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Gilyard hopes passion fuels first round

Mardy Gilyard

Posted: 7:30 a.m.

MOBILE, Ala. - Call it Mardy Gilyard's first professional chewing out after Monday afternoon's first Senior Bowl practice for the North.

In a not so intimate huddle Lions wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson lit into his group for their inability to keep up with the speed of the game and since Gilyard is considered by many to be the best of the lot at this all-star game despite the 113 catches of Missouri's 6-4, 220-pound Danario Alexander and the 4.38-second 40-yard dash time of Clemson's 5-8 Jacoby Ford, Jefferson seemed to be staring at him much of the time during the tirade.

"I think he has potential, but it seems like the game is a little too fast for him," Jefferson said later. "Maybe I'm too hard on him, but in this day and age there is no time to get these kids ready. They have to be ready now.

"Today was a bit overwhelming for him. Not just for him, but my man No. 81," he said, nodding to Alexander and then Ford's No. 8. "He caught (113) passes and he's supposed to be 6-4, 220 pounds. But No. 81 played like No. 8 and No. 8 played like No. 81. No. 8 played like a giant today. He made some money today. That's what these guys need to understand. It's about money now. (Ford) helped himself today."

Moments later Jefferson walked over to Gilyard kneeling on one knee and patted him on the shoulder and Gilyard told him, "I'm going to look you up tonight," after Jefferson challenged them to spend extra time with him to learn the plays.

Gilyard then fired on himself in a passionate diatribe for coming out so passively.

"When I ran my first comeback and it got picked, I was saying, 'What's going on? What am I doing?' " Gilyard fumed at himself. "I'm being coached hard and with intensity. I need that and it's something that I love. I got frustrated. Then once I relaxed I got a little bit better toward the end. I need to take what I did at the end and transfer it to the beginning and just keep moving."

Vintage Gilyard.

He wears that University of Cincinnati No. 1 on his back as proudly as he wears his heart on his sleeve. It's one of the many reasons NFL scouts are projecting him in the second round with the potential of moving up. Which is how he has lived his life so far.

And it is why a lot more is going to have to go wrong with Gilyard than Monday's few drops to drop his stock because his story goes so far beyond the measurables. The kid is a walking intangible.

If Disney likes the money they're making off The Blind Side, Gilyard has to be next in line with a script that involves paying off his scholarship debt living out of a car and delivering pizzas before getting a second chance at UC.

Just ask a man watching Monday's practice from the end zone. Gilyard is giving his agent, Dave Lee, a second wind through the NFL process of producing stars after an extremely tough December.

A month ago they attended the funeral for Bengals receiver Chris Henry in New Orleans. That was Dec. 22, about the time Gilyard and Henry had planned to drive to the Big Easy and Henry's hometown to get a head start on the Bearcats' Sugar Bowl date with Florida.

"Without Mardy, I don't know where I'd be," Lee said. "It was such a tough time losing Chris. It was hard on everybody. But what was really good was the relationship that he had developed with Chris." 

With his affinity for Cincinnati and his relationship with Henry as well as Chad Ochocinco and the Bengals' desperate need for playmakers at wide receiver, everyone sees the fit with Gilyard. He has joked this week about "pulling an Eli Manning," and forcing a trade so he could become a Bengal.

Bengals wide receivers coach Mike Sheppard was at the South practice Monday, but he's anxious to get his first view at the North's Tuesday morning practice.

"I know we'll take a look at him," Sheppard said. "The Bengals have a history of being attracted to local guys and he certainly had a great career. I'm looking forward to sitting down with him and seeing if there's a fit and see where he's coming from."

One of those intangibles is Gilyard's loyalty. Lee is amazed at how Gilyard has stayed true to his Cincinnati experience during the draft process.

For one thing, he has stuck with Lee. For another, he has moved with Clif Marshall, the man that has trained him at Ignition in suburban Cincinnati, to his winter Florida headquarters. Marshall, the man who helped turned Gilyard's UC teammate, Texans defensive end Connor Barwin, from an all-Big East tight end into a high second-round defensive pick, has been raving similarly about Gilyard for it seems years.

"The one thing about Mardy is that he's genuine," Lee said.   

Right now, if the Bengals wanted to get Gilyard they would probably have to take him at No. 21 in the first round because it's very iffy he'd be available that late in the second round. You figure he'd be able to help somebody right away with his versatility in the slot and a kick return game that produced several touchdowns, including that $10 million return that allowed the Bearcats to beat Pittsburgh and go to the Sugar Bowl.

But with some talented juniors coming out, No. 21 would seem early. That's the indication from Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's highly-regarded draft expert.

Mayock loves Gilyard's quickness in and out of routes and how he's got a similar body frame to the sensational returner-receiver DeSean Jackson of the Eagles.

But one of the reasons Mayock was excited to see Gilyard this week is because he wanted to see him run pro style routes that weren't a part of former UC coach Brian Kelly's spread offense. The first returns weren't great, but then Mayock said Mondays down here are the worst because most of the guys haven't played for a month and they get hit with a pro playbook.

"He dropped two or three passes today, which I think hurt him," Mayock said after the workout. "He's got to catch the ball all week long. I think most people have him in the second round but, A) you have to solidify that, and B) you have to try and move up.'"

Gilyard had to shake his head at the irony. Kelly's cutting-edge fastbreak offense for the Bearcats was all about up tempo. He had to admit he had trouble Monday adjusting to a rigid NFL-style that doesn't allow as many option routs.

"I'm so used to not freestyling, but having so many options on different routes," he said. "Everything has to be 'like this,' and 'like this,' and 'let's go, let's go.' I just wasn't used to it. I got frustrated. Jacoby was talking to me and he got me to relax a little bit toward the end.

"It's kind of funny because in the spread offense we pushed the tempo a lot. By the same token, we didn't have to come into the huddle, break out of the huddle, and sprint out, and do all those things. And I'm so used to stemming guys here and stemming guys there, but we rarely have to stem out here. I guess (Jefferson) was trying to keep it basic for us. Keep it structured for us is the best way to put it because they put so much in. I had some mental breakdowns today and some mental mistakes today."

By "stemming," Gilyard means setting up defenders by coming back to the ball. But the one guy who should know, UC quarterback Tony Pike, says Gilyard is going to be just fine. And since Pike is one of the guys throwing the ball to him this week, as well as Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and Oregon State's Sean Canfield, that's a big edge for both.

After getting inundated with the playbook Sunday once they arrived, as well as being exposed to the ravenous NFL scouts looking for any shred of their time for interviews any time they ventured into the hotel lobby, Pike wasn't surprised about what happened Monday.

"They threw everything at us and it's just not about learning the playbook, it's about learning new teammates," Pike said. "And then you've got people pulling you in all different directions. He's got a lot of talent and he'll show it."

Here is what Pike likes about throwing to Gilyard:

Best trait: "Probably yards after catch. He never goes down and he's always fighting for the extra yard or two ... . He's a guy a quarterback loves because he can turn a short throw into a 50-, 60-yard play."

Best route: "His comeback. The 18 to 20-yard. We did it a lot this year. They have to respect his speed going by them. You get the timing down and it's hard to stop."

His 4.5 40 speed and route running: "A few years ago he was a little shaky on his routes, but since Coach Kelly came he progressed and he's one of the best route runners we've got. He finds ways to get open ... he'll race anyone in practice and he usually comes out ahead. He doesn't lack in the speed department."

He also doesn't lack in the Coach Kelly department. As great as his college career was, Gilyard may forever be best known in Clifton for calling his shot on Kelly when he left to coach Notre Dame.

"Cincinnati, I've got you," is the way Gilyard so memorably put it.

He didn't bat an eye in walking out of that final meeting.

"I don't like it," Gilyard said then. "I feel there was a little lying in the thing. I feel like he'd known this the whole time. Everybody knows Notre Dame's got the money. I kind of had a gut feeling he was going to stay just because he told me he was going to be here."

Gilyard was also quoted in the heat of the moment as saying he understood why Kelly did it.

"He's a business man ... that's his rap sheet." But Lee knows NFL teams are probably going to look at the emotional outburst. He says one team has asked him about it this week, but the club indicated it appreciated his client's honesty and didn't appear to have a problem with it.

"I can see both sides of it," Lee said. "He said some things that maybe you wish he would have kept inside. But then again, that's Mardy. He's honest. I don't think he would intentionally go out in the media and criticize someone."

One NFL coach said, "He'll have to defend it. Teams are going to ask him about it. But, personally, I liked it. The kid was being honest."

Gilyard immediately spoke about his concern for the impact the move had on the young players just before the Sugar Bowl and Pike was impressed how he kept the receivers together as the position's only senior.

"(The seniors) kind of brought everyone together and let it not get to be a circus down there," Pike said. "Let them know that we were still there to win. He was great. He bought into everything we were talking about. He's a guy that since we've been there he's going to speak his mind. He's not going to hide anything or sugarcoat anything. As a teammate, you like that ... if you do well, he'll tell you. If you do bad, he'll get on you."

Gilyard is hoping teams don't hold out The Notre Dame Declaration against him, but there are no apologies, either.

"I was just trying to tell the truth in the whole situation," he said. "That's the only thing I can do. I wasn't going to lie about anything. I tried my hardest to keep everything together. It kind of fell apart at the end, but I did a pretty good job."

In the end, Florida blew away Cincinnati. It ended up being a lot different December than Gilyard had anticipated. He was left to also deal with the loss of Henry.

"Mardy gets along with a lot of the Bengals," Lee said. "But he migrated to Chris, I think, because they both didn't have easy times."

Gilyard says they both found themselves trying to start from scratch. They met about the time Gilyard had flunked out of school and he was working to pay back the scholarship debt with four jobs and an eviction notice while Henry was trying to find a team that would take him even though he was staring at a third NFL suspension.

Gilyard opted for Lee in large part because he saw how much Lee poured into helping get Henry on the right track. When Lee moved to Chicago, he basically let Henry and his family live in his suburban Wyoming home in Cincinnati.

"Chris told me I had to think about Dave and those guys seriously," Gilyard said of his agent search. "Dave was a big help getting Chris turned around. A lot of people don't know that. He helped him grow up."

Henry also helped Gilyard. They were able to talk about getting it all back.

"We spent a lot of time about talking about making the right decisions and staying positive," he said.

Which is why a few drops on the first day of a Senior Bowl week shouldn't be that much to overcome.

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