The arena floor at Cole Field House was buzzing with activity, as players from The University of Maryland were warming up for their annual Pro Day. Each year, colleges and universities from throughout the country hold an event after the NFL Scouting Combine to give their players one last chance to impress talent evaluators.
Amidst all the stretching and jogging, a large crowd gathered with microphones, cameras and recorders around one man - wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
The speedster already blew scouts away at the Combine just a few weeks ago, running a blazing 4.3-second time in the 40-yard dash. As such, Heyward-Bey wasn't participating in the Pro Day to try and lower his 40 mark; He was aiming to put the fears of scouts and front office staff to rest by performing in the wide receiver drills.
Heyward-Bey is known to be a lightning fast playmaker who does as good of a job after the catch as any wideout in the draft. However, he has only played football a handful of years and is a converted track star. Throughout his career, Heyward-Bey demonstrated that he needed to polish his routes and work on his hands.
Still, many analysts expect Heyward-Bey to be drafted by the end of the first round, which could be a costly proposition for an NFL team. Can an NFL team afford to spend a first-round pick on a player that isn't complete? Over the years, several players have been taken early that fit this bill, most recently, Troy Williamson, who was selected with the seventh-overall in 2005 by the Minnesota Vikings. Williamson has yet to record more than two touchdowns in a single season and is already playing for his second team.
Over his last year in College Park, he caught 42 passes for 609 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 202 yards and a score. Those are modest numbers from a top-tier wideout, but it is his promise that has scouts salivating.
Though some compare Heyward-Bey to other wide receivers for negative reasons, he holds himself to a higher standard.
"I just try to take little things from different people, like Roddy White and Brandon Marshall," said Heyward-Bey. "I look at them, and Brandon Marshall doesn't like to be taken down on the first contact, so I like to put that into my game. Roddy White, he makes plays down the field.
"And of course, Jerry Rice. You gotta play like Jerry Rice. I wouldn't say I play like anybody. I just take bits and pieces and mold it into my own."
Heyward-Bey seized the opportunity to show scouts one final time that he's the real deal. In drills conducted by scouts for the Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Rams, the former Terrapin ran every receiving route imaginable and looked solid doing it.
It was evident that Heyward-Bey has been working hard in recent weeks, as his route running appeared smoother and natural than during his collegiate tenure. Heyward-Bey did a nice job catching the ball with his hands instead of using his body for support, something he had recently struggled with.
The highlight of the wide receiver drills came when Heyward-Bey ran a post-corner route and stumbled coming out of his last break. The ball appeared to be well overthrown, as Darrius sprinted down the field. Darrius began to shout, "I've got it, I've got it!" and ran under the ball, making a perfect catch in stride.
The play offered a perfect example of just how fast Heyward-Bey is and how his speed translates to the football field. But it also shows how far he's come. After the drills were over, Darrius was seen spending several minutes with the Minnesota Vikings scout that conducting the drills on the field.
According to The Baltimore Sun (who cited his agent, Ben Dogra), the Ravens have scheduled a private workout with Heyward-Bey.
Along with Heyward-Bey, cornerback Kevin Barnes helped his stock. He improved on his 40 time, recording 4.44 seconds, and performed well in defensive back drills, showing smooth change of direction transitions and staying low in his backpedal.
Barnes was hoping to improve his draft stock after a shoulder injury forced him to miss the second half of the 2008 season. At just over 6-feet, Barnes has ideal size for a defensive back and is known for the big hit. In fact, Barnes became a YouTube sensation after a September 2008 matchup against Cal.
Barnes, reacting to a quick pass, laid a devastating hit on Golden Bears wide out Jahvid Best, forcing him to vomit while recovering on the field.
"I actually didn't know [about him throwing up] until after the game," said Barnes during the Pro Day events. "It was two days before my birthday and after the game I probably had 200 text messages telling me what happened. I didn't know what happened. And then, a guy showed me a clip on YouTube of the guy throwing up."
Aside from Heyward-Bey and Kevin Barnes, additional Terps grabbed the attention of NFL scouts, like receiver Isaiah Williams, who recorded a 40 yard dash time of 4.38 seconds. Tight end Dan Gronkowski showed soft hands in receiving drills, and linebacker Moise Fokou displayed his leadership, rallying the other linebackers to compete against each other in drills.
Other notable participants that are likely to make NFL rosters this year were defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre, and offensive linemen Scott Burley, Dane Randolph, Jaimie Thomas, and Edwin Williams.
But at the end of the event, observers knew it was the Heyward-Bey show. And, he delivered another good one.