Former Heisman Winner Shows off Arm at OSU Pro Day
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Draped in a baggy, gray Ohio State sweatshirt with matching gray sweatpants, Troy Smith was hardly noticeable when he strolled out onto the field during OSU Pro Day on Friday.
Photo by Dan Harker
At first glance, he could have been just about anyone throwing footballs to some of Ohio State’s outgoing seniors as they worked out in front of scouts and coaches at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus.
At a generous 6-foot, the former Heisman Trophy winner certainly didn’t command the attention of a room that was filled with guys like 6-7 offensive tackle Reid Fragel and 6-5 Jake Stoneburner.
There were 36 scouts from 28 different NFL teams who swarmed to Columbus to watch guys like Fragel, Stoneburner and Zach Boren run around in shorts. Many of them came to see potential first-rounder Johnathan Hankins go through position drills, and they may have been intrigued by cornerback Travis Howard, safety Orhian Johnson or linebacker Etienne Sabino.
Fragel showed off an impressive physique. At 6-7 and 305 pounds, he is a rare specimen – a former tight end who could be an intriguing option for NFL scouts as an offensive tackle in next month’s draft.
After running a 4.65 at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Stoneburner posted a 4.52 on Friday. That number could make him much more intriguing to a league that has become both pass-heavy and tight end-friendly.
Even defensive back Zach Domicone may have peaked some interest after Bill Belichick used a draft pick on career special-teamer Nate Ebner last year.
Photo by Dan Harker
They were the stars of the show – especially with John Simon planning to hold his own pro day on March 25th because of the shoulder injury – but it was the guy wearing the loose-fitting gray sweatshirt who had everyone talking afterward.
“I can roll out of bed and throw spirals, what can I say,” Smith said, laughing.
Smith wasn’t consciously trying to make an NFL comeback with his performance on the same practice field where he became a college football star six years ago, but he might have just done it by accident.
“I’ve always loved the Cleveland Browns, but I love the Buckeyes even more, I love Columbus even more,” said Smith, who started 28 games at quarterback for Ohio State from 2004-06.
“The opportunity these guys have given me around here, it doesn’t come often, and I have to cultivate it.”
It wasn’t just the distance on some of Smith’s throws, but also the tightness of the spiral, the velocity of the ball and the pinpoint accuracy to hit Stoneburner right in the hands. He threw a few ducks as well on Friday.
Unfortunately most of those seemed to come at the expense of former walk-on receiver Taylor Rice, but Smith may have done enough to show at least one or two scouts he can still play at that level.
“I absolutely believe he could be in the NFL,” Stoneburner said.
“And I think he believes it, too.”
After making the transition from wide receiver to tight end back to wide receiver, the Dublin Coffman product had not performed exceptionally well at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, so he needed to show something a little extra to the scouts on pro day.
For that, Stoneburner called Smith, who currently works in the OSU athletic department, at the recommendation of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.
“I can see why he won the Heisman. I can see why he was a captain,” said Stoneburner, who turned in the performance he was looking for during Friday morning’s workout.
“He motivated me better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Having him out there certainly made me look better, and I think he was more happy for me than I was for myself.”
With Smith throwing him the football, Stoneburner was able to show off his 4.52 speed in front of the scouts. He was chasing down footballs 50 and 60 yards down the field, reaching up and plucking them out of the air around the goal line the way he will be asked to do at the next level.
Stoneburner caught everything that was thrown his way on Friday, but it was the guy at the other end of those passes who may have made the most surprising impact on the onlookers.
“He probably made an impression, because he looked flawless out there,” a sweaty Stoneburner said after his workout.
“I think you guys saw that today. I mean, that guy is incredible. I was running fast as I can 40 yards down the field, and I didn’t have to take one single less stride. He hit me right in stride.”
At 28 years old, Smith has not thrown a pass in the National Football League since 2010, when he started six games for the San Francisco 49ers. That would be the same 49ers team that played in the Super Bowl this past season, and he actually looked pretty good that year before he was benched following an argument with then-head coach Mike Singletary.
Smith also started two games in Baltimore back in 2007 before a “severe tonsilar infection” knocked him out of action. The 2006 Heisman Trophy winner lost 20 pounds because of the illness. He also lost his starting job to rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who recently signed the richest deal in NFL history after leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory.
After one year with Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League, Smith was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers last January, but he was released in June before the start of the 2012 NFL preseason.
In some ways, Smith was ahead of his time by a few years in the NFL. The success of young players like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick has made mobile quarterbacks more attractive than ever before, but Smith isn’t exactly campaigning for another shot.
“I’ll leave the comebacks to Vince Young,” he said with a big grin.
“But you never know. I’ve always loved the Cleveland Browns.”
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