211 pounds on Wisconsin’s 2016 roster, set his goals high, hoping to perform in the top five of each drill recorded at the N.F.L. combine he wasn’t invited to. He did so at his position group in three of those drills: vertical jump (38”), 3-cone drill (6.68 seconds), and 60-yard shuttle (11.14 seconds).
According to NFL.com’s Combine tracker, that would have placed him fourth, third and tied for second in those respective categories.
“That was my mindset coming in, I just wanted to push myself,” Wheelwright said. “Even in the 40, I felt like I ran a good time. That was with everything, everything that I went out there I was trying to ‘Ok, let’s push it, motivate myself, self-motivated, to do the best that I could do. At the end of the day, some may not have went as good as I thought, but I thought I felt like I did good.”
Wheelwright also ran a 4.54 40-yard dash, which would have placed him in the same recorded time as USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, as well as ran a respectable 4.11 second 20-yard shuttle. Along with his position work at the end of his workout with quarterback to Bart Houston throwing to him, the feedback he received was positive.
“Most things I heard were that I helped myself,” Wheelwright said, who told reporters he spoke with the Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. “I showed that I could run well. I could move, I could catch, I could jump. That’s what you need to be – athletic – but you also need to know the game and stuff like that.”
Musso did not have a chance to make an impression with NFL personnel in any senior all-star games, unlike Wheelwright, Clement, Vince Biegel, Bart Houston and Dare Ogunbowale. Instead he stayed in Madison and trained for the event with a handful of his former teammates. He made the most of his opportunity.
Although running a 4.57 second 40-yard dash, Musso’s 40.5” vertical jump would have placed him third among safeties who participated at the Combine and his 6.56-second three-cone drill would have led his peers. Additionally Musso’s 4.09-second 20-yard dash would have been second, his 40.5” vertical jump third and his 128” broad jump fourth among his position group.
For players like Musso, who was the team’s MVP in 2016 after recording 74 tackles and a team-leading five interceptions, the process provides a plethora of emotions.
“It is stressful just because for a guy like me, the future’s uncertain, and you just hope for an opportunity,” Musso said. “But it is exciting at the same time. Just eager to kind of come out here and prove what I got and post some good numbers.”
Musso admitted he believes scouts felt he was a little bit taller and a little faster, but showed his abilities in front of a vast audience both on Saturdays throughout his collegiate career and on Wednesday.
“I just got to play to my strengths,” Musso said. “I’m a football player. Hopefully when they turn on the film, they see that.”
While he participated in the N.F.L. Combine, the testing portion didn’t exactly go the way Corey Clement wanted, running an official 4.68 second 40-yard dash that put him fifth last of his position group two Fridays ago.
“Coming back from the Combine, I was so, I don’t know, really down on myself,” Clement conceded. “I was like, ‘That’s really not me and a reflection of who I am and what I can run.’ Just the true character that I was at the Combine, I knew I could have been better so I utilized the next nine or 10 days, however many it took, and just really went back to the basics.”
On Wednesday, Clement ran an official 4.54 that would have placed him tied for 14th in Indianapolis at that time.
“Technique was all that I really missed, and ran better times,” he said, who also improved his vertical to 32” and his broad jump to 120”. “Felt more relaxed, better environment, people that I knew around here so, it didn’t feel like I was at a foreign site at all. When I approached the line at any drill, I just attacked it and said it was the last one I had to do, so make the most of it.”
Clement also ran a 6.70 second three-cone drill, which would have placed him second among backs after Stanford’s Christian McCaffery, while the 4.19-second 20-yard shuttle registered would have tied him for second among his position group. Admitting he didn’t get much sleep last night, Clement said he sent out a text to former teammate, and current Los Angeles Chargers running back, Melvin Gordon. The message: “It’s all or nothing.”
“I don’t know why he was up, but he must have been working, too,” Clement said. “At the same time, he knew what I could do, and that was the last confidence boost I needed. Have my mom out here and my friends, so I think everything really set in once I approached the line one more time and gave it my all.”
Biegel, Watt mostly work on position drills
While offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk chose not to do any drills while still recovering from hip surgery, outside linebacker T.J. Watt choose only to perform position drills, letting his times at the Combine speak for itself.
Fellow outside linebacker Vince Biegel reran and improved upon his 20-yard shuttle time, going from 4.30 down to 4.15. The new time would have placed him third among linebackers. Believing one of his strengths is his versatility at playing both inside and outside linebacker, along with some defensive line, Biegel also ran his 60-yard shuttle in 11.36 seconds.
Both Watt and Biegel performed position work with two former NFL standouts who are now assistant head coaches in Pittsburgh’s Joey Porter and the New York Jets’ Kevin Greene.
“It was definitely pretty special,” Biegel said who trained out at EXOS in California for the Combine and participated in the Senior Bowl with Clement back in late January. “Joey Porter is a guy that I grew up watching. Kevin Greene, he’s a man that really speaks for himself, a Hall of Fame guy.”
“Anytime you get a coach like that like teaching you anything about your hips or anything about moving in space, it's awesome,” Watt added. “I'm just trying to be a sponge in this whole process and soak up as much information as possible.”
Training down in Phoenix and increasing his weight to 250 pounds, Watt said N.F.L. personnel have talked to him about positions ranging from inside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, outside linebacker in a 3-4 front or even defensive end.