NFL lockout on the minds of former Terps at Maryland's Pro Day

Torrey Smith, Alex Wujciak among ex-UM players looking to begin pro careers during uncertain time

March 16, 2011|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — Lingering uncertainty from the NFL lockout filtered down to the Maryland campus, where wide receiver Torrey Smith, linebacker Alex Wujciak and 13 other draft-eligible former Terps ran, jumped and lifted weights Wednesday in front of about 30 scouts. The prospects, particularly the lesser-known ones, tried not to focus on the labor situation that has complicated efforts to latch on with a professional club.

But it was hard ignore the facts. As long as it continues, the lockout will prevent teams from signing free agents. The undrafted free-agent route has long been an important avenue to the NFL for many players emerging from college.

For highly touted players such as Smith — who ran the fourth-fastest 40-yard time (4.34 seconds) among wide receivers at last month's NFL combine and signed with agent Drew Rosenhaus — the lockout is less of a concern. The draft will go on as scheduled April 28-30, and Smith, who said he interviewed with 18 teams and conducted individual workouts for some, is likely to be a high pick. He skipped some of the drills Wednesday because he had already performed them well at the combine.

Asked whether the Ravens were among the teams that sought a private workout, Smith smiled and said: "Top-secret information."

For other Terps, the lockout could pose an obstacle.

"You say, 'Why this year?'" said linebacker Adrian Moten, who is projected in some mock drafts as a late-round pick. "But you can't worry about it. You can't stress out over it because you won't perform out here."

Moise Fokou has been there. The former Maryland linebacker was drafted in the seventh round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 and stuck with the team.

Fokou was among nearly a dozen former Terps, many now in the NFL, who returned to Cole Field House and the Maryland practice fields to reunite with old friends during the school's pro timing day. Whistles blew in the background as he watched many of the prospects — most wearing practice shorts and form-fitting tops — being measured in weightlifting, sprints and jumps.

"It's like a fraternity," said defensive back Kevin Barnes (Washington Redskins). "It's like the way the old guys welcome the new guys."

Fokou remembers what it feels like to have your NFL ambitions so completely out of your hands. While prospects are always subject to the judgments of scouts, this season's group faces additional uncertainty because their agents can't negotiate deals with teams.

"No man's land," said Fokou, shaking his head. "It's really tough for them. They're not going to have the communication with teams, they're not going to have the time to come in and study the playbook. They're kind of being shortchanged, and that's sad to see. You've always got to believe in destiny. Some of these guys will make it."

Fokou slapped hands, embraced and joked with other returning players such as receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oakland Raiders), defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre (Arizona Cardinals) and offensive lineman Phil Costa (Dallas Cowboys).

Wide receiver Adrian Cannon hopes to join the NFL fraternity. Since the season ended, he has been working to upgrade his 40-yard dash time to below 4.5 seconds to interest scouts. He said he succeeded by running a 4.4

Cannon said he has neither the time nor the inclination to worry about the lockout.

"My biggest goal was to handle the [pro-timing] day and just let that stuff work itself out, just keep my trust in God," Cannon said.

The scouts came not only from around the NFL, but from Canada.

Mike Gibson stood out in his brightly colored jacket bearing the name of the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders. Gibson, the team's running backs coach, said he came to scout former Maryland defensive back Michael Carter.

Carter is from Windsor, Ontario. The CFL requires that a certain number of players be from Canada, and Gibson said he was there to observe Carter and see "if someone else stands out."

The lockout could affect prospects, at least the top ones, in another way. Some players believe former college stars should boycott the draft in New York City in a show of unity.

But Heyward-Bey and Navarre said they would not begrudge a player's attending the big event.

"If you want to attend the draft, you should attend the draft," Heyward-Bey said. "It's the opportunity of a lifetime."

Smith, expected to be Maryland's highest-drafted player this year, said he had not been invited to attend the draft. "To me, I have no problems watching it back home in Virginia," he said.

Other former Terps attending the workouts were punter-kicker Travis Baltz, defensive back Kevin Brown, defensive lineman Drew Gloster, receiver Emani Lee-Odai, defensive back Antwine Perez, offensive lineman Paul Pinegar, running back Da'Rel Scott, punter-holder Ted Townsley, receiver LaQuan Williams and tight end Will Yeatman.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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