ORONO, Maine — Despite being greeted by a snowstorm, 10 National Football League scouts were on the University of Maine campus Monday morning to get a first-hand look at the Black Bears’ hopefuls.
“This is a chance for them to showcase what they’ve been doing for the last four or five years,” said first-year UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak. “I’m really excited for them.”
The size of the NFL scouting contingent is directly proportional to the pro potential of the UMaine football players going through the drills.
Representatives of the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders were in attendance to gauge the Black Bears’ size, strength, speed, agility and coachability.
That may be the most ever at UMaine, where nine scouts showed up for the 2014 graduating class that included Vikings sixth-round draft choice Kendall James.
Only a Patriots scout was present last year.
“I think we have a lot of guys go to the NFL because of the culture we’ve built in terms of you have to be a tough, hardworking kind to play here,” Harasymiak said.
Former UMaine defensive tackle Mike DeVito, who is a free agent after spending the last three seasons with the Chiefs, was among the spectators, which included Black Bear coaches, players and staff members, along with a few family members and friends.
Bates was the main attraction on Monday. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder was an All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team selection last fall after making 57 tackles, including a team-best 7½ sacks. He ranked third in the league with 14½ tackles for a loss of yardage.
“Bates was the first picture I put up in my new office, he’s right behind the desk,” Harasymiak said of his tribute to the former Westbrook High School star whose unassuming demeanor seems to belie his tenacity on the field.
The soft-spoken Bates, who is projected as a linebacker at the pro level, has spent the last three months training at Performance Compound in Tampa, Florida.
“We went at it, man: Six days a week, twice a [day]; massages, two-a-days, speed work, strength work, mobility — all types of stuff. It definitely prepared us,” Bates said.
He started the day by doing 18 repetitions on the bench press (225 pounds), then went 33½ inches in the vertical jump and 9 feet, 10 inches in the standing broad jump. He reportedly clocked a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash.
Participants also ran shuttle run, a three-cone drill and another agility exercise. Bates, Johnson and a few others also took part in position-specific drills.
Bates said he has been working hard on improving his speed to help with the transition to linebacker.
“By the end of [training for running], I was pretty sound with technique, and I felt great coming out of Tampa getting here, [doing] linebacker drills and kind of having that ability to open my hips and show the scouts that I can play that position: Drop [in coverage] and catch the ball,” he said.
Bates is scheduled to do private sessions with the Colts and the Vikings later this week. But he isn’t looking too far ahead.
“I just try to focus and stay mentally sharp on what I had to do and try to perform my best and stay in tune and try to impress some guys,” he said.
Johnson was the biggest man among the nine former UMaine players who were put through their paces. The 6-foot-3, 302-pound center is coming off his second straight appearance on the All-CAA first-team.
He has spent the last 14 weeks training with former Baltimore Ravens lineman Adam Terry.
“I thought I came out here, turned a lot of heads,” said Johnson, who has been refining his techniques.
“At the end of the day, you’re not really going to run 40s on the football field, especially an offensive lineman, so my positional work was key today,” he said.
Johnson cranked out 27 reps in the bench press, went 9-2 in the broad jump and leaped 32 inches.
The large gathering of scouts was not lost on Johnson, who has been talking with some NFL team representatives.
“We’ve got 10 scouts here today. We must be doing something right,” he said.
Harasymiak said that in addition to their football skills, Bates and Johnson possess other qualities that make them more marketable to NFL teams.
“If they get a chance to be in a [training] camp or hopefully get their name called, they’re going to have a really hard time cutting them because of their high character,” Harasymiak said.
Other UMaine hopefuls who worked out on Monday included cornerback Sherrod Baltimore, linebackers Randy Samuels and Cabrinni Goncalves, defensive end Mike Kozlakowski and running back Darius Benders, along with two 2014 graduates, defensive back Axel Ofori and fullback Carlton Charles of Windham.
Charles was the top man in the bench press with 29 reps, beating out Johnson and Kozlakowski (27). Ofori outleaped the group at 37 inches (Baltimore hit 36 inches), and Ofori, Kozlakowski and Samuels all covered 10-1 in the broad jump.
UMaine players seem to embrace representing a program that most often signs under-recruited players.
“Everybody that’s ever came to Maine [has] got something to prove,” Johnson said. “I feel like we’re a little overlooked, but having that chip on our shoulder makes some of us stand out a lot.”