A Different Look: Revisiting Oregon Football Pro Day 2016

Let’s face it, it’s not often that Oregon Football is overshadowed in the media by other sports. This month however, that was exactly what happened.

And that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Oregon Men’s Basketball program had one heck of a ride and deserved all the attention it got and then some. That being said, with most Ducks fans watching the hardwood, it seems coverage of Oregon Football Pro Day was well. . .a bit limited.

Now that Oregon’s basketball season has ended and the football team looks to start Spring Camp this week,  I couldn’t help but revisit a few much delayed Pro Day tidbits.

Unlike the Marcus Mariota-focused 2015 Pro Day, this year’s Pro Day may have seemed a little lack luster without a whole lot to chat about. In many ways, that was exactly the case. There were scouts. There were drills and there were a few cameras (emphasis on a few). The national hype just wasn’t there.

To find a story, it took a little digging and perhaps a look through a whole different lens. Sometimes it isn’t all about the stats, or which team’s scouts are talking to who. Sometimes the story is found in the little things- little things that very easily could have gone unnoticed.

I’m so glad they didn’t.

First of all, covering Pro Day is an interesting task. The results aren’t live and if you’re not snapping pictures to stay busy, finding a way to analyze a player’s performance is somewhat pointless. Afterward, the results start flying through websites and social media accounts. Sure, we care about the results, but what about the little things?

What about the little moments shared between players fighting for the chance of a lifetime? For some, this is the only opportunity they get. All those injuries, practice, sweat and tears for one chance at moving on to the next level. What about those moments shared between a player and their anxious family quietly cheering for them from the sideline? In this arena, times, reps and measurements take center stage (rightly so) but beneath all of that, there’s just so much more.

For what it’s worth, this is what my lens captured. . .

A Family’s Bond

As I walked in, I was immediately struck by RB/WR Byron Marshall’s focus. As his father and older brother, who now plays in the NFL, watched from the sideline, the trio seemed so tight- as if this was the final chapter of a book that started with many afternoons spent tackling each other in the front yard. No one else mattered as a focused Marshall gave all he had, checking in for fatherly/brotherly advice after each drill. There was frustration, encouragement and most of all, commitment- to each other and to the process.

Headline missed: Byron Marshall’s combined results from the combine and Pro Day almost mirror or exceed those of De’Anthony Thomas who was picked up in the fourth round (And, Marshall is bigger). Somehow, he isn’t getting that kind of attention.

Perhaps he should.

Hand Tricks

Throughout the day, I of course kept my eye on Vernon Adams Jr. It’s hard not to. He’s really quite animated and his energy and attitude is refreshing. Though he too was fighting to prove he’s worth a risk and so much more than “the smallest quarterback in the draft,” he seemed relaxed and happy as he warmed up and encouraged his former teammates participating in drills.

Going into Pro Day, most of the critics focused on Adams Jr’s small stature and of course, his “small hands”- something I personally think is ridiculous. I understand there are statistics, studies and such, but really? I think if your hands are too small to “maneuver” a football, you probably aren’t going to make it as a top college division quarterback and combine invitee in the first place.

So, with that in mind, I couldn’t help notice all the fancy hand tricks and one-handed catches Adams Jr. did while warming up and playing around with teammates in between drills. He was doing so many one-handed tricks, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking it was perhaps an intentional jab.

Headline Missed: Vernon Adams. Jr. should not be defined by his small stature. No, he’s not the biggest, or the fastest but his tape speaks for itself. He’s coachable, humble and has intangibles for days. Sound familiar?

Flying under the radar

Ducks fans and media pundits owe linebacker, Joe Walker, a huge apology. We all should have given him more love. In a draft class that includes QB Vernon Adams Jr. and of course, DE Deforest Buckner, Joe Walker has been completely overshadowed. He wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine and little was written about his Pro Day performance.

Joe, we are sorry.

To make it up to him, I did some research and quite frankly, every NFL team should be looking at him right now. Based on his Pro Day results, had he been invited and competed at the NFL Combine, Walker would have ranked 1st, 2nd, or 3rd among all linebackers, in every drill (with the exception of the shuttle). For the record, his career stats are impressive as well.

Headline Missed: Joe Walker is extremely underrated in his year’s NFL Draft Class.

Last but not least. . .

Perhaps my favorite takeaway from this year’s Pro Day came as I prepared to leave. Something so small yet for some reason, it spoke volumes.

As I gathered my things and stood watching for a few last moments, I happened to look down to my left as freshman linebacker, Matt Mariota sat quietly on the sideline turf, disguised by a towel draping his head. It’s not unusual for other non-participating players to be present to show support to their senior teammates but Mariota sat quietly, pretty far from any one player or drill. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was doing exactly what his older brother, Marcus, likely did way back when- watching intently, soaking it all in and preparing for the day his time comes. Matt, we can’t wait.





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