Following the NFL Combine held in Indianapolis, Ind., the scouts hit the road having pro days on collegiate campuses around the country. On Monday, their road show was in Auburn checking out all of the seniors off last season's Auburn team. Junior Robert Johnson and former Auburn quarterback Jeff Klein, who played last season for The Citadel, also worked out for scouts from every NFL team.
Doing a variety of drills and workouts for the pro scouts, Auburn's contingent performed well in the face of constant scrutiny, but four players stood out above the crowd.
While Ben Nowland, Mark Brown, Robert Johnson and Damon Duval have already shown what they can do in front of NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl, they took the opportunity to again showcase their abilities to the various teams and fared well. Nowland especially helped his cause by running back-to-back 40-yard dash times of 5.05 and 5.2 while measuring one inch taller than he did in Mobile just over one month ago.
What the scouts weren't prepared for were the performances by defensive tackle/end Dante Booker, defensive backs Roderick Hood and Horace Willis along with tight end Lorenzo Diamond. Blowing away the spectators, which included current Auburn football players and some of the coaching staff, Booker started the session with a bang by running times of 4.62 and 4.64 in the 40-yard dash on the artificial turf of the indoor practice facility.
Throw in a vertical leap over 34 inches and 29 repetitions of 225 pounds to end the day and Booker might have earned himself a shot in a NFL camp when 2003 practice begins in late July. A disappointment numbers-wise while at Auburn because of his late start in the game of football and numerous injuries after transferring from junior college, Booker said he was happy with how he did on Monday despite being nervous.
"It was what I expected," Booker told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "It was a good day. Leading up to today I was kind of nervous, but I calmed down and did the drills. It was fun and it was an experience. I enjoyed it. There were a lot of different scouts here and people are watching you with clocks on you."
Working out close to home in Cleveland, Ohio with trainer Eric Lichter, Booker said that he was glad to get back to Auburn and have a chance to show what he could do for the NFL teams. A defensive tackle at Auburn, he will likely have to make the transition to end if he hopes to make in on the next level.
"I was pleased with how I did, but not satisfied," Booker added. "I feel that I can do much better in all the drills. I am pleased with the outcome of today though."
A fixture on defense and special teams for much of his career on the Plains, speedy Roderick Hood was the true definition of a football player in his time at Auburn. Returning kicks in addition to playing cornerback and some safety, the former walk-on was a key ingredient last season in Auburn's 9-4 campaign. Hoping to impress enough to earn a private workout down the road, Hood said he came into Monday ready to perform his best.
"I expected it to be intense because the guys are looking forward to seeing you run," said Hood, whose father made the trip to Auburn from Columbus, Ga., to check out the testing session. "There is a lot on the line. I was really looking forward to it and it was everything I expected as far as the coaches being here and pushing you and trying to get the best out of you."
Training in Charlotte, N.C., with Scott Puschisik, Hood is taking independent study classes and working towards his degree from Auburn while chasing his dream of playing in the NFL. He helped his cause on Monday with times of 4.42 and 4.45 in the 40-yard dash. He also produced a vertical leap of 36 inches and did 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press following a long session of defensive back drills on the practice field. It was enough to make Hood the buzz of the workout following the day.
"I have been training for this for about a month," Hood said. "I think I did pretty well. I thought I was going to put up way better numbers than I did, but I did pretty good though. I had in mind that I was going to break the 40 record, but I fell short of that. Overall, the workout was okay. I think they (scouts) feel that it was a little better than they normally see. I'm hopeful that I can get another workout, then I can really show them what I can do.
"Now I'm just going to focus on my books and try to get closer to graduating," Hood added. "I just need to work hard because you never know when they'll call you and want you to work out. I'm looking forward to it and I just thank God for the opportunity."
While Booker and Hood decided to find a trainer to fit their needs, Willis thought it would be best to stay in Auburn and continue to work on the program he has used since he has been on the Plains. Along with fellow seniors Travaris Robinson and Marcel Willis, he trained daily in Auburn to prepare for the workout and the continuity paid off. Running times of under 4.5 in both of his runs as well as showing a good change of direction in the shuttle run and three-cone drill, Willis improved his standing dramatically in the eyes of the NFL scouts.
"There were so many eyes on you and right in your face so I was kind of uptight," Willis said. "After I got going I kind of relaxed. I could have done much better, but I think I had a fairly good day."
Diamond, who was a solid receiver and blocker in his career on the Plains but never had the kind of big seasons expected of him when he signed, came out smoking in the 40-yard dash. Never thought of as a speedy tight end in his time at Auburn, he ran two times under 4.6 seconds to get the attention of the NFL scouts. Showing good agility in drills, he carried his good showing over to the field events in the afternoon where he caught the ball well in passing drills both over the middle and down the field. His performance probably earned him at worst an invitation to a NFL camp as a free agent, but he could have worked himself into a late round pick in April's draft.
Others who participated in Monday's pro day were quarterback Daniel Cobb, running backs Michael Owens and Marshall Thornton, offensive lineman Ryan Hockett, defensive back Rashaud Walker and deep snapper Michael Lindsey. The annual NFL Draft takes place April 26-27.
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