PENN STATE FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Parsons, Oweh steal show at Nittany Lions' pro day, and more
Penn State's 2021 NFL Draft hopefuls took the field Thursday morning into the afternoon and to the surprise of no one, Jayson Oweh and Micah Parsons stole the show.
The two former Nittany Lion defenders can safely be described as "freak" athletes and a few weeks ago, Penn State strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt said he expected both to light up the pro day.
"I think that it's going to be a very, very interesting fireworks show when they start testing," Galt said in early March. "Both of them, as we all know, are very gifted athletically."
Oweh and Parsons proved their former strength coach right with blazing times in the 40-yard dash. Oweh ran a 4.36 at 6-foot-5, 257 pounds, and Parsons ran a 4.39 at 6-foot-3, 246 pounds.
Those times are the product of their athleticism and the level of work the two put in while they trained together in California.
"I fell like there should be a documentary on how we worked in Santa Ana, California," Oweh said. "It was just so intense, every single day, every single day it was (personal record, personal record, personal record)."
Oweh, a defensive end at Penn State, could potentially play elsewhere in the NFL. He has the length and athleticism — he also reached 39.5 inches in the vertical jump Thursday — to play either outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or defensive end in a 4-3 defense. Regardless of his position, he'll likely be asked to be an edge rusher who spends his time in the league chasing down quarterbacks.
Critics will point to his lack of sacks — none in the 2020 season — as reason for concern about his ability to get to the quarterback at the next level, but Oweh isn't concerned about the criticism or what he can do on the football field.
"If you really understand what is going and you watch film, you don't just look at the box score, you understand that that's not even who I am," Oweh said. "If you go off (the game against) Indiana, that game, I would have had five sacks that game if I wasn't just a split second off. ... My best years in football are ahead of me."
Parsons' questions have far less to do with his on-field prowess and more to do with off-the-field questions. He's been projected as a top-10 pick since the end of the 2019 season when ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. called him one of the top five prospects in the 2021 class.
Now, his value could take a hit because of "character concerns," with NFL.com's Lance Zierlein having the linebacker falling all the way to No. 29 to the Green Bay Packers.
The surrounding questions about his character are part of the past for Parsons, who believes he's a different person than he was when he was younger.
"Obviously, people have concerns about things that came up," Parsons said. "But at the end of the day, I believe that I was a kid. I was 17-18 (years old). We all make mistakes when we're 17-18. I'm not going to let it control or dictate the person I am now. I'm not going to let something that was three or four years (ago) dictate who I'm becoming and the father I want to be."
Freiermuth works out but doesn't test: Former Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth took the field publicly Thursday for the first time since he had shoulder surgery during the 2020 season, running tight end drills in front of the NFL front office personnel and coaches in attendance. The tight end, however, did not do any testing — which means no 40-yard dash, among other drills — and did not do any weightlifting.
Freiermuth said he was anxious to take the field, given the road to recovery he faced after the surgery.
"I think I did all I could do today to show teams that I'm recovered from my shoulder and I'm good to go," Freiermuth said.
His surgery may have halted his preparation for the offseason, but the tight end said he still felt ready for the pro day.
He attributed part of his readiness to the work put in by the community at Penn State and head coach James Franklin that has allowed him to thrive.
"(Penn State) has prepared me a lot," Freiermuth said. "With everything that Coach Franklin preaches to this program, accountability, being on time and just doing the right thing, doing that and implementing that into my pro career has helped me a lot."
Freiermuth is set to enter the NFL as one of the top tight ends in the class, coming in at No. 2 on Kiper Jr.'s tight end rankings, and said most teams have talked to him about being a player that moves around the field, rather than staying attached to the offensive line as a blocker all the time.
"The consensus is that I'm going to be that move tight end," Freiermuth said. "Most of the teams that are talking to me want me as that tight end, moving around the ball."
Shaka Toney getting head start on and off the field: Oweh and Parsons weren't the only Nittany Lion defenders to exceed expectations at the pro day. Defensive end Shaka Toney put up his own impressive set of numbers during the testing drills Thursday.
Toney ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, hit 39 inches on his vertical jump, bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times at the workout. He was the least-heralded of the trio of Nittany Lions in the front seven, but has a good combination of on-field production — with 20.5 sacks over four seasons including five in 2020 — and athletic ability. The defensive end also dealt with his own issues this season, after testing positive for COVID-19 and losing 20 pounds as a result.
But, Toney said, the weight loss didn't affect him too much on the field.
"They saw me still striking guys, still driving guys back," Toney said. "I think a lot of teams got a little bit more relief. Today I wanted to be in that 240-245 range, show them that if I need to put on the weight, I can put on the weight."
Now that Toney is back, he's ready to produce and is even more ready to make an impact off the field, which started Thursday when he helped raise over $4,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia.
"First thing first, I'm going to finish up and get my college degree," Toney said about his goals. "...S econd goal is definitely to get some charity work off the ground. Definitely try and give back to teens. ... Really just trying to start giving back early. I don't wanna wait ... I want to get the ball rolling as soon as possible."
►Lamont Wade ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash and measured in at 5-foot-9. He's likely to play in the slot at the next level due to his size.
►Michal Menet participated in the bench press, but did not participate in on-field drills or testing. He did not speak with the media after the event and no reason was given for why he didn't participate.
►Will Fries worked out as well, measuring in at 6-foot-6, 309 pounds and participating in on-field offensive line drills.
►Former Nittany Lion Steven Gonzalez also worked out after not being able to due to the coronavirus pandemic when his Penn State career ended following the 2019 season.
►All but one NFL team (the Los Angeles Rams) had a representative in attendance at the pro day, including Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.