MORGANTOWN — Charles Sims will be selected in the NFL Draft in May. The former West Virginia University running back might be the first player taken at his position following a season in which he rushed for 1,095 yards and tied for the team lead in receptions (45) as the focal point of the offense and every opposing defense.
So when the prospects, the NFL scouts and the media gathered at WVU’s indoor practice facility Friday for the annual pro day workouts, all eyes were on Sims, who starred with the Mountaineers after four years and three seasons at the University of Houston.
All eyes except for those belonging to Sims. He was watching Noel Devine, not just because the former WVU running back was going through the position drills with Sims, but because Sims, like so many others, has always had a hard time taking his eyes off the diminutive dynamo.
“When I was back in Houston, I used to watch highlights of him,” Sims said. “Nice player. I didn’t know he was that small, but he’s fast. Pretty smooth, too.”
Ah, there it is again. Small. Devine has always been a little guy, big play potential in a compact package. When he was weighed and measured at the pro day, the Fort Myers, Fla., native checked in at 5-foot-8 and 178 pounds.
That hasn’t changed about him, nor have the enormous arms, the sculpted calves and the chiseled abs. He’s still small, but solid, and while more healthy now than he was at his pro day in 2011 before he went undrafted, more fit mentally than he was when he left the Philadelphia Eagles camp dealing with the anguish of not being drafted and the death of a friend, Devine is more concerned about changes in the NFL.
Devine believes the game is more willing to accept him and the things he cannot change.
“I feel like the game has changed and they like more of the hybrid players,” said Devine, who played the last two years for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League.
He believes where Tavon Austin was drafted, why the Seattle Seahawks traded for Percy Harvin, how the Green Bay Packers use Randall Cobb prove his point.
“They move you around, move you into the backfield, motion you out to the slot,” Devine said. “The more you can do, the better. That’s what the NFL seems like it’s turning to now — more spread and using the hybrid guys.”
That part about Devine is new. He wasn’t a hybrid guy when he was with the Mountaineers. True, he caught 98 passes in four years — 91 in the final three seasons — but he did so exclusively out of the backfield. He didn’t motion out to the slot. He didn’t run many routes. It robbed him of his greatest asset, which was to be in space against a defender and decide between speed or shakes to get past him.
Across all those receptions, Devine averaged 7.2 yards per catch, or 1.3 yards more than he averaged across 728 career carries.
The CFL is different place with a larger field and where coaches have only two downs to pick up 10 yards before they have to decide to punt or not. There are more passes and there are more ways to isolate players or leverage speed against the defense. Devine found a home on a two-year contract with the Alouettes and coach Marc Trestman, a longtime college and NFL assistant.
Devine and Trestman spent the 2012 season together. Devine carried five times for 12 yards and caught eight passes for 117 yards. He worked as a returner, too, returning one punt for 11 yards and 15 kickoffs for 297 yards.
Devine never returned a punt at WVU and returned 22 kickoffs as a freshman and just 12 in his final three seasons.
Trestman was hired by the Chicago Bears last season and replaced by Dan Hawkins, a former coach at Boise State and Colorado.
Hawkins was fired after five games and complaints by players and replaced by the team’s general manager, who went back to things the players preferred. Devine carried 17 times for 78 yards and caught five passes for 14 yards and stayed on as a return man, returning 19 kickoffs for 490 yards and 27 punts for 241 yards.
Devine, now 26 years old with four children between the ages of 2 and 9, believes he has the same skills as the similarly sized players already in the NFL and that his CFL experience proved it.
“Marc Trestman used me in a way I’d never been used before,” Devine said. “I’d go out in the slot and get screen passes and I took it and ran with it from there. I realized what I could do with my speed and quickness out in the open field, rather than just running through linebackers. I felt like Coach Trestman used me the correct way.”
Devine is a free agent now, hoping to hook on with an NFL team but willing to return to the CFL. He bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times at the pro day and said he was timed between 4.3 and 4.4 seconds in his two 40-yard dashes. His vertical leap was 35.5 inches and his broad jump was 10-foot-2.
Devine’s 40 times would have been the fastest at the weekend’s CFL draft combine.
His broad jump and three-come drill time (7.2 seconds) would have been the best among running backs and his bench press and vertical leap would have ranked second.
“The more you can do the better you are and the more valuable you can be,” Devine sad. “I can help a team out a lot in the return game and with the receiving aspect of the game. Just line me up anywhere. I’m ready to play ball.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.