Heisman winner Lamar Jackson bolsters case as QB at pro day
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By GARY B. GRAVES
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Lamar Jackson's determined look as he threw the football left no question about his NFL intentions.
Quarterback is the only position he will play in the pros.
The former Louisville QB and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, who was successful in both throwing and running while in college, has stated that plan before and reinforced it with an impressive pro day workout focused solely on passing Thursday before scouts and officials from all 32 NFL clubs.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was among those observing Jackson and 18 recent Cardinals teammates, including several defensive players hopeful of early round consideration in the draft that starts April 26.
But all eyes were on the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Jackson, who had thrown for 9,043 of his 13,175 career yards of offense and 69 of his 119 total touchdowns while at Louisville. Despite those gaudy numbers and a resume of dynamic highlights, he still faced suggestions at the NFL combine earlier this month about playing wide receiver rather than QB.
Jackson wasn't having it. Though he didn't run the 40-yard dash or partake in position drills, he served notice about his arm by delivering on target with many of his 59 scripted passes at Louisville's practice facility. He even took snaps under center from lineman Geron Christian - a pro hopeful as well - to answer another question about his skills.
"I came out here to prove to the guys that I can throw any pass from under center instead of going to the (shot)gun," Jackson told the NFL Network. He did not speak to local media.
"You have to see how fast you can get back in the pocket and have velocity on the ball."
Jackson showed precise footwork and mechanics but he wasn't perfect, overthrowing receivers on several deep balls early in his script. He quickly improved to hit targets on slants, fades, post and go routes, completing passes with inches to spare on some plays.
He drew applause on those tough throws and high-fives from teammates as he walked off the field with a big smile. It was like old times not that long ago, and nobody was surprised.
"He looked really smooth out there," said Reggie Bonnafon, Jackson's predecessor as Louisville's QB before switching to receiver and running back. "He put in a lot of time and work, working on his mechanics and things like that for the next level. He put on some weight, so he looked good and it was good to some passes from him."
Some draft boards project Jackson as a middle-to-late first-round selection. Wherever he goes, former Heisman Trophy winner and ESPN analyst Andre Ware said, the workout should end talk about his QB potential.
"I think that question was answered today," Ware said. "That thing was put on (2012 Heisman winner) RG3 (Robert Griffin III) when he came out, and it's reared its ugly head again with this kid. I think he's one of the more dynamic playmakers that we've seen in quite some time at the QB position, which makes it tough on a defense."
Speaking of defense, one of Jackson's teammates on that side of the ball sought to bolster projections of joining him in the first round.
Cornerback Jaire Alexander came away smiling after his workout. Louisville's interceptions leader in 2016 (five) was limited to six games and one pick last season because of injuries but is considered a late first-round pick on some draft sites because of his coverage and kick-return ability.
"I think it went well," Alexander said. "I was able to showcase my hip fluidity and my ball skills, and that's something I've been working on a lot."
Linebacker James Hearns, meanwhile, sought to improve following a disappointing combine performance he chalked up to nerves. The 6-3, 239-pounder seemed looser and more encouraged after an effort he hopes lifts him up from mid-round projections.
"Luckily, I had this second chance to come out and show the coaches a little bit more of me," said Hearns, who had 43 tackles and eight sacks last season.
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Updated March 29, 2018