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Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Teams impressed by McGahee's improvement
By Len Pasquarelli

Willis McGahee might have earned himself a first-round paycheck Tuesday.

McGahee, who demonstrated that there is some chance he can get back onto a football field in 2003, displayed a range of motion and flexibility and movement skill typically impossible for a player less than four months removed from a catastrophic knee injury.

The University of Miami star earned the admiration of those in attendance during his 90-minute on-campus session in Coral Gables, Fla.

"To do what he did, after an injury where everyone who saw it thought would knock him out for at least a year, it was remarkable," said Houston Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, whose team hopes McGahee falls into the second round, but which might not get its wish. "It's a real testimony to how hard the guy has worked. It's hard to be that good a year after (knee) surgery, let alone three of four months, to tell you the truth."

In what was his first and only audition for league talent evaluators before this weekend's draft, McGahee, who tore three knee ligaments in his left knee during the final minutes of the Fiesta Bowl, did not perform a full-scale workout.

Then again, given the updates provided all teams by agent Drew Rosenhaus and surgeon John Uribe, no one expected a combine-type battery of tests. The intent of the workout, Rosenhaus had stressed, was to allow teams to gauge precisely where McGahee was in his recovery, and perhaps project where he will have advanced in three more months.

Asked for a self-evaluation, McGahee allowed he felt "pretty good," adding that he was satisfied he had achieved his objectives.

"I think," he said, "I showed them something."

Essentially the workout was a hint of where McGahee, a consensus top five selection before the injury, might be at the time NFL training camps open this summer.

Toward that end, McGahee performed stretching and flexibility exercises to display the range of motion in his knee. He did some squats, and then performed 26 repetitions on the standard 225-pound bench press, the drill that players do at the combine workouts every year. Of all the backs who performed the bench press drill at the combine sessions in February, just three put the bar up more than 26 times.

McGahee did some backpedals, ran a pair of 50-yard sprints at about 75-80 percent of top speed, jogged through a few pass patterns and caught 50 passes, with no drops.

"Hey, the fact the guy was even out there had to impress you," said Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. "There's a lot of flexibility back in the knee, and you don't normally see that at this point (of rehabilitation). He moved pretty well. Now you have to ask yourself how that translates into when he can play again."

There were nine teams represented at the workout, with Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay the most prominent club official on hand, and, as of Tuesday evening, four more franchises already had requested videotapes of the session. has learned that Tennessee will have McGahee examined by an independent orthopedic specialist on Wednesday, and other franchises might follow suit.

The former Hurricanes star, who bypassed his final two seasons of college eligibility despite the injury, was examined by doctors from virtually every NFL team three weeks ago at the combine re-check. Two team physicians contacted by said they saw no signs of excessive swelling and noted that, while the knee is not yet 100 percent, the musculature around it and the supporting tissue has been well developed.

Said one AFC scout: "It's not my money, but I'd be tempted to take the gamble (in the first round), because you might not get a second shot at him."

General managers around the league remain split on whether McGahee should attempt to play in 2003. Some insist they both he, and the team that drafts him, will be better served to let McGahee "redshirt" for his rookie season, rehabilitate fully, and then come back strong in '04. Dr. Uribe and Ed Garabedian, the physical therapist who has presided over the recovery, still feel McGahee might play this season.

"All I can say is that Willis has done his part now," Rosenhaus said. "There's nothing more he could have done to be as prepared as he is, at this point, at least, for the draft. Now we'll see what team pulls the trigger."

Rosenhaus reiterated that McGahee, no matter where he is taken, will sign with the club that selects him. He will not, as Rosenhaus has said to several times, bypass an offer and go back into the 2004 draft.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for