With no combine, Texas' annual pro day takes on added importance for NFL
If your favorite team botches the upcoming NFL Draft, blame Zoom.
The eye in the sky doesn’t lie about one’s ability. But since teams can’t talk to players face-to-face, prospects have to communicate their passion, determination and heart through tiny laptop cameras.
This entire draft process is as confusing as the Wonderlic test itself.
“This is my first time doing it,” Texas left tackle Samuel Cosmi said. “This is what I got. I’ve got to run with it and do the best I can.”
Multiple Longhorns put on a dazzling athletic display Thursday for 31 team representatives who passed all the health tests to get inside the pro timing day bubble — which was inside UT’s practice bubble. An event that normally draws hundreds of people was a masked, bare-bones affair.
There were outstanding numbers aplenty. Cosmi had an astounding 36 reps on the 225-pound bench press. Caden Sterns had a 42-inch vertical jump and ran 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Joseph Ossai had a 10½-foot long jump, an impressive figure unless you are receiver Tarik Black, who cleared 11 feet.
“I really came in wanting to throw the ball really well. NFL-style routes,” Sam Ehlinger said. The four-year starter has faced questions about his ability to throw with velocity and throw deep downfield.
“I’m glad those things were said because I think it helped me tremendously, obviously, with velocity and distance,” Ehlinger said. “And now I’m not sure there’s much question there.”
Asked if he was intrigued about playing for the Chicago Bears, now that former UT coach Tom Herman is an analyst there, Ehlinger said, “Any opportunity to play for any NFL organization intrigues me a ton.”
Texas players generally avoided questions about where they’d like to play. As long as one team takes a chance, that’s really all that matters. But players couldn’t avoid being asked about “The Eyes of Texas” controversy. As difficult topics go, there won’t be much harder ones than that in the NFL.
“Personally, I’ve been focused on training. I have not read the report, but I do have an opinion,” Ta’Quon Graham said. Those who are still on campus must be comfortable with their decision to sing the song or not, he said. “I just feel like they should have any right to feel the way they feel and say whatever they want to say.”
Ossai had the most realistic view of the issue. “People are going to take it the way they want to take it,” he said. “That’s just the way things are.”
Said Ehlinger: “Being a leader here, one thing that I really, really learned was to understand people’s perspectives. I trust that everybody here is going to do what feels right to them, and I trust in that.”
Sterns took the brunt of the fan criticism last season for being one of the first players to jog off the field in the season opener. Asked how he’d like to be remembered by Texas fans, Sterns said, “Honestly, if I’m being real, I don’t really care what they remember. So I’m moving on to something else.
“Honestly, I know who I am,” Sterns said. “To me, that’s all that matters. They can make their own narratives about me, but I love the University of Texas — always have, always will.”
That’s the beauty of the NFL draft process. It’s a blank canvass. Players can start forming new narratives about themselves and redefining their careers.
For a while, Texas had an NFL reputation for producing sub-quality defensive linemen. Charles Omenihu and Poona Ford changed that. The school hadn’t had much luck with offensive lineman, either. Connor Williams and Calvin Anderson would have different opinions there, too.
Brennan Eagles is eager to prove that he was underutilized at UT last season. The receiver had just 28 receptions for 469 yards and five touchdowns. He couldn’t wait to become draft-eligible.
Asked if the previous coaching staff maximized his talent, Eagles said, “To a certain extent. I know what I’m capable of. I did choose to leave early, and I know what I’m capable of.”
Graham’s position switch from defensive end to defensive tackle was something of a godsend for his football career. But now, NFL scouts are asking if he’d be open to playing defensive end again. “I guess there’s a lot of questions swirling around,” Graham said.
Ossai just wants somebody, anybody, to give him a chance.
“I don’t think I’m selling anything but me and my passion for the game,” Ossai said. “If they draft me, they’ll see that, and I think you can tell with my film.”
Where’s his best position?
“As you can see, I’ve played all over,” Ossai said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve played all over the place. I’ll play safety if you teach me. Just wherever.”
Cosmi, who faced questions about his strength, believes you could match him up against anybody. “This game is everything for me,” Cosmi said. “You’re not going to find another guy that works as hard.”
What’s difficult is that NFL teams won’t show all their cards. “All the feedback’s been positive,” Ehlinger said.
Players simply can put the best foot forward and show an eagerness on Zoom.
“I feel like you can put me up against any safety in the nation, and I’m No. 1,” Sterns said. “I promise you I will be a steal in this draft, for sure.”