ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — By treating Thursday as if it were Saturday, Byron Bell hopes to improve his chances of playing on Sundays.
Bell, who finished his Lobo football career last fall, will participate in UNM’s annual Pro Day on Thursday. Scouts from several NFL teams will be in town to evaluate the Lobos’ departing seniors.
Bell, a 6-foot-5, 330-pound offensive lineman, is front and center in that process. After a solid senior season at UNM, he improved his NFL chances with a good performance in the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Feb. 5.
Lobos coach Mike Locksley says several NFL teams, including Carolina, Miami and Chicago, have expressed interest.
Bell said he’s approaching Pro Day as he did college game days.
“I’m treating Thursday like Saturday,” he said. “… I have to go out and perform to my best of ability to show the teams I’m capable of performing at the highest level.”
Bell played right tackle in his first season at UNM, then moved to left tackle. But he played guard at the all-star game, and some NFL teams are projecting him there.
“I think he helped himself in that game, showing his versatility,” Locksley said.
Any position on the offensive line, Bell said, is fine with him.
“It really doesn’t matter,” he said. “Wherever I’m needed to play, just put me there and I’m ready to work.”
Pro Day will be like the first game of a season — or perhaps a bowl game — in that Bell has had far more than a week to prepare.
He believes he’s used the time to his advantage.
“It’s just doing the little things right,” he said. “During this process, I’m taking it one day at a time and being humble about the situation.
“I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from teams, and they have an interest in me. All I can do is just continue working and doing my part, making sure I’m ready for my Pro Day.”
Players at different positions undergo different drills, but at least two tests are standard procedure for all: the 40-yard dash and bench-press repetitions at 225 pounds.
Bell said he’s hoping for a 40 time of 5.1 seconds — perhaps better.
I’ve been working at it the past couple of days,” he said. “I’ve been clocking around a 5.2. I cracked 5.1, so hopefully come Thursday I can hit a 5.1 even, then on my second run hit a 5.0 and go on from there to the next drill.”
Of the bench press, he said, “I think I can put up around 26 to 28 reps. … But if I can do more than that, it would be awesome.”
Bell wasn’t invited to last month’s NFL Combine, but his projected bench-press and 40-yard-dash numbers would have been competitive there.
Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder, widely regarded as the best O-lineman in the draft, had 21 bench reps and ran a 5.01.
Bell, 22, had a few character and maturity issues while at UNM. He was arrested in June 2009 after an altercation at a Downtown bar, and during the ’09 season sometimes quarreled with coaches on the practice field.
Locksley has said Bell’s attitude, on and off the field, was exemplary last season.
Bell won’t be alone at Pro Day. Though none of his teammates projects as a draft choice, and as of now probably not as a free agent, that could change as of Thursday.
Last season, Victor James, an excellent athlete who had trouble finding a position at UNM, got a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks as a wide receiver after an impressive performance at Pro Day.
Bell said he believes several of his former teammates — wide receiver Bryant Williams, defensive tackle Peter Gardner, offensive linemen Maurice Mears and Karlin Givens — have the talent to catch the eye of an NFL scout.
“We’re all gonna be performing,” he said, “and I think we’re gonna do well.”