COLUMBIA, Mo. — A stellar performance at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine left Mitch Morse with little more to prove at Missouri’s Pro Day.
He donned a gray hoodie and watched while several of his teammates tried to take advantage of one last chance to impress scouts on the bench press and then through a series of agility drills at the school’s indoor practice facility. Some might say Morse boosted his stock by putting up great numbers in Indianapolis, but Dan Shonka looks at it differently.
"Everybody talks about this stock up, stock down," says Shonka, the general manager and national scout for Ourlads’ NFL Scouting Services. "That’s a bunch of crap. They haven’t looked at the tape on him."
Either way, Morse certainly didn’t hurt himself by bench-pressing 225 pounds 36 times, second most of any offensive lineman, or finishing third among offensive linemen in the shuttle run and fourth in the broad jump. He showed everyone who hadn’t studied the film just what they were missing, and Shonka says those numbers are much more meaningful at the Combine than they would have been in Columbia.
In fact, Shonka graded Morse as the fifth-best offensive lineman at the Combine, just behind Florida State’s Cameron Irving. Morse checked in Thursday at a solid 6-foot-5, 306 pounds, and he says much of the success he had last month can be attributed to his work at Chip Smith’s Performance Systems in Atlanta, where former Mizzou draft picks Ziggy Hood and Zaviar Gooden trained.
"We were fortunate enough to rep through those drills with the O-line coach we had," Morse says. "Honestly, the conditioning we did where I was, we didn’t go farther than 40 yards."
Shonka says athleticism and versatility help separate Morse from his peers, since he played every position on the line during his time at Mizzou, due in part to injuries. The Tigers finally moved him to tackle last season, but Morse says most teams like him on the inside, especially at center.
He took most of his reps there in the latter part of Pro Day, when he finally took off his hoodie and handled snapping duties during receiving drills. Morse says moving around wasn’t always easy for him, but it’s definitely working in his favor as he heads toward the draft.
"It was my first game any one of my friends or family had watched, so at the end, it’s like you know what? The worst has happened," Morse says when recalling his initial start at center for Mizzou. "I did struggle here and there, but we were able to get that down for a few games and I was ready to step in whenever they needed me to."
As a senior, he earned second-team All-SEC honors at tackle for another Mizzou team that battled injuries all year, including a season-ending ACL tear for left guard Anthony Gatti. The Tigers’ inconsistent run game still nearly produced two 1,000-yard rushers, thanks largely to Morse’s efforts at left tackle.
He looks to be a lock to become just the third Mizzou offensive lineman drafted since 2000, including tackle Justin Britt in the second round last year. Shonka likes Morse even more than he liked Britt, who started all 16 games as a rookie for Seattle.
"Justin really did more than you can imagine," Morse says, noting nearly every NFL representative he spoke with asked about his former teammate. "At the Combine he left such an impression and I was hoping to do the exact same, and I kind of owed it to him to do that."
Morse says 15 teams brought him in for formal interviews, including the Kansas City Chiefs. Shonka noted this year’s draft class doesn’t have a lot of great centers, so that could end up working in Morse’s favor.
Somewhat surprisingly, Morse says he had little to no contact with the St. Louis Rams, who released starting center Scott Wells earlier this month. But Shonka says that doesn’t necessarily mean St. Louis doesn’t have interest, even though it has some other in-house options, such as former Alabama center Barrett Jones.
No one’s overlooking Morse anymore, and the only thing really left for him to do is wait for his name to be called.
PRO DAY NOTES
• Mizzou’s all-purpose running back Marcus Murphy spent more time on the field than anyone at Pro Day, even catching some punts after everyone else had finished.
Murphy, the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year, knows his ticket to the NFL could be as a primary return man, and he’s one of the best in the business. Murphy returned a punt and two kickoffs for touchdowns as a senior, giving him seven return touchdowns in a career that ended with him second on the school’s career list for all-purpose yards behind Jeremy Maclin.
"The past weeks since the Combine I’ve talked to a lot of teams, pretty much all of them, and they said a big role for me would be special teams," says Murphy, who set a personal best with 14 reps on the bench press. "I talked to a lot of running backs coaches and they all said they saw me in space on film, and that’s kind of similar to the things they want to do with me."
• Bud Sasser may have done more for Missouri, but fellow receiver Jimmie Hunt appears to be getting more attention from the NFL.
Neither was invited to the Combine, and Sasser says he’s talked with only a couple of teams, though he’s hoping a personal-best 4.50 in the 40 on Thursday will show he has pro-level speed. Most scouts consider Hunt the more athletic of the two, although he’ll have to overcome an "injury-prone" label after missing several games due to multiple injuries in his four-year career at Mizzou.
"(I wanted to show) top-end speed, being able to go get the deep ball and just coming out and giving everything I’ve got," says Hunt, who caught 40 passes for 698 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior. "That’s pretty much what they’re looking for, so that’s pretty much what I’m going to give."