Taven Bryan tied his unlaced cleats as a semicircle of NFL coaches and scouts surrounded the soon-to-be millionaire.
Rod Marinelli, defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, instructed Bryan through dummy-smacking drills with a focus on explosiveness. “Good, Taven,” he said several times. Bryan, a potential first-round NFL Draft pick and Florida’s most touted prospect, was the main attraction at UF’s Pro Day on Wednesday, with Marinelli, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis in attendance to observe the 6-5, 291-pound defensive lineman show why he’s drawn comparisons to JJ Watt.
Bryan only performed drills after an impressive showing at the combine, and with draft day approaching April 26, he believes he’s solidified himself as a first-round pick.
“Tape’s really what matters, honestly,” he said, “and I feel like I have really exceptional tape.”
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Bryan is from Casper, Wyoming, and watched very little NFL football growing up. When pressed for a player he likes, however, he gave an answer most Miami fans should be familiar with.
“I like more aggressive guys, even the Ndamukong Suh type,” he said. “Kind of mean. I think they’re kind of fun to watch.”
While Bryan was the main draw, he wasn’t the only player getting attention from scouts. Fifteen current Gators along with three former players were listed as participants. Here’s how they did:
ANTONIO CALLAWAY, WR
Callaway, a Miami native and Booker T. Washington alumnus, was perhaps the biggest name aside from Bryan in attendance on Wednesday. He looked in game shape despite spending the 2017 season suspended as part of widespread credit card fraud allegations.
Callaway, however, wasn’t particularly impressive in drills, with one dropped over-the-shoulder pass and back-to-back muffed punts. But he’s confident he’s put enough on tape to impress scouts.
“They already know I’m a good athlete,” he said. “Just know I’m not a bad person.”
Callaway’s time at Florida was riddled with off-field concerns, from the alleged credit card fraud to a marijuana citation to an accusation of sexual assault for which he was later cleared. He said a narrative developed that he’s too risky to draft because of his personality.
“They think I’m just this wild person,” Callaway said. “I ain’t no wild person.”
He said he’s settled down since his suspension with some help from his six-week-old daughter, Aulani. This isn’t the first time he’s said that, though, and his personality concerns will almost certainly cause him to slip. He gets that. But he’s still hopeful, and he’s spent his pre-draft process trying to convince teams that he’s changed. This time, for real.
“I’m a great person. I’m not this bad person that the media portrays. I mean, I can’t stress it enough,” he said. “I just gotta … let my actions speak for me.”
MATT ELAM, S
Elam hasn’t played for Florida since 2012, but he was back to try and find his way back onto an NFL roster after his dizzying descent from moderate stardom to complete alienation.
Elam was selected in the first round (32nd overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens and spent his entire career there. His play progressively declined, however, and the Ravens didn’t renew his contract after 2016.
He also had run-ins with legal troubles. It started with three drug charges in February of 2017, but those charges were later dropped. Then he was arrested for battery and theft after an argument with his girlfriend. Those charges were also dropped.
Nevertheless, no NFL team wanted to take a chance on a guy with those issues. He spent the season working at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Fort Lauderdale. With a new opportunity on Wednesday, the former All-American safety was overcome with emotion before he addressed a group of reporters.
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” he said. “I feel like your first mistake don’t determine what kind of person you really are. With your second chance and what you do with it determine who you really are. I’ve been through a lot, overcame a lot and I feel like I’m still young. I can help a club out in a lot of ways.”
JOHNNY TOWNSEND/EDDY PINEIRO, P/K
Florida’s pair of elite specialists are hoping to be the first kicker/punter pair from the same school ever selected in the same draft.
Both players participated in pro day drills, and while each botched one or two attempts, the rest of their attempts looked solid.
Pineiro, a graduate of Miami Sunset who dreamed of playing soccer before transitioning to football, said former Florida kicker and current San Diego Charger Caleb Sturgis has mentored him.
“To me he’s the best kicker in the NFL,” Pineiro said. “I may be being biased, but yeah, he’s helped me out a lot. The balls I’m kicking right now, he gave me the balls.”
Townsend, meanwhile, was optimistic about their chances of getting drafted.
“We are going to try to make it happen this year,” he said.
Defensive back Duke Dawson, tight end DeAndre Goolsby, safety Marcell Harris, receiver Brandon Powell and safety Nick Washington rounded out the list of players likely to get drafted or sign as undrafted free agents.
Offensive lineman Ricardo Benalcazar, defensive back Joseph Putu, defensive back Garrett Stephens, running back Mark Thompson and quarterback Malik Zaire also participated, as did former quarterback Austin Appleby and former running back Mark Herndon.