PENN STATE PRO DAY NOTES: Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders continue to prove their cases

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
  • Penn State helds its annual football Pro Day on Tuesday.
  • Trace McSorley continued to insist that he plans to play QB in the NFL.
  • Miles Sanders continues his bid to emerge from Saquon Barkley's large shadow.
Former Penn State running back, now with the New York Giants, Saquon Barkley, center, hugs Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, right, after his workout during Penn State's Pro Day in State College, Pa., Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

STATE COLLEGE -- Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders reunited Tuesday at Penn State, where scouts from 30 NFL teams made the rounds for Pro Day. Among them was the New York Giants, who drafted Barkley second overall last year.

Asked whether he might be interested in a New York reunion, Sanders laughed.

“If they’re paying me, it’s whatever,” he said. “But it’s going to definitely need to be a two-back system.”

Sanders and McSorley continued their missions at Pro Day, fueled by a separate but ceaseless series of questions and boosted by their former teammate, who was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.

Barkley slept on former roommate Koa Farmer’s couch Monday night, hugged McSorley after his important throwing session and generally helped loosen what can be an anxious day for the participants.

The former Penn State back also has been out front defending both on social media, particularly his quarterback from questions about playing other positions.

McSorley threw again for the scouts Tuesday, as he did at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine, and didn’t practice drills with the defensive backs (though he did go under center for the first time at Holuba Hall).

McSorley said he hasn’t discussed playing defense with any NFL teams since leaving Penn State, though one scout told him teams considered asking him to practice there at the combine. The notion of playing receiver, like Julian Edelman or Wes Welker, has been floated as well.

For McSorley, that was OK. But he’s still not interested.

“I haven’t done a [secondary] backpedal in like 5½ years,” McSorley said. “I’ve just been focused on quarterback, and that’s where my mindset is.”

McSorley threw to Sanders, former receiver DeAndre Thompkins and former East Stroudsburg receiver Jylil Reeder, among others, winning praise for his accuracy and footwork. Both Sanders and Thompkins also looked sharp catching passes.

Afterward, McSorley said Barkley’s endorsement “meant a lot to me, more because he’s my teammate.” Several other Penn State players at the Pro Day had McSorley’s back as well.

“He’s done nothing but excel, and I thought asking him to play [defensive back] was disrespectful,” former cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “All he does is prove people wrong, and he’s going to do it again.”

Added former lineman Connor McGovern, McSorley’s center for a season, “Obviously he’s an NFL quarterback. Whoever picks him up is going to get the best competitor of their life. You just can’t get rid of him.”

Penn State's Miles Sanders makes a catch during Penn State's Pro Day on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in State College, Pa. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP)

Sanders demonstrates receiving skills: Sanders did not run the 40-yard dash Tuesday, allowing his time of 4.49 seconds at the NFL combine to stand, but chose instead to demonstrate his receiving skills. Sanders caught just 24 passes last season, which didn’t indicate how much he can contribute to a team’s passing game.

Further, Sanders doesn’t have the tread of some other top backs in this draft. With 276 career carries, and one year as a full-time starter, Sanders considers himself fresher than some of the competition.

“A lot of coaches brought that up to me,” he said, “Obviously I wanted to play a lot more my freshman and sophomore years. But the good side about it is that I have less hits on my body.”

Since the combine, Sanders has become a top-50 NFL draft prospect, which should begin to stretch him from Barkley’s long shadow. But it still lingers.

In Indianapolis, the NFL Network created a video that overlapped Sanders’ 40-dash with Barkley’s in 2018. It was a visual representation of Sanders continuing to run in Barkley’s wake.

Sanders said he didn’t feel slighted, though he would like to become known as his own player soon.

“My main goal is really just to make a name for myself,” he said. “Going to the next level, playing against grown men, I know other grown men don’t want to be compared to another guy. But that’s the goal. That was my goal coming into this past season, just making a name for myself.”

Here are a few other notes from the PSU Pro Day:

Stock rising: McGovern said he has been scouted as a potential second-round pick, a huge boost since he left with a season of eligibility. A primary reason is his versatility.

McGovern practiced at all five line positions at Penn State, focusing primarily on guard and center. He is fluid at all three inside spots, proving that last season by starting at center against Maryland on one day’s notice.

“I think my versatility is a big factor,” McGovern said, “just how I’m able to play all five positions and do it well, especially on the interior three.”

Defensive end Shareef Miller has been approached about playing outside linebacker by teams that employ 3-4 defenses. It’s a common switch for college linemen who might not have the size or burst to play end in the NFL.

It’s also one Miller said he’s comfortable making.

“A lot of teams were surprised that I was real fluid in my feet and hips,” Miller said. “There’s more than a handful of teams that want me to play the 3-4 outside linebacker. I can do both. I showed that at Penn State a little bit, being able to drop, but they didn’t really see it until the combine. But I’m good playing in space like that.”

As a Philadelphia native, Miller said he would be thrilled to be drafted by the Eagles? Dallas, on the other hand?

“My family ain’t going to like that, a lot of people ain’t going to like that, but hey, it is what it is,” he said.

Working on his accuracy: McSorley has been training with Ken Mastrole, a former professional quarterback who runs a south Florida passing academy, on improving his accuracy. Mastrole has been mentoring McSorley since January on mechanical issues, particularly his footwork.

At Pro Day, McSorley completed 90 percent of the 50 passes he threw, several of which were to former East Stroudsburg University receiver Jylil Reeder.

“Being athletic, my feet will get a little out of whack,” McSorley said. “That’s something we’ve worked on trying to settle them down and getting everything pointing toward the target. Having calm, smooth feet so that when you get back there you can deliver a good ball.”

Penn State's Nick Scott runs the 40-yard dash during Penn State's Pro Day on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in State College, Pa. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP)

Proving their athleticism: Farmer and safety Nick Scott tested well at Pro Day, with Scott running the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds. Farmer ran a 4.48 while bench-pressing 225 pounds 25 times and generating a 37-inch vertical jump.

Scott had the day’s best vertical jump (41 inches) and broad jump (10-8) while showcasing his coverage skills during drills. Both said they are prepared to audition at multiple positions, with Scott pursuing a roster spot via special teams.

“If one of the scouts asked me to go to receiver today, I was going to say yes,” Farmer said. “I’m confident in my ball skills, I didn’t drop a ball today. I was trying to tell them, throw me some acrobatic balls so I can prove that I’m athletic. That’s my pitch. I’m athletic, I’m versatile, I’m fast, I’m quick and I’m smart.”

‘I was as confused as everybody else:’ Defensive tackle Kevin Givens had one of the more confusing moments of the NFL combine, one which still perplexes him. Givens initially was timed at 4.87 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which would have been among the best times for defensive linemen.

But Givens was mistimed, and his official number was 5.08 seconds. He did not run at Pro Day, choosing to let that time stand.

“I was as confused as everybody else,” Givens said. “They said they messed up the clock time, so that’s what it is. The scouts did their own hand time, so they had the right time. They said it was a good 40. I wish my time would have been accurate, but it was a good thing.”

That wasn’t Givens’ only confusing moment in Indianapolis. Another came during the often-bewildering interview sessions.

“I was asked, ‘What’s the worst thing you’ve done without getting caught,’” Givens said. “He was looking for a crazy answer, and I didn’t have one.”

Noteworthy: Arizona and Dallas were the only teams not to attend Pro Day. Two CFL teams attended, as did a scout from World Wrestling Entertainment, which is involved in the forthcoming XFL reboot. … Receiver DeAndre Thompkins ran a 4.33 40-yard dash, which he called a bit disappointing. Thompkins had hoped to run faster than 4.3. … Running back Johnathan Thomas ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, which opened some scouts’ eyes. And linebacker Jake Cooper, whose career at Penn State was stunted by injuries, tested well. He benched 25 reps and ran a 4.75 40-yard dash.