Former Gators draw crowd at pro day
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Josh Evans had a class last year and didn’t get to attend Florida’s annual pro day.
But Evans showed up to watch former Gators such as Tim Tebow, Joe Haden and Aaron Hernandez work out for NFL scouts three years ago and the memory hung with him.
“It was pretty impressive,’’ Evans said Tuesday.
So was Tuesday. More than 60 talent evaluators came stocked with their stopwatches and tape measures. Every NFL team was represented as were two CFL franchises – Montreal and Hamilton.
Florida coach Will Muschamp made the rounds, chatting with scouts and coaches as more than a dozen Gators participated in drills.
“That’s how a pro day is supposed to look at Florida,’’ Muschamp said. “All 32 teams are here, and that’s how it ought to be. If we continue to do a good job evaluating, recruiting and developing our players, which we will, our pro days will continue to look that way. Really proud of these guys that worked out today and appreciate their contributions to the University of Florida.
“I want to congratulate our staff on doing a great job developing the guys as well.”
The former Gators who participated Tuesday were linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, safeties Evans and Matt Elam, receivers Frankie Hammond Jr. and Omarius Hines, defensive tackle Omar Hunter, offensive linemen Xavier Nixon, Sam Robey and James Wilson, defensive end Earl Okine, running back Mike Gillislee, kicker Caleb Sturgis and tight end Jordan Reed.
A few players from previous seasons also showed up, including defensive back Moses Jenkins, defensive lineman Lawrence Marsh, offensive lineman Phil Trautwein and offensive lineman Carl Johnson.
Sharrif Floyd, considered the Gators’ top prospect in April’s NFL Draft, was on hand to take measurements but is expected to hold a private workout for scouts at a later date. Also, defensive lineman/linebacker Lerentee McCray did not participate.
While the rainy conditions caused some concern early, the players were pleased they were able to perform in front of the pro personnel.
“I wake up every day just blessed and glad I’m able to be in this position with these guys and compete,’’ Hunter said.
Bradley meets Muschamp
The Jaguars had the most representatives of any team with six, including general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley.
Bradley recently took over the Jaguars after leaving his post as defensive coordinator in Seattle. Bradley’s move had the domino effect of former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn leaving to replace him in Seattle.
Bradley and Muschamp spent several minutes talking Tuesday in their first face-to-face meeting. Bradley wants to develop a close relationship with the Florida program as he tries to lead the Jaguars back from the depths of the NFL.
“Building that relationship is important,’’ Bradley said. “From talking to players, it sounds like he’s got it rolling. In the recruiting classes and the players he has here, it shows. They have a lot of good players we’re looking at.”
Elam’s big brother
Behind Floyd, Elam is considered the most likely Florida player to go in the first or second round.
Elam announced after the Sugar Bowl that he was foregoing his senior season to enter the draft. Abram Elam, Matt’s older brother and a veteran NFL safety, has guided him through the draft process.
As his younger brother finished his workout Tuesday and met with a horde of reporters, Abram Elam stood off to the side taking photos with his smartphone.
“I’ve been walking hand-in-hand with him through this process and helping him, providing him the right information he needs to make the right decisions,’’ Abram Elam said. “He is doing a great job with being mature of everything that is taking place because it’s foreign to him.
“I’m just so proud of him and all he has overcome to get where he is today. He has been able to capitalize on every opportunity he has been given. A lot of young guys sometimes stumble, but he’s been able to stay the course and be successful.”
As for Matt, he said Tuesday was a chance to show off his versatility, especially making plays on the ball. He said he still hasn’t gotten a good gauge on which teams are most interested and has some private workouts scheduled soon.
Being back in The Swamp Tuesday was something he looked forward to.
“I’ve been playing on this field for three years and I go out to work every day, so I feel comfortable,’’ he said. “I feel great. I prepared well. It’s been a very tough process. You go day to day.”
Said Abram: “He’ll continue to go through the evaluation process and will be in a good position come draft day.”
While much of Tuesday’s pro day was conducted in a steady drizzle, the players didn’t seem to mind once they got on the field.
Neither did the coaches.
“The weather is probably not what we all had hoped for, but it’s still great to get out of the office and see all these athletes,’’ said Bradley, who along with the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin were the only head coaches in attendance. “We had a chance to see a lot of them at the combine, but it’s good to see them in their home environment and to get a chance to talk to their coaches.”
Despite the conditions the field was in good shape.
“It was kind of mushy, but you are going to play football in the rain, so I don’t like to make that excuse,’’ Jelani Jenkins said.
Elam welcomed the opportunity to perform in the adverse conditions.
“You’ve got to come out and play in different weather,’’ Elam said. “You’ve got to be able to adjust, so I feel like it was great for me to show off my mobility in the rain a little bit so they could see I can adjust.”
Their big decisions
Jelani Jenkins, Reed and Floyd joined Elam in opting to leave school a year early.
Jenkins did so despite an injury-plagued season that raised questions about his decision. He said Tuesday that he is fully healthy now and hasn’t looked back.
“I talked to a lot of people, some who thought I should stay and some who thought I should leave,’’ Jenkins said. “At the end of the day, it was my decision. [Another injury] was definitely something I thought about. It would have definitely been a lot worse if I came back and got hurt again.”
Meanwhile, Reed voiced a similar sentiment.
“It was a difficult choice,’’ he said. “I talked to my family and we all came to a conclusion. They helped me out with my choice and that meant a lot to me. I’m just happy to be here today and I’m glad with my choice.”
While Floyd didn’t work out Tuesday due to an ankle sprain, his former teammates are not surprised at how Floyd’s draft stock has climbed since the Sugar Bowl. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock views Floyd as a top-five pick and some analysts have even mentioned him as a potential No. 1 overall selection.
“Not at all,’’ Evans said. “I knew from Day 1 that Sharrif is going to be impressive and be one of those guys who are going to be drafted pretty high due to his work ethic, how strong he is, his quickness. I mean he is just a big athlete. The way he dominates the line of scrimmage is like no other.”
Hunter is thankful for Floyd’s stature in the draft.
“When a guy like Sharrif is being scouted so much, they have to look at me,’’ Hunter said. “I’m right next to him every play. That’s a good thing. He’s staying humble. He is still the same Sharrif when he was here. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I love it.”
Notes and nuggets
Gillislee said he has a workout scheduled with Atlanta on Friday and one with St. Louis on April 2. Despite becoming the first Gators running back to rush for 1,000 yards in eight years last season, Gillislee views himself as underrated so far in the draft process. “I see myself as a sleeper. I think I’m the best back for my opinion. I’m getting a little bit of credit but not as much as I expected.” … Reed said scouts have told him the biggest improvements he needs to make are getting stronger and becoming a better blocker. “That’s what I’ve got to work on. I knew that already.” … Former Gators running back Chris Rainey took in the scene on pro day, where his former coach in Pittsburgh, Tomlin, was watching prospects. Despite getting cut from Pittsburgh in the offseason due to an off-the-field issue, Rainey hopes to play in the NFL this season. “When I get that phone call, it’s time to work. I guess they just wanted to teach everybody else a lesson or something. That’s the way I look at it. That’s a good team. I just hope I go to another good team.” … Evans, who said he tweaked a hamstring in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, was pleased with his performance in the 40 Tuesday. He said he was told his best time was 4.45 seconds, his lowest 4.53 seconds. … Former Gators Riley Cooper (Eagles), Carlos Dunlap (Bengals), Brandon Siler (Chiefs) and Reidel Anthony were among those on hand Tuesday. … Sturgis kicked a 58-yard field goal in the rain and has been working out with former Gators punter/kicker Chas Henry to prepare for the draft. … Former Gators assistant and Duke head coach Carl Franks drove up from Tampa to check out pro day.