Ji’Ayir Brown, Sean Clifford and myriad other former Penn State football players ended their careers as Nittany Lions about as well as they could have in the Rose Bowl, and Friday afternoon they put a cap on their time in the blue and white.
The Nittany Lions held their 2023 Pro Day in Holuba Hall with a long list of teams represented, including Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel and general manager Chris Grier.
Clifford and Brown were joined by P Barney Amor, DT PJ Mustipher, K Jake Pinegar, CB Joey Porter Jr., OL Juice Scruggs, LS, Chris Stoll, TE Brenton Strange, LB/S Jonathan Sutherland, DL Nick Tarburton and WR Mitch Tinsley in working out for the front office personnel and coaches in attendance, while WR Parker Washington watched as he recovers from an injury.
Not all players participated in every drill, but several of the players who worked out at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine were able to improve on their testing numbers, including Tinsley.
The 23-year-old receiver ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at the combine but bumped that up to a 4.52 Friday afternoon.
“I didn’t run the way I wanted to when I was at the combine,” Tinsley said. “That was definitely a must when I came back here. I wanted to show the scouts that I can run.”
Tinsley had an up and down week at the combine in Indianapolis, but was able to prove in Holuba Hall that he’s better than he showed.
The former Nittany Lion said part of the reason for his struggles were nerves because he was achieving something he had set out to do for a long time.
“I think it might have been a little bit of nerves at the combine,” Tinsley said. “It was always a dream to be there. But it was also a dream for me to execute and I didn’t do that. Just being back here, being back at kind of a home base, and feeling a little bit more comfortable around my teammates and my coaches is what allowed me to run a little bit better and test a little bit better than I did at the combine.”
He was in a large group of receivers who caught passes from Clifford during the throwing portion of Friday’s workout. He was joined by Strange as former Penn State players, while current Nittany Lions KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Malik McClain and Liam Clifford also caught passes from the former Penn State quarterback.
Tinsley said he’s excited for the group that will replace both he and Washington.
“I definitely think (Harrison Wallace III) is going to do his thing,” Tinsley said. “Malik, Liam, all of those guys, I think they’re all gonna step up in a big way.”
While several of those players were out to prove they could improve off their combine performance, Clifford wanted to show he should have been invited in the first place.
The quarterback was not summoned to Indianapolis and had plenty of time to sit on the perceived snub.
He said he wanted to show why that was the wrong call.
“I feel like I was snubbed at the combine for sure,” Clifford said. “The body of work that I’ve had with these teams here, when I didn’t see my name as a combine guy I felt disrespected for sure. But hey, it’s just more fuel to the fire. And just being able to come out here, show the scouts what I got, and being able to really just put on a show, it’s been a lot of fun. Good way to cap off a great career at Penn State.“
He had an up and down day, throwing some impressive passes down the field while missing some high in the short and intermediate areas.
Still, he thought the workout went well in part because of what he was able to show off athletically. That included a 4.57 40-yard dash.
“Really well,” Clifford said about how Friday went. “Especially getting out there, being able to show my speed. That’s something I really wanted to come in and re-prove.”
Defensive backs prepare to be high picks
Brown and Porter could be the former Nittany Lions taken first in April’s NFL Draft, but they had very differing degrees of involvement Friday.
The former ran the 40-yard dash and improved off that performance, while only sitting out the 3-cone drill and bench press. The latter did the broad and vertical jumps, but did not participate in the rest of the athletic testing.
Brown said his 40-time improvement from 4.65 to 4.57 was one of the things that stood out most to him.
“It was very important,” Brown said about going under 4.6. “I still didn’t run the time I believe I should’ve ran. I thought I was going to hit 4.4. Unfortunately that didn’t happen but I still got a better time than what was displayed at the combine. ... It was definitely big to come out here and switch that narrative up of me not being able to run.”
Porter did less testing, but also is more solidified in where he’s likely to go in this year’s draft. He’s broadly projected as a first round pick and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him go in the top half of the round.
He’s going to be the first Nittany Lion off the board and has already established what he’s capable of at corner. He’s done enough, he believes, to establish himself as the top cornerback in the class.
“My speed, my length and the dog that I have in me, I feel like I have the best out of anybody in my group,” Porter said. “It’s just not being cocky. I feel like if you made it this far, you should also feel the same way. And I just feel that way about myself.”
Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was also in attendance.
Several Nittany Lions stopped to talk to McDaniel as he waited for drills to start, including Brown and Clifford.
Former Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker was in attendance, along with several current players including Drew Allar.
Penn State men’s basketball players Cam Wynter and Myles Dread were in Holuba Hall to watch the workouts.