If the Texas Longhorns NFL Draft hopefuls work out at the annual Pro Timing Day and no NFL personnel show up, did it really happen? If the Longhorn Network opts not to air any live coverage, did it really happen?
It did happen, as it turns out, as nine departing seniors and early entrant defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway showed up at the Bubble in Austin and worked out for the handful of scouts in attendance, though Ridgeway is still the only player who is likely to go in the 2016 NFL Draft. Injured running back Johnathan Gray (Achilles) and linebacker Peter Jinkens (ACL) were also there.
Since Ridgeway already worked out at the NFL Draft Combine and none of the other Texas players are considered legitimate candidates to be drafted, attendance declined once again, with Alex Dunlap of Orangebloods saying that it was the most sparse crowd he's seen at such an event this year. As a draft analyst, he's been to a few.
In fact, there weren't any general managers, head coaches, or even coordinators there. Only three scouting directors showed up, according to Dunlap.
There were several former Texas players who helped themselves, however, including wide receiver/return man Daje Johnson and cornerback Duke Thomas.
Johnson unofficially ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and posted a 38-inch vertical leap. As was the case throughout his career, though, things didn't go perfectly, as he strained his hamstring and wasn't able to go through position drills, a significant setback for him since he displayed questionable hands during his time at Texas.
"I think I helped myself," Johnson said. "Unfortunately I didn't get to finish through because I got injured on the 40, but I feel like I helped myself pretty well. I did real good on the bench, real good on the broad, real good on the vertical and I still ran a good time in the 40 even though I did get hurt. I feel like I helped myself overall."
He can't necessarily stand on his film, either. The Pflugerville product posted a modest stat line of 37 catches for 415 yards as a senior, but only scored one touchdown. Fortunately for his case to catch on as an undrafted free agent, he did return a punt for a touchdown against Rice and more than a few teams avoided kicking to him after that.
So perhaps an NFL team will finally unlock the potential that was always so tantalizing, but rarely displayed in burnt orange and white.
"No I didn't," Johnson said bluntly when asked if he was able to show of his skill set at Texas.
"Just because of myself, and not to blame any coaches or anything, but just the system we were in, mixing up coaches and switching coaches and everything. But I don't feel like I showed my full potential, just glimpses here and there. I feel like I could really show what I can do at the next level if I get the opportunity."
Thomas needed to run well since he's undersized at 5'10 and ran as low as 4.37 in the 40-yard dash on the fast track. Scouts went with 4.40 or 4.41, but that's still the type of time that he needed as a complement to his senior film, which showed him playing a variety of roles and record 58 tackles, five passes defensed, three tackles for loss, and one interception.
Afterwards, Thomas was hopeful that he will be able to catch on somewhere. He should definitely have a chance in some workouts.
"I've been getting great feedback," he said. "The guy who worked me through my drills told me I did a great job. Hopefully, I get some calls soon."
Defensive end Shiro Davis also put on the expected display as an athlete -- testing was never really a problem for him. At 267 pounds or so, he had a 34.5-inch vertical leap, the same as Duke Thomas, and was asked to stay late to speak with scouts, along with wide receiver Marcus Johnson, who recorded a 37-inch vertical leap.
The big story of the day was Ridgeway, who showed up at 309 pounds and generally looked impressive physically.
He reiterated that he left because he received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board and doesn't have any regrets about his decision. Nor should he, as he's well-positioned to hear his name called relatively early despite a deep defensive tackle class this year.
In fact, his agent said that Ridgeway will have eight to 10 workouts prior to the draft and was described by several scouts as more talented than last year's first-round draft pick at defensive tackle from Texas, Malcom Brown. High praise indeed.
Since he was able to post good straight-line numbers in Indianapolis, he didn't work out much, though he did go through agility drills after he was unimpressive changing direction at the Combine. In a significant development, he was able to improve on his agility numbers at the Combine with a 4.69 20-yard shuttle and a 7.33 three-cone drill.
As a junior, Ridgeway wasn't able to post incredibly impressive stats, as he had to play through a number of injuries and was healthy for only about five or six games in 2015.
"Not just my back," he said. "I had shoulder, ankle, back, so I had three different injuries that happened throughout the year that slowed me down. I caught my speed then I would get hindered again. I caught my speed and got hindered again. But it's not something that I'll have to sit out through. You have to push through those games. My team needed me and you have to play."
While NFL types will respect the fact that Ridgeway worked through those injuries, he will have to prove that he has better durability to reach his potential at the next level.
As usual, there were a host of former Longhorns in town for the event.
The players appreciated the support.
"We pull each other through no matter what and the support from the current and ex-players is showing that we left our mark on those guys, built a brotherhood, and hopefully they can continue what was passed on to us and run with it and pass it on to the next guys that come," said offensive tackle Marcus Hutchins.
One of the former players who showed up as quarterback David Ash, who threw to wide receiver Marcus Johnson and fullback Alex De La Torre. In addition to his big arm, he still has a sense of humor:
David Ash says he considered wearing wig and mustache to pro day, but decided against it. He'll get grad degree in finance in May.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) March 23, 2016
Respect for the Billy Manziel reference, David.
All in all, though not a lot of scouts witnessed it, the Texas players did well and there could be a few unexpected success stories from this group, even if it will have to happen to hard way for everyone there but Ridgeway.