NFL scouts and position coaches, along with a CFL general manager and scout were on hand for Monday’s Pro Day workout at South Alabama. The attendance by the talent evaluators — more than a dozen in all — marked the best such showing in the young history of the Jaguars’ program. The 17 former Jags who did their best to impress these scouts and hopefully move a step closer to realizing their dream of playing professional football, also took the South Alabama program another step ahead in its prominence.
A program that only began play in 2009 but earned its first bowl invitation in 2014, is also a program that has advanced from a first season schedule that included matchups against junior college and prep school opponents to one that has featured games against teams such as Mississippi State, South Carolina and Navy. Upcoming seasons will find the Jags taking on powerhouses Nebraska, LSU and Oklahoma State.
Yet it is the increased talent level on the South Alabama roster that may best reflect the program’s advancement in just six seasons.
“It just shows you how far our young men have come since the early days when we only had about one or two guys out there,” Jags’ head coach Joey Jones said. “ … It says a lot about this program. We’re very excited about that.”
Tight end Wes Saxton and quarterback Brandon Bridge, both of whom were invited to participate in the recent NFL Combine, drew the most attention Monday. The players are considered the best bets to become the first former South Alabama players to be selected in the NFL Draft, slated for late April. Saxton, a 6-foot-3, 253-pounder who has sure hands, good speed for the position and has overcome some injuries that limited his effectiveness last season, enjoyed a good day Monday, perhaps even improvement over a good Combine showing.
Bridge remains of interest to NFL scouts based on his above-average arm strength and speed as well as his size at 6-5, 235 pounds. The Ottawa, Canada native is receiving plenty of attention from CFL scouts, but he said his primary goal is to make a NFL roster. He demonstrated his passing ability in Monday’s workout, throwing a variety of passes. Last season as the starter in most of South Alabama’s games, Bridge passed for 1,927 yards and 15 touchdowns, but his eight interceptions and low completion average is a concern to some.
Saxton and Bridge weren’t the only players scouts noticed on Monday. Offensive linemen Ucambre Williams and Melvin Meggs were also put through several drills. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Theo Rich is drawing attention and defensive backs Qudarius Ford (a former walk-on) and Montell Garner produced solid 40-yard dash times, Ford clocked at 4.44 seconds and Garner at 4.5, according to Jones.
The performances on Pro Day, along with what they accomplished during their careers and in other individual workouts for teams, should lead to several Jags’ players earning a spot on a NFL roster this summer, Jones said.
“I really think that we’ll have anywhere from five to seven guys in (NFL) camps this fall,” he said. “I think that Brandon and Wes have the best chance to get drafted — I think Wes will definitely get drafted — and that will be tremendous for the program. We had a real good senior class and it will be interesting to see how many get in camps and then how many will make teams.”
Jones noted that Williams and Meggs both had 27 reps in the bench press and both were timed at 5.1 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a respectable time for players who weigh more than 300 pounds each.
“They showed that they can play and they’re both competitive young men who have a chance to make a NFL roster. If these guys can get in a camp I think they have a real good chance to impress people and make a roster.”
A team employing a 3-4 defensive alignment is the best fit for Rich, Jones said, suggesting the formation allows him to take advantage of his pass-rushing skills.
“It was a good day,” Jones concluded.
South Alabama’s 2015 team continued spring practice Monday afternoon. The Jags will conclude the 15-practice spring workouts at noon on Saturday, April 11 with their annual spring game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.