The month of March in the National Football League is where coaches, scouts and front-office executives fly to remote cities and evaluate draft prospects at the school’s Pro Days.
While Pro-Day visits are more relaxed for the scouts than the fall visits, it is still very intense for the prospects. They want to impress and not disappoint the coaches and scouts that are watching and evaluating their every move.
Sign-in generally is mid-morning around 9 a.m. After the current players sign in, depending on the school’s policy, the in-state small-college players sign an injury waiver and by NFL rules can work out as well.
The Pro Day is split into two phases: scouts phase and coaches phase. The scouts in their phase duplicate the combine workout starting with measuring and weighing the players. Even for those players that attended the combine, they must weigh in again to monitor possible weight loss or gain in the days since the combine’s conclusion. Those combine participants can choose to better their scores or stay with their combine results in the other measureables.
All other prospects are put through the 40-yard dash, the vertical and long jump, short shuttle, long shuttle and the three-cone drill. All positions with the exception of quarterbacks, kickers and punters are required to participate in the 225-pound bench press doing as many reps as they can until non-movement. In the past, there have been a few quarterbacks and punters that have shown off the ability to bench press and were very impressive.
Once the scouts are done, the prospects change their shoes and get ready for the coaching drill phase of the workout. I’m attending Missouri’s Pro Day today, where the notable participants will be Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith.
For a quarterback, most of the drill work will be scripted by his position coach, coordinator, head coach or a former professional coach. In the case of Gabbert, former Rams quarterbacks coach Terry Shea, who has been working with Gabbert and did the same with Sam Bradford last year, will be orchestrating the workout.
Regardless of the script, from a personnel standpoint, I look for the following in a quarterback’s workout:
Leadership: Is he a natural born leader, does he take charge of his receivers, along with the other players in the workout? Does he command respect?
Poise: Does he have the poise and composure in the spotlight? He is in his environment and comfort zone; does he display the confidence and the consistency in every request asked of him?
Setup: You want to see foot quickness from under center in three-, five-, and seven-step drops with balance in the anchor step.
Delivery: I’m looking for rhythm and timing, which is very important for a quarterback. Can he transfer his weight from his back leg to the post leg, while keeping his feet 18-24 inches apart, retaining balance and direction of the feet and hips?
Release Point: Is the release point over the ear, over the shoulder or side-arm sling? Does he demonstrate anticipation and timing in his throws? I want to see if he has a quick release. Does he get the ball out quickly and can he throw from different platforms (feet together, off balance, jump pass when needed)? Does he have a short stroke or elongated throwing motion; is it smooth or is there a hitch in movement before release?
Arm Strength: Is there velocity on his passes, can he spin a good spiral or is it a duck? Does he have a cannon and is he a deep-ball passer? Does he have a rifle arm to throw off balance while making all the NFL passes needed to be successful at the next level?
Accuracy Short: Can he stick it on the receiver? Can he throw the fade?
Accuracy Long: Can he hit the receiver in stride on routes outside the numbers, in the seam and crossing routes.
Touch (short/long): Demonstrate all types of passing variations with trajectory while taking some heat off the ball.
Escapeability: Foot quickness, mobility on rollout, passing drill work and throwing on the move. Is there balance, can he square his shoulders and throw with accuracy without slowing down and setting his feet?
Play-action Fake: What are his ball-handling skills like in play-action or when delivering to a running back going through the bags?
Voice: Listening for strength and clarity to bark out cadence.
Once the on-field workout is completed, they will move to the in-class segment of the job interview. In the classroom, coaches put the quarterbacks on the board and ask them to draw up several plays with the complete offense, and explain every position and those positional responsibilities on each play. He will then draw up defenses vs. those plays and explain protections, or possible audibles.
Once he is grilled for several minutes on the board, the film is turned on and he is asked to explain certain situations and throws he made or did not make in three or four games. The coaches want to see him process information, respond and regurgitate information quickly with no hesitation.
Does he understand play-calling and clock-management situations? The coaches are trying to see if he indeed views the game like a coordinator and whether he exhibits play memorization in a short period of time.
It is a big day for all of the Missouri Tigers, including Smith and Gabbert, who is already scheduled for a private workout with the Carolina Panthers this weekend and is being considered as a possible first overall pick in the draft.