With the Northwestern football season nearly a month in the rearview, several seniors have turned their attention to earning a shot in the pros. One such senior looking to go pro (and with one of the best chances to do so) is former superback Dan Vitale, who accepted an invite to the prestigious Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama back in November.
Vitale's practice schedule kicked off Tuesday and finishes Thursday. He then will play in the bowl game on Saturday, hoping to impress NFL scouts and general managers. Based on early results, he's done just that so far.
Dan Vitale/Northwestern also stopping defenders dead in their tracks in blocking drills.— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 26, 2016
A local product, Vitale drew a very positive review from Adam Hoge, who blogs about Vitale's hometown team, the Chicago Bears, for WGN and does sideline reporting for Northwestern games for the radio station as well. Hoge is in attendance down in Mobile:
- Locally, Northwestern and Wheaton-Warrenville South product Dan Vitale is working exclusively at fullback on the South team, coached by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Vitale was a "superback" at Northwestern, which is a tight end/fullback/receiver hybrid position. He's welcoming this week's challenge at fullback because he believes his college film shows his ability to run routes and catch the football. Vitale still needs to prove that he can be a downhill, hand-on-the-ground blocker and this week will allow him to do that. He got off to a good start Tuesday, performing well in blitz-pickup drills.
Later, Chicago Sun-Times writer Adam Jahns tweeted that the Bears took notice:
Northwestern RB Dan Vitale (Wheaton Warrenville South) had a long conversation with a #Bears scout at the Senior Bowl.— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) January 27, 2016
Vitale also impressed Jeff Risdon of RealGM.com:
Northwestern FB/H-Back Dan Vitale dominated the pass rushing drill. He bested all comers, including Ragland. His hands are big and well-placed and he packs genuine power behind them. His pass blocking is NFL-ready from the get-go, and that could help him get drafted even though he almost never touched the ball for the Wildcats.
The Ragland he is referring to is Alabama's Reggie Ragland, a projected first-rounder. Vitale's move to fullback is not a surprising one. Although listed at 6-foot-3 by Northwestern, he measured in at just over 6-foot, 240 pounds in Mobile. His compact build is much more suited for fullback in the NFL than it is for tight end, and fullback is where he's listed on draft boards.
Interestingly enough, Joseph Yun of Music City Miracle, the SB Nation site of the Tennessee Titans, compared him to current Baltimore Raven fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who caught 41 passes this year, among the best at the position. Meanwhile, the Packers' SB Nation site, ACME Packing Company, called him "a very good blocker."
Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot was impressed with Vitale, saying he "has the look of a guy who can play on third down. By far the best blocker in one-on-ones. Solid base, strength on his punch, patient and doesn't over-commit to the initial rush, and plays with heart to finish the rep. Coaches loved it."
This including stonewalling the aforementioned Ragland one more time:
Lined up at FB, Northwestern’s Dan Vitale just stopped likely first-round pick Reggie Ragland cold while run blocking.— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) January 27, 2016
It's clear that Vitale's stock will depend on his blocking, even though fullback is somewhat of a dying position in the NFL as teams tend to go with three or four wide receivers or two tight ends. Vitale, though, has the pass-catching ability that scouts love and hopes to keep the position alive, as Chicago Football chronicled on Wednesday:
"Just gotta keep the position alive as long as possible. Maybe it'll transition to superback at some point, but I think that H-back, fullback, we've got to keep it alive. It's great to have that versatility and athleticism, so I'd hate to see it go to waste." -Dan Vitale
Of course, Vitale proved throughout his college career he could also catch the ball, and those skills were on display on Day 2.
Prescott to Northwestern FB Dan Vitale pic.twitter.com/nVzpj6L6ca— loganlowery (@loganlowery) January 27, 2016
Overall, Vitale's been impressive. If he continues his efforts through Day 3 and into Saturday, we could see him climb up into the middle rounds of the NFL Draft and perhaps be the first fullback taken.