NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Titans general manager Jon Robinson has made the rounds at pro days leading up to the NFL Draft, and he has the bruises to show for it.
"I'm still sore from that one," Robinson, with a smile, said after pro day at the University of Tennessee.
He was only part kidding.
Robinson, you see, takes a hands-on approach at pro days. Since his early days as a scout, he's proven more than willing to pick up the pads to get physical with the prospects. New Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has the same mindset, and it's been on full display as well.
It's a chance to gain a better understanding of the players, they said.
"If I have a chance to step in and take an active role in, I'll do it," Robinson said. "Because at least I think it is going to be run right, and all my colleagues when I am finished, if they can say they got something out of it… I've done the same thing for 18 years when I go to those pro days.
"It is a chance for you to instruct the player, to teach the player to see how he is going to respond. And for d-linemen specifically, it is a chance for you to feel those guys. Some guys when they hit you, they may be big but they are not real heavy. When guys hit you, you can feel that they are real heavy and powerful."
Vrabel, who played 14 NFL seasons before getting into coaching, feels the same way.
He's been spotted with arm shields and blocking pads on at pro days at Alabama and USC.
"That is what coaching is," Vrabel said. "When I can't do that, then I am not going to coach, I can promise you that. … (I just) pop out there. There's a very fluid process in the pro days. It is not like the combine. I don't walk out on the field at the combine – that is their deal. But the pro day is an opportunity for us.
"If I am going out to California, I am going to go out and try and find out as much as I can about the player. We get all the video of the player. So if I am not going to go out there and be on the field and feel the player, and work with them, I might as well sit in my office and watch the video of the pro day. So I feel like it's a good opportunity for me to do that. I did that when I was (an assistant coach) at Ohio State, and I did that when I got to Houston. When I can't do that – and hopefully they don't run me out before that happens – that to me is just trying to get a good feel for the player and coach him and see how they respond to coaching and see what they feel like and what their strength feels like."
Pro days across the country got cranked up in early March after the NFL Combine. They'll start to wind down this week as the attention turns to pre-draft visits leading up to the NFL Draft.
Robinson has attended pro days at Tennessee, Alabama, USC, Ohio State and Louisville, among others, and he's also traveled to schools for private workouts. He spent time with Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin leading up to his pro day last week in Orlando.
Robinson said pro days offer a unique perspective on the players. It's about learning, and teaching.
"He jumps right in there, punches guys," Robinson said of Vrabel. "He tries to teach them, tries to instruct them on little things to adjust with their skills and techniques that they are using, see if they can apply it and execute the drills properly.
"It's a chance to get to know them… I think the more active we can be in engaging with these guys and getting to know them and spend time with them and not just sit on the sideline from afar, it's a good thing."
Robinson, a former defensive lineman at Southeast Missouri State, knows putting himself in the middle of the fray can be somewhat dangerous.
Some of the 300 pounders pack quite a punch.
"But they will not knock me down," Robinson said with a smile. "They will not knock me down, I promise you that."
Titans GM Jon Robinson and new head coach Mike Vrabel make media rounds at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. (Photos: Gary Glenn)