COLUMBIA — Blaine Gabbert cracked a joke.
When asked how his Pro Day workout went, he responded quickly.
“I thought it went awful,” said Gabbert, laughing, about completing 44 out of 49 passes.
It was the first indication of the post-college Gabbert. Gone was the seriousness with which he treated nearly every media session with the Missouri football team last season. With all eyes on Gabbert on Thursday, he seemed more confident, pleased with how he had just performed. And he had no reason not to be content.
“I think today went as well as he could have expected,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said. “It only helps his draft choice.”
Gabbert said he needed to prove that his footwork had improved, and he thought that he did a good job of showing scouts that he could transition to an under-center offense.
“The knock on me coming into this workout was that I was a spread quarterback,” Gabbert said. “I had to go out there today and showcase my ability to take a draw from under center.”
McShay said Gabbert has the two most important qualities a successful quarterback needs: football intelligence and accuracy. Although Auburn’s Cam Newton might have a stronger arm, McShay said, Gabbert still has the edge.
“He can continue to get more accurate,” McShay said. “To me, two, three years down the road, if they were going to break down all the starting quarterbacks in the NFL, I’d expect him to be top 20.”
Gabbert said that, more than anything else, Thursday’s throwing session was fun for him. No matter that representatives from all 32 NFL teams were assembled in the Devine Pavilion to watch him throw.
He had dinner with representatives from the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday night, and Minnesota Vikings personnel were his Thursday dinner companions. That’s normal for Gabbert now, and he’s using those opportunities to learn from the coaches and players he meets. The most meaningful piece of advice he received Thursday was from New York Jets’ coach Rex Ryan, who told him to have fun and be a kid every day.
It might be difficult to feel that way with the NFL lockout threatening what should be Gabbert's and teammate Aldon Smith’s first season. Neither Gabbert nor Smith seemed too worried about the uncertainty, and Gabbert stressed that there’s still time for the league and the players’ association to work out their differences.
“They’re going to work things out,” Gabbert said. “I’m confident.”
Smith agreed. Both said it would be tough to sit out of the draft, even if the players’ union requested that they do so. Gabbert said he hasn’t thought about the details of the April draft, about whether or not he will participate in the NFL’s official proceedings. There’s a lot of time to educate himself of the subject and decide what he will do, he said. For all he knows, things could be back to normal.
Smith’s biggest concern in recent weeks hasn’t been the looming lockout. He has been more worried about proving to scouts that he is healthy. After suffering a broken leg during the 2010 season, Smith said that he is back to 100 percent. He and doctors looked at x-rays of the leg at the NFL combine last month, and he said that everything appeared to be healed.
Smith thinks the biggest reason he is now projected as a first-round pick is that scouts have seen how hard he works. He also doesn’t discount his versatility.
“I think that helps my stock a lot,” Smith said. “A lot of ends are just pass rush ends or just defensive ends. I think I have the pass rush side and the athletic side.”
There’s one thing Smith hasn’t shown scouts that might cause them to pause. Besides having a more than seven-foot wingspan and running a 4.74 40-yard dash, Smith says he can do a standing backflip. He says he is saving that for later in the scouting process.
Thursday’s events were definitely the high point of the pre-draft attention on Missouri’s program, and Smith said that he and Gabbert each feed off the hype that surrounds the other.
“It’s cool to see how we both can use each other’s attention to our benefit,” Smith said.
For both men, things came back to where they began. Smith said there’s a lot he will miss about his college career, but he is happy with where he ended up, performing for scouts on the same turf where he began his college career.
“I had my first drills in here, and now I had my last drills in here,” Smith said. “It’s really special.”