Payne unable to pull away from pack as scouts watch


Phillip Payne, for two seasons, was arguably as good as any receiver UNLV has ever put on a football field.

Then the Rebels overhauled their coaching staffs, and Payne's story changed dramatically.

Now after two seasons in which a Twitter controversy, dropped passes and a general lack of production defined the end of his UNLV career, he's trying to show he's more the player from the first two years than the last two.

It won't be easy, and running 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash at UNLV's pro day Thursday at Rebel Park didn't help convince NFL teams they should spend a late-round pick on a player who probably will be available as an undrafted free agent.

Payne, who has been training at Fischer Sports in Phoenix, said he was disappointed in his 40 time.

"Slow," he said. "It wasn't what I thought it was going to be."

Wes Bunting, college scouting director for the National Football Post, said Payne's time wasn't a surprise.

"You knew coming in that Payne wasn't the fastest guy, so you weren't expecting a 4.4," Bunting said. "He's never been able to create separation. He's a poor man's Juron Criner (Arizona wide receiver), which isn't a good thing. Those guys are a dime a dozen. But he's a hard-working kid."

Linebacker Nate Carter, defensive end James Dunlap, wide receiver Michael Johnson and defensive back/kick returner Deante Purvis also worked out.

Eight NFL teams sent scouts -- Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati, Houston, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Seattle.

As a freshman, Payne (6 feet 3 inches, 205 pounds) was nearly an automatic touchdown on fade passes to the end zone. He provided career highlights with a falling-back one-handed touchdown catch that helped beat Arizona State and an overtime grab a week later to defeat Iowa State, finishing with seven TDs in an injury-shortened season.

A healthy Payne had 58 receptions for 661 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore, but UNLV fired coach Mike Sanford, who ran the spread offense.

In came Bobby Hauck following the 2009 season, and he installed more of a pro set. Though Payne finished with a career-best 17.2-yard average, hauling in 40 passes for 689 yards and five TDs, he didn't like the new system, and made his views known on Twitter, earning a two-game suspension.

Payne's yardage average fell to 11.6 his senior season, and he seemed to drop at least one easy pass a game. He still had some spectacular moments, though, and in consecutive weeks against Hawaii and Southern Utah, Payne caught 20 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns. He had 24 catches for 236 yards and four TDs in the other 10 games.

"Whatever I was told to do, I did it, so I gave 100 percent," Payne said. "I wasn't given as much opportunity as with the spread, but I could've made more plays. I wish I had more opportunities, but more so I didn't take advantage of the opportunities I had.

"The coaching change was hard. It was hard to go from a predominately passing offense to a predominately running offense. I wish I was in the old offense, but it's more so the opportunities."

Bunting said the Twitter issue and the lack of production certainly don't help.

"Character on the field and off the field is a huge concern with any player, not just him," Bunting said. "If you're not a top-of-the-line athlete at receiver, they are going to look at that."

Payne is doing what he can show NFL scouts he can succeed at that level.

"It's my last opportunity," he said, "to show something."

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

 

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