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March 5, 2013

Father-son connection: Jeff Blake throws to Emory on Pro Day audition Tuesday, insists “he’s a football player – he can make plays”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – There’s at least one man who couldn’t care less about what the measurements and stopwatches say about Emory Blake’s football future.

Consider the source: it’s his dad. But not many fathers have spent 14 years throwing to NFL wide receivers.

“He’s a football player,” Jeff Blake said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s Auburn Pro Day. “Most (general managers) are looking for football players. No matter how fast you are, how high you jump, at the end of the day, can you make plays? That’s what good GMs are looking for.”

Emory Blake ranks in Auburn’s top five all-time list for receptions, yards, touchdowns and 100-yard games. He caught passes from seven different quarterbacks from 2009-2012.

But concerns about Blake’s size and speed – mediocre by NFL standards – were enough to deny Blake one of the 333 invites to last week’s Scouting Combine. The 6-foot-1, 189-pounder was unofficially timed at 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard-dash Tuesday, and recorded a 36.5-inch vertical jump.

While some draft experts think he could enjoy a prolonged NFL career with the right squad, Blake’s not a guarantee to be drafted. But he looked smooth catching passes from Dad, with scouts from 23 NFL teams looking on nearby.

“You look at some of the top NFL receivers, they aren’t blazing fast – they’re playmakers,” Jeff Blake said. “I believe Emory is a good football player, he can make plays, and you can put him at a position where he has to catch the ball at the end of the football game to win it, and he’ll catch it.”

Jeff Blake pointed to a couple of successful NFL receivers, Anquan Boldin and Brandon Stokley, who rely more on running crisp routes than winning track meets. As for who Emory reminds him of, Jeff, picking a running comparison, went straight to the top.

“For just running style, he kind of reminds me of the way Jerry Rice runs,” Blake said. “His high knee-lift, very smooth runner, gets separation after the catch. Catches all the balls, and after he catches the ball, has a nose for the end zone.”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

While his former teammates used Auburn wide receivers coach and former Tigers quarterback Dameyune Craig to deliver throws for Tuesday’s Pro Day, Emory selected his famous father to be his personal passer.

“A lot of quarterbacks step in there and try to drill you. He’s not trying to do that,” Emory said. “He’s just trying to make it a catchable ball, and that makes it easier for me as a receiver. I think that gives me a little bit of an advantage.”

There wasn’t a clear-cut moment when father and son decided to rekindle the old days of playing catch on NFL fields … for the biggest job interview of Emory’s life.

“I remember being able to go to practice with my dad, catching balls from all the quarterbacks,” Emory said. “They would try to throw it to me soft, and he’d be like, go ahead, just throw it to him (hard), he’ll catch it. I was about eight years old, catching NFL balls. So it’s just something I’ve always been able to do.”

Jeff Blake threw for 134 touchdowns against 99 interceptions, with 21,711 yards and a career 78.0 passer rating. He played for seven NFL teams in 14 seasons, making 100 career starts, and was named to the 1995 Pro Bowl as part of the Cincinnati Bengals, where he played from 1994-99.

He’s now 42 years old.

“Tell you what, that’s pretty impressive,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “He’s got a great arm. They’ve thrown a lot of passes together over the years, I know that.”

Asked who slung it around better of Tuesday’s two passers, Malzahn chuckled and said, “(Jeff) got Dameyune just a little bit. I’m going to go with him today, but Dameyune’s a great competitor. Couple of great arms out there.”

Emory Blake admitted not getting an invite to the combine gave him a little added motivation.

“Yeah, a little bit. It has to. I felt like I deserved to be there,” Blake said. “But I can only control what I can control. After I didn’t get the invite, all my attention turned to this day. I’ve just been training hard to prove that I can do the athletic stuff, as well as stuff on the field.”

As for Jeff, it was probably the perfect way to go out on a football field for the last time.

“Man, I had fun. I really enjoyed the day,” he said. “I appreciate the opportunity he gave me to come out and just throw one more time. This is probably the last time I have an opportunity to throw like this. The arm will probably go on the shelf after this.”

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