March 8, 2012
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BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Each of Russell Wilson’s passes was completed with laser-like precision – pass after pass after pass – 63 passes in all during his throwing session Wednesday at Pro Timing Day in the McClain Center. Wilson completed passes rolling to his right, rolling left and dropping back in the pocket.
“A couple of the guys (scouts) made reference after Russell hit two or three of those deep balls that they would have stopped the workout – there was no reason to prove anything else,’’ said Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema. “I think that he wants to get it out there that he’s a very accurate passer.’’
That was the purpose of the exercise, according to Chris Weinke, the director of IMG Madden Football Academy in Bradenton, Fla. For the last seven weeks, Wilson has been working with the 39-year-old Weinke, the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner out of Florida State.
“This was an opportunity to come out and make a number of different throws – every throw that Russell will be asked to make on Sundays – and to throw the ball with accuracy,’’ said Weinke, who’s also training Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Texas A & M’s Ryan Tannehill.
“For him to come out there and make over 60 throws and only miss a couple – and the ones he missed were good throws – proved that not only does he have the arm strength, but he’s got great feet and his accuracy is impeccable.
“I wanted to make sure in those 60 throws we covered every possible throw. Quite frankly, he did an unbelievable job. To me, he just put on one of the best QB performances I’ve seen in a long time … He’s one of the most special guys I’ve ever worked with.’’
A year ago, Weinke trained Cam Newton and Christian Ponder before the NFL draft.
“I don’t ever like to overhaul a quarterback,’’ Weinke said. “We focused on footwork to put him (Wilson) in a position to throw the ball with accuracy and velocity. He felt like he had a strong arm coming in, but now he throws with more velocity and accuracy and it all starts with the feet.’’
Everything else will fall into place, Weinke stressed, if the young QB has a strong foundation.
“His whole life they’ve been telling Russell to stand tall in the pocket because he’s so short,’’ Weinke said. “I went against the grain. I told him, ‘We need to bend our legs but stay erect in our torso because an erect torso spins faster and that’s where you generate power.’
“He trusted the process, and trusted my coaching and, like I said earlier, I thought he put on a show (Wednesday). What I’ve told Russell from Day One is that we can’t change his height. But what we can do is continue to focus on the things that we can control.’’
At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Wilson was measured at 5 feet 10 and 5/8 inches.
Wednesday, he was 5-11.
That’s some growth spurt.
“We had him hanging from his feet the last week – that stretched him out a little bit,’’ joked Weinke, who, like Wilson, started out his professional career as a baseball player. Weinke played six years in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system. Wilson played minor league ball for the Colorado Rockies.
“Every once in awhile, baseball sneaks into the conversation,’’ Weinke said. “As two-sport athletes, we have a lot in common. There’s no question the more experiences you have, the more mature you become. Russell is a guy that never gets rattled.
“You watch film of him, and he looks like he’s playing catch in the backyard.’’
That was the way it looked Wednesday. Wilson’s receiving corps included Nick Toon, Jake Byrne, Bradie Ewing and former Badger wideout David Gilreath. “Obviously Russell needed people to catch the ball to show his arm off,’’ Ewing said. “But we were able to show what we had as well.’’
Wilson was all smiles afterward. “I had a very efficient day,’’ he said.
That was an understatement.
Among those in attendance was Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, the quarterback who led the Badgers to a share of the 1993 Big Ten title and a win over UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Because of his loyalty to his alma mater, Bevell kept an eye on Wilson’s development over the season.
“I love the guy,’’ Bevell said. “Just watching the games on TV as a fan, I was just really impressed with how poised he was. Whether he was scrambling or standing in the pocket, it looked like he was doing a Pat-and-Go (a warm-up drill) most of the time, like no one was there (on defense).’’
Bevell was asked about former UW offensive lineman John Moffitt, a third-round draft pick, who started at guard as a rookie for the Seahawks before suffering a season-ending knee injury. “He can keep it light and he brings great personality, kind of Belushi-like,’’ Bevell cracked.
Moffitt was one of three UW offensive linemen taken in the 2011 draft, joining Gabe Carimi (Chicago Bears, first round) and Bill Nagy (Dallas Cowboys, seventh round). All started games for their respective teams. But Carimi and Nagy, like Moffitt, had their seasons shortened with injuries.
Bielema said that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Badgers had three more offensive linemen taken in the 2012 draft. Center Peter Konz, who didn’t work out Wednesday, and guard Kevin Zeitler are locks to be selected, whereas Bielema feels Josh Oglesby has a good chance of getting picked, too.
Related Bielema, “One scout said to me, ‘Coach, the one thing about Josh Oglesby is that there are not many people like him on this earth.’ Not many guys that big, that agile, that talented. He’s a guy who has played with pain but every year he has come back stronger than the year before.’’
Zeitler and Oglesby are both represented by agent Joe Panos, a former UW offensive lineman and the captain of that ’93 Rose Bowl team. “Joe has been a family friend for awhile,’’ said Oglesby, who has definitely reshaped his body despite the fact that he still weighs 330 pounds.
“I’ve dropped a bunch of body fat,’’ he went on, “and I feel better; more energetic and lighter on my feet. I basically changed my diet and eliminated bad foods, fast foods. Training in Arizona, the nutritional staff really helped put me in the right direction on what to eat.’’
Still, there will be questions about Oglesby because of his knees given the number of surgeries that he’s had. “I’m definitely dealing with my knees,’’ he agreed, “and showing them (the scouts) that they’re fine and that I can still perform at a high level with the injuries that I’ve had.
“My focus has been on my footwork on the edge. Not to sound cocky or conceited, but I feel like my run blocking speaks for itself on the film. But to play in this league (the NFL) you need to be a dominate pass blocker because the best players on every team are the defensive ends.’’
Oglesby walked away from Wednesday’s testing feeling pretty good about himself. The same could not be said about defensive tackle Patrick Butrym, who could not walk without dragging his leg after pulling a hamstring some 25-yards into the first 40-yard dash that he ran.
“I’m really disappointed but there’s nothing that I can do about it now,’’ Butrym said. “I’ve never missed a game in four years. Injuries have never been an issue with me. This is something very fluky. I spoke with one scout and he said that I will still get my shot. I need to react positively.’’
Aaron Henry was doing that – trying to stay positive – after not getting invited to the combine.
“Throughout my life there have been questions about my game,’’ Henry said. “Is he fast enough? How high can he jump? Unfortunately they use all of that to measure how well someone can play. It’s unfair in a sense, but it’s all part of the process. I know that I can play football.’’
Henry will get that chance with someone after running a 4.53 in the 40.
“My speed isn’t a question anymore,’’ he said.
One of the last players to run on Wednesday was Jay Valai, who was looking for redemption after a poor showing in last year’s Pro Timing Day. Valai was slowed by multiple injuries. “I wasn’t too healthy,’’ he said. “But everything happens for a reason, and I’m here today for another try.’’
Valai had no luck getting into a training camp last season. His timing couldn’t have been worse with the lockout. So he went back home to Dallas and trained young kids while getting himself in shape. “Been working my butt off,’’ he said. “If you have a dream, you have to keep going after it.’’
Valai contacted Bielema and strength coach Ben Herbert and got the clearance to run again for the scouts. “It’s Wisconsin people taking care of Wisconsin people,’’ said Valai, whose parents paid for his airline ticket to Madison. “I just want an opportunity to get in a camp. It’s all about opportunity.’’
Everybody was auditioning Wednesday with that in mind.