Johnny Manziel’s pro workouts will be some of the most scrutinized drills ever, but all Manziel did Wednesday at Texas A&M’s pro day was watch from the sidelines.
Manziel and receiver Mike Evans, who was also in attendance, will have their own pro days on March 27. Wednesday’s pro day was all about their teammates.
Offensive tackle Jake Matthews, who is expected to be taken near the top of May’s NFL draft, didn’t test with the other A&M players, but did hold workouts with a couple of teams that were on hand. One of those teams was the St. Louis Rams, who hold the number two pick in the draft.
Matthews could have been a late first round pick a year ago, but chose to stay at A&M for his senior season, where he moved from right tackle to left tackle.
The decision to come back is going to net Matthews considerably more money.
“We talk around here about how you only get one opportunity to be in the top 10,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said at the event. “The way the CBA worked out a few years ago, there’s a significant drop off after 7-8-9-10. There’s a big difference between Luke Joeckel at $22-23 million at No. 2 and what No. 31 gets.”
While second generation players sometimes want to distance themselves from being thought of like their parents, Matthews has no problem with people comparing him to his father Bruce Matthews.
“I don’t try to separate too much from my dad,” Matthews said. “I try to follow everything he did. If I can do half the stuff he did it will be fine with me.”
Matthews, Manziel and Evans are all expected to be off the board on the first day of the May 8 draft, but their teammates have work to do if they want to hear their name called. Wednesday was an opportunity for those players to turn some heads.
One player who certainly did that was linebacker Nate Askew. A former wide receiver, Askew was expected to post a solid time in the 40, but his official time of 4.45 will get some attention.
“My speed is my biggest aspect in my game,” said Askew. “I just wanted to go in there and show everybody that I’m fast.”
Askew, who has only played one season on the defensive side of the ball, is hoping teams see his athleticism.
“I’ll play wherever,” he said. “I feel like I’m that much of an athlete. They can just plug me in wherever and I’ll pick it up like I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
Like Matthews, versatility is also a selling point for running back Ben Malena. Malena, who ran a 4.54 in the 40 and bench pressed 225 pounds an impressive 22 times, knows that if he’s going to make it in the league, he’s going to have to do more than just carry the football. Luckily he’s practiced exactly that.
“You can just turn on my film. I can do anything that a coach would ask to do,” Malena said. “That’s be productive running the ball, protecting the passer, catching the ball out of the backfield. One thing that separates me a lot from others is I played all four phases of special teams while I started at running back the past two years.”
The fact that Manziel drew so much attention at A&M has helped players like former walk-on receiver Travis Labhart. Labhart was on the receiving end of more than one of Manziel’s highlights last season.
“I just hope there’s one team out there that maybe saw something. That’s the biggest thing that a guy like me can hope for,” he said.
Labhart isn’t the fastest player, he ran a 4.64 in the 40, but he’s explosive. He posted a broad jump of 10-feet, 1-inch.
“I would have loved to have gone a little bit faster in my 40,” he said. “But God gave me this wonderful body and it doesn’t go 4.4.”
Receiver Derel Walker, linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive back Tramain Jacobs also worked out. Defensive lineman Kirby Ennis, rehabilitating from a knee injury last season, only tested on the bench press, doing 27 reps of 225 pounds. Defensive back Toney Hurd and tight end Nehemiah Hicks weighed in and met with teams, but did not participate in the drills.
Sumlin said that pro days are key to helping players land with teams even if they go undrafted.
“When you have great players like that, that do things, it’s more to it than just them,” Sumlin said. “It gives the opportunity for some of these other guys to be seen. I know that happened last year and it will probably happen this year.”
Manziel, Evans and Matthews don’t have to worry about going undrafted though, and when they’re picked in the first round.
“It’s added some credibility to what we’re trying to do,” Sumlin said. “A young guy can come here and play at Texas A&M in our system offensively and defensively, play in a great league and achieve whatever he wants to achieve.”