One last chancePublished 8:43pm Wednesday, March 23, 2011
GREENVILLE — A clear sky and temperatures hovering around 80 degrees provided the dream backdrop for the 14 Pirate football players looking to showcase their skills for their dream job during East Carolina’s pro day Wednesday.
The players lifted weights, ran agility drills and caught passes in front of six NFL scouts armed with clipboards and stopwatches.
Last year, East Carolina had a star-studded pro day as 27 scouts game out to watch the likes of C.J. Wilson (seventh round, Green Bay Packers), Linval Joseph (second round, N.Y. Giants) and Matt Dodge (seventh round, N.Y. Giants).
Of the 14 East Carolina players, the two with the best chance of hearing their name called during the 2011 NFL draft are wide receiver Dwayne Harris and offensive tackle Willie Smith.
The 5-10, 203-pound Harris and the 6-6, 313-pound Smith were the only two Pirates to receive an invitation to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis this year and used the pro day as a chance to improve on some results from the January scouting event.
“I think I did well, I got a lot of great feedback from the coaches who were out here who said I did well,” Harris said. “I did great in the route running and did great in the 40 (-yard dash). That’s the only thing I did today, I did most everything else at the combine. I just came out here and worked on my 40 and it paid off.”
Despite being ECU’s all-time leader in receptions (268) and receiving yards (3,001), questions have always surrounded Harris’s speed and route running ability. On Wednesday, in front of scouts from the Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins, Houston Texas, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles, Harris felt he took steps towards answering those questions.
Harris ran a unimpressive 4.55 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, but on Wednesday he was able to shave some time off.
“I felt like my performance in Indy went well, but I felt like my 40 wasn’t where I wanted it so I came out here and redid it,” Harris said. “I got a lot of good feedback. A lot of people said it was a 4.38, some said 4.4, so I think I did good.”
The Stone Mountain, Ga. native is projected by CBSSports.com to get selected in between the fifth and the sixth round of the draft and has already been invited to workout with at least on NFL team.
“Right now I have a private workout scheduled with Atlanta on the 14th, hopefully there will be plenty more to come,” Harris said. “I think Baltimore wants me to have a private workout and also Dallas; and I think Green Bay will too.”
Harris set single-season school records in 2011 with 101 catches and 1,123 receiving yards in first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s spread offense as an outside receiver. However, due to his height, Harris is better suited to play slot receiver in the NFL and has won over a lot of scouts with his punt return skills.
“Right now I think everybody is looking at me to do punt return,” said Harris, who was the 2009 Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year. “A lot of people like me as a punt returner, but a lot of people want me to play in the slot as well. It will be funny to see where I end up playing.”
While Harris dominated headlines in 2010, Smith, the Pirates’ starting left tackle for the last two years, slid under the radar. Those days are over as it appears the athletic offensive lineman’s stock is rising. Fans should not be shocked if the all-conference lineman gets selected ahead of Harris because it is a lot harder to find a raw, athletic lineman with good reach than it is a jitterbug wide receiver. CBSSports.com has Smith predicted Smith would be taken anywhere between the sixth and the seventh round of the draft.
Due to a strained pectoral muscle Smith did not bench press at the combine, but on Wednesday the lean lineman proved he has the strength to backup his athleticism.
“As of today, I think I did a good job. I put up a good number on the bench press, I put 27 (repetitions of 225-pounds) up. At the combine that’s like top-10 right there,” Smith said. “I put up a better 40 time and did a better job in the L drill. I had a good day overall.”
Smith, who was listed as 6-6, 290 pounds heading into the 2010 season, has gained 23 pounds since then and on Wednesday he improved his 40 time. Smith ran a 5.4 in Indy, but was able to run a 5.38 during pro day.
Smith is a versatile lineman who played guard at the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game this year. His versatility and high ceiling is a big reason why the Carolina Panthers have already taken a look at him, and more teams are soon to follow.
“Last week I did private workout with the Carolina Panthers and come April I got a visit with the Jaguars, so it’s looking good for me,” Smith said. “I have been hearing some good things. A lot teams like me. They like the fact that I have only been playing tackle for two years and have a lot of upside. I started out as a D-end. In my second year I moved over and played tight end a little bit and then got moved to tackle.”
The most intriguing athlete at the Pirates pro day was running back Jonathan Williams. Listed by ECU at 6-1, 196 pounds, Williams has the size and speed of an NFL back but his arrest in 2008 for assault, along with his reputation for fumbling, are both big deterrents for NFL teams.
In 2010, Williams played in all 13 games for the Pirates and led the team in rushing with 883 yards while setting a school record for pass receptions by a running back with 52. The speedy senior also led the team with six fumbles, five of which were recovered by an opponent.
On Wednesday, Williams was a man on a mission.
“I was out to prove that I’m one of the best running backs out here. I have been working hard for that and I got all the confidence in the world that I’m one of the best running backs out here,” Williams said. “I needed to show that I have speed. I needed to show everything really. I came out here to prove a point.”
As with Harris, Williams’ 40 time was viewed with a lot of interest. The senior back felt he turned in a solid performance.
“I did a good job, that (40 times) is a deal breaker,” Williams said. “For them to see how fast I was … they’re going to jump on that. I heard the first time I ran was a 4.42, but I didn’t hear the second time.”
With all the X-factors that surround Williams it is nearly impossible to gauge his draft stock. It would not be crazy to see him get drafted, but the more likely scenario would be that he receives a free agent invite to a team’s training camp.
Williams, who along with Harris is represented by agent Jamie Gould, was seen having lengthy discussions with a scout from the Indianapolis Colts.