Practice Field of Dreams
March 6, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Only a select few get invited to the NFL Combine.
But the dream of getting to the NFL isn't limited to them. It can be found everywhere.
On Tuesday morning that dream was flourishing in Atlanta, as Georgia Tech hosted its annual Pro Day at the Brock Indoor Practice Facility.
Nine former Yellow Jackets auditioned for a throng of talent evaluators, including Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and scouts from more than a dozen NFL teams. Participants were wide receivers Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton, A-Backs Roddy Jones, Embry Peeples, and Lucas Cox, defensive end Jason Peters, defensive tackle Logan Walls, outside linebacker Steven Sylvester and cornerback Rashaad Reid.
"[The turnout is] fairly similar to what we had a couple of years ago when Demaryius [Thomas] and Derrick Morgan were coming out," said head coach Paul Johnson. "We've been fortunate. We're in a place that's easy to get to and when you have some talented kids [scouts] tend to show up. What [Hill] did at the Combine certainly turned a lot of heads so we have a lot of people here."
Coming off his performance a couple of weeks ago in Indianapolis, Hill was the drawing card. He dressed the part, donning shiny gold and silver Vapors -- a shoe that is soon to be introduced -- supplied by Nike and impossible to miss.
Those looking for a repeat of Hill's 4.36 40-yard dash from the Combine were disappointed, as he did not participate in 40s. That was about the only way Hill disappointed.
"I think I've kind of showed enough," said Hill about skipping the sprint. "I wanted to work on what the coaches wanted to see and that's coming-out of breaks and running crisp routes."
Hill did that as he caught passes from former University of Richmond and current Edmonton Eskimos (CFL) quarterback Eric Ward, who lives around the corner from Hill and who was recommended to Hill by his agent. The two looked in sync like a duo that had worked together, something they've done for approximately three weeks.
Tuesday may have been all about Hill to many scouts, but their presence presented an opportunity for the other Jackets to show what they've got.
"As soon as we watched the Combine and saw that Steve blew it up we knew a lot of the scouts would be here so that kind of put a little pressure on us to come out here and perform," said Sylvester. "But it was fun. We knew there was going to be a big crowd out here to watch him and hopefully somebody caught us while we were working out, too."
"I don't care if they all came to see Steve. Just don't overlook me," added Jones. "When Steve's not doing anything, just catch me for a second."
Jones didn't hurt his stock as he confidently ran his drills. He credited some of his new-found technique to his work with Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth, where he honed his skills in preparing for Pro Day, training with the likes of wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale of Virginia Tech, Junior Hemingway of Michigan and Brian Quick of Appalachian State, as well as Sylvester.
Pro Day was something that he had to do.
"If I didn't at least try it would be something I'd look back on and say, `I should have done that,'" said Jones, whose only regret was being listed at 5-8 ¼ -- he promised to wear thicker socks next time. "Certainly having a degree helps because I'll always have something to fall back on but right now I'm 100 percent in this and I want to use this as a platform. If I can make it to the League and make some connections in the NFL, hopefully use it to go on to bigger things with my degree as well as my MBA because I'll be finishing that up some time in the next couple of years."
Former Yellow Jacket and current Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer was in attendance to offer support. He suggested that his former teammates had what it takes to be assets at the next level.
"Hopefully coaches realize all these guys need is a chance," said Dwyer, the Steelers' sixth-round pick in 2010. "Maybe they don't get drafted but if they get invited to camp, guys like Roddy, Tyler Melton could be an outside receiver. Stephen Sylvester, Cox and all the other guys that were out here, all they need is an opportunity to showcase what they can really do."
Sylvester felt he and his teammates did their part in earning that opportunity on Tuesday.
"It went pretty good. It was fun to hang out with [teammates] and compete," he said. "You're just trying to come out here and do your best. A lot of us have been working hard ever since January. Any time you get a shot to display what you've been doing you want to put on a show. You want to come out here and do your best and compete and let the numbers fall where they will."
The Jackets hope the numbers fall in their favor and that they will be invited to similar showcase events. Melton certainly will have such an opportunity. He's got a packed schedule ahead.
"I'm actually doing a regional combine this weekend up at Flowery Branch then hopefully I do well in that and I get invited to a Super Regional," he said. "Then after that I'll be doing Falcons Day and then anything that comes up. I'm willing to go after it. Anywhere I can get my face at I will be at."
That face will include a beard, which he has been growing and has no plans on losing.
"The beard is just part of my grind face," he said. "I don't plan on cutting anything until I get on a team. So I could look Rastafarian after a while, but who knows?"
"I think it really helped me get in shape and really helped me with my form," he said. "I feel like it helped me a lot with my technique and in the shuttles as well, the L-Cone and short shuttle and even the 60-yard shuttles."
I'd definitely endorse them and support them