Utes show off for scouts on Pro Day

By Christopher Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

A day before the most important day of their post-collegiate careers, the Utah seniors partaking in the annual Pro Day event needed some moral support.

So they called Eric Weddle.

The former All-Mountain West Conference safety and current San Diego Charger was front and center at the Eccles Fieldhouse on Monday morning, prodding and drilling his former mates to push harder, run faster and throw farther.

“I hope to get drafted and see where I go,” said Utah quarterback Brian Johnson, who was the only quarterback to partake in throwing drills. “It’s been a fun experience, but I’m glad it’s over.”

Although newly minted assistant coach and NFL veteran John Pease was conducting the workouts, it was Weddle who told Johnson it was time to warm up.

“I’m just ready for a new challenge, a new chapter of life,” Johnson said.

With an estimated 25 to 30 NFL scouts on hand, Ute players vying to play at the next level continued doing what they did for 13 games this season8212;they performed.

A slew of Utes, past and present, took place in organized weight lifting drills in the Dee Smith Athletic Center before heading to the Field House to partake in 40-yard dash drills, shuttle drills and individual workouts for specified teams.

Former Utes such as receiver Derrek Richards and defensive lineman Martail Burnett were also on hand in support of participating seniors such as Johnson, Darrell Mack, Bradon Godfrey, Brent Casteel, Freddie Brown, Robert Conley, Terrell Cole and Brice McCain.

But the main attraction was a pair of underclassmen.

Sean Smith and Paul Kruger, who both declared early for the 2009 NFL Draft, performed individual workouts for a number of teams, just as they did at the official NFL Combine in Indianapolis two weeks ago.

“This is just a reiteration of everything, of all the drills,” said Kruger, who once again ran a 4.8 second 40-yard dash. “Individuals were the hardest because I’m the only defensive end here.”

Kruger’s partner in crime on the defensive line last season, senior Greg Newman, pulled a hamstring while warming up for the 40. He did not partake in any workouts the rest of the day.

As Smith did his entire junior year, he competed at the Pro Day event by running a 4.43 and did a phenomenal job in ball drills and was able to showcase, once again, that even an oversized corner such as himself could get after the ball and turn his hips as fast as any other corner. Smith had dropped five pounds since his combine performance two weeks ago and the former All-MWC cornerback from Pasadena, Calif., put on a show.

Good thing, too. Of all the scouts there affiliated with NFL squads, none was more prominent than Carolina Panthers’ GM Marty Hurney.

The Panthers have two former Utes on their squad8212;offensive lineman Jordan Gross and Steve Smith.

The eccentric Smith didn’t disappoint as he performed the workout in the NFL Combine jersey that he was presented in Indianapolis.

“The pressure’s lower here,” said Smith of the Pro Day compared to the combine. “I wasn’t as tight and tense as I was before, I’m loose and focused.”

Smith used his positive performance a few weeks back to inspire some of his teammates who might have been experiencing some uneasy nerves.

“I’m definitely trying to help them out and just tell them to relax and have fun,” he said.

Perhaps no one upped his NFL draft stock more than McCain.

The 5-foot-9-inch, 182-lb. cornerback from Terrell, Texas, blew away scouts with his blazing speed and athletic ability. McCain blasted through the 40, running an impressive 4.24 and performing well in shuttle drills and ball drills.

While Smith was surrounded by media, McCain walked by smirking.

“Brice McCain, 4.2, by the way,” Smith said laughing.

The 2009 NFL Draft will take place April 25 to April 26 in New York City.

Smith and Kruger will now hit the road for individual workouts and interviews with teams across the country.

“I’m really excited for the draft, to see where I’m going,” Kruger said. “It’s big time for all the other guys, too. I’m really confident.”

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