Former Gamecocks, Tigers prep for future

Robert Smith has not been invited to the NFL Combine, but is getting ready for Clemson’s Pro Day on March 5.

CLEMSON — Mission accomplished for former Clemson defenders Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett in the Senior Bowl.

Both starters for the South squad in last Saturday’s all-star game in Mobile, Ala., Anthony and Jarrett are encouraged by how the week of practice went, earning rave reviews from NFL scouts and draft analysts.

“The Senior Bowl was a great introduction for me and Grady,” Anthony said this week. “To show up and compete with some of the best players in college football, I think I can speak for him when I say we truly, truly enjoyed the experience. We just wanted to compete and show what we can do.”

Anthony will be a case study as an under-the-radar pro prospect who was ballyhooed as a recruit (a five-star linebacker out of Polkton, N.C.) and highly productive in college (330 tackles over 52 games and 35 starts.)

Anthony’s considered a mid-round prospect, around the fifth-best inside linebacker candidate available for the 2015 NFL Draft. He has signed with Perennial Sports, the agency that represents Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith, among others.

Notably quiet as a collegian, Anthony’s beginning to open up more as he begins the professional journey.

“A lot of scouts love the fact I’m a student of the game,” Anthony said. “They love my athleticism, they love the fact that I can run and I play downhill in the run game. They love I can get out and cover and play in space.”

Anthony is training for the 2015 NFL Combine in Boca Raton, Fla., at XPE Sports with speed and performance coach Tony Villani, who last winter worked with former Tigers Tajh Boyd, Martavis Bryant and Bashaud Breeland.

“It’s been great, man. Tony’s one of the best in the business at getting results,” Anthony said. “I’m enjoying the process, and he’s helping me get to where I want to be.”

Two and a half weeks away from the Combine Feb. 17-23 at Lucas Oil Stadium, Anthony and Jarrett will be joined in Indianapolis by former Tigers teammates Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford, Tavaris Barnes and Bradley Pinion.

“It’s a totally different challenge we have to take on in our lives,” Anthony said. “But we’re embracing the opportunity, and we just want to make a good impression for ourselves and try to move up the board as much as we could.”

XPE Sports has a healthy dose of Clemson products in its winter program: Anthony, Beasley, Robert Smith, Martin Jenkins and Adam Humphries.

Smith has not received a Combine invitation, but the safety originally from St. George isn’t discouraged. He specifically pointed out cases of Combine absentees who still latched on in the NFL, such as former Clemson safety Jonathan Meeks, a 2013 fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills.

“So you’ve just got to stay level-headed and keep your eye on the prize,” Smith said. It’s not a bad thing. It’s something that could help me or hurt me.”

A high school quarterback at Woodland, Smith switched to defensive back for the purpose of giving himself a better shot at the pros.

“Being on the offensive side mainly growing up, then switching to the defensive side, that helped me enhance my IQ from all my years playing football,” Smith said. “I’ve always been willing to work harder than anybody else, and I brought that chip on my shoulder to Boca Raton.

Smith and the other Tigers are currently joined in Boca Raton by Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman and quarterbacks Blake Sims from Alabama and Hutson Mason of Georgia, among others.

Clemson’s Pro Day, which will be critical for the Tigers who aren’t at the Combine, is set for March 5.

Meanwhile, in Columbia, South Carolina’s Pro Day will be April 1, one of the later such events around the country.

That’s not a disadvantage these days, since draft day has been moved back into late April and early May. In fact, for tight end Rory “Busta” Anderson, it’s a major blessing to wait his turn to show his stuff.

“I should be fine by Pro Day,” Anderson said. “Obviously for me, that’s perfect, to get more time to heal up and perform to the best of my ability.”

Anderson has suffered torn triceps in both his arms, the latter injury ending his 2014 season. He’s getting closer to 100 percent, but he figures his trip to the NFL Combine will be mostly a meet-and-greet.

“They say it’s more about people getting to know you than the physical aspect,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of questions, meeting with coaches and GMs. I’ll go up there and do the medical stuff, and do the physical drills on Pro Day.”

That’s when Anderson will perform with running back Mike Davis, quarterback Dylan Thompson and offensive lineman AJ Cann. Davis and Cann have secured Combine invites as well.

Anderson is a late-round prospect, after catching 61 balls for 954 yards over his four-year Gamecocks career. All eight of his touchdowns came his freshman or sophomore years.

“I expected to be more of a high-profile guy before I had surgery, but teams started to back off a little bit because of that,” Anderson said. “So I hope everything goes as planned and I’m just trying to make this comeback.

“Those guys are going to help me out, especially on Pro Day, attracting more teams, and being able to get my name out there a little bit more.”