Ball impresses at Pro Day

MADISON - The Badgers held their annual Pro Day in the McClain Center Wednesday afternoon, with several former Badgers working out for NFL representatives. Montee Ball, Travis Frederick, and Ricky Wagner were all looking to improve on their performances at the 2013 NFL Combine last month. Ball in particular was looking to improve his 40-yard dash number after completing the drill in 4.66 seconds in Indianapolis.
It was also the first chance for other former Badgers like Devin Smith, Marcus Cromartie, and Shelton Johnson to impress scouts after they did not receive an invite to the combine. The Badgers also hosted Aaron Henry and Louis Nzegwu, both of whom entered the draft last season and didn't stick with an NFL roster.
Ball improves 40 time
Ball was never going to blow people away with his speed, but his 4.66-second performance in Indianapolis was disappointing. Ball's time was the 19th-best among running backs at the combine, so it was important for him to try and improve on that time during pro day.
Luckily for Ball, he showed a little more speed at Pro Day than he did at the combine. Ball ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds this time around, which would have been good enough for third place among running backs at the combine. Ball said he was recovering from a sinus infection during the combine, so he was trying to show he was faster than his 4.66 time at the combine.
"I was disappointed with it because I knew I was faster than that," Ball said after he finished working out. "I think I proved that today, that I am faster than the 4.66 I ran at Indy."
Ball also worked out extensively in position drills with a Seattle Seahawks representative while other scouts watched from the bleachers. Ball focused on receiving drills in an attempt to burnish his credentials as a back that would be an asset in the passing game. The stand-in at quarterback threw some bad balls, but Ball as a whole performed well in the drill. He also showed off some nimble footwork in his position drill, and ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4.11 seconds, significantly better than his 4.4-second performance at the combine.
It's important to remember that teams don't give Pro Day times quite the same weight as the combine stats. Pro Day times are usually done manually with stopwatches, so there's more room for error this time around. Ball might not ever have to run a 40-yard dash in 4.66 seconds at the NFL, but he probably helped his draft stock with his performance on Wednesday.
Ball was also seen having an extensive talk with Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson and some other Packers scouts. That's definitely not a sure-fire indication that the Packers want to draft Ball, but his skill set could fit into what the Packers are looking for out of a running back. Ball said he had a good chat with Thompson, who usually makes it down to Wisconsin's Pro Day every year.
"He just talked about all the good stuff I've been doing on tape," Ball said. "He says I know how to play football, I've been doing the right things and he's very excited about me."
Cromartie runs well after combine snub
Former Wisconsin cornerback Marcus Cromartie ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds this afternoon, which would have put him at third place at the combine overall. That will probably open a few scouts' eyes. However, the 6-foot Cromartie still has a lot of work to do if he wants an NFL team to take a chance on him during the draft.
Cromartie has virtually ideal size for a cornerback, and his 4.35-second performance today shows he has a lot of athletic talent. He's also at a pretty good weight for a corner at 190 pounds. But Cromartie struggled with consistency during his time at Wisconsin. He finished the 2012 season well, but there will be plenty of flaws on tape that might scare NFL teams away from drafting him. Cromartie didn't dominate college receivers the way other corners of his size probably could.
He also gave up his fair share of big plays during his career, and a strong finish as a senior doesn't take those off of a highlight film. But even still, it's possible that Cromartie could sneak his way into the late rounds if a team thinks they can coach him up to take advantage of his athleticism.
Even though it's still just a Pro Day time, Cromartie did his part. It's now up to an NFL team to take a bite and see if Cromartie is a project worth working on.
Other notes
-- Former Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor was in Madison today for Pro Day, but didn't work out for any scouts. Taylor is currently recovering from a hernia injury. He was invited to the combine last month but didn't compete in any of the drills, so we don't have 40-yard dash time for him or any other tests. It's an unfortunate situation for Taylor, who will probably have to sign as an undrafted free agent if he doesn't get drafted.
-- Travis Frederick and Ricky Wagner didn't run the 40-yard dash or do any of the other tests on Wednesday, after both players competed at the combine last month. A 40-yard dash isn't very important for an offensive lineman, so there was little reason for either player to do it again. Frederick and Wagner both did positional drills though, and both should be selected in the draft this April. Frederick looks a top-75 pick according to the NFL's website thanks in part to his ability to play both guard and center. Wagner played left tackle for the Badgers, but it looks like he'll be shifted over to the right side in the NFL.
-- Cornerback Devin Smith ran a 4.5 40-yard dash on Wednesday, which was a little surprising for a defensive back. Smith definitely needed to run faster than that in a Pro Day to really catch the eyes of any scouts.
-- I attempted to time players in the 40-yard dash on my iPhone, so take these results with a huge grain of salt because the stopwatch doesn't measure 100ths of a second. I had Aaron Henry above 4.5-seconds, and Louis Nzegwu at about 4.6-seconds. Both players are trying to get back in to the NFL after missing the cut in training camp last year, but I doubt they blew anyone away today a year removed from their original draft season. Henry had a 4.54-second 40 time last season, while Nzegwu ran a 4.64 last season.
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