Pitt All-American defensive lineman Aaron Donald, one of the breakout stars at the recent NFL Scouting Combine, chose not to run the 40-yard dash at Pitt’s pro day workout Monday for NFL coaches and scouts in attendance.
“I retired my 40 cleats,” Donald joked.
After being timed at 4.68 in the 40 and bench pressing 225 pounds 35 times at the combine in Indianapolis, there was no reason for Donald to show his skills again. But for several other former Panthers with their sights set on the NFL, the opportunity to run and lift weights was their best chance to open some eyes.
“[Monday] was pretty important,” said Steel Valley High graduate Tyrone Ezell, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive lineman. “For me, [Monday] was that one chance. I really had to take it serious and give everything I had. You just don’t get another opportunity like this.”
In addition to Ezell, linebackers Shane Gordon and Emmanuel Rackard, safety Jason Hendricks, receiver Ed Tinker, cornerback K’Waun Williams and punter Matt Yoklic had their first opportunity to work out for NFL teams at the UPMC facility on the South Side. Combine invitees Donald, receiver Devin Street and quarterback Tom Savage took part in the pro day to varying degrees.
Hendricks, who made 37 starts in his college career, was disappointed he did not receive an invitation to the combine. According to nfldraftscout.com, he is ranked as one of the top-20 strong safeties available in the draft.
His performance Monday will either raise his profile or send him farther back in line in what is considered one of the deepest drafts in decades. The draft is May 8-10 in New York.
“They have certain people they want to see [at the combine],” Hendricks said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those guys. I kind of took it to heart. I just spent my time training and trying to get better every day.”
Ezell, a two-year starter, looks the part of an NFL player. He is 2 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Donald, but his production did not match that of his former teammate. He did not test as well as Donald, either.
Ezell bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times Monday, 13 fewer than Donald, but he said he was happy with his performance overall.
“I was pretty calm,” Ezell said. “[Sunday] night I couldn’t sleep too well, but I got out there and I just did what I know how to do. I wasn’t too nervous.”
While Donald had nothing to prove after the combine, Street decided to run and perform the agility drills again, and he improved upon the times he put up in Indianapolis.
Street said he was timed between 4.46 and 4.50 in the 40-yard dash by scouts, an improvement over the 4.55 he posted at the combine. He also performed better in L-cone drill — which tests quickness and agility — finishing in 6.65 seconds after being timed at 6.89 at the combine.
“I did well at the combine but it’s always about competing, whether it’s against others or myself,” Street said. “I wasn’t going to just do on-field drills here. I wanted to get better in some things. I’m a perfectionist. I want to be the best I can be. I wanted to improve those two numbers.”
Donald, who is projected as a first-round selection after his strong combine performance, worked out only in select position drills. He is the only Pitt player with some certainty about his professional future as the draft nears. For the others, the next two months will be long ones.
“You become anxious,” Hendricks said. “You’re just waiting for that time. It’s sad they moved the draft back. You get a little antsy. You just want to see what happens at the end of the day.”
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.