Gophers stand out at Pro Day

Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen headlined Minnesota’s lineup.

Gophers stand out at Pro Day

Jack Satzinger

Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen turned heads with their physical attributes at last month’s NFL Combine. And at the Gophers’ Pro Day on Monday morning, they showcased their football skills to 19 NFL teams.

“They always say, ‘You could run as fast as you can, you can bench 500 times, but if you can’t carry it over to the football field, it doesn’t mean anything,’” Vereen said.

Vereen led all safeties in the bench press at the NFL Combine with 25 reps. He also flashed his speed with a 4.47-second time in the 40-yard dash.

Hageman’s 32 bench press reps at the NFL Combine tied him for third among defensive linemen. He also recorded a 35.5-inch vertical leap.

“You can tell the quickness, the athletic skills, the size — everything is there,” Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said of Hageman.

Minnesota’s Pro Day offered scouts an opportunity to break down skills and see if players like Hageman would fit in at the next level.

“[I wanted to] get better insight and just have the coaches kind of see … how capable I am of moving,” Hageman said.

Though he weighs 315 pounds, Hageman is plenty nimble, and that’s a big reason he’s slated as a potential first- or second-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

That skill set also seemed to catch the eye of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. The coach took to the field for much of the morning and paid special attention to Hageman and Vereen.

“I really liked their hands-on approach to everything,” Vereen said. “They weren’t just sitting back, watching you and taking notes. And to actually be coached out there was a lot different from the combine. I liked it.”

Hageman said Zimmer told him he was doing well during his workout. Still, Hageman realizes he needs to improve.

“A lot of my better games are still ahead of me,” he said. “I’m still kind of just learning the basics. … I just have to be patient.”

While NFL front offices invade the NFL Combine and various Pro Days across the nation, Spielman said the best way to evaluate a player is by looking back at game film.

On film, Vereen’s versatility is on display, Spielman said.

“Then he goes to the combine and blows out a [40-yard dash],” he said. “That really opened a lot of people’s eyes.”

Vereen said most teams he’s talked to pointed to his versatility as his most redeeming quality. He played safety for much of his college career, but he filled in at cornerback this season after injuries depleted the Gophers’ secondary.

He’s climbing draft boards because of that versatility and his showing at the NFL Combine.

But Vereen isn’t interested in estimations on where he’ll be drafted.

“I haven’t watched ESPN in two months. I haven’t watched NFL Network,” he said. “If somebody starts a conversation about that, I tell them to stop. I’ll worry about that in May.”

A waiting game

Waiting is one of the frustrating parts of the draft process for Hageman and Vereen — and there are still two months left.

Hageman said he’s shut off all distractions and now just relaxes at his home when not working out.

“It’s time to sink in football, and that’s what I love to do,” he said.

Vereen said waiting for May is horrible, and he’s looking for new ways to pass the time.

“I’ll start a Netflix series or something,” he said with a laugh.

Spielman said he expects both Hageman and Vereen to play at the next level.

That’s not necessarily the case for the other former Gophers players who worked out Monday.

Aaron Hill, James Manuel, Martez Shabazz, Jeremy Baltazar, Jake Filkins, Roland Johnson, Victor Keise and Derrick Engel were all in attendance.

Johnson said he wasn’t surprised at the scrum of media and scouts that showed up for the morning workouts.

“I knew it was going to be a big turnout,” he said. “You’ve got the big dogs here getting looked at.”

Engel, who is still recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee, didn’t work out. He sustained the injury in November and said it was tough watching his former teammates work out while he watched from the sidelines.

“It’s hard when you want to be out there with those guys,” he said, “but at the same time, it was fun watching them at the NFL Combine.”

Hageman said he’s been in contact with “a lot” of NFL teams since the NFL Combine, but he wouldn’t give specifics.

“I’ll wait for the phone call to get individual workouts, but on top of that, keep on conditioning,” he said. “I’m just taking baby steps, embracing everything.”