Former Bulls look to prove their worth at UB Pro Day
NFLers Mack, Oliver watch on sidelines
Joe Licata made it clear during his Buffalo football career that he wanted a laundry list of feats to come true.
He wanted a Mid-American Conference Championship. He wanted the UB passing yards record. He wanted to shine as the featured player for his hometown college.
In the next phase of his football career, he simply wants one thing.
“That’s all I want,” Licata said. “That’s all I ever wanted was just a chance to prove I’m worth it.”
Licata and 11 of his former Buffalo teammates got their chance to prove they can make it at the next level during UB’s annual Pro Day at the ADPRO Sports Training Center Wednesday morning – albeit for just two NFL teams’ scouts.
Licata, tight end Matt Wieser, offensive tackles Robert Blodgett and John Kling, fullback Kendall Patterson, punter Tyler Grassman, cornerback Marqus Baker and linebackers Okezie Alozie, Travis Pitzonka, Nick Gilbo and Kyril Threats worked out and ran drills for scouts. Former Bull Adam Redden – who last played for Buffalo in 2014 – also participated.
There were no standout prospects participating this year, unlike years past.
Former Bulls and current NFL players Khalil Mack and Branden Oliver were merely spectators at the field house Wednesday, rather than drawing all 32 NFL teams and media during their Pro Day just two seasons ago. Even last year drew notable NFL teams to watch now Seahawks offensive tackle Kristjan Sokoli participate.
It was a fairly different scene this year. Only two NFL teams – the hometown Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers – had representatives present during workouts.
Almost every player participating Wednesday doesn’t expect, but hopes, to get drafted in this year’s NFL Draft.
Players like Wieser just want to show off their versatility.
A focal point of Wieser’s workouts was his speed. He and Kling spent the offseason in Carlsbad, California to work on agility and speed for Wednesday’s showcase.
Wieser ran the 40-yard dash in an estimated 4.7 seconds.
“That was a big focus for me,” Wieser said about his sprint. “Everyone questioned my speed. They weren’t sure if I was as fast as other tight ends. I really focused on that when I was training.”
He also focused on his blocking skills during the offseason. Wieser believes players at the tight end position must be two-dimensional: they must be able to run routes and block defenders.
He had position coaches help him train, focus on footwork and teach proper technique.
“That’s another aspect of my game that I can really sell myself in and say I can do everything,” Wieser said.
Kling, Wieser’s workout partner in southern California, may have the best chance at winding up on a professional roster.
His intangibles alone could secure him at least a spot on an NFL practice squad. He stands at a colossal 6-foot-8, 320 pounds and had an impressive workout. He, like Wieser, focused on his speed.
“These tests are a completely different training than football training,” Kling said. “Now that we’re done running and jumping, it’s all getting focused on being football strong again and football ready.”
Then, there are players like Alozie, a 6-foot linebacker who is making a switch back to safety to improve his chances at making it in the NFL. His time in the 40 was an estimated 4.6 – 4.7 seconds and he was satisfied with his performance.
“At the end of the day, it’s an evolving game,” Alozie said about his position switch. “They’re always looking for pieces that can match up to the teams they play … I know my hard work and my faith. If I just get a shot, I can make something happen with it.”
Redden is also making a position switch to improve his draft stock as he tries to continue his football career after a one-year hiatus.
Redden, a former Bulls safety, will switch back to wide receiver – his position when he first came to UB a freshman.
“I felt like I had a lot of football left in me,” Redden said.
He ran a projected 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, jumped 41 inches in the vertical leap and bench-pressed 225 pounds 24 times during his workouts. His motivation to switch to wide receiver came after a conversation with San Diego Chargers representatives that told him he is wanted as a wide receiver with the franchise.
He, like all of the players participating, had a little extra motivation from spectators on the sidelines.
Four former Bulls that have spent time in the NFL – Mack, Oliver, Buccaneers punter Jacob Schum and former Bills and current CFL wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt – were all present to watch the Bulls workout Wednesday. Many of the participants had a chance to catch up with their former teammates and mentors during the day.
Some of the conversations were reminiscing old memories. Some served as a reminder for the participants about where all four of those players initially came from.
“It’s exciting to see those guys come back,” Wieser said. “Obviously, they’ve had a lot of success and they’ve done it just like we have. It gives you more motivation. You want to be the next guy to do that.”