Some knew what they were getting themselves into. Others assumed it would be a standard pro day workout – run a couple 40-yard dashes, get tested in a few movement tests, then participate in positional drills.
Sure, all of that happened, but there were additional elements to Wednesday’s local pro day at 49ers headquarters, mainly a competitive circuit drill that pitted like players against one another.
Competition was a theme of the day and will remain a hallmark of every other workout on the team’s practice fields under new head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“There will be competitive aspects to every practice that we have,” Harbaugh said after the two-hour workout. “We just never want to go on the practice field if we’re not competing in some way. We’ll find some way to get that done.”
Harbaugh’s 15 former Stanford players expected the pro day to take a competitive tone and with each opportunity, the players relished their chance to impress their former coach once more.
“I knew what to expect just being with Harbaugh,” said Stanford nose tackle Sione Fua. “I knew there was going to be some kind of competitive drills… Low and behold when we got here, we heard about the competitive circuits.”
Once the testing portion of the pro day wrapped, Harbaugh gathered the 50 players in attendance for a brief talk before dispersing them into four groups of similar sized players.
Perhaps the most notable one-on-one matchup in the circuit was 5-foot-10, 210-pound Cal running back Shane Vereen paired up with 6-foot-0, 219-pound Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr.
Both are considered to be mid-round prospects and both impressed Harbaugh with the effort they displayed.
“I absolutely loved it,” Harbaugh said with a big smile. “Both Shane and Roy, those guys are highly thought of running backs.
“For them to come out here and compete… that got me fired up. I was really impressed with that. Both those guys were very even in the drills they were doing. I think we’re going to have to go to the tape to see who won.”
Both Vereen and Helu Jr.’s willingness to compete in movement drills surely left a strong impression on the new 49ers coach.
But Harbaugh wasn’t solely focused on the running backs. He spent time all over the practice fields, from snapping the ball to the quarterbacks to encouraging players throughout the day. His voice clearly resonated.
The 49ers new coaching staff followed suit by displaying a lot of passion as evidence by new linebacker coach Jim Leavitt’s voice becoming hoarse by the end of the workout.
All the players fed off the coaching staff’s energy.
“You could tell they have a lot of passion for the game and enjoy being out here,” Vereen said. “It added to the excitement.”
From the moment the workout started it became abundantly clear – Harbaugh’s excitement level for football was at an all-time high.
“It felt really good to be out here,” he said. “I don’t know if the players had more fun than me, I doubt it.”
Harbaugh said the team was blessed to have so many talented players competing at the pro day and that he could see some of the participants as future 49ers.
However, those players don’t necessarily have to be drafted.
General Manger Trent Baalke pointed out how the pro day benefits the 49ers in evaluating potential undrafted free agents.
“A lot of these guys haven’t had the opportunity to be seen and they are from our local area,” he said. “It’s a chance for them to come to the 49ers facility and show us what they can do in a competitive environment.
“Each year, we find one or two guys or more that are worth a strong look in free agency.”
An example of a player who hasn’t received a ton of attention in the pre-draft process is San Rafael High School product Winston Venable, who played the past two seasons at Boise State.
Without an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound safety had the 49ers pro day circled as a great way to impress NFL coaches.
“It’s real important just to be seen up front by these coaches,” Venable said. “To be able to have the coach’s eyes on you, not watching film, but physically there, I think was important.”