Cedric Thompson impresses at pro day

The former Gophers defensive back ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at Monday’s pro day.

Senior Cedric Thompson performs the vertical jump during Pro Day at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on Monday.

Holly Peterson

Senior Cedric Thompson performs the vertical jump during Pro Day at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on Monday.

Jack Satzinger

Cedric Thompson sensed that NFL scouts saw his perceived lack of athleticism as a weakness. But at Minnesota’s pro day on Monday, he showed them exactly why it might be a strength.

The former Gophers defensive back exceeded expectations in the 40-yard dash with a blazing time of 4.37 seconds. After that, Thompson went to the vertical jump where he showed the 22 NFL teams represented that he can leap more than 40 inches.

“I always knew I was really athletic, and I think that was kind of the question that teams had about me,” Thompson said. “I came out here, performed and showed them that I was athletic.”

After his career with the Gophers ended at the Citrus Bowl in January, Thompson traveled to Florida for conditioning. He spent time with renowned coach Tom Shaw, working on his sprinting technique.

Thompson never ran track, which he said was due to his devotion to football. Consequently, his stride never reached its full potential during his collegiate career.

But under Shaw’s direction, the Calipatria, Calif., native cut his 40-yard dash time down from his consistent time of more than 4.5 seconds.

“Stride length was what I needed because my frequency was already great,” Thompson said. “Once I got there, I knew I was flying.”

Thompson wasn’t invited to last month’s NFL Scouting Combine, but he likely increased his draft stock with Monday’s performance.

“When I didn’t get invited to the Combine, I wasn’t mad. I just do … the best I can with any opportunity I get and came out here and showcased my skills,” Thompson said.

Position drills

Former Gophers tight end Maxx Williams and linebacker Damien Wilson were at the Combine last month and participated in conditioning drills, like the 40-yard dash and vertical jump.

As a result, they chose to compete only in position drills on Monday.

“I was confident with everything I did at the Combine,” Williams said. “I felt like I had a pretty solid day [Monday], just showing that everything I did at the Combine wasn’t a fluke.”

Williams, who left Minnesota after his redshirt sophomore season, is projected as a first-round selection, according to NFL analysts.

He said he’s embraced the long process of preparing for the NFL Draft that’s in late April.

“I made my decision to come out, and I’m loving every minute of it,” Williams said.

Injured Cobb sits out

While Thompson showed off his enhanced athleticism and Williams and Wilson embarked on position drills, former Gophers running back David Cobb stood on the sidelines, nursing a quad injury.

Cobb pulled his quad during a drill at last month’s Combine. On Monday, the projected mid-round draft pick said he should be healthy enough to start running again Wednesday and plans to work out for NFL teams in early April.

“I look forward to coming out here again,” Cobb said. “It would just be good to come out here, put some times on the paper and do a couple conditioning drills.”

Botticelli embraces underdog role

Analysts project professional teams will draft Williams, Cobb and Wilson, and Thompson likely increased his chances with Monday’s performance.

And as those players are at the forefront, former Gophers defensive lineman Cameron Botticelli is flying under the radar.

But that doesn’t seem to bother the former walk-on, who turned into one of Minnesota’s strongest defensive players last year.

“As a walk-on player, you’re the underdog,” Botticelli said. “And as we look ahead to the draft and camp this summer, I think I’ll find myself in the same position — as possibly an undrafted free agent. And being an underdog and having to earn it the hard way, let me tell you, I relish that opportunity.”