Job search 101: Tar Heels strut their stuff for NFL officials
Versatility was the theme at North Carolina’s football pro day.
UNC’s top prospects had already been timed and measured at last month’s NFL scouting combine, so they skipped the running and lifting portions Tuesday and used the event at the Navy Practice Fields to show off their flexibility during position-group drills.
Guard Jonathan Cooper took turns snapping the ball, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams played some linebacker, linebacker Kevin Reddick worked with the defensive backs and running back Giovani Bernard caught passes.
It was all part of selling themselves to pro scouts before the NFL Draft, which will take place April 25-27.
Two NFL head coaches — Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley — were at UNC, along with general managers from Jacksonville, Detroit and the New York Jets. The Jacksonville staff ran the offensive line through specialized drills, while a Cincinnati assistant worked with the running backs.
Cooper is expected to be UNC’s fifth first-round pick in six years, and the first Tar Heel offensive lineman chosen in the first round since Harris Barton in 1987. The Wilmington native is 10th or 11th on all four of NFL.com’s mock drafts.
Cooper said he will attend the draft in New York City. Until then, he is focusing on finishing his blocks, being more physical and putting on weight. He also wants to show teams he is comfortable at left guard, right guard and center.
“They like the versatility since they only (dress) seven offensive lineman in games,” Cooper said. “So if you can play multiple positions, that helps myself out and the team.”
Cooper enjoyed the training leading up to the combine, since it was just about putting in effort. The mental focus required during interviews and the physical aspects of the combine were more taxing.
“It is a test,” Cooper said. “They are trying to push you and prod you a little bit just to see who you are and what you’re made of.”
Williams, who also has a chance to be a first-round pick, wanted to prove that he could stop the run and rush the passer.
Williams worked out with Warren Sapp in Los Angeles for an upcoming episode of the TV show “Game Changers” and said the Hall of Famer told him to get to the quarterback in five steps.
“You don’t want to spend a lot of time dancing on the line, you don’t want to spend a lot of time engaged with the offensive lineman,” Williams said. “You want to get off the ball, beat him and get in the backfield and make plays.”
Bernard said he wanted to show he had good hands along with his quickness and agility. He’s hoping an emphasis on being a well-rounded player will help his transition to the NFL.
“Once you get to a certain level, guys are going to be bigger and faster than you — it’s just a matter of how you can slow down the game,” Bernard said. “Film — understanding the game of football — is a way to slow it down, but for me I think it’s just continuing to get better at every aspect of my game and hopefully that will help me out.”
Reddick said he’s been working with defensive backs since the combine in order to get better conditioned and more “swift.” He’s received positive feedback from scouts about his toughness and instincts and is now working on his speed.
The New Bern native said all the training hasn’t allowed him to think about how close he is to achieving his dream of playing in the NFL.
“I’m not there yet,” Reddick said. “It’s closing in, but it really hasn’t hit me to be like, ‘Yeah, I did it.’ I’m still working my butt off.”
Like the other UNC prospects, Reddick said he has no idea where he’ll end up next month.
“You probably know more than me, man,” Reddick said. “Trust me, they don’t tell us nothing.”
NOTES — Wide receiver Jheranie Boyd officially posted a vertical jump of 41.5 inches. However, it could have been even higher — the measuring device only records up to that height.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Texas A&M running back Christine Michael was the only player who jumped higher than 41.5 inches.
Boyd also ran a 4.46 40-yard dash, which is faster than Bernard’s time at the combine (4.52). Boyd’s athleticism could make up for a disappointing senior year, when he missed six games due to injury and finished with four catches for 44 yards.