Under the microscope: Scouts visit Shuford Stadium

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 26, 2008

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
Brad Roach smiled with relief at Catawba pro day when his official height was announced at exactly 6 feet, 6 inches.
Sometimes it all depends on who’s holding the tape, and for Roach it’s very important right now to be a legit 6-6 ó not 6-5 and three-quarters or 6-5 and seven-eighths.
The NFL draft will be held in New York City on April 26-27. That’s not far off, and that’s why each hundreth of a second in the 40-yard dash and each half-inch in the vertical jump are of vital importance to Roach’s future.
“I couldn’t sleep at all last night just thinking about this pro day and hoping to do good,” Roach said Tuesday after his workout. “I feel like it went OK for me.”
Roach, an All-American who has earned his degree in sports management, led Catawba to 11 wins last fall while breaking school passing records with 224 completions for 3,222 yards and 32 touchdowns.
But those numbers aren’t as relevant to the pros as mundane statistics such as his hand size (91/2-93/4 inches) and sleeve length (34).
Roach is likely the best NFL prospect Catawba has produced since defensive linemen DeVonte Peterson and Radell Lockhart were available seven years ago.
At least one NFL team, the Houston Texans, thinks enough of Roach that it’s flying him down for a closeup look in April.
“A lot of teams like Brad, and interest seems to be increasing,” said Roach’s agent, Robert Walker, the CEO of Charlotte-based US Sports Management. “Brad has the height and speed of an NFL quarterback. He has the arm. He is smart and can find that third or fourth receiver. He has all the intangibles, and he has the demeanor of a quarterback.”
Roach is on all the top-25 lists of quarterback prospects, although how high he is rated varies. But the draft lasts only seven rounds, so hearing his name barked by Mel Kiper is far from a sure thing.
Roach’s size is a big positive. He weighs 248 pounds and cuts an imposing figure now that lean muscle has replaced the last of the baby fat he once carried.
His athleticsm is surprising for someone with his dimensions. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.77 seconds on an indoor surface at East Carolina’s pro day, although he wasn’t as quick laboring into a breeze on the grass at Shuford Stadium.
His vertical jump was measured at 30 inches at ECU and 291/2 at Catawba. His best standing broad jump topped 9 feet.
Catawba has entertained larger groups of scouts on pro day, but there was a competing pro day in Winston-Salem. It’s also more important who shows up than how many.
The Super Bowl champion New York Giants had two representatives in Salisbury, including quarterbacks coach Chis Palmer, who helped mold Drew Bledsoe, Mark Brunell and Tony Romo before he guided Eli Manning last season.
“Having a quarterbacks coach here is different,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “This is a first for us.”
Palmer met with Roach at 11 a.m. ó four hours before pro day officially started. Palmer sat down with him and watched film for 90 minutes.
“He asked a lot of questions,” Roach said. “What was I reading here or what did I see on this play?”
Roach had to look great on film, but Division II games aren’t easy for NFL coaches to evaluate. Roach completing a pass against a Lenoir-Rhyne corner doesn’t necessarily mean he can do it against an LSU corner.
That’s where pro days come in. Forty yards is a universal distance, and Roach’s times and numbers can be compared to those posted by Boston College’s Matt Ryan, Louisville’s Brian Brohm and other top prospects on a level playing field.
“And if you look at the numbers, Brad’s probably in the top 10 among quarterbacks in everything,” Walker said.
At least one scout compares Roach favorably to Delaware’s Joe Flacco, a 6-7 quarterback who projects as a second-round pick.
“This scout doesn’t believe there’s that much difference in the twin towers ó Flacco and Roach,” Walker said. “The only knock on Brad, and it’s going to happen, is he’s coming out of a Division II program. A lot of great NFL players played D-II football, but there are always going to be doubts about the competition you faced.”
Pro day was a traffic jam, as Roach was joined by a large group of teammates.
Other than Roach, Kory Fisher, the No. 2 all-time rusher at Catawba, probably has the best chance to be drafted or signed as a free agent by an NFL team. The 5-10, 195-pound Fisher catches the ball well and is generally listed as one of the top 60-70 backs in the draft.
Ron Ellington, a long, lean sack machine who projects as a next-level linebacker, showed superior jumping ability ó a 35-inch vertical and a 10-foot standing broad jump ó but he didn’t perform as well as he wanted to in the weight room, where players huffed and puffed through sweaty repetitions at 225 pounds.
“I did OK, but I know I can do better,” said Ellington, who also plans to attend an upcoming pro day at Wingate.
Athletes from Gardner-Webb, Chowan and Wingate were also on hand at pro day, most notably Wingate defensive end Kenwin Cummings and his teammate, tight end Chris Conklin.
Cummings, who benched 225 pounds 33 times, is ranked among the top 60 defensive ends, while Conklin is one of the top 40 prospects at tight end.
Cummings and Conklin have become good friends of Roach, ironic because they were rivals in the SAC for so many years.
Now they live together and work out together. All three are represented by Walker and train under fitness expert Alan Tyson, who has written books and is a consultant to the Carolina Panthers, among other pro teams.
“Preparing for pro days is a whole new market that’s come about in the last 10 years,” Tyson explained. “We have methods to improve 10s, and that improves 40s. My belief is an athlete’s top speed is God-given, but how quickly he can attain that top speed is all about proper technique. That’s where we can help.”
Tyson pointed at former Panthers Al Wallace and Terry Cousin as examples of undrafted players who carved out long NFL careers through work ethic. His point was the NFL door doesn’t necessarily slam shut if a player isn’t drafted.
“Fifth round or free agent, it’s all about getting in that door,” Tyson said. “Guys like Brad and Kenwin got missed by the D-I schools when they were 17 or 18, but now they are just as big, just as fast and just as strong as the D-I guys. The key is for them to get into the right situation, and Robert Walker is great at finding the best possible system to place his guys in. That’s critical.”
Roach did his best to raise his draft prospects when he concluded pro day by zipping passes to a group of receivers that included the familiar faces of Fisher, Brent Johnson and Joe Mitchell.
Palmer demanded a series of short hitches, then slants. Then 13-yard outs and 18-yard comebacks, followed by deep balls. Roach was sweating by the end of it, but he threw with stamina and accuracy.
“I threw a ton with eight receivers out here,” Roach said with a smile. “But they’ve been putting it to us pretty good in our workouts every day in Charlotte.”
Palmer had to catch a plane for his next pro day stop, but as he exited, he stopped to chat with Keith Roach, a retired sheriff and an interested spectator who is also Brad’s father.
“He had a good day,” a smiling Palmer assured him. “A very good day.”
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.