It wasn’t exactly the most auspicious start to a Pro Day at Florida Field on Tuesday.
With gray skies blanketing Gainesville, a light, but steady drizzle descended onto the stadium turf just before players were set to take the field.
Despite the wet surface, over 20 former Gators continued their NFL auditions, hoping to run, catch or jump their way onto at least one NFL team’s radar.
The last time a Pro Day took place in Gainesville, the turnout was underwhelming to say the least. With just a handful of draft-able players, the participants only saw a few more than old teammates and family members on hand to watch them perform.
This year, the story was completely different.
“That’s how a Pro Day is supposed to look at Florida,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “All 32 teams are here, and that’s how it ought to be. If we continue to do a good job evaluating, recruiting and developing our players, which we will, our Pro Day’s will continue to look that way.”
Despite the jewel of Florida’s draft class — Sharrif Floyd — not being on hand to participate, a bevy of scouts and coaches were in attendance to take a look at Florida’s offering. Head coaches at the event included Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.
Despite Floyd’s absence, the Gators featured a number of players who may sit relatively high on various teams’ draft boards, including safety Matt Elam. Depending on your go-to site for draft information, Elam is projected to go anywhere from the mid-first round to the early-second round.
Elam had a solid NFL combine performance, but with his older brother and NFL safety Abe Elam in attendance, the younger Elam looked to flash other facets of his game on his former home field.
“I’ve been playing on this field for three years, so I feel comfortable,” Elam said.
Elam cited “being fluid on the back end” as a part of his game he wasn’t able to show at the NFL Combine. Since leaving UF, Elam has been training in Boca Raton “as a corner.” Having an older sibling in the professional ranks is no doubt an advantage — one Elam has been sure to make use of.
“He helped me out a lot,” Elam said. “Just small things, off the field things, maturing and growing up. Footwork abilities and things like that.”
Florida had a few players stand out on the day, including Elam’s former partner at safety — Josh Evans — as well as Florida’s linebacker prospects, Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins.
Jenkins’ decision to leave is one that was met with a bit of surprise, but Jenkins and his former coach D.J. Durkin both believe it was a move he’d be able to make successfully.
“I think Jelani had that in his mind, that was a dream of his and something he wanted to do at the end of this year, and he has been here four years,” Durkin said.
“And you know what? Good for him. He is going to be able to play in the NFL, play for a long time as long as he stays healthy, and we are excited to watch him do it.”
One of the reasons some felt Jenkins would stay was the fact that he suffered two tough injuries during the season last year. With the exception of the bench press, Jenkins didn’t perform at Pro Day as a result of his recovery. However, Jenkins feels that he is fully recovered.
“A lot of people were concerned about ‘how’s he going to come back after the injury,’ but I think that’s one of the things I proved today,” Jenkins said.
“It’s as close to 100 percent I’m going to get, really … It’s coming along well. It felt good today.”
Durkin was complimentary of Jenkins, citing his intelligence and ability to run as traits which will help him on the next level. Durkin was also complimentary of another one of his former players in Bostic.
“I think those (scouts), their eyes are opening to what [Bostic] can do,” Durkin said. “He can play all three downs at linebacker. He can cover. He can play the run. He’s made improvements throughout his career here at Florida, which is evident when you put on his tape.”
While some junior declarations were expected (Floyd, Elam), like Jenkins, tight end Jordan Reed’s decision was one that appeared to be 50/50 with fans. Reed revealed that he received a “second or third round” grade when he submitted pre-draft paperwork, so it’s hard to blame him for making the jump.
Also like Jenkins, Reed sustained an injury at the end of the season, but unlike Jenkins, Reed was unable to go on Tuesday, prompting a private workout date set for March 22nd.
“I got a bone bruise in the Sugar Bowl,” Reed said. That’s what held me out the game. Had to rehab that for the first couple weeks, but now it is coming along great. I should be perfect by the 22nd.”
The field conditions were far from perfect on Tuesday, but most players brushed the weather aside. The weather also failed to deter scouts, who after having no reason to be on campus last year, had plenty of reasons to be in Gainesville this time around:
“The amount of guys that have the potential to get drafted and the athleticism,” Jacksonville’s Bradley said when asked what stands out about UF’s program.
“All of the players, it sounds like he’s got it rolling in the recruiting class and the players that he has here. And it shows in how their record has been. They’ve got a lot of good players. A lot of good players that we’re looking at.”
Omar Hunter enjoyed a very solid workout on Tuesday, but he said ultimately, there’s only one reason Florida hosted the number of scouts it did:
“Coach Muschamp. That’s all that says. Coach Muschamp. Great coach. He’s rebuilding this program, and I love him so much.”