March 7, 2012

Badgers impress at Pro Day

MADISON -- With representatives from around the NFL in attendance Wednesday, several former Badgers set out to make an impression that could lead to their name being called in April's draft.

Many players took part in all the drills at UW's Pro Day, while others focused primarily on position drills after doing other work at the NFL Combine last month. Each of the players seemed to be happy afterward with their performance.

"I think it went great," wide receiver Nick Toon said. "It was an improvement from the combine and I felt good. Hopefully I looked good out there, and I felt like it was a good day."

Toon, who ran a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, improved upon that number Wednesday afternoon. Thought he had not heard the official time yet, he times of 4.40 and 4.43 that he said he had heard would give a much more favorable impression of his speed.

While there is not much doubt about Toon's hands and his ability to catch the ball, his speed seems to be the biggest question.

"I ran well today, and I think I dispelled any doubts about my speed today," Toon said. "I've never doubted my speed. I've always known I was faster than people thought."

Toon posted a 39-inch vertical jump, and 10-foot-10 on the broad jump.

Wilson near perfect in passing drills

Adding to Toon's comfort level Wednesday was the fact that Russell Wilson was throwing him the ball during positional drills.

The two have developed a close bond in their short time together, and working together all season, both Toon and Wilson were impressive during Pro Day. Wilson said he went 60-for-63 passing on the day.

Former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke -- with whom Wilson has been working this offseason -- ran Wilson through every possible route he could have to throw in the NFL. Wilson was strong and accurate throughout, on short passes and a few impressive deep balls.

Toon went so far as to call Wilson the "most underrated player in the draft," while Bradie Ewing said his former teammates was "anything a team could want in a quarterback."

Wilson's biggest obstacle is his height, something that is seemingly impossible for him to change. But the former UW quarterback did measure in one-half inch taller Wednesday at 5-foot-11 than he did at the Senior Bowl.

"I've been this way my whole life. My height's not a factor," Wilson said. "I've played this way my whole life. I think I only got three balls batted down all season. The key is finding lanes and delivering the ball on time.

"There's not that much of a difference if I was 6-1 or 5-11, really, to be honest with you."

Asked how the nerves for Pro Day compare to a big game like the Rose Bowl, Wilson responded simply by saying he doesn't get nervous. Because he has prepared, he knows what to expect and has nothing about which to be nervous.

Wilson's strength, accuracy and ability to throw on the run are his biggest on-field strengths as a quarterback. But it's his performance off the field -- including the fact that Wilson was able to learn the UW playbook so quickly upon his arrival in Madison -- that could really boost his stock.

"I had some of the guys tell me that Russell might've been the best interview they've ever had at the combine," said Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema.

'This is business, mom'

While football is a game that these players have been playing all their lives, there's a difference between playing for fun and playing football for a living. That's just one of the adjustments that has to be made as these former Badgers prepare for potential pro careers.

That does not necessarily make it any less fun, as each of them realizes that right now, their job is football. Rather than pursuing a career in business or elsewhere, these players' jobs are to sell themselves with the hopes of getting a job with one of the 32 NFL teams.

And because it is a job, it makes the interview process all that much more important.

"I think that's any football player's goal is to have football be their job," said Ewing, who was among the UW players that did strictly positional work Wednesday because he was satisfied with the performance and numbers he put up at the combine.

"It doesn't really feel like a job, you know, so it's pretty exciting."

Another thing that comes along with draft day and football being a job for these players is potentially changing loyalties from the teams they grew up cheering for to whatever team for which they are playing.

For the Wisconsin natives on the roster, that means that while they -- and their families -- would love an opportunity to play for the Green Bay Packers, they will be happy with any team giving them a shot. It also means parents and other family members speculating about possibilities with their hometown teams.

"That's always something you think [about]," said Peter Konz, who will have a full workout sometime in April. "It's more your family texting you, 'Hey, did you see Ted [Thompson] there? What did the Packers say?'

"And it's like, 'I can't share that information all the time. This is business, mom.'"

Konz and Kevin Zeitler as interior lineman along with Ewing at fullback are all Wisconsin natives that could be good fits for the Packers based on positional needs.

At the combine last month, Konz went through all the off-field processes, while the bench press was the only drill he took part in.

While his 18-rep performance was not where he would like it to be, Konz expects to do better at his April workout, during which he should be fully healed from a late-season ankle injury.

"I read in the paper that it was a 'pedestrian' [performance], and I don't think the guy who wrote it could do 18 either," Konz said with a laugh. "Those things kind of stick with you. But the important thing for me is that I'll redo it in April, just because I can tell teams, 'You know what, I can set my mind to something and I can work on it, and I can get better.'"

Pro Day audio

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