The University of Tennessee held its Pro Day on March 12th, in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center, which recently replaced its field turf. The players complained during the season that the turf on the indoor field was causing their joints to ache. The turf was then replaced with a softer turf, which may have contributed to some slow 40 times.
Most of the NFL teams were in attendance last week except the Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders. New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese was in attendance with three other representatives. The St. Louis Rams had a strong contingent with four representatives, while the Cincinnati Bengals had three and the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins sent two to watch 14 players workout.
The Tennessee players who participated in the Pro Day were: QB Erik Ainge, TE Brad Cottam, LB Jerod Mayo, DE Xavier Mitchell, TE Chris Brown, S Jonathan Hefney, DE J.T. Mapu, DB Jarod Parrish, OG Eric Young and DE Antonio Reynolds.
Other players in attendance, who were at one time athletes at Tennessee, were former Olympian Justin Gatlin, Gerald Riggs, Corey Anderson and Derius Swinton.
Cottam continued to impress this offseason with a solid workout at the Pro Day. He decided to run the 40 again to try to improve on his 4.63 40-time he managed at the Scouting Combine. Cottam ran a 4.69 in front of scouts last week, but he recorded a 33-inch vertical at the Combine and topped that mark with a 36-inch leap.
The other two Volunteer players who stood out at the Pro Day were Hefney and Mayo. At 6-foot-1, 242 pounds, Mayo continues to rise up draft boards and only helped his stock with a 40 1/2-inch vertical at the Pro Day. Mayo participated in the vertical jump at the Combine and had a 32-inch effort. Mayo did not run last week.
Hefney also didn't run the 40 at the Pro Day, but sparkled with a 39-inch vertical. At 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, Hefney displayed tremendous explosion and athleticism with that attempt.
One player to keep an eye on is defensive end Xavier Mitchell. The 6-foot-2, 258-pound Mitchell took part in all workouts at the Pro Day and performed well. He ran a 4.86 in the 40, registered a 36 1/2-inch vertical and benched 225 pounds 24 times. He also showed nice agility in the 3-cone and shuttle drills.
Gatlin, who had workouts with the Buccaneers, Texans and Arizona Cardinals last year, was at the Volunteers Pro Day to show scouts in attendance that he's more than just a track guy. Gatlin proved during the workout that he's a burner, running a 4.33 and a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash, but failed to standout during positional drills.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.