STANFORD, Calif. – Pro Timing Day at Stanford was another resounding success, as 29 NFL teams and over 50 pro scouts assembled Thursday to evaluate 14 former Cardinal student-athletes in the weight room and on the field. It was a long – and in some cases, nerve-racking – day for the pro football hopefuls, who were cheered on by many former teammates, including current NFL players Thomas Keiser, Jonathan Martin, Zach Ertz and Griff Whalen.
• Testing started around 9:45 a.m. (PT), and after measuring players in alphabetical order for height, weight and arm reach, safety Devon Carrington was the first name called for the vertical leap, jumping 36 inches.
With family, friends and agents watching anxiously outside through the windows, defensive end Ben Gardner earned a big roar by jumping 39.5 inches.
“Yes!” roared his smiling mother, Kim, pumping her right hand in the air and patting the window.
As it turned out, Gardner’s jump would have ranked second among all defensive linemen and tied for 10th overall at the recent NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
• Ed Reynolds’ 38-inch vertical was 5.5 inches better than his NFL Combine leap. David Yankey (30) was 1.5 inches better and Cameron Fleming (25.5) upped his NFL Combine jump by 2.0 inches.
• Stanford assistant coaches followed the testing, chatting with and encouraging players. Also on hand was former offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who now holds a similar position with the Indianapolis Colts.
Asked if he was watching any player in particular, Hamilton said, “I’ll take any of these guys. Griff Whalen. That’s all I need to say.”
• Whalen was a walk-on wide receiver at Stanford and wasn’t drafted by an NFL team. But the 5-11, 198-pound Ohio native impressed the Colts with his smarts, route running, toughness and work ethic, and they signed him as a free agent. In 2013, Whalen caught 24 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was really exciting for me after not getting to play my rookie year because of an injury,” he said. “It was a bit of a roller coaster for me; practice squad, active, back and forth. But it was really exciting to help and contribute and have the year we had, and be able to do it with Andrew and Coby (Fleener) and Delano (Howell).”
This marked the second straight year Whalen has come back to watch Pro Timing Day. He’s one of nearly a dozen former players back on campus working out.
“It’s cool watching these guys having their big day,” said Whalen. “I remember doing this was probably as nervous as I’ve ever been. It’s the biggest job interview of your life.”
Or so he thought. He shared his past experiences with some of Thursday’s participants.
“Looking back on it, I probably put a little bit too much emphasis and importance on this,” he said. “This is not the end-all, be-all of their careers. As long as they realize that and just go out and do what they know how to do, they’ll be fine.”
His story is an inspiration to every undersized and overlooked college football player in the country.
“I wouldn’t have minded being a draft pick and doing it that way,” said Whalen. “However I have to get there, I’ll do my best to find a way.”
• Following the vertical leap, players were tested in the broad jump. Gardner shined again, jumping 10-2. His mark would have tied for fifth at the NFL Combine.
Carrington had the best broad jump at 10-4, ahead of Anthony Wilkerson (9-8), Jarek Lancaster (9-6), Khalil Wilkes (8-4), Fleming (8-1) and Kevin Danser (7-8).
• Next was the bench press, where players were tested to see how many repetitions of 225 pounds they could push. Defensive end Josh Mauro led the way with 29, followed by linebacker Shane Skov with 28 and offensive guards Danser and Yankey with 25.
Mauro’s total was eight more than his NFL Combine output, with Yankey adding three more reps to his February showing.
• The proceedings moved outside to the sun-kissed practice field where players were timed twice in the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle and cone drills.
With dozens of stop watches tracking times, all results were unofficial.
Approximate median times for the 40-yard dash: Carrington (4.68), Danser (5.75), Gardner (4.95), Lancaster (4.75), Mauro (5.19), Murphy (4.78), Reynolds (4.48), Wilkerson (4.65) and Wilkes (5.40).
• Then came pass blocking and coverage tests, followed by pass catching skills for the offensive backs.
• David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, watched all of the on-field testing, carried live on ESPN3, as did most of his staff. Many current Cardinal players, including quarterback Kevin Hogan, wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Jordan Pratt were also around.
• “I think overall, everybody helped themselves,” said Shannon Turley, the Kissick Family Director of Football Sports Performance. “You saw a lot of guys improve. If they were combine guys, they improved the numbers that they put up at the combine, getting a second chance to compete here on their home turf. And if guys only had their shot here at the Pro Day, they really showed up and helped themselves to corroborate what you saw on tape -- guys like Jarek Lancaster, Anthony Wilkerson, Devon Carrington, Kevin Danser and Khalil Wilkes.”
Players had about two months to prepare for Pro Day following the Rose Bowl. For those who weren’t invited to Indianapolis, Turley and his staff held a mock Pro Day for them during the same weekend to prepare them for Thursday.
“It’s hopefully lending itself to a more comfortable, relaxed state so then they can just go out and let their athletic ability show and they’re not pressing too hard to try and put up a number,” he said. “I think that part of it played to our advantage today.”
• Yankey was pleased with his showing.
“I was pretty happy with the numbers I put up,” said Yankey. “I got better at pretty much everything I did.”
He felt much more at ease Thursday then he did at the combine.
“You really only get about four or five weeks to prepare for it, and after the season, you’re still a little bit beat up,” Yankey said.
• Gaffney thought he helped himself, but was more interested in supporting his teammates.
Coming from the combine, he felt much less under a microscope.
“I thought it went well,” said Gaffney. “More importantly, I got to watch my teammates and see them succeed. Another step toward their dream, and I’m just happy to be out here and be a part of that.”
• “I felt good with everything,” Danser said. “You’ve kind of built up all this emotion and all this energy for it. We’ve prepared for it so much, we were ready to go.”
• Gardner missed most of the past season with a shoulder injury, but is ahead of schedule in his rehab and hopes to be ready for NFL mini-camps in May. The only test he skipped was the bench press.
“I woke up this morning a little nervous,” said Gardner, who tested at end and linebacker. “Once you get the competitive juices flowing, it’s just another day.”
And the vertical jump?
“I’ve always kind of had that in my back pocket,” he grinned. “Nobody really knows about it. Secretly, I always kind of took offense when everybody would say, ‘He’s not the best athlete, but he makes up for it with effort.’ Today I was just trying to come out here and show I could do a few things athletically, too.”
• Skov attended the combine and was limited Thursday to rest a sore hamstring. He loved supporting his teammates, and will have a chance for a personal Pro Day of sorts later next month.
“We’re a close-knit group,” he said. “Even the NFL guys coming back and watching. The kind of bond we all have for one another is apparent.”
• When the last drill was completed, a tired Gardner was happy and relieved.
“I definitely enjoyed it to a degree, but it’s one of those things, we’re football players; we’re not track stars,” he said. “We’re glad to get this over with and move on to the NFL Draft, and then what comes after that, which is actually playing football.”
“Everyone wants to showcase their abilities,” said Skov. “But at the end of the day, this isn’t football. This isn’t what we really do. So I just think we’re all looking forward to getting back to playing the game we love.”