By David Kiefer
Remember the critic who claimed Andrew Luck couldn't make "NFL" throws?
Luck put 75 yards between that notion and reality with a ball that traveled as far in the air before meeting the hands of speedster Chris Owusu in stride on Luck's final toss of Stanford's Pro Timing Day on Thursday.
The element of Luck, likely to become the fourth Stanford quarterback to be selected with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, created a festive atmosphere on the artificial turf at Elliott Field and highlighted a banner day for Cardinal football under a national spotlight.
There were more than 100 personnel representing all 32 NFL teams, plus 200 credentialed media, including crews from ESPN, which aired the workouts live on-line, and the NFL Network. Thirty Stanford players lined the edge of the field, with tight end Zach Ertz shouting like a fan with a 50-yard line seat, and several hundred fans sat or stood in the makeshift stands.
Among those on hand were NFL head coaches Mike Shanahan (Washington Redskins) and Ken Whisenhunt (Arizona Cardinals), Redskins owner Dan Snyder, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young and Warren Moon, and Super Bowl-winning QB Trent Dilfer. Also there were current NFL players and Stanford alums Jim Dray, Thomas Keiser, Owen Marecic, Konrad Reuland, Richard Sherman, and Ryan Whalen.
Country band Lady Antebellum and singer-songwriter Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish - big football fans all - were planning to come too, but ultimately were unable to attend.
"This is crazy," said Keiser, who just completed his rookie year with the Carolina Panthers. "It used to be that your friends could stand five yards away, with their girlfriends in heels next to them.
As for the football?
"The exposure's huge," Keiser said. "We have a lot of potential in the first round, but also a lot of guys who could be steals in the mid to late rounds. This is a great opportunity for them."
Luck was among 13 Cardinal players tested in a series of strength and agility drills under cold, cloudy, and windy conditions (54 degrees with winds up to 15 mph), in hopes of attracting attention in advance of the NFL Draft, to be held April 26-28.
Luck, offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, offensive guard David DeCastro, and tight end Coby Fleener all are strong candidates to land in the first round.
As a whole, the results were spectacular.
"We might have gotten guys drafted today," said Shannon Turley, the team's sports performance coordinator. "And a few others may have locked up spots in the first round."
Among the big winners was Matthew Masifilo. The 6-foot-3 defensive end had the most bench-press repetitions - 38 at 225 pounds. And for a 295-pounder, Masifilo jumped an amazing 35 1/2 vertical inches and clocked a best of 4.95 seconds in the 40.
Another who helped himself was Delano Howell. The strong safety recorded marks of 38.5 inches on the vertical jump, 10-1 in the standing broad jump, and 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash. These were improvements over the figures of 33, 10-0, and 4.63 he had recorded at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis from Feb. 22-28.
Johnson Bademosi undoubtedly drew attention with a series of outstanding marks. The cornerback ran the fastest 40 of the day, with a range in the low 4.3's (taking into account the differences in stopwatch times), and tied fellow cornerback Corey Gatewood for the highest vertical, at 40 inches.
Receiver Griff Whalen had the day's best times in the 3-cone and 20-yard agility drills, and Gatewood had the best broad jump (10-7)
All of the defensive backs, including free safety Michael Thomas, had verticals of 38 or better and broad jumps of at least 10 feet.
Among players with first-round potential, Fleener and Martin did much to help their causes. Neither was at their best in the February Combine, Fleener didn't test because of an ankle injury suffered during the Fiesta Bowl, and Martin because of an illness that prevented him from participating in all but position drills.
Fleener's ankle remains less than 100 percent, and he tweaked it as he planted during one drill, causing him to get it re-taped. But Fleener took on every drill anyway and continued to work out after Luck's throwing session at the request of NFL scouts - on both his blocking and catching, the latter by lying on the ground and quickly getting to his feet to catch passes.
The 6-foot-6 Fleener, who weighed in at 247 pounds, had a 37-inch vertical lap, 9-8 broad jump, and ran the 40 in the mid 4.4's.
The 6-5 Martin, weighed in at 307, clocked in the 5.2's in the 40, and had a 30-inch vertical and 8-8 broad jump.
"I'm never going to run 40 yards in a game, unless it's chasing down an interception or something," Martin said. "But, it was fun to compete."
Of course, for many watching, the day truly began at 12:52 p.m. when Luck took the first of his 50 scheduled throws.
From the beginning, Luck appeared relaxed. His preparation was obvious, and his footwork precise. Luck was challenged in several areas, by not falling into a pattern of simple dropbacks and throws. Instead, his repertoire included rollouts, shoulder fakes, bootlegs, slants, posts, corner routes, sideline out patterns, swing passes, and the aforementioned bomb.
Often, his movement was provoked or inhibited by the motions of his private quarterback coach, George Whitfield, who chased him while holding up a broom - to replicate a rush from a tall defender with a long reach - and threw water bottles at him in mid-motion.
"I wanted to show I could make all the throws that I am asked to do," Luck said. I thought I did that to a degree, so it was a good day in that regard."
By not throwing at the Combine, Luck was able to draw interest in his teammates - another benefit of his presence on Thursday.
Said offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, "We wanted to showcase their talents - Griff's consistency coming out of the break, Owusu's speed, Coby's versatility."
"That was a big focus for me," Luck said. "I'm in a unique position ... I have the chance to be drafted really high. So, maybe a Pro Day is not going to hurt or help me as much as it could these other guys. I wanted to go out there and really showcase the strength of our receivers."
Luck completed 46 of his 50 passes. Though four fell incomplete, three were drops. Only one, over the head of Whalen on a deep corner route, was off the mark.
"My bad, Griff," Luck said.
Luck's proudest pass? His second-to-last one, the 20-yard fade that Fleener leaped to catch in the back corner of the end zone, getting his feet in bounds, before tumbling to the turf.
"I wanted to give him a chance to jump up there and show off his hops and his stretch, and show what he can do in the red zone," Luck said. "I'm secretly very proud of putting it in the right spot for him."
His final throw, of course, was the one everyone else left talking about. It wasn't in the script, but Stanford head coach David Shaw and Hamilton asked for it.
"We talked him into it, just to see him throw it," Shaw said.
Part was a response to the question of Luck's arm strength, which hadn't been displayed to its fullest because Stanford hasn't often thrown deep, because its fastest player had been sidelined."
"Some of the scouts have never seen it," Shaw said. "Without Chris being healthy for really two years, we really haven't had that deep threat. To launch the ball 60 or 70 yards, we haven't had the opportunity to do that."
As the day wound down, Shaw took a moment to reflect on the enormity of the exposure, especially at a program that went 1-11 as recently as 2006.
"These were the guys that came in when Stanford football was at a low point, and they were determined to turn this program around," Shaw said. "They did that and this is the reward for them, to have this opportunity in front of all these scouts and the national media, to show that they're ready to play at the next level."
Sitting in Turley's office late in the day, Bademosi was beaming. A strong overall performance definitely enhanced his draft chances.
"Thanks, Coach," he said to Turley, offering an embrace. "Thanks for all you've done for me."
As Bademosi walked away, sore but content, Turley couldn't hide his pride.
"An exciting day for Stanford football," he said.
An exciting day indeed.
This story contains 1479 words.
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