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Missouri QB Gabbert impressive before packed house at Pro Day

by | Special to NFLDraftScout.com

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- If Blaine Gabbert experiences a meteoric rise up draft boards, it's likely it began Thursday.

For the first time since the end of his Missouri career, Gabbert worked out in front of a large contingent of NFL scouts, coaches and executives.

All 32 teams were represented, including a group from the Carolina Panthers, the team with the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft. Though their coach, Ron Rivera, didn't attend, several head coaches were on site, in including the New York Jets' Rex Ryan, Denver's John Fox, Marvin Lewis (Bengals), Jim Harbaugh (49ers), Mike Munchak (Titans) and Leslie Frazier (Vikings).

Gabbert will work out Saturday in private for the Panthers -- rest assured, Rivera won't miss that one. Gabbert is also scheduled to meet one on one with the Cardinals, who sent team ownership and several representatives to campus.

There was no need for the 6-foot-4, 234-pound quarterback to do anything but showcase his arm inside of Devine Pavilion, the indoor workout facility on the University of Missouri's campus. Gabbert, NFLDraftScout.com's 10th-ranked prospect and top-rated quarterback, handled the pressure with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Like I said, it's football," Gabbert said through a smile. "This is the easy stuff. Working out is the hard stuff."

Gabbert completed 44 of 49 passes in the scripted workout -- he threw 63 passes, including warmups, and 61 of them were dropbacks from center -- to largely unfamiliar receivers from Northwest Missouri State, Lindenwood University and Central Missouri. Originally, NFL receivers Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, who played with Gabbert at Missouri, were scheduled to attend and give Gabbert familiar hands to work with. But with the NFL lockout in full affect, only draft-eligible players are permitted to attend.

With a little over a week together, those receivers familiarized themselves with Gabbert's style through workouts in Columbia, Mo.

"It wasn't a challenge at all," Gabbert said. "Those guys are high-level football players. They're extremely talented and fast in and out of breaks. They showcased to a lot of teams that they're very skilled."

Of the five incompletions, three would be considered drops by receivers, one source said. But Central Missouri's Jamorris Warren bailed out Gabbert on two throws, including a one-handed snare on a comeback route 18 yards downfield. The only scheduled throw Gabbert didn't make was a wheel route with the running back out of the backfield. Anthony Stewart, Warren's teammate at Central Missouri, injured his hamstring during testing, and Gabbert's camp skipped using a substitute on that planned route.

Gabbert plainly missed on two throws, including a deep go-route that was seemingly a miscommunication with his receiver.

"It's hard to be accurate at 65 yards," Gabbert said.

Gabbert's 25th throw of the workout might have been the best showcase of his arm strength. He placed a ball over 50 yards downfield into a receiver's hands in stride on a go route.

The idea that Gabbert had good but not great arm strength was an assessment that Terry Shea, a former NFL quarterback coach who tutored Gabbert for the past 10 weeks in Arizona, said was off base.

"Boy, I would never have walked away from that workout thinking that," Shea said. "His ball just whistles, so I don't know where that came from."

Shea said he was most impressed with Gabbert's ability to throw while out of the pocket.

"On the move, he made some of his best throws," Shea gushed. "He really did. From that standpoint, that's what you try to create in a drill like this, because when you just drop back and there's no pass rush, it's a little cleaner to set your feet and throw.

"From that standpoint, it was A-plus."

Despite the lack of pressure from a non-existent defense, Gabbert lived up to his billing as a relaxed competitor. He wore a hat emblazoned with CAA -- Creative Artists Agency -- backward, keeping his long hair out of his face during the workout. Even afterward, he joked around with the media.

"I think you guys were more nervous than I was to see how I was going to do," Gabbert said. "I was just ready to go out there and have fun, through the football around."

Unlike other top quarterbacks in April's draft, such as Auburn's Cam Newton and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Gabbert hasn't been plagued by any questions about his character or off-the-field activities. Many have marked him as a safer pick than those two. Gabbert's agent, Tom Condon, told a reporter he wasn't just the safest quarterback pick in the draft, but the best.

Still, much of the criticism of Gabbert comes from his college performance. Missouri is a spread offense run almost exclusively from the shotgun, and Gabbert didn't put up any eye-popping statistics during his college career. He threw 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions his junior year, averaging just 6.7 yards per attempt.

Shea said the transition to a pro-style, under-center offense won't be difficult for Gabbert.

"You could see him take balls from center today," Shea said. "It looked like he's been doing it his whole life."

Gabbert enters the homestretch before the draft. The next month is filled with meetings and private workouts, although he didn't mention which teams have scheduled those sessions. Sources said he met with personnel from the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday night, and was to meet with the Vikings and Carolina Panthers on Thursday and Friday. The Bills have the third pick in the draft; the Vikings draft 12th overall.

All 32 NFL teams had personnel in attendance. John Elway, executive vice president of football operations for the Broncos, attended, in addition to new coach John Fox. The Broncos draft second on April 28.

On draft night, however, Gabbert and other top players may not be in attendance. The NFLPA is reportedly asking those top invitees to boycott the draft. Gabbert dodged the subject, but a source close to the quarterback told NFLDraftScout.com at the scouting combine that the boycott was a legitimate possibility.

"I'm not really educated on the subject," Gabbert said. "But the draft is a month and a half away.

"They're going to work things out (before the draft). I'm confident."

Now, the reality of possible being the top pick of the draft is setting in for Gabbert. It's a goal that he's never doubted.

"I knew it was going to happen," Gabbert said. "It was my goal and that's what I've been working toward."

Gabbert wasn't the only possible first-round pick working out Thursday. Aldon Smith, his former teammate at Missouri, tested and performed position drills for the first time since the NFL combine in February. Opting not to run, Smith instead tested in the vertical jump and broad jump. He finished with a 35-inch vertical and a 9-foot-10 broad jump. Smith ran a 4.74-second 40 in Indianapolis.

Measuring in at 6-4, 265, Smith said teams are looking at him as either a defensive end or an outside linebacker, depending on the defense. He said he's spoken with 28 teams, and it's "about even" in terms of desired position.

"If I'm going into a 3-4, this weight is fine," Smith said. "If I'm going into a 4-3 and playing defensive end, I think I'll probably gain about five pounds."

Smith said he has about 10 workouts set up over the next few weeks, but wasn't sure of the dates. Like Gabbert, he declined to name specific teams. Smith said a common question teams ask first is about his health. Smith broke a bone in his leg in 2010 and missed three games. He was limited for the rest of the season. But Smith said he's back to 100 percent.


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