Bush, Justice shine at USC pro scout workout
LOS ANGELES -- Scheduled to be the guest of honor at Petco Park on Monday, Reggie Bush strongly hinted that the first pitch of the San Diego Padres' 2006 season will be a curveball.
An interesting choice by the Southern California tailback and Heisman Trophy winner, since he delivered nothing but fastballs during the Trojans' "pro day" workouts Sunday afternoon, a session in which Bush clearly cemented his status as the first overall selection by the Houston Texans in the April 29 draft.
Working in front of about 150 scouts and personnel officials, a group that included four head coaches and several general managers, Bush was surgically proficient in every drill in which he participated. He posted an eye-opening 40½-inch vertical jump, performed a very solid 24 repetitions on the standard 225-pound bench press, and was clocked in the 40-yard sprint in 4.37-4.41 seconds, according to a few scouts. The electronic times for Bush were a little quicker, in the 4.33-4.37 range.
In the on-field drills, Bush demonstrated burst out of the backfield. And while there weren't as many balls directed to him as he had hoped during Matt Leinart's throwing session, he caught the ball well.
LOS ANGELES -- The wooing of Reggie Bush by the Houston Texans, already an ardent courtship by the franchise which owns the top overall selection in the draft, will progress to the next level later this week.
ESPN.com has learned that the Southern California tailback and Heisman Trophy winner will meet with Texans officials, including owner Bob McNair, in Houston on Thursday. As part of a full day of activities, Bush's agent, Joel Segal, will huddle with Dan Ferens, who handles the Texans' contract negotiations.
Because they hold the top pick in the April 29 draft, the Texans may commence contract negotiations at any point and may, in fact, speak with more than one player. It is not known if the Texans will initiate talks with Segal on Thursday, but it will not be surprising if the two sides use the meeting to get some sort of feel for each other's financial expectations.
Sources confirmed the Texans will meet Friday with quarterback Vince Young. Unlike Bush, the University of Texas star will perform on-field drills for the Texans staff.
The Texans, who aren't likely to trade the first pick, prefer to have the No. 1 choice under contract, or at least with a contract agreement, before the draft begins.
Bush will not do any on-field drills on Thursday. Instead, the day will be more of a get-acquainted visit, in which Bush will meet with coaches and team officials. That process has already begun, as Bush dined on Saturday night with Texans officials at a Beverly Hills steak house.
-- Len Pasquarelli
"Probably not the absolute perfect day that everybody wants to have at one of these things," Bush told ESPN.com after the nearly four hours of drills. "But I felt good. I feel like I came in here today as the No. 1 guy, and I think I'm leaving the same way. So, in that sense, it's pretty satisfying. Now I can kick back and go to the beach for a few days. For me, well, I think I'm walking out of here a winner for the day."
Probably not the biggest winner, though, since Bush's draft status wasn't going to change at all based on Sunday's audition. Unless, of course, he fell on his face in every drill.
Looking for winners? Well, try these two, for openers: The USC machine, already one of the premier football programs in the country, came out looking good. Coach Pete Carroll had 200 potential recruits on campus for the weekend, and the presence of so many NFL scouts certainly didn't hurt him when he delivered his sales pitch to possible future Trojans stars. And the Southern California offensive linemen who are draft eligible, in particular tackle Winston Justice, obviously enhanced their stock.
"Pete said that he was going to do his 'pro day' bigger and better than anyone has ever done it, and he succeeded in that," acknowledged Houston general manager Charley Casserly. "More and more schools are starting to use this kind of event as a recruiting tool and, if you're a kid considering coming here, how could you not help but be impressed by this?"
Carolina Panthers coach John Fox termed the scene "a spectacle," and that captures the essence of the buzz that was created on campus, with 1,500-2,000 fans on hand, cheering on the players. Some personnel men did feel the overall scene -- one called it "a zoo" -- was over the top and distracting to players and scouts. By nature, scouts want more control and a sterile environment when auditioning players.
As for the on-field spectaculars, Justice, who still must resolve some old character issues for scouts before the draft, was the player who inarguably helped himself the most. He checked in at 6-foot-6¼ and 320 pounds, carried his weight well, and performed admirably in every drill.
In the vertical jump, Justice did 39 inches, an incredible mark for such a big man. He registered 38 "repetitions" in the bench press. Justice pulled up toward the end of the 40-yard drill, clutching his right hamstring, but one AFC scout still said he clocked him at 5.03 seconds.
In the pass-block drills, Justice, who has the kind of wing span scouts love (34½ inches) in pass protectors, looked very agile and naturally athletic, despite the sore hamstring.
"Happy with what I did and happy it's over," said Justice, who missed time during his career because of two off-field incidents, one of which included pulling a pellet gun on a USC student. "We'll just have to see where it goes from here."
Where the talented Justice could be going, according to coaches and scouts, is perhaps into the top 10 in the draft. Fox noted that there are teams that like Justice a little better than they do D'Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia, the consensus No. 1 tackle in the draft pool.
"On tape, he's a player, a first-rounder," Fox said. "And that's ultimately what you're looking at when you make the final evaluation. But, yeah, Justice sure jumped out today. He could climb higher [in the first round] now, no doubt."
Two other offensive linemen, guards Taitusi Lutui and Fred Matua, were also impressive. Lutui looks like a prototype NFL guard, thick and girthy, at 330 pounds, and naturally powerful. Matua, the lesser-celebrated of the two, was 301 pounds Sunday but performed as many "reps" on the bench press as did Lutui (26) and ran considerably faster (5.06-5.33) in the 40.
As for Leinart? He displayed some athleticism by turning in a 37-inch vertical jump. He completed 36 of 45 passes by unofficial count, with three drops by his receivers. His accuracy was good, not great, and his arm strength was adequate. It appeared, at times, that he aimed the ball a bit too much and some balls sailed on him. Leinart conceded afterwards that he probably pressed a little.
"In situations like these," Leinart said, "I think you tend to overdo it. You know, you try to throw a ball too hard, and it goes high, or you try to be too fine with your passes. I think I started off too tight."
Not as tight as LenDale White, the other half of the USC tailback tandem, and the man who holds the school record for touchdowns. Still nursing a sore hamstring he said he sustained at the combine sessions in Indianapolis nearly six weeks ago, White looked soft and performed only in the bench press drill, where he eked out just 15 lifts. He rarely removed his track suit and, when he did, White looked soft. He weighed in at 244 pounds, six pounds heavier than he was at the combine.
White didn't seem concerned about not being able to work out. "I'm the only true big back in the first round, and people who want the physical runner are going to have to look at me," he said.
Several personnel directors emphasized, though, that time is running out on White, who has yet to be timed in the 40.
"At some point, and real soon, he's got to take off that warm-up suit and run," said one of the head coaches on hand. "No one has a 40-time on him and that's not good."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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