Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah safety and Robert Johnson was a voice of experience at the Utes' annual Pro Day. He knew exactly what his ex-teammates were going through as coaches and scouts from 20 National Football League teams tested and timed players in preparation for next month's draft.
"You've just got to go out there and have fun," Johnson said of the advice he offered.
A year ago, Johnson was among the participants. He auditioned for several teams, but wound up getting drafted by the Tennessee Titans. They didn't attend Utah's Pro Day and never even spoke with Johnson beforehand.
"So you never know what can happen," he said. "There's eyes everywhere."
Those in attendance Tuesday liked what they saw from the 18 former Utes and a handful of players from other colleges who were invited to participate.
Aaron Alford, Utah's NFL liason, said all of the Utes did a great job.
"Hopefully we can get four or five guys drafted, produce again and keep on producing," he said.
Last year, the program had six players selected — a school record.
The new group of candidates, who participated in Tuesday's event, included Neli A'asa, Matt Asiata, Jereme Brooks, Brandon Burton, Terrance Cain, Lamar Chapman, Christian Cox, Chad Manis, Joe Phillips, Caleb Schlauderaff, Sealver Siliga, Shaky Smithson, Justin Taplin-Ross, Zane Taylor, Junior Tui'one, Walter Watts, Eddie Wide and Kameron Yancy.
Burton, a cornerback, is projected to be the first Utah player to be taken in this year's draft, which is scheduled for April 28-30.
"Things are good," Burton said. "It's good to be back."
It was a reunion, of sorts, for many of the players. They scattered across the country shortly after the Las Vegas Bowl for individualized training.
Coming home, Burton explained, felt good.
Asiata agreed. The running back said Utah's Pro Day was more fun than the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
"I feel like I was at home," Asiata said. "No pressure."
Schlauderaff had similar thoughts. The combine, he noted, was more like a meat market with players stripping down to their boxers for medical tests.
"This wasn't as bad," Schlauderaff said. "At least we got to keep our clothes on."
Several of the players were put through extra drills. Offensive line coaches, including Bill Callahan of the New York Jets, spent a lot of time with Taylor.
"Zane's done pretty good," Alford said. "Zane's had a good day."
Others also performed well.
Taplin-Ross was told by several scouts that he was one of the standouts.
"It was good," Taplin-Ross said. "It was good to see all my teammates back out here doing their thing."
Whether or not it'll be enough to get drafted, though, remains to be seen.
"I was just happy to have a chance to show them what I can do," said Smithson, who considers it a blessing just to be in the situation. "I think I had a great showing. But, you really can't determine how good you did until April the 28th."
In the meantime, players can just do what they can and hope to impress someone.
That's the approach Wide is taking. The running back left the Spence Eccles Field House satisfied with his performance.
"It was a great experience and it went really well," Wide said.
EXTRA POINTS: Schlauderaff re-aggravated a calf strain after participating in the vertical and broad jumps. He expects to be completely healthy by draft day . . . Taplin-Ross was helped off the field during position drills. No ligament damage was detected, however, and the preliminary diagnosis is a calf strain . . . The 2011 Utes will resume spring practices Wednesday from 3-5 p.m., at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
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