Bob Asmussen | Washington aces his NFL audition

Mar. 9—CHAMPAIGN — Pro Timing Day is chance for Illinois football players to impress NFL scouts. There isn't supposed to be a winner.

But there seemed to be one Friday: wide receiver Casey Washington.

The Texan was impressive in multiple drills conducted at the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility, including a mark of 391/2 inches in the vertical jump. That would have tied Washington for seventh in the exercise at last week's NFL Combine in downtown Indianapolis. But Washington wasn't invited.

Friday was his opportunity, and he shined. He ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds and looked good catching the ball on pass routes.

His coach at Illinois, Bret Bielema, watched with other staff members and current and former players, and was impressed.

"He's doing a great job of playing himself into a very draftable status," Bielema said.

All 32 teams were represented and at least one wanted to hear more from Washington. The Carolina Panthers met with him after the workout. Those interviews are usually conducted at the combine. But again, Washington missed the cut.

Washington isn't listed among the players ranked by Teammate Isaiah Williams is 29th.

Williams did get a combine invite, which apparently didn't go as well he wanted. So he ran the 40 again and improved his time. Good call.

Bielema is bullish on Williams' ability to play in the NFL.

"Isaiah's intangibles for what he brings away from the field, you can't get any higher," Bielema said. "I told (the NFL scouts) that (Friday): 'If you truly want to check the box in every category, that's what he is.'"

He isn't worried about Williams being fast enough.

"I just told them, 'If you throw him a flat route and the guy who runs 4.4 at the combine is chasing him, he'll outrun them every time,'" Bielema said.

The 2024 NFL draft class is deep at receiver, led by Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr., a Heisman Trophy finalist, LSU's Malik Nabers and Washington's Rome Odunze. They all are expected to be selected among the first 10 overall.

The hope for the two Illini receivers is that the early run creates need later in the draft. Williams appears likely to be selected and Washington might have moved into that status with his work Friday.

Rewarding experience

Bielema is a fan of Pro Timing Day. Even though it means he is about to lose some of his best players.

"For me as a head coach, one of the more enjoyable days of the year that doesn't involve a game," he said. "Going back to my college career, I remember Pro Day and I made an impression on the Seahawks to give me an opportunity to last for six days. I always think that perspective of the opportunity that is here (Friday)."

Bielema went to the 2023 draft in Kansas City, Mo., to support Devon Witherspoon, the No. 5 overall pick of the Seattle Seahawks. It was the first time Bielema had attended the event.

Illini defensive tackle Johnny Newton is considered a potential first-rounder. Bielema hasn't made a decision about his draft-day plans.

"Kind of work in progress," he said. "Johnny, I think he'll be the first guy off the board for us."

Staying put

Departing Illinois tight end Tip Reiman was at the combine and fared well.

"It was really cool," he said. "It was extremely fun. I think it got my name out there as someone who can do everything on the field that you need to do."

His combination of size and quickness puts him among the Top 10 at his position in the draft, according to some of the predictions.

Reiman prepared for the combine in the same Florida location as Williams. The two became close, with Williams hanging out with Reiman and his wife Maddy.

"We played Yahtzee together," Reiman said.

Reiman is continuing to train in Champaign-Urbana, He will return to his hometown Rapid City, S.D., for the NFL draft in late April.

"It's not a finish line," Reiman said. "It's a start line."

NFL teams have reached out to Bielema about Reiman, especially since the combine.

"It's just a huge blessing," Reiman said.

Oh, Canada

Another Illini combine participant, offensive lineman Isaiah Adams, attended pro day.

"It's just a surreal moment," Adams said. "You dream about it since you were a kid."

Bielema said Adams enhanced his value by being available at multiple positions while in college. Adams plans to return home to Toronto to watch the draft.

"That's going to be nice. I haven't been there in a while," he said.

Before that he is going to Chicago to train.

"Continue to get better," he said.

On the way

Bielema has one open position remaining on his staff. The hire is coming soon, he said.

"I think we'll have somebody if not by this weekend then early next week," Bielema said.

The staff is out of the office next week.