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March 26, 2008For more coverage of spring practice,
check out Spring Practice Central 2008.
STORRS, Conn. - With over 330 players on the field at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis in late February for the NFL's annual scouting combine, it doesn't take much for a player to feel overwhelmed by all the poking, prodding, testing and interviewing that is asked of him.
It was a slightly different feeling, then, for UConn cornerback Tyvon Branch and guard Donald Thomas on Wednesday as the duo took to the turf for a pro day workout in front of representatives from 13 NFL teams.
Branch, perhaps the Huskies' top prospect, noticed the difference as soon as he stepped into the weight room to begin the workout.
"At the combine, there are so many coaches, but there are like a trillion players out there," Branch said. "Out here, I was the only DB working out, so it was a little different."
Dan Davis, who played at defensive tackle last season but is vying for a spot as a defensive end, linebacker Danny Lansanah and wide receiver Larry Taylor also worked out for the scouts. Joining them at the exclusive workout were Erik Woodring, a Greenwich native who played linebacker at Middlebury College, and Ryne Nutt, a center from Central Connecticut State.
The seven players began in the weight room, where their heights and weights were taken before testing their vertical leap and their performance in the bench press. They then headed to the field, where they were timed in the 40-yard dash, the shuttle run and the three-cone drill.
Branch, who ran a the fastest 40-yard dash for a cornerback in Indianapolis at 4.31 seconds, and Thomas, whose 5.0 seconds was second-best for a lineman, declined to participate in that drill Wednesday.
The scouts concluded the workout by putting the players through specialized drills, including testing Branch's pass-catching ability, Taylor's route-running and the footwork of Davis and Lansanah. Scouts who were looking for additional information stayed around after the workout for one-on-one meetings with the players.
"You want to see if they're football guys: Do they love football? Are they character guys? Are they passionate about it?" said Dave Campo, a scout for the Dallas Cowboys. "That's kind of what I look for."
With the NFL Draft only a month away, some scouts attending the pro day admitted that their opinions of several players are already made up and that the workouts give them an extra chance to see that what the players displayed on film line up with what they can do in person.
"The main thing you get to see if guys are working out," said a scout representing an AFC North team who asked not to be identified. "Some guys come in and they might not be as in shape as you hoped, or some guys come in and exceed expectations. That's the initial thing you see."
Times were not officially announced, but a second scout recorded a 4.71 40-yard dash for Lansanah and a 4.48 for Taylor, who also ran an 11.6 in the 60-yard shuttle run - a longer version of the drill designed for quicker players.
Most of the players came away happy with their performances - "I think I could have run it faster than that with a better warm-up, but I'm satisfied with that," Taylor said - though there were a few rough spots. Davis slipped twice on the shuttle run and did not complete the drill, while Lansanah slipped on his first attempt.
Branch, who dropped two passes on individual workouts, admitted that dropping passes is his worst attribute at this point, but that he's continued to work on catching the ball. Thomas, who appeared not to make any egregious mistakes, enjoyed the comfort of the Shenkman Center.
"Indianapolis is was more intense because it's like the whole four days you're there, it's like a job interview," Thomas said. "It's way more nerve-racking doing it there than here. You're more relaxed here."
Both Branch and Thomas project as middle-round picks. Davis, Lansanah and Taylor hope to have a chance at signing free agent contracts, though two representatives from AF2 - the Arena Football minor league - were also on hand.
"When we come out, what we look for is to see the kid move around, and you're really trying to confirm things that you've seen on film," said John Dorsey, a scout for the Green Bay Packers. "When a guy comes out to one of these workouts, that's what he's trying to do; he's trying to confirm things they've seen on film - or maybe not seen on film, but you see it here."
While many of the scouts left well in advance of the individualized workouts, the AFC North scout stuck around to see what else the players could do. He declined to say which player he was specifically targeting but was happy with what he saw.
"You thought maybe he could do something on film mostly working in open space and how he redirects," the scout said. "It definitely reinforced it here today."
Zac Boyer, now the editor and publisher of UConnReport.com, covers UConn sports for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.