As soon as the Outback Bowl ended Jan. 1, Rodney Smith went back to work.
The former Gophers running back ended his six-year college career as the program’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards. And despite grinding to those 5,441 yards, he didn’t take a break or rest in the offseason. He had NFL dreams to pursue.
But that hasn’t been a straightforward process.
First, he “got a little banged up” in that bowl game, meaning he couldn’t compete in front of scouts at the East-West Shrine Bowl on Jan. 23. So he instead turned his focus to the NFL scouting combine at the end of February. But when no invite came, he again shifted attention, to the Gophers’ March 25 pro day.
Then the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down and, well …
“It is definitely frustrating,” Smith said.
Smith, back home in Jonesboro, Ga., is trying to make the best of this non-ideal situation. He participated in a “virtual pro day” with Chip Smith, a trainer well-known in NFL circles, and afterward Rodney Smith’s agent circulated that video to teams. It included Smith doing everything but the bench press or jumping measurements because of his injury.
“It was basically just like training. No adrenaline because you’re not performing for anybody. It’s basically just a workout,” Smith said. “But it was still an opportunity for me to show how I move, how fast I can run.”
That was actually one of the biggest questions he’s received from NFL teams, what his true speed is. His video showed him running the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds and 4.41 seconds, shot in a way where scouts could clock it themselves as well.
Scouts don’t usually accept video submissions, wary of any editing or not seeing how athletes respond to a one-shot, pressure situation.
But the good news for Smith is that he has plenty of game reps to prove what he can do.
“It would have helped just being in front of scouts, talking to them, so they can see how I move in person,” Smith said. “… You train all those weeks to prepare and get in front of those guys and show what you can do, and not having the opportunity to do that, it’s kind of disappointing.
“But you have to control what you can control, and for me, I have plenty of film, and I don’t think it’ll hurt me not having a pro day.”
The Gophers have several players all in NFL draft limbo for another two weeks, dealing with no pro days and no open gyms. Carter Coughlin, Kamal Martin, Tyler Johnson and Antoine Winfield Jr. all had the combine.
But others such as Thomas Barber, Sam Renner, Tai’yon Devers, Winston DeLattiboudere, Chris Williamson and Shannon Brooks are in Smith’s same position.
Smith said they all try to keep in touch via text to commiserate. But he said he’s trying not to think too hard about how all of this might negatively affect his chance at the pros, even if it is pretty tough not to stress.
“Just keep staying prepared for the opportunity,” Smith said. “… I believe that we will come out of it, whenever that may be. If it’s not this summer, then you just have to stay ready for whenever it is and stay in the right head space.
“Not feel let down that it’s not happening when it was planned to be.”