NFL scouts looking forward

Connecticut's Ed Nelson showed signs of being able to make the conversion from the hardwood to hard knocks.

Updated: April 30, 2006, 9:24 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

He may not have convinced every scout at Friday's workout he deserves an NFL contract, but Ed Nelson, the University of Connecticut basketball forward attempting to make the transition to tight end, at least debunked one notion long held by some of his good natured detractors.

"Hey, I had a 34-inch vertical jump," said Nelson, laughing. "So much for the jokers who always said that you couldn't even fit a sheet of paper under my feet when I jumped, right?"

Nelson could, indeed, have the last laugh on the skeptics.

His impressive vertical jump, coupled with a 40-yard dash time of 4.95-5.04 seconds, and a session in which he dropped only one pass, represented the next leap forward in his fledgling football career. Probably not a quantum leap, mind you, but still progress. At this point, Nelson, who hasn't played organized football since the ninth grade, will accept even incremental advances if they help him to reach his goal of being in an NFL training camp this summer.

The concept of trying to go from the hardwood to hard knocks didn't even occur to Nelson until a couple weeks ago, when veteran agent Joe Linta posed it to him. Known for his ability to locate prospects in some places even league scouts can't find them, Linta was watching a Huskies basketball game when Nelson sprinted down court. The notion might not have been immediate but, at some point in the contest, Linta started assessing every move Nelson made and projecting them to the tight end position.

Antonio Gates
Gates (44) showed enough on the hardwood to make the Chargers believe he could play in the NFL.
League scouts have felt for years now that some athletes with the most potential to develop at tight end never made it onto a football field, because they were playing power forward in basketball. The positions clearly share a similar skills-set. Among the several current NFL tight ends who played basketball in college are Antonio Gates (San Diego), Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City), Marcus Pollard (Detroit) and Wesley Duke (Denver).

Another player from this year's NCAA basketball tournament, Jai Lewis of George Mason, auditioned for NFL scouts on Thursday.

The reports on Lewis, who worked out for scouts at defensive line, offensive line and tight end, weren't as solid as the feedback Nelson got, it seems. Most who attended Lewis' workout came away thinking that his best position might be as an offensive tackle. There seems little doubt that, if Nelson is to make the jump to the NFL, it will be as a tight end.

"I've only been practicing (football) for a few days, so things aren't coming real naturally to me yet. But I do sometimes get into a situation and think, 'Well, that's (similar to) something that I'd have to do on the court,' and I try to make some sort of correlation," said Nelson, who checked in at 6-feet-6 and 262 pounds. "Little by little, I'm picking more things up every day. But the bottom line is, I've still got basketball in me, and it takes a while to get some stuff out of your system. Some things, it's like starting over (athletically). I'm making progress, but I know that there's still a long way to go."

Still, the curiosity factor over Nelson was such that teams came a long way to see him. There were 14 teams represented at the workout, double the number that attended Lewis' session a day earlier. Consider this: At the Connecticut football "pro day" on March 23, only a dozen teams sent scouts. The session created such a buzz on campus that students were watching from dormitory windows.

Among those on hand Friday was San Diego tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski, who took Nelson to lunch, spoke with him about the strong and weak points of the workout, and encouraged him keep pursuing an NFL career. Nelson, whose best bet in basketball would be to play in Europe, intends to stick with the football fixation and believes that, given time, he can be an NFL player.

His workout indicated his receiving skills are certainly ahead of his blocking abilities right now. But he was a physical player on the basketball court, doesn't shy away from contact, and appeared on Friday to be at least a willing blocker.

"I'm just trying to keep my expectations realistic," Nelson said. "I probably won't get drafted. But I figure that, if I can just get signed (as a free agent), make some team's practice squad, and get a year of football under my belt, I can be a pretty good player."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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