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Panthers make last impression on NFL scouts at Pitt’s Pro Day

Wide+receiver+Dontez+Ford+turned+heads+with+a+36-inch+vertical+leap+at+Pitt%27s+Pro+Day+Wednesday.+Meghan+Sunners+%7C+Assistant+Visual+Editor
Wide receiver Dontez Ford turned heads with a 36-inch vertical leap at Pitt's Pro Day Wednesday. Meghan Sunners | Assistant Visual Editor

Wide receiver Dontez Ford turned heads with a 36-inch vertical leap at Pitt's Pro Day Wednesday. Meghan Sunners | Assistant Visual Editor

Wide receiver Dontez Ford turned heads with a 36-inch vertical leap at Pitt's Pro Day Wednesday. Meghan Sunners | Assistant Visual Editor

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

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With a little over a month left before the 2017 NFL Draft, the Pitt football team’s draft-eligible standouts made one last impression on NFL teams Wednesday morning.

Dozens of NFL scouts, coaches and reporters packed the practice facility at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side, as 19 Panthers showed off their skills in their final audition in front of professional talent evaluators. The athletes performed in the bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 40-yard dash, pro shuttle, three-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle.

There were even a couple of special guests in attendance — former Pitt stars Aaron Donald and Tyler Boyd. All-American running back James Conner said he expected to see his former teammates there.

“I knew those guys would be here, because that’s all family. Those are my brothers,” Conner said.

Conner, quarterback Nathan Peterman, tight end Scott Orndoff, defensive end Ejuan Price and offensive linemen Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson each attempted to improve their scores and times from last month’s NFL Scouting Combine, where top NFL prospects from around the country gathered in Indianapolis for a four-day stretch to work out for all 32 NFL teams.

The other 13 draft-eligible Panthers who did not receive invitations to the NFL Combine used this opportunity to show the talent evaluators what they missed.

The day started in the weight room, where the athletes hit the bench to perform reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Current and former Panthers crowded around along with Dave Andrews, the head strength and conditioning coach, to shout in encouragement as the players performed their lifts.

Offensive lineman John Guy had the strongest showing on the bench with 25 reps, while 349-pound nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett followed close behind with 22.

From there, the throng of players, scouts, coaches and media traveled across the parking lot to the team’s indoor training facility for the jump, sprint and shuttle events.

Several Panthers turned heads with their performances in the vertical jump. Price improved his leap from the NFL Combine by three inches with a 34.5-inch vertical jump, but cornerback Ryan Lewis and wide receiver Dontez Ford outdid him.

Lewis posted a 35-inch jump Wednesday, showing off the hops that helped him secure the game-clinching interception in Pitt’s 42-39 win over Penn State Sept. 10.

Ford did him one better with a 36-inch leap, which would have tied for 12th-best among wide receivers at the NFL Combine.

“I feel like I did well overall,” Ford said. “There were some areas I wish I could have done better, but it is what it is at this point … in the vertical jump, I think if I could have gotten another rep, I could have gotten up even higher.”

Next it was time for the main event of the day — the 40-yard dash. Current players lined up alongside the velvet rope barrier to catch a glimpse of their former teammates showing off their speed one last time. Reporters and the players clocked them on their phones’ stopwatches, comparing unofficial times with one another as the athletes sprinted past.

Lewis had the fastest unofficial time of the day, clocking in at 4.35 seconds according to a Pitt Athletics press release.

“I just knew I had something to prove,” Lewis said. “A guy who didn’t play until his senior year, didn’t get invited to the Combine, a lot of people really counted me out. I just used that as motivation the whole time to stay humble through it all.”

The players then competed in the pro shuttle, three-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle before dispersing into individual drills by position group. Most of the teammates completed the workouts without issue, but Johnson — projected as a late second-round pick by CBS Sports — was unable to finish his workout after a slip-up in the three-cone drill.

“It stinks,” Bisnowaty said about his hobbled linemate. “We’re here to show what kind of football players we are. Hopefully he’ll feel better.”

Most players sounded satisfied with how they did, but Conner exhibited an unmatched level of confidence when grading his performance.

“A-plus,” Conner said. “I just felt confident. I was prepared, I’ve been training for this, so I expect nothing less.”

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Photo gallery by Meghan Sunners | Assistant Visual Editor

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Panthers make last impression on NFL scouts at Pitt’s Pro Day