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COLUMBIA, Mo. — NFL scouts had to wait to have their questions answered about Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert: namely, whether he could take drops from center — which he rarely did in college — and make pro-style throws.
On Thursday, they saw both at Missouri's pro day. And Gabbert, who is a candidate for the No. 1 pick and a likely top-10 selection, looked strong.
"The biggest thing was to come out here and show people that I have made that transition to an under-center offense from the shotgun," Gabbert told PFW. "I think I answered those questions today."
Six NFL head coaches were in attendance for the workout: the Jets' Rex Ryan, the Broncos' John Fox, the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh, the Bengals' Marvin Lewis, the Vikings' Leslie Frazier and the Titans' Mike Munchak.
All 32 teams were represented. An estimated 125 NFL people were on hand.
The Panthers' Ron Rivera was expected to be at the workout but was not spotted. Instead, several Panthers representatives were present. Joining Fox with the Broncos was team executive vice president of football operations John Elway. All of the teams represented by their head coaches, except Ryan's Jets, appear to be in the market for a quarterback.
Gabbert had some hurdles to overcome at his pro day. First, he was working with unfamiliar receivers, all of them smaller-school players. Because of the NFL's labor situation, Gabbert was allowed to throw to only draft-eligible players, and Missouri had no pass catchers who had run out of college eligibility.
One of the players he was supposed to throw to, Central Missouri RB Anthony Stewart, pulled up lame on his 40-yard dash and could not perform the rest of the day. Because of that, Gabbert cut short his workout by one throw, which was supposed to be a wheel route to Stewart.
The script of 49 throws Gabbert made, overseen by personal QB coach Terry Shea, an NFL veteran, included several from five-step (23) and seven-step drops (seven). There were only three shotgun throws, which was where he primarily worked in Mizzou's spread offense; the rest came from under center. He completed 44 of the 49 passes he attempted, although that included four drops. Gabbert had only one clear overthrow, and that was on a five-step "go" route thrown 55 yards in the air.
"Nothing was really new to me with the throws. The difference was coming from under center," Gabbert said.
The most important development in Gabbert's game might have been in his footwork. He looked smooth dropping from center and displayed the athleticism he showed off at the Combine, when he ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash and a 6.84-second three-cone drill. Gabbert only threw Thursday, choosing to stand on his Combine workout numbers.
Gabbert appeared cool and collected before and during the workout, unfazed by the impressive turnout of the who's who of NFL coaches and scouts.
"I talked to Coach Ryan, and he said, 'Have fun with it. Be a kid every day, and that's the only way you can go about your business because it's not going to last forever,' " he said.
After a decent start that nonetheless included a few high passes, Gabbert improved as he got into a rhythm. His best throws of the day included some nice touch on a basic crossing pattern, as he slid and threw well on the move; two "Bang 8" routes, hitting his wideouts in stride both times; a beautiful "go" route in which he placed the ball perfectly; a 12-yard drag route off a bootleg in which he showed ideal precision; great touch on a post-corner route; and a whistling dart to the slot receiver on a seam route near the end of his program.
Early on, some of Gabbert's throws were a shade off target but still within the catching radius. But his mostly unfamiliar receivers — they had worked together only the past four days — often bailed him out with nice catches, including a couple of highlight-reelers from Central Missouri State WR Jamorris Warren. Later on, Gabbert left a couple of throws short on longer routes, but overall his accuracy and arm strength were good on the day.
"He doesn't have the world's strongest arm," one scout told PFW, "but it's strong enough. His footwork was better than I expected. It looks like he has worked on it."
Indeed, Gabbert and Shea have worked together for the better part of 10 weeks. Shea, the former offensive coordinator of the Bears, has helped prep previous first-round QBs Sam Bradford (2010) and Josh Freeman ('09) and says Gabbert is right in line with each of them.
"He's going to win over an NFL huddle in a heartbeat," Shea said. "His competitiveness is going to be impressive. That's not something that is easy to accomplish as a rookie. Bradford, from what I could tell, had that same quality."
Sources told PFW that Gabbert has private workouts with the Panthers and Cardinals scheduled within in the next week. Gabbert had dinner (he said he ate a filet mignon) with Bills representatives last night, including GM Buddy Nix, who was at the workout. Tonight, Gabbert is dining with the Vikings, Frazier and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman included.
Also working out was DE Aldon Smith, a potential top-15 pick who weighed in at a healthy 265 pounds, which he appeared pleased with. Like Gabbert, Smith had only two full seasons on the field at Mizzou, but he has flashed enough intriguing power and speed to get high marks from NFL scouts. Smith stood out in the DL drills, showing excellent agility for his position, although one scout in attendance thought he looked a bit stiff in the hips.
Still, the raw upside of the third-year sophomore is scary. Smith, who played inside and outside at Missouri and even stood up on occasion as a rusher, talked about versatility being one of his best traits.
"I think that helps my stock out," Smith said. "A lot of ends are just pass-rush ends. I think I have both sides: the athletic side and the pass-rush side."
Other players who helped themselves included Warren, who definitely caught the attention of the large contingent of scouts, and Missouri CB Kevin Rutland, who ran two 40-yard dashes in the low 4.4 range, a vast improvement over his official Combine time of 4.59. Rutland has a private workout scheduled with the Patriots this week, PFW has learned.