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Carolina Panthers

Prospects in their element at pro days


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Technically speaking, there isn't much difference between the NFL Scouting Combine last month and the pro days being held on college campuses around the country this month.

At each event, pro prospects run the 40-yard dash, perform the three-cone drill and compete in the bench press under the watchful eyes of NFL scouts.

But there is a different feel surrounding a pro day and the combine, one that can make all the difference in the world.

"This is the chance to get to see kids in their element, whereas the combine is kind of our element," Panthers national scout Ryan Cowden said after taking in North Carolina's pro day Tuesday. "The combine is a much more formal setting, and some kids don't thrive in that. They're getting pulled and tugged, it's long days, and there's the pressure of workouts coming.

"Coming home and sleeping in their own beds and being around their teammates, coaches and families allows us to see a little bit more of the personalities of the kids. A lot of them come to the combine programmed, but here they let their guard down a little when they're in their house, so to speak."

The differences between the venues struck UNC defensive tackle Tydreke Powell. While Powell was one of 58 defensive linemen to go through the paces at the combine, he was one of three defensive linemen taking part at UNC.

"The stage at the combine isn't quite as big as you think it's going to be, but it's still big," Powell said. "There are 60 guys in one group there, so it's hard to get much exposure. But at pro day, you've only got like three of four guys in a group, and you get a good look from everybody."

When Powell ran the 40 at the combine, scouts had to watch him from the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. At UNC, scouts were able to crowd close to the cones that marked the finish line, some standing close enough to reach out and touch Powell as he sped by.

Despite the differences, UNC linebacker Zach Brown took much the same approach, even as he got some up-close counseling from Panthers linebackers coach Warren Belin, who led Brown's group through position drills Tuesday.

"He gave me some advice, and I tried to take it in and get it done so he didn't have to tell me again. I don't want him thinking, 'This guy can't follow directions,' " Brown said. "But every time I've stepped on the field since high school, it's been a job interview. I've had to compete for my position, with the next guy right there. It's all about competing."

While Brown and Powell had first-hand knowledge of the differences between pro day and the combine, many of UNC's participants did not.


"This is the most important day of my life," said UNC safety Matt Merletti, who wasn't invited to the combine. "It's kind of funny to think that every single workout we've done, every single practice, every single game, everything has led up to this moment.

"You've really got to deliver, and I was happy with what I did."

While some teams saw Merletti in person for the first time Tuesday, they also were glad to see some familiar faces from the combine.

Cowden said the homefield advantage offered by pro day can help an athlete's performance, but that doesn't lead Cowden to discount any improved numbers since the combine.

"We tell guys, 'Hey, if you're invited to Indy, work out there and work out at your school. If you work out at the combine and you're not happy with something, you still have your pro day to fall back on to improve,'" Cowden said. "It's their choice if they pass on everything at the combine, but then you only have one shot at it.

"And we always give a kid his best number."

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