NFL puts Gators to test during UF Pro Day
Published: Monday, March 17, 2014 at 3:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 17, 2014 at 3:45 p.m.
Thanks to Monday’s steady rain, Florida’s draft-eligible players had a chance to show the NFL coaches, general managers and scouts that they have at least one special quality.
They know how to adjust on the run.
“I think we did that very well,” offensive guard Jon Halapio said.
That they did.
After training for months on grass, the Florida players never had a chance to step foot on it Monday — much less run the 40-yard dash or do position drills on it, both Pro Day traditions at Florida Field.
Because of the rain, the format had to be dramatically altered, the biggest change was having to move inside to run the 40-yard dash on the track at the O’Connell Center.
It was different, and a little awkward at first, but the players adjusted. Some even kicked off their tennis shoes and ran bare-footed after having problems getting traction.
“That was a first,” UF coach Will Muschamp said.
And it worked. At least two players said they felt faster and had better times after they took their shoes off.
“It was different running inside on the track,” outside linebacker Darrin Kitchens said. “I felt like I couldn’t get as much traction as I wanted to. Some of the players went barefoot and said it felt better. I did it, too, and I got more traction than I was with the rubber soles.”
Wide receiver Solomon Patton made a quick adjustment when he learned he’d be running on the indoor track. He broke out his track shoes. Unfortunately, the NFL guys said he could not run in spikes, so he had to remove the spikes.
On his first attempt with spikeless track shoes, he slipped badly at the starting line and aborted. He came back a few minutes later in tennis shoes and ran somewhere in the 4.3-second range. A few minutes later, he ran even faster in his bare feet.
“I heard a lot of 4.3s,” Patton said. “That’s awesome. I prepared on turf and I was ready to run on the grass. That kind of threw me off a little bit, but I’m still satisfied with my times.”
In all, seven former Gators ran the 40 — Patton, Kitchens, defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, offensive lineman Kyle Koehne and cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins. Roberson was the first to run barefooted.
“I’m sure they trained on the field the whole entire time,” Halapio said. “To run inside must have been very disappointing. But I think they did a good job adjusting to it.”
After the 40, the players went outside in the rain and went through position drills on UF’s artificial turf practice field.
Despite the conditions, the defensive backs and wide receivers appeared to have no trouble making cuts and catching a wet ball.
“It’s tough in the rain, but it also makes you look good, especially when you’re catching the ball,” Patton said. “I think it made me look pretty good.”
It did, Muschamp said.
“Solomon looked great. He and Trey Burton both looked really good catching the ball and running crisp routes,” Muschamp said. “I’m real proud of those guys. Both of them looked really good.”
Muschamp said the NFL guys seemed impressed by the effort his guys put forth in less than ideal conditions.
“(Minnesota Vikings head coach) Mike Zimmer walks up and says, ‘I appreciate you guys working. That means a lot,’ “ Muschamp said. “These (NFL) guys are professional. They understand the conditions and the different things guys go through.
“None of our guys bellyache. They go work. I’m proud of them for their effort.”
The two players who may have improved their draft status the most Monday appeared to be Patton and Halapio.
Patton was not invited to the NFL Combine, but showed impressive speed, quickness and hands Monday. He also benched pressed 225 pounds 16 times.
“I had a very big chip (on my shoulder after not getting invited to the combine),” Patton said. “I was so mad about that. It just made me work harder and actually gave me more time to better myself and come out here and perform.
“I’ve been waiting on this. I’ve been real excited to get back and show the scouts what I can do. I definitely feel like I did a good job today — just my speed and showing I can maintain it running my routes.”
Halapio, who battled through a torn pectoral muscle last season and was not cleared to bench press until a little more than a month ago, had 32 reps on the bench.
“The main thing everyone wanted to see is if I can bench press again,” he said. “I did pretty good.
“It was very tough (last season). I didn’t bench the entire season. I played in a brace I’d never played in before that limited my mobility and striking zone. I was pretty much playing with one arm.”
NOTES: Muschamp said he talked to wide receiver Andre Debose on Sunday morning, the day after Debose was present at an incident where gunfire was exchanged. Police said Debose helped diffuse the situation. “He told me it was an eye-opening experience. He admittedly said, ‘Coach, I was in a bad place and shouldn’t have been there. I didn’t know all the people involved.’ I told him, ‘That’s where you’ve got to be careful,’ “ Muschamp said. … Defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who underwent ACL surgery last September, did not work out for the coaches and scouts Monday. “We talked this morning and he didn’t feel like he was ready. I said, ‘If you don’t feel ready, don’t work, wait until you’re ready to cut it loose and give them a good day’s work,’ ” Muschamp said. Muschamp said Easley likely will work out for the coaches and scouts in the middle of next month, possibly April 18.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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