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A traditional college football spring ritual opens Friday at the
University of San Diego when head coach Ron Caragher conducts the first spring football workouts.
But something else has become a spring rite of passage at USD: a Pro
Day for NFL scouts.
Scouts from six NFL teams — including the Chargers — assembled recently to time and test wide receiver John Matthews, tight end Mitch Ryan, wide receiver Ben Hannula, fullback Vincent Atafau and safety Ryan Echer.
“It’s not the circus we had last year for Josh Johnson, but it’s still exciting to have these scouts out here for a non-scholarship program,” said Caragher, referring to the Toreros quarterback drafted in the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “This helps us in recruiting. It shows recruits it doesn’t matter where you play — the NFL will find you.”
Only Matthews has a chance to be drafted, and that would be in one of the last rounds if at all. But plenty of players make NFL rosters as a free agent.
Matthews was a first-team All-American in the Football Championship Subdivision that led the nation with 102 catches, 1,478 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“Hopefully USD is going to be annual spot NFL scouts to visit,” Matthews said. “Coming from a small school makes you a long shot, but all you can ask for is a chance.”
Matthews has good hands, but he’s also valued for his ability to get off the line of scrimmage. Plenty of wide receiver draft picks lacking that skill often left the NFL labeled as a bust.
A year ago the Chargers liked what they saw in Johnson, but the Bolts weren’t really in the market for a quarterback. But while scouting Johnson, defensive end Eric Bakhtiari caught their attention.
Bakhtiari was signed as a free agent and was with the Chargers last season on their practice squad. He’s considered a promising prospect as he continues to learn to make the transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker.
In addition to the Chargers, scouts were at USD from the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.
Another NFL spectator was Bakhtiari, who gave Matthews an encouraging grade after the workouts were completed.
“Silky-esque,” he told his former teammate. “You did a good job. Now the real work begins.”