Stars turn out on UGA pro day

semerson@macon.comMarch 21, 2013 

ATHENS -- There was Rex Ryan, the New York Jets head coach, tossing footballs to Jarvis Jones and slapping hands with Cornelius Washington. There was Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, off to the side talking with Mark Fox.

The NFL and Georgia mingled together Thursday, as they do once a year. But never more so than this year.

The Bulldogs are almost certain to set a record for players being drafted next month, and two of its stars are likely first-round picks. A number more will go early, which is why the UGA practice field was stocked with NFL coaches, scouts, a few general managers and other personnel people. The event, UGA pro day, was also broadcast on the NFL Network and ESPN online.

Washington, a linebacker, summed it up when explaining why he’s rocketing up draft boards despite not being one of the defense’s top names. It’s because the Georgia defense was, in his words, “Loaded. Absolutely loaded. Somebody’s gonna be overshadowed.”

The most players Georgia has ever had drafted is eight, in 2002. Head coach Mark Richt said he’d be “shocked” if they didn’t set a record this year. So would most analysts.

“I’m hoping it gets at least in the double digits, and maybe a little bit beyond that,” Richt said.

Much of the attention was on Jones, who didn’t work out at last month’s NFL combine, seeking to focus on Thursday’s performance in Athens. But plenty of scouts also wanted to watch inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, who would be a certain first-round pick if not for various off-field problems.

He was arrested in Arizona in January on a DUI charge. Last season he was suspended four games for a second violation of UGA’s student-athlete drug policy. And he was arrested as a freshman for what police said was the theft of a $35 scooter helmet.

“I just have to be a better person, make better decisions in my life, and just keep moving forward,” he said.

So what’s he telling teams that have already spoken to him, or will in the future?

“You just have to be truthful. What you’ve done, it’s already out there,” Ogletree said. “My honest answer was I’m not that guy that I’m being portrayed to be, or anything like that. I’m a good person and come from a good home, stuff like that. And I just made a mistake and just gotta learn from it.”

Ogletree’s talent is not in question. He led the team in tackles last year despite missing those first four games. The personal interview process is next for Ogletree, and it’s probably the most important part of his pre-draft process. He said he was eager for it.

“I’m sure they want to get to know me a lot better, too,” Ogletree said. “The stuff I did was a mistake. I had to learn from it. I just want to keep learning from it and move forward.”

The pro day had its usual format. Players bench-pressed and jumped for scouts in the early morning, then they moved outside to run and perform drills. The effect of workouts is often debatable, but it was clear that the players who had the best day were Richard Samuel and Branden Smith -- a pair of former five-star recruits who didn’t finish their careers as starters.

Neither Samuel or Smith was deemed good enough to merit an invite to the combine last month. Instead, 11 other Georgia players did, and usually a combine invite leads to being drafted.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who was also in attendance, called it “an impressive group for Georgia.”

“Coach Richt and his staff have done a great job putting together some really good players, and this year is probably the best that I’ve seen in the five years that I’ve been coming over,” Smith said.

Richt was asked what led to having so many top-level prospects.

“A lot of it has to do with the type of talent base that’s being recruited here at Georgia,” he said. “Obviously you’ve gotta have a certain amount of ability for the NFL to be even thinking about drafting you. I think we’ve done a good job in that regard. And then you’ve got to develop them once they get here, and I think our strength staff and our coaching staff has done a wonderful job. Nutritionists. It kind of takes everybody. And then you’ve gotta credit those players themselves and how hard they work at becoming the best they can be too. …

“A day like (Thursday) was big for the players. But it’s big for Georgia, too.”

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