Scott, Vernon highlight Duke pro timing day
Nothing jiggled when Desmond Scott took off his shirt and got ready to run during Duke’s pro day at the team’s indoor practice facility on Monday.
Scott’s chest poked out, he appeared to have no stomach and it looked like boulders were sitting on top of his bare shoulders as he zigged and zagged for NFL scouts holding stopwatches and clipboards.
Conner Vernon was out there, too, putting his best foot forward over and over, running routes for the scouts.
“This is the audition,” Vernon said. “You’ve really only got one shot at this.”
Vernon, the top pass catcher in ACC history in receptions and receiving yards, already had participated in the invitation-only NFL Scouting Combine in February. But an acrobatic grab in front of those scouts at Duke was another opportunity to show his stuff.
“He caught everything,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Anything he got his hands on, he caught. Conner Vernon is a great football player.”
Vernon said, with all due respect, that he’s no Wes Welker, unless the comparison to the NFL slot receiver has to do with the veteran’s longevity in the league.
“If I could have the career he had, if you told me that, I’d take it tomorrow,” Vernon said.
But Vernon (6-1, 200) is bigger than Welker, and he said the two have different styles.
“Conner wasn’t a short-ball, screen catcher,” Cutcliffe said. “He had a few of those, but he is a dig, post, takeoff (receiver). He beat a lot of good corners consistently in this league that are now playing in the NFL.”
Vernon acknowledged that he is one of the top receivers ever to play in the ACC, though he knows that his résumé doesn’t guarantee him a job in the NFL.
“It just goes to show how hard it is to play at this level,” Vernon said. “It’s not for everybody.”
What is certain is that Duke football has changed, from the indoor practice facility that wasn’t there when Vernon was a freshman to the 21 NFL scouts who were on campus for pro day.
“The NFL is respecting what we’ve been able to accomplish here at Duke,” Vernon said. “We produce talent, so they’re bringing guys out here to check it out.”
The other participants at the pro day included Jackson Anderson, Jordon Byas, Tony Foster, Donovan Varner and Johnny Williams.
Varner and Williams wrapped up their Duke careers in 2012 but returned looking for shots at the NFL.
Quarterback Sean Renfree is in Phoenix recovering from surgery on his right pectoralis major muscle, Cutcliffe said. Renfree, whose father is an orthopedic surgeon, is free of pain and has full range of motion, and Cutcliffe added that he expects him to get an opportunity to play in the NFL.
Cutcliffe said he wants to see Renfree throw to make sure he hasn’t developed any bad mechanics.
The pro scouts wanted to see how fast Cutcliffe’s former players could run 40 yards, get an idea of how nifty their feet are and test their strength, among other measurements.
One of the knocks on these sorts of events is that they don’t always tell the truth about what a guy can do on the football field, but Scott was game.
“Obviously, it matters to them, so I came out here and tried to give them what they wanted,” Scott said after bench pressing 225 pounds 21 times, broad jumping 10 feet, 2 inches, getting up 34 ½ inches on his vertical leap and performing agility drills. “The stuff we did today is the stuff I used to do in my back yard growing up. So today was no pressure, just going out in the back yard and having fun.”
Duke lost to Cincinnati in Charlotte’s Belk Bowl on Dec. 27. Two days later, Scott said that he was in Atlanta doing mixed-martial arts to strengthen his core.
“I’ve been rolling ever since,” Scott said. “After this, I can go get some Bojangles’. I’ve been eating clean for about two weeks now, and I’ve been waking up hungry every day, so finally I can go get some grease and some fries. It’s Bo time at Bojangles’. Maybe they want me to endorse it.”