Jim Wyatt, Senior Writer/Editor, TitansOnline.com
Roughly 60 scouts — from 26 of the NFL’s 32 teams — were on hand at Vanderbilt’s Pro Day on Thursday. Many were there to see linebacker Zach Cunningham.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Before taking part in his Pro Day on Thursday, Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham took a moment to reflect on his time at the school.
Surrounded by 10 of his Commodore teammates and many of his coaches, it brought a smile to his face.
“For me, it just happened so fast,’’ Cunningham said. “Just the other day I was a freshman walking on campus, and how quickly it happened, it is surreal for me.”
It didn’t take Cunningham long to get serious. He was locked in when Patriots coach Bill Belichick stood across from him holding a tackling dummy, putting him through drills.
The night before, he had a meeting with the Belichick, who was sporting a sweatshirt Thursday signifying all the Super Bowls he’s won with the franchise.
“That was crazy,’’ Cunningham said of Belichick. “I met with him yesterday, a film session, and just being in the same room as a guy I watched growing up. Him drilling me and asking me questions about our defense, it’s a crazy experience for me to go through that. … I feel like I passed it.”
Logos were all over the Vanderbilt campus on Thursday.
Roughly 60 scouts were on hand at Vandy’s Pro Day, with 26 of the NFL’s 32 teams represented. The Titans were well represented, with a large contingent of coaches and scouts on hand, including director of college scouting Blake Beddingfield.
Titans offensive line coach Russ Grimm put offensive linemen through drills, while Titans assistant defensive line coach Keith Willis led Vandy’s defensive linemen through drills.
“I just wanted to show I could play football,’’ Vanderbilt offensive lineman Will Holden said. “Playing in the SEC, there’s not much more to show in these drills, you see it on tape. But just to show I can bend and I can move. I am 6-foot-7, so any time you can get down and bend, it is a good day.”
In addition to Cunningham and Holden, who both participated in the NFL Combine last month, nine other former Commodores took part in Pro Day: Defensive linemen Adam Butler and Torey Agee, offensive linemen Barrett Gouger and Andrew Jelks, cornerback Torren McGaster, defensive end/linebacker Nehemiah Mitchell, receivers Latevius Rayford and Darrius Simms, and linebacker Ja’Karri Thomas.
The majority of the scouts were there to see Cunningham, of course.
In 2016, Cunningham became the first Commodore player in team history to earn unanimous first team All-America honors. He was a first team an All-SEC performer, and among the five finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker.
Cunningham finished the season as the SEC’s leading tackler with 125 (9.6 per game). He made a game-clinching, fourth down tackle in a win at Georgia, and blocked a field goal in remarkable fashion – hurdling the line – in a near upset of Auburn. He averaged 11.1 tackles against Vanderbilt’s eight SEC opponents.
On Thursday, Cunningham didn’t run the 40 after posting a time of 4.67 at the Combine.
He looked smooth in position drills, however. He showed good movement and technique while hitting the tackling dummies, and caught the ball well.
“I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback,’’ Cunningham said. “I wanted to show my versatility, and what I can do on the field. I’ve heard that I performed well and they like what they’ve seen with me and like what I am as a person.
“It’s been a crazy process, a long process. It’s both fun and stressful. But I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”