Huskies back on the NFL Warpath

Mason Foster (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - Doug Farrar, NFL Analyst for Yahoo Sports, happened to ask Pete Carroll a question the week after Washington defeated Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl this past December. From 0-12 to a Holiday Bowl win, what does this say about Steve Sarkisian, queried Farrar. Carroll, now with the Seattle Seahawks, was clear in his praise about Sarkisian, his former offensive coordinator at USC.

"I think we're now seeing the Sark that everyone knew he could be," Carroll told Farrar. "And that translates to everything. It translates into their program."

The first step in bringing Washington back to respectability was to immediately turn around the product on the field. With their 19-7 win over the Cornhuskers, everything appears to be on track. The next step is elevating the level of talent that is coming to Montlake. Once that happens, everything changes. The team becomes better, and the chances those players develop and move on to greener pastures in the NFL also improves dramatically.

All you have to do is look at the numbers to know just how far the Huskies had fallen off the pace.

From 2004 through 2010, Washington produced seven players picked in the NFL Draft, including two from last year; Donald Butler and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. In the six years before that, 16 players were drafted. And the six years before that? Twenty-eight. No wonder pro teams didn't have the directions to the Silver Cloud Inn until recently. But Washington and Steve Sarkisian are giving them a reason to put Seattle back on their scouting itineraries.

Sark's words to the scouts that made it to the Dempsey Indoor Facility Wednesday to see players like Jake Locker, Mason Foster, Victor Aiyewa and Nate Williams work out? - get used to coming out more, we've got more guys down the pipe coming.

"When you are having Pro Days and events like this, it means you have a pretty good football team - or at least pretty good players, which should equate to a pretty good football team," he said. "The idea is that we are continually producing guys that the NFL's interested in, and they have an opportunity to play in the National Football League."

"It's why you saw the media contingent here that hasn't been here in a long time, if ever, so it was fantastic for Steve and his program to get the exposure," said former UW quarterback Brock Huard, who was drafted in 1999 by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round. Huard was there as an analyst with ESPN3, streaming the Pro Day live via the internet. "He gets it, he understands this is a sales job and it's 24/7, 365 days a year. It's a sales job at this level and he's doing a great job."

Nearly 200 or so press, family, players and dignitaries were on hand, as well as scouts for 20 NFL teams - including Cleveland, Tennessee, New Orleans, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, San Diego, and Seattle - to see 10 senior Huskies test and work out.

Those seniors were Jake Locker, Mason Foster, Victor Aiyewa, Nate Williams, Ryan Tolar, Cody Habben, Austin Sylvester, D'Andre Goodwin, Vonzell McDowell, and Brandon Huppert. There were four seniors who did not participate - Gregory Christine, Cameron Elisara, Matt Houston, and De'Shon Matthews. Christine, for instance, has already accepted a post-graduate job opportunity in Dallas.

It's certainly conceivable that next year's senior class will be even bigger, as players like Devin Aguilar, Cort Dennison, Erik Folk, Jermaine Kearse, Senio Kelemete, Quinton Richardson, Alameda Ta'amu, and Everrette Thompson - not to mention eligible underclassmen like Chris Polk - are all eyeing next year's Pro Day with excitement and anticipation for what might happen a year from now.

The seniors were first measured for height and weight, then had a testing phase in which they could participate in. The testing phase consisted of a bench press - done with reps of 225 pounds - then a standing broad jump and a vertical jump. For the running, they could run a 40-yard dash, a 20-yard shuttle (5-10-5), the three-cone (L) drill, and a 60-yard shuttle (5-5-10-10-15-15). During the 40-yard dash, the scouts also have a timer set up to time their 10 and 20-yard splits.

After the testing phase, players were given drills by position, usually run by the NFL scouts. For instance, when the linebackers were going through their drills, that session was led by Seattle Seahawks' LB Coach Ken Norton, Jr. The linemen went first, then the linebackers, then the secondary players, and then the offensive skill players finished off the day.

For players like Locker and Foster, who already ran the gauntlet of the NFL's best during their combine in Indianapolis, they were very choosy about what they did and didn't do. In the specific case of Locker, he didn't test at all Wednesday. He just threw.

"It was better," Locker said afterward of his Pro Day experience compared to the one he had at the NFL Combine. Wednesday he completed 38 of a possible 40 balls, with the two incompletions coming via 50-yard go routes. "It was more consistent. There were a few throws at the combine that I didn't like. Today I felt like every ball came off my hand good. I felt confident, and it went where I wanted it too."

"It was a little nerve-wracking, but after going to the combine and doing everything there, you get familiar with the process," added Foster, who was happy with the 4.67 unofficial time he posted in the 40-yard dash. It was better than the 4.75 he ran in Indianapolis. "I wanted to run in the 4.6's, and I did that. So I'm happy with that."

For those who only got this one shot to impress NFL brass gave it their all. D'Andre Goodwin ran a reported 4.47 electronic time, which usually means a hand-held time in the low 4.3's. That's blazing, even for the man they call 'Flea'. And Victor Aiyewa weighed in at 231 pounds, benched 225 pounds 31 times, and looked every bit the stud you would expect out of the reigning Pac-10 leader in tackles-for-loss.

"In all honesty, I thought all of our guys did great," Sarkisian said. "I loved what Mason did, I thought Victor looked tremendous. I thought Nate Williams looked good. I thought D'Andre and Vonzell both ran extremely well. So all-in-all, I thought the day was a success, not just the day for Jake."

Sarkisian knows all about great Pro Day workouts. In fact when he went back to USC the second time, in 2005, they had the mother of all Pro Days when the Trojans came up with the idea to host a recruiting Junior Day at the same time. In all, roughly 5,000 people showed up to the public event, which became such a free-for-all that the NCAA cracked down on Pro Days from that point on. Now they are not open to the public. In the case of Washington, it's still better than what they had under Tyrone Willingham, as even the media were not allowed to view Pro Days under his watch.

"We were happy that we came up with a good idea, but apparently (the NCAA) didn't think it was that great," said Dennis Slutak, Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations. Slutak held a similar post at USC in 2005. Slutak also pointed out that, while Pro Days can be great exposure for the school involved, they are really at the beck-and-call of the NFL, who really run the Pro Days as they see fit. They are the ones that set up the drills and determine when things are run and how they are run. It's all for their benefit, because they are the ones that eventually look to potentially spend millions of dollars on draftable players.

"It's the culmination of a process that really begins in May, when they'll send a couple of scouts out to evaluate out juniors - height, weight, give them the Wonderlic (test), and so on - and they come back in August," said Slutak. "And really, from August on through the season, they are in watching practice and coming to me for background information and Ivan (Lewis) for strength and conditioning numbers. Then they go to the Senior Bowl and the (NFL) combine, and then it culminates with the Pro Day."

Apparently by the response so far, Washington's 2011 Pro Day was an unqualified success.

"There were a lot of comments here today by the scouts and people here watching that boy, you're getting guys back to where this place was years ago when they had prospects," said Washington Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt. "We got a lot of compliments about how our program is moving up and the type of kids we're getting. And a lot of comments from these guys saying, 'We hear you guys are getting good players. We hear from around the country that Washington is doing a nice job'. So that was great to hear."

"I'd like to think that this becomes somewhat of the norm," added Sarkisian. "We have a really classy event. We did it the right way, and I thought it was tremendous."

"Across the board, I was proud for everybody, and I though we showed well for our school," added Locker.

Sarkisian has one problem already solved for next year's Pro Day. This year Locker was able to throw to players like Goodwin, Sylvester and Boyce. Next year, there will be no senior quarterback available, and underclassmen like Keith Price and Nick Montana can't throw per NCAA rules. So who is going to throw

"I'm going to use Damon Huard, since he's around," Sarkisian said with a chuckle.

He could use Brock, or he could use either Sonny Sixkiller or Warren Moon - two more interested Pro Day spectators. The line is already forming to the left, a by-product of the Huskies being back on the NFL radar with a vengeance.

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