Wednesday, March 07, 2007

SF Chronicle: Cal prospects try to showcase skills in series of drills for scouts

Rusty Simmons, Chronicle Staff Writer

The littlest things can be the most haunting.  Daymeion Hughes learned that Monday night as a tenth of a second kept him from sleeping a night before Cal's Pro Day, which, for most players, was their last chance to get measured, log times and run drills with the intention of impressing NFL scouts.  "I know it doesn't really make sense to let it bother me like that, but I can't help it," the All-Pac-10 cornerback said.  The most important tenth of second in Hughes' life comes from a stopwatch measurement of his 40-yard dash time. Anything faster than a 4.5-seconds finish would solidify his position as a first-round pick, and anything slower could result in a huge drop.

At last month's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Hughes, who said he was slowed by a back injury, ran a 4.65, and most draft experts deemed his stock to have taken a more precipitous fall than any of the other 300 potential picks at the event.  "I wanted to go down there and compete," he said. "That's the only reason I ran. I wanted to show people that I'm not scared to run in front of people."  Most of the 30-plus professional scouts who attended Tuesday's athletic meat market at Memorial Stadium clocked Hughes at 4.56-seconds, but he said one scout told him that he ran a 4.47.  "If you play with a stopwatch and start it and stop it as fast as you can, it's like a tenth of a second," Hughes said. "That's the difference in a 4.4 and a 4.5, and I don't see how that plays a very big deal in your football ability."  No one is questioning Hughes' ability or his production. Before he was injured at the Senior Bowl, he put on one of the game's most impressive days of practice, starting to refute the perception that he'll have to play for a Cover-2 team in the NFL.

"We all care about the measure-ables," one NFL scout said, "but I'd gladly have him on my team if he falls to us."  Of the four Cal players -- Hughes, linebacker Desmond Bishop, tailback Marshawn Lynch and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane -- who were invited to the Combine, only Hughes and Bishop ran again at the Pro Day.  "This is all necessary for me," said Bishop, who ran a 4.8 at the Combine, making many scouts believe he is a two-down player. "I may not impress people out here, but I hope they look at my film."  Lynch impressed scouts with his numbers at the Combine (4.46 40-yard dash, 20 bench repetitions of 225 pounds and ranking in the top 10 in both jumps and the cone drills) and with his skills set, which he showed off with a series of drills at Pro Day.  After one leaping catch Tuesday, a scout joked, "We may play him at receiver," but Lynch wanted to do even more. He tried to sneak in for a rep at quarterback between Joe Ayoob and Steve Levy.  "They didn't let me throw today," Lynch joked, "but one day, I might get my break at my dream position."  Along with the four certain draft picks, a number of other former Cal players went through the gauntlet for a chance at catching some eyes. Receiver David Gray drew raves for his size and athletic ability, offensive tackle Andrew Cameron dispelled some fears about his injury history by speeding through a set of drills without knee braces and tailback Marcus O'Keith zipped out the best times of the day, including a 4.4 40-yard dash.

"I was kind of mad at him for beating some of my numbers," Lynch joked, "but he's my brother, so it's OK."  The certain star of the sunny afternoon was newly chiseled linebacker Mickey Pimentel, who actually provoked applause from the usually business-first scouts after his performance in a cone drill. Ever the competitor, Pimentel wasn't satisfied. "I could have sworn I was 6-foot, but they said I'm not and that may not be tall enough," he said. "I guess I should have worn high heels.  "I feel like everyone was sleeping on me, so I hope that I opened some eyes and shined enough that my name will get out there."  

Briefly: Cornerback/return specialist Tim Mixon, who missed the season with a knee injury, and offensive guard Erik Robertson (calf) couldn't run, so they'll work out for scouts March 29.


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