Tulane Pro Day showcases draft class to NFL teams

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

Eleven former Tulane University football players worked out at Tulane’s Pro Day in hopes of raising their draft stock. At Yulman Stadium on March 16, the players completed both general and position specific drills under the New Orleans sun.

“It’s a blessing to have all 32 [NFL] teams here, so I think it’s a blessing to have everybody there watching. It is pretty neat to have them come out to practice and have them be so close,” linebacker and former team captain Dorian Williams said.

Every NFL team sent a representative to the event with approximately 50 scouts, coaches and executives present. The New Orleans Saints sent the largest contingent which included president and general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Dennis Allen, Director of Pro Personnel Michael Parenton and a plethora of position coaches. Also present were New York Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich and linebacker coaches from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals. 

Tyjae Spears headlined the event. He did not execute the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine earlier in the month, but his fastest time was 4.47 seconds at Yulman Stadium. “That’s probably the best I’m gonna get so I feel pretty good,” Spears said. 

Saints running backs coach Joel Thomas put Spears through a series of drills, all of which the Tulane back excelled in. “[Thomas was] very detailed on what he wanted to see and that’s good. Having that communication with a coach and a player, that’s the biggest thing because you tell me what you want and I will do it to the best of my ability,” Spears said. Following the Pro Day, Spears has meetings scheduled with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans. 

The other major interest for NFL teams was Tulane’s linebacker tandem of Williams and Nick Anderson. Williams attended the NFL Combine, but Anderson was not invited. In the broad jump, Anderson’s excellent 10-foot-1-inch jump caused the two of them to explode in celebration for each other. Later in the day, the different defensive coaches each had specific drills they wanted to see from Williams and Anderson.

At the end of the drills, Steelers inside linebackers coach Aaron Curry had a long conversation with the pair. “He really was just talking about soaking in the moment, you know, not taking this moment for granted,” Anderson said. “[He] told us to never stop being students of the game, always take as much as we can from anybody and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to make connections. And he really just gave us different life tips, which was pretty neat.”

A former linebacker himself, Curry was the fourth overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2009 but only played four seasons in the league. He immediately went into coaching after his playing career ended, and the Steelers hired him at the end of last season.

Following the Pro Day, Anderson met with the New York Jets. Williams is still waiting to hear back from teams.

The other players at the Pro Day were safeties Larry Brooks, Lummie Young and Macon Clark, receivers Shae Wyatt and Duece Watts, tight ends Tyrick James and Will Wallace and defensive lineman Tylo Philipps. Two quarterbacks currently on Tulane’s roster for next season — Kai Horton and Carson Haggard — assisted in any drills requiring a quarterback.

While certain players received a lot of praise and attention either on Pro Day or throughout the whole draft process, others were more anxious, hoping to make the most out of their opportunity. The event was their best chance to impress NFL scouts, although the Saints will host a local Pro Day on April 7.

Brooks and Clark both mentioned special teams as being the likely ticket to making the NFL and praised Tulane head coach Willie Fritz for emphasizing that aspect throughout their Tulane careers. “Special teams is where I gotta make my money at. Here Coach Fritz and special teams, man, if you don’t know how to play special teams, you’re probably not going to get on the field. So you gotta learn,” Brooks said.

For these players, the day was bittersweet as it was the last time many of them will share the field together. The players all mentioned how much it meant to have each other and their teammates in the stands watching them. 

Spears said it best after the day was done:  “At the end of the day that’s what it’s about you know helping [as much as you can your] brother/teammate. For some of us, this is the last time being with each other again. So you know, you want to make memories.”

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