MINNEAPOLIS – With scouts or coaches from at least seven NFL teams watching, University of Minnesota tight end Eric Lair readied at the starting line for his first 40-yard dash at the Gophers Pro Day on Monday.
He’d been preparing for the moment since, but his nerves caught him a bit.
“The 40 yes, I was shaking at the line,” Lair said. “It was pretty nerve-wracking at the beginning. After the first 10 yards, it kind of goes away and the second one you’re pretty calm, smooth and rolling right through it.”
Lair was one of 27 area players working out Monday, including eight Gophers. Along with Lair, his teammates working out Monday included running back Duane Bennett, offensive lineman Chris Bunders, defensive lineman Anthony Jacobs, defensive lineman Brandon Kirksey, receiver Da’Jon McKnight, linebacker Gary Tinsley and offensive lineman Ryan Wynn.
Scouts or coaches from the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks were in attendance, and the players knew it could be their only shot at impressing NFL teams.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was in attendance Monday and likened the pro days to a job interview.
“These kids it’s their one opportunity,” Spielman said. “Just like at the combine, it’s their one opportunity to be in front of that crowd.”
Lair and Jacobs attracted attention with their performances. Lair (6-foot-3 and 232 pounds) and Jacobs (6-foot-2, 291) met with a few teams following the workouts and were even put through personality tests. They said they each talked to representatives from the Jacksonville, New England and San Francisco.
Jacobs, who said he was told to go eat so he could reach 300 pounds, seemed surprised by the personality test after running a 4.7 second 40-yard dash, jump 10.1 inches in the broad jump and reaching 35.5 inches on the vertical leap to standout on Monday.
“There were like several questions like do I prefer dogs or cats, do I like ice cream, things like that,” Jacobs said. “It was which animal am I, a dog or cat? And I picked cat.”
Lair said he ran 4.5s in the 40 and added a 36.5 effort in the vertical leap.
Monday was the culmination of months of work for the players. Lair even traveled to Chicago to train.
“It’s been a lot of hard work and dedication,” Lair said. “I put my blood, sweat and tears into this, literally. It’s been a good time at the same time, though. I’d rather be doing this than sitting behind a desk somewhere.”
McKnight traveled to Denver to train for a few weeks and was one of the higher profile players to work out Monday, but he felt he could have performed better. He graded himself a six on a scale of one to ten.
“I could have done way better than I did, but it is what it is,” McKnight said. “It’s pretty nervous getting out here in front of all of these scouts. The first 40 I got pretty good and then my second too, so that helped me calm my nerves. So I was pretty good after that.”
Once he got over his own nervousness, Lair even surprised himself.
“I’m very pleased,” Lair said. “Just thankful I did better than I thought I’d do today.”
Bennett, who said he weighed in at 213 pounds and was measured at 5-foot-9, offered a highlight during the lifting portion, pushing up 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. The effort equaled the top mark by a running back at the combine two weeks ago.
“I was banking anywhere 25 or greater,” Bennett said. “When I knocked out the first 15, I was kind of like, ‘Oh wow. I’m really going up there.’ Kind of caught myself off-guard, but once I hit 28 I was thinking I could try and get 30 if I could.”
The players working out Monday at the University of Minnesota are likely to be undrafted, but could have a shot to sign as undrafted free agents. Some could also get a look at the Vikings’ annual rookie minicamp the week after the draft.
Spielman remembers when the Vikings signed former Gophers cornerback Marcus Sherels following the rookie camp and ended up signing him to the team’s practice squad. Sherels made the active roster this season as a returner and saw snaps on defense as well.
“We had him at the rookie minicamp and signed him from there, ended up making our team and doing some good things for us,” Spielman said. “So, that’s why you go out to these pro days because you never know what you’re going to find. And there were some kids from these small schools that popped up a little bit today as well.”
Bennett just hopes he did enough to get another look.
“Now come the waiting game and all I can do is prepare myself for the next level and continue to stay in great shape,” Bennett said.