Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder threw passes under the watchful eye of NFL scouts Wednesday to one of the league’s best receivers ever — Issac Bruce.
The retired NFL veteran was called into action in part because of the NFL labor strife. No current NFL players are allowed to work out in front of league executives, and the Seminoles had no senior receivers on their roster last season.
Ponder didn’t know until Wednesday that he would be throwing on his pro day to Bruce, who has Hall of Fame numbers with 1,024 catches for 15,208 yards and 91 touchdowns.
“It was crazy,” said Ponder, whose mom, dad and brother watched the workout. “I never thought I’d be throwing to Isaac Bruce at some point in my life.”
Ponder has his agent to thank for the opportunity. The Florida State QB and Bruce are both clients of Memphis-based Jimmy Sexton.
The scouts were eager to see if Ponder is fully recovered from a series of arm injuries. With Bruce running routes along with a handful of Florida State running backs, Ponder threw short passes, sideline passes, intermediate passes and also the deep ball.
Most scouts wanted to see how Ponder threw long, a question mark among some anxious to see if he’d gotten past the shoulder and arm injuries that severely limited his production over the last year and a half of his collegiate career.
“Great competitor,” Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said afterward, noting that Ponder also brings rare leadership intangibles. “An interesting guy and a great prospect.”
Ponder’s stock has risen rapidly after being selected MVP of the Senior Bowl. He followed with a sterling performance at the NFL Scouting Combine last month at Indianapolis and another Wednesday.
“He had a real good day,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Especially with guys he’d never thrown with.”
Quarterbacks Cam Newton from Auburn and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert are widely considered locks as first-round draft picks in next month’s NFL draft, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher believes Ponder should be right there along with them.
“Tell me what he can’t do?” Fisher asked. “With all the goods he’s got?
Ponder has spent the winter trying to show that he’s healthy and as talented as Gabbert and Newton.
Ponder suffered a season-ending shoulder separation in 2009 that required surgery by famed orthopedist James Andrew, then battled through a series of injuries and at least one concussion during his senior season that limited his ability to throw deep.
“They wanted to see if we were going to throw some deep ball,” said Ponder, who now heads for a half-dozen private workouts for NFL teams. “I threw the ball down the field like they wanted me to. I showed them, and hopefully they’re happy with it.”
All American guard Rodney Hudson, a durable four-year starter, also got plenty of attention and impressed visiting offensive line coaches with his skill and work ethic.
The 290-pound Hudson is expected to play center in the NFL.
Defensive end Markus White, linebacker Mister Alexander, defensive back Ochuko Jenije, running backs Matt Dunham and Tavares Pressley, and center Ryan McMahon also took part. McMahon, who pulled a hamstring during a running drill, benched 225 pounds 31 times, but he didn’t fully extend on a handful.
But with many NFL teams in dire need of quarterback help, the attention was squarely on Ponder, a 23-year-old Texan who was barely recruited out of high school before he was offered a scholarship at his father’s alma mater.
Ponder made it a worthwhile trip.
“I know he can play, and they do, too,” Fisher said.