Julian Love gets on the fast track at Notre Dame Pro Day

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In the three weeks since registering as the statistical outlier in an otherwise Notre Dame speed/strength/agility flaunting at the NFL Scouting Combine, Julian Love cut off most of his hair and grew a full beard.

“For mojo and to be more aerodynamic,” the former Notre Dame All-America cornerback said with a laugh.

A reunification with Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis didn’t hurt either.

In what amounted to a do-over in the 40-yard dash, Love’s time improved from 4.54 seconds earlier this month at the combine in Indianapolis to 4.45 at Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Wednesday, the last of the combine-style workouts that will be held in the 31-year-old Loftus Center.

The next one, next spring, will be in ND’s still-unfinished indoor facility that the football team will move into this summer, on schedule.

All 32 NFL teams were represented at the event on a day in which 12 other college teams staged pro days, including USC, Georgia and Ohio State. There were more scouts than big-time decision-makers in attendance at ND, though Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert was part of a large Steelers contingent.

Also taking in the event notably were Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith and Philadelphia Eagles running back Josh Adams, two of the three former Irish standouts who left school after their junior seasons to enter the NFL Draft but are back at ND this semester to work toward finishing their degree.

The third is unsigned tight end Troy Niklas. Love, who decided in January to forgo his final season, vowed to return someday to finish as well.

On Wednesday, though, it was all about football. And Love was one of 17 former Notre Dame players who showed up at Pro Day, though there were different levels of participation.

Rehabbing offensive lineman Alex Bars, coming back from October knee surgery, and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, fresh off a shoulder procedure, were essentially bystanders.

At the other extreme, most of the nine players who did not receive NFL Combine invites did everything or close to it on Wednesday — 40s, agility drills, bench press, positional drills. Among those nine were three players who finished their careers somewhere other than ND — Nevada safety Justin Brent, Morgan State wide receiver Corey Holmes and Houston cornerback Nick Watkins.

Punter Tyler Newsome was the unlikely producer of the day’s freakiest number, putting up 30 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press, then went outside and punted for scouts in a steady downpour. Only 12 of the 256 players who bench-pressed at the combine, including Irish linebacker Drue Tranquill (31), did more than Newsome’s 30.

Love’s 40 time, though, was the most relevant number of the day. At Indy, he was 24th of 32 cornerbacks who ran that test, one of the factors — along with height (just shy of 5-foot-11) — that suppressed an otherwise glowing résumé. His new time would have placed him in a tie for sixth among corners at the combine.

Balis pumped his fist as Love crossed the finish line, seemingly more excited than Love himself.

“He’s the best of the best — forever,” Love said of Balis. “Being back (on campus) got the juices going again. It’s been great.”

Tillery is still considered ND’s top pro prospect in this draft cycle, with Love not far behind. The high end of Tillery’s draft range is projected as late first round.

Per draft analyst Scott Wright, while impressive, Love’s rerun won’t be enough to push him into the first-round discussion.

“If you average out the combine time and today’s time, you got a 4.5, which is kind of what we saw on film — maybe a touch better,” said Wright of draftcountdown.com. “He solidified himself as a day 2 pick (rounds 2-3), at worst.”

The three-day draft is scheduled for April 25-27 in Nashville, Tenn.

Running back Dexter Williams, like Love, also reran his 40 Wednesday after acing just about every other physical test at the combine except that one.

Williams didn’t make the decision to do so until he woke up Wednesday morning. The 5-11, 215-pounder, though, was actually slightly slower at 4.59 seconds, having run 4.57 in Indy.

After an early drop in passing drills, Williams caught every ball in drills from current Irish QBs coach Tommy Rees, whose last college game was the Pinstripe Bowl in December of 2013. Rees looked sharper Wednesday than Malik Zaire did at last year’s Pro Day or Everett Golson in 2016, both throwing when they had an NFL future on the line.

Rees also threw to Miles Boykin, Alizé Mack, Nic Weishar and Holmes in positional drills.

“Coach Rees has still got it,” Williams said. “It was awkward at first, but kind of cool. You can tell (current ND QB) Ian Book is learning a lot from him, because I felt like I was catching the ball from Book. So a shoutout to coach Rees.”

And a shoutout to Williams’ mom Cheryl, who made the trip from the Orlando, Fla., area to support her son, despite her continuing to battle two terminal illnesses.

“She’s been a part of this whole journey,” Williams said of a senior season that began with a four-game suspension followed by a spectacular redemptive run of the best football of his college career. “It’s only fitting that she’s with me now.”

The Notre Dame player with the most to prove and the most at stake Wednesday was linebacker Te’von Coney, who was invited to the combine but deferred his workout until Pro Day.

“The extra three weeks was huge for me,” he said.

Coney got a late start, because he didn’t start the agent screening process until after Notre Dame’s Dec. 29 loss to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.

By the time he did, his draft hopeful teammates were about 2.5 weeks ahead of him in doing workouts for the combine specific-drills.

“I didn’t want to lose focus on our season,” Coney said. “And once I started to look for an agent, I wanted to get the right guy, who was the right fit for me and my family. But when I got to work, I did what I needed to do.”

Coney ran a 4.72 40, faster than former linebacker teammates Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan ran last year (both at 4.78), but slower than Tranquill ran at the combine three weeks ago (4.57).

Coney did 18 reps on the bench press. Wright projects ND’s leading tackler in 2017 and 2018 to be a fifth- or sixth-rounder.

“I just wanted to do my best,” Coney said. “I know God is by my side, and whatever is for me, I’m going to get.”

Two days before the combine, he made time and a point to set up a talk with troubled youths at the Frederick Juvenile Justice Center in South Bend.

“That’s my passion outside of football, to change lives in a positive way,” Coney said. “I truly believe there are a lot of young guys out there who need a role model. They don’t have someone who can push them like I had. I feel I owe it to be that person.

“Growing up, I had both my parents. I think that plays a big role in some households that don’t have that structure and those adult figures that bring positive influences.

“And my parents both worked. And they told me whatever you want, you’re going to have to work for. That was my mindset growing up and it is to this day.”

Julian Love during Notre Dame Pro Day on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, inside the Loftus Sports Complex at Notre Dame in South Bend.
Linebacker Te’von Coney runs a drill during Notre Dame Pro Day on Wednesday in the Loftus Center.