Danny Vitale shows NFL scouts tight end potential at Northwestern pro day

Northwestern's Danny Vitale warms up before his pro day (Tolly Taylor/MEDILL).

By Tolly Taylor

Danny Vitale shot out of his break, spinning his head around to track the football. He tapped his toes just before the sideline and lunged his arms out, reaching for another fingertip grab. Too far.

That one got away from him.

He shook his head as he got back in line with the other two prospects. Shrugged it off. Then he grinned. It wouldn’t affect the rest of his routes that day. As he repeatedly plucked balls out of the air, Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end coach Jon Embree praised his crisp route running. Vitale seemed to know how Northwestern’s pro day would go before he even stepped out on the Nicolet Football Center field.

“I’m just excited to get out there,” he said just two hours before the workout began. “It’s finally here.”

Here are the three main takeaways from Vitale’s pro day on Tuesday:

Pat Fitzgerald on Vitale

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald pointed out that Vitale’s blocking ability is probably his most underrated skill, but he recognized the “superback” could do much more than just stuff would-be tacklers.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald talks to media about Vitale (Tolly Taylor/MEDILL).

“I think he’d be great [as a tight end],” Fitzgerald said. “You look at him, he’s 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, he can run, he’s physical, he’s got a great demeanor, high football IQ. We’ve moved him around. If you’re an organization, you’re trying to minimize risk, and I think he’s about as low of a risk of a prospect that you’re going to find.”

Fittingly, the Buccaneers tight end coach worked out Vitale, talking through drills in less than a minute and then expecting Vitale and the two other prospects to run them.

Route running

Whatever Vitale is doing at TCBOOST in Northbrook, it seems to be working. Vitale didn’t repeat any of the NFL Combine drills, despite admitting that he wanted another shot at the three-cone drill. But the former “superback” looked to be the quickest, cleanest route runner of the two tight ends he competed against. And he knew it.

“I feel like I did well,” Vitale said. “I caught everything, except for maybe one that I should have caught. But I felt good. It’s definitely stuff that none of us have ever done before, so you just have to try to find your comfortable spot and just work from there.”

Even if some teams don’t see him as a tight end, Vitale is confident NFL scouts now know what makes him special at fullback.

“I think I showed that I can do some things that a lot of fullbacks can’t do, especially running routes” Vitale said. “Felt like I was running pretty smooth, felt pretty fast.”

Looking ahead to NFL team workouts

“I’ll be done with school here in about a week, so I’ll be graduated early,” Vitale said. “I’m just going to shift my focus now to more football relative stuff, rather than the combine testing stuff. So route running again, working on my feet, getting down hill, stuff like that.”

He better hurry. He’ll have less than a week before his first private NFL team workout, a Monday 10:30 a.m. session with the Buccaneers running backs coach Tim Spencer in Evanston.

“I’m not sure how long it is or what to expect,” Vitale said.

Photo at top: Northwestern’s Danny Vitale warms up before his pro day (Tolly Taylor/MEDILL).