TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Jake Coker is hoping that his second major snub of the year works out as well the first.
That initial one, of course, was when the University of Alabama coaching staff decided not to start him against Ole Miss last season, which obviously worked out eventually as he came off the bench to secure the starting job before going on to win the Southeastern Conference and national championships.
Despite that, and finishing the 2015 season with the two best games of his career, Coker wasn’t among the 18 quarterbacks invited to last month’s NFL combine.
"Oh man, I don't wanna get started on that,” he said. “It's all good, man. It pissed me off, but hey, it didn’t change my work ethic or the way I’ve been working. It is what it is.”
On Wednesday, Coker finally got his chance to build on his Senior Bowl performance when he was one of 18 former Crimson Tide players that participated in Alabama’s annual pro day for NFL scouts and officials.
Among the most notable on hand were New England head coach Bill Belichick, Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley and both general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano from Indianapolis.
Even after splitting the contingency into two groups for some drills to try to speed things up, the workouts still took nearly four hours to complete. And that was with most of the players who attended the combine not participating in individual events, just position drills.
For example, running back Derrick Henry only did receiving drills in hopes of showing off that part his game. Like usual, he was impressive.
"Did I look bad?" he asked reporters after having just one drop on a red-zone attempt near the end of the lengthy workout.
"I'm good with running anything to catch the ball," Henry said. "Anything to make myself more versatile, more useful, I'm all for it."
While Henry was trying to prove he’s worthy of being a first-round selection, most of the other players are hoping to be drafted at all, or at least put themselves into strong position to land a training camp invitation as a free agent—like linebacker Dillon Lee.
“It’s hard to say someone has helped themselves out here, but I think, for instance, a kid like Lee, who didn’t get a combine invite, he comes out here and runs a 4.78,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “He’s a big, athletic kid. Special teams coaches are out here taking note of it. To me, those kinds of things are more important than whether Derrick Henry, you know, whatever he’s going to do.”
As for Coker, who does have the size and arm strength that NFL teams covet at the quarterback position, head coach Nick Saban had a theory for why he wasn’t invited to the combine.
“I think it’s because there were 97 juniors who came out [early],” Saban said. “I think that's an issue and a problem we need to address with the NFL because it's unfair to some of the seniors because all those guys get invited and some of them are not ranked as high as some of the seniors who they know more about."
Although Alabama didn’t release any results, here’s a quick look at how its former players fared during the school's pro day.
Jake Coker, Quarterback
Gil Brandt of NFL.com reported that Coker didn’t do any hard running because he’s having two screws in his foot removed next week, stemming from an injury he sustained last season.
Although Coker showed good arm strength and the ability to hit targets while on the move, he didn’t have many receivers to work with. Richard Mullaney was the only wide receiver, Michael Nysewander the lone tight end and other players had injury setbacks.
"Did some good things, did some bad things,” Coker said. “I know we were pretty clean on the intermediate routes and there were a few slip-ups on the deep balls that I wish I had back. But it was fun throwing to these guys, and I wish we could do it again."
Coker has been working with quarterbacks coach David Morris, and his former teammates said the change was noticeable with more zip on the ball and quicker, more precise passes.
"Jake has got a lot of upside," said Saban, adding, “I think he’s going to need to continue to develop. He’s got a great arm who can make all the throws. For his size he is very athletic, and I think a lot of people are going to like that.”
Derrick Henry, Running Back
Although Henry didn’t hit his target time in the 40 at the combine, where his official time was 4.54 seconds, he declined to run again and concentrated on the receiving drills.
Among the few knocks on Henry coming into pro day were critics claiming he can’t change direction well, he’s too much of a one-dimensional back and not the kind of player that’ll work well with certain blocking schemes.
Henry responded, "All I need is a line and I'm good."
“I think when you look at Derrick Henry you have to get past the style points and style issue,” Saban said. “He’s a unique guy with a unique style. He’s got great length, he’s got a great stiff arm, he’s really hard to tackle and he’s really, really fast. He can catch the ball. He’s a really good receiver. And he can block.
“So if you don’t have this sort of pigeon-hole perception of what a running back needs to be, and you can get past all that and just look at the production, you’ll be wise in terms of how you look at Derrick Henry and what his performance will be for you down the road.”
Cyrus Jones, Cornerback
Jones said he’s had “great feedback” after his strong performance at the combine, so his strategy at pro day was to try to build on that momentum.
“I think I did well,” he said. “Showed my quickness, coming in and out of breaks, good fluidity in my hips. I think it was a good workout.”
The teams Jones met with on Tuesday included the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Patriots. He also has a private workout with a team scheduled for next week.
“I’m hearing anything from second [round] to early third,” he said. “I’m not really worried about it. I’m looking forward to the process and letting the chips fall where they may.”
Ryan Kelly, Center
Like the other players who went to the combine, Kelly only did some position drills on pro day. He’s quietly being hailed as a solid, no-risk pick during the first two days of the draft.
“I think Ryan Kelly might be in the late first round as a center,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday. “Ryan Kelly’s not a name you’re hearing a lot about but he could be the next Nick Mangold, Alex Mack. At worst a second-round pick, and I think Ryan Kelly’s going to play a long time in the NFL and anchor an offensive line for a number of years.”
Incidentally, Mack reportedly signed a five-year deal with Atlanta on Wednesday, per ESPN.com.
Dillon Lee, Linebacker
Lee appeared to be one of the big winners on Wednesday.
“It was a really big day,” he said. “I didn’t go to the combine, so it’s kind of all-in on this one day. So I was kind of nervous. But once I did my vert, my broad and my bench back-to-back real quick it was just kind of another day after that.”
Lee said his measurements were 6’3”, 240 pounds. He did 20 reps in the bench, 31 inches in the vertical jump and 113 inches in the broad jump. NFL.com reported his other scores as 4.83 and 4.77 seconds in the 40, 4.34 seconds in the 20-yard short shuttle and a three-cone time of 7.11 seconds.
D.J. Pettway, Defensive Lineman
The one player who wanted to improve on his combine numbers was Pettway, who most project to be a linebacker at the next level.
“I jumped another inch on my vert, I jumped 9’2” in my broad and I jumped 9’0” at the combine,” he said. “I ran I think a 4.82 40 and I ran a 4.99 at the combine. I did 18 on bench and I did 17 at the combine.”
NFL.com reported his 40 time at 4.89 seconds. Pettway weighed in at 271 pounds.
Reggie Ragland, Linebacker
After dropping his weight down to 247 pounds for the combine, Ragland showed that he could keep it off by tipping the scale at 248 on Wednesday.
“I'm just really trying to keep a great diet,” he said. “I cook most of my food. I bake most of my food. A lot of asparagus and broccoli and carrots and that type of stuff. I can't be frying it; it'll kill me.”
He got up just 13 reps in the bench press, and a scout asked him to run the three-cone drill after skipping it at the combine, finishing in 7.5 seconds.
Ragland told reporters that he was meeting with the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings, but it was impossible not notice that Belichick conducted the linebacker position drills Wednesday.
Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson, Defensive Linemen
Their positional drills along with Darren Lake and Pettway drew the most attention, and their hand strikes, which help indicate a player’s power, could be easily heard across the building.
“I love them,” Mayock said. “They’re both in my top five (for their position group). It’s the best interior line class I’ve ever seen, and both of those kids are going to play early and often and play for 10 years.”
Both potential first-round selections have been working with veteran line coach Pete Jenkins in Baton Rouge, trying to improve their pass-rushing skills in particular.
“It's nothing competitive,” Robinson said. “It's about pushing each other and getting each other better. It doesn't matter who goes first. We want the best for each other.”
• Of the eight players who ran the 40 inside the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility, free safety Geno Matias-Smith appeared to have the fastest time in the 4.4-second range. “Geno’s been my roommate since my freshman year and we’re close,” Jones said. “It was good to see him come out here and showcase what he has to offer. Hopefully he’ll get a shot.”
• Hamstrings were a bit of an issue, with running back Kenyan Drake declining to run and linebacker Denzel Devall only running the 40 once. Tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith grimaced after his second attempt.
• AL.com reported that reserve cornerback Bradley Sylve suffered a torn Achilles tendon on Tuesday.
• NFL.com reported that tackle Dominick Jackson ran the 40 in 5.4 seconds and had a good positional workout.
• The only event reporters could hear the results called out for was the broad jump, led by Lee’s 9’5”, two inches better than Mullaney and cornerback Jabriel Washington.
• Among the former players who attended were Josh Chapman, Marcell Dareus and T.J Yeldon.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.