Amid hoops mania, some football
I've been busy at the ACC basketball tournament at St. Pete Times Forum this week, but want to get in a post about USF football's pro timing day, with scouts aplenty poking and prodding and so on. A little hoops, briefly: While I covered only one USF basketball game in the Seth Greenberg era, filling in for Pete Young at the height of the Jim Leavitt-to-Alabama uncertainty, if there's a nuance of Greenberg teams that still infuriates Bulls fans, I've learned it to be poor free-throw shooting. So I imagine it brought a shameful amount of smirking to some USF fans who watched Saturday's semifinal and saw Greenberg's Virginia Tech players hit 5 of their first 15 free throws, missing the front end of three 1-and-1s in the final seven minutes, while N.C. State went 24-for-28 at the line in keeping their NCAA hopes alive. Greenberg's very happy to be receiving an NCAA berth on Sunday, and while he would have liked an ACC title, I imagine he appreciated the juxtaposition of him winning a game in Tampa the very day that USF fired his successor after four losing seasons.
Back to football. I was at USF's soccer stadium about three hours before Robert McCullum's dismissal Friday, watching linebacker Stephen Nicholas and his fellow seniors work out for pro scouts. The most eyes were on Nicholas and linebacker Patrick St. Louis. Former Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry, now defensive coordinator in Detroit, presided over the position-specific linebacker workouts, working closely with the two linebackers. A lot of instruction, a lot of quick read-and-react drills, testing not only how the prospects can break in random directions, but as importantly, how well they can follow a barrage of instructions from a coach. That Barry was there speaks more to his family still living in Tampa than it does a huge level of interest from Detroit -- Barry told me they were divvying up campus workouts and he saw good reason to come home to his family, which hasn't yet made the move to Michigan. Barry didn't want to discuss Nicholas specifically, but said these campus trips are often as enlightening on a personal level, a chance to ask strength coaches and secretaries and other people about prospects and their behaviors. He knew Nicholas' father has a church in Jacksonville, seemed impressed by what he'd learned about him off the field.
Nicholas did a smart and/or kind thing in not running the 40 at the NFL combine workouts in Indy, knowing if he did so only at his campus workout, it'd bring more pro scouts which would give more exposure to his fellow seniors. Nicholas might be the only draft pick this season -- USF's first since J.R. Reid in 2004 -- but the rest of the class benefitted from the interest in Nicholas. All the times and numbers I reference here are straight from USF, so don't think I had a stopwatch with me or anything like that ...
-- Tackle Thed Watson, dismissed from the team late in the season, worked out for scouts. He struck me as being in not-as-good shape as his USF days, and weighed in at 6 feet, 3.5 inches and 302 pounds, a little off from the 6-5, 295 he was listed at with the Bulls. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.14 seconds, and in the bench press of 225 pounds, he had only 16 reps, pretty low for an offensive lineman. By comparison, receiver S.J. Green, 90 pounds lighter, had 19 reps.
-- Safety Jeremy Burnett didn't run or do agility drills because of a hamstring injury, but he has a good agent in Brian Levy, who watched with former Buc and Seahawks d-lineman Chartric Darby. Burnett, who was listed at 6-1, 190 at USF, was measured at 5-10.5, 201 pounds.
-- Receiver Ean Randolph looked sharp catching passes and had USF's best numbers in the vertical leap (35 inches), broad jump (9 feet, 9 inches). And while he had the best 40 time at the workout, I think he would have liked to have posted something lower than a 4.57. The Big East Special Teams Player of the Year has speed as a strong asset, but I'm thinking NFL teams will be wary of his height (5-8.3). Green ran in 4.63 seconds, tight end Devin Gordon in 4.89 and quarterback Pat Julmiste in 4.81 seconds. Former safety Drametrice Smith, who worked out as well, ran a 4.75.
-- I don't want to dwell on the heights and weights, but I find the discrepancy striking between rosters and actual measurements. It could be as simple as USF measuring players in cleats and the pros going barefoot, but sometimes it's more than that. Julmiste, for instance, was listed at 6-3, 220, but he measured Friday as 6 feet, 0.6 inches, 232 pounds. Green, also listed at 6-3, 220, was 6 feet, 1.7 inches and 212 pounds. Nicholas measured at 6-1.1, 226, and St. Louis was 5-11.7, 227. Again, none of this takes away from what these guys were able to do on the field. I always think of Charles Barkley and remember I shouldn't be surprised. And in truth, nobody thinks about Barkley's height when they look at his career stats.
-- Nicholas was listed as running a 4.65 40, identical to St. Louis. That wouldn't put him in the top 10 compared to 40 times from the combine, but it's hard to compare times on different surfaces, indoor vs. outdoor, etc. ... Nicholas, by the way, has Chad Speck of Knoxville as his agent. Speck boasts Titans d-lineman Albert Haynesworth and newly signed Dolphins receiver Kelley Washington among his clients, and he's also representing Florida receiver Jemalle Cornelius in this draft.
-- To get a sense of the wide range of scouting eyes watching the draft, there were plenty of NFL scouts, but also a contingent from the Sarasota Millionaires, an awkwardly-named franchise in the Southern States Football League. I won't go so far as to call them semi-pro: According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, players with the Millionaires are not paid and must provide their own equipment. The team does not provide insurance and asks each player for a $250 registration fee for expenses. That's similar to my 4-year-old son's soccer league, though they might not have to provide juice boxes and snacks as often as I do.
-- If you missed Saturday's paper, we noted that walk-on receiver Colby Erskin (who had the team's fastest 40 time this spring at 4.26 seconds, edging freshman Carlton Mitchell at 4.28) will be placed on scholarship this fall. Erskin caught five passes for 73 yards as a freshman last fall. ... One roster note for the walk-on junkies: defensive end Matt Aycox, entering his redshirt sophomore season out of Gainesville, will get a look at tight end this spring. Aycox, listed at 220 pounds, will provide depth at tight end, where the Bulls graduate Will Bleakley and Devin Gordon. That puts him behind scholarship players Cedric Hill, Ben Busbee and Andrew Ketchel, but there's good history of walk-on tight ends making their way onto the field. Remember, too, that of the two tight ends signed last month, Mike McGowan is a greyshirt coming in January and Kevenski McGee hasn't posted qualifying entrance exam scores, so Aycox has a good shot at playing special teams, if nothing else.
Hope that's a good football fix for you guys, with spring football now just 10 days away ... Keep sending your comments here and e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. ...