GREAT BLUE NORTH DRAFT REPORT
NEWS AND INFORMATION ON THE NFL DRAFT
2013 EAST-WEST SHRINE PRACTICE REPORTS
by 'Pigskin' Paul Guillemette, editor of Paul's Pigskin Place and Special GBN Scout
<>Today was walk through day for the teams at Tropicana Field. Given the stadium security standards and the nature of last minute strategic changes made by both coaching staffs the event was closed to the public and the media. So in lieu of any real news from the field to share, I’d like to present my TOP 10 players for the WEST squad. Again alphabetical order is the mode of the day.> <>
JOSH BOYD DT
BOYD has packed on a few pounds since the end of the regular season and the spare tire bouncing above his belt is a bit disconcerting, but he’s still a better than average player whose ability may be under estimated by those busy comparing him to ex-teammate FLETCHER COX. COX he is not, but he’s a solid player who might be a fit for either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. After watching his burst into the backfield a few times this week, I think he may actually have some pass-rush potential. He’s a possible 3rd Rounder if he gets in better shape by the COMBINE.<>#21 TERRY HAWTHORNE CB 6’1 195 ILLINOIS>
The fact that Illinois had another poor season and HAWTHORNE was nicked up a bit and missed playing time this season, means he heads into the Draft season a bit under the radar. But he showed flashes of some real athleticism and football IQ all week long. He looks bigger and longer than his numbers indicate and he probably led the squad in passes defensed this week. If he’s healthy at the COMBINE I think he might impress enough to work his way into Round 3 come April.#43 TRAVIS JOHNSON DE/LB 6’2 245 SAN JOSE STATE
You know I’m going to say he’ll have to learn to play standing up in a 3-4 D to make it in the NFL, but he shows enough athleticism to handle that challenge. He will also be a very strong LB if he makes the move. He has been a solid pass-rusher his entire college career. He uses his hands well to keep defenders off his body and has good balance allowing him to sink low and get under and around bigger blockers. He also shows lots of hustle that will serve him well on Special Teams while he transitions his game for the pro game.#47 A.J. KLEIN OLB 6’1 245 IOWA
KLEIN is a great combination of strength and agility. He came to college as a beefed up run stuffer and now may be one of the best pass defense LBs in the country. He reads the Offense well and often directs his fellow defenders into their coverages. I like his chances as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme as a pro. He too should also make a top notch special teamer. He’s not a sledgehammer type defender, but he will deliver a solid blow and wraps up well when he tackles. He showed this week that he has become a well-rounded LB prospect.#48 ZACH LINE RB 6’0 233 SMU
<>I loved LINE as a collegian, but had serious questions about his speed coming into this venue. He has made me a believer this week with much more speed and burst than I ever thought he possessed. Day after day in practice he made it to the edge and turned runs upfield. He was also effective between the tackles with a very solid combination of burst and power. He could be the most dangerous goal line weapon in the game. He didn’t show it this week much, but he was a dependable receiver in college and is a willing and effective blocker. With all the “smurf” RBs in this year’s Draft class anyone looking for a power back may see him as a top option.> <>
RB 5’10 220
The only two questions about this man relate to his injury history and the fact that he somehow got himself into the role as the No. 3 RB under the new AGGIES coaching staff. What he showed this week was that if you can eliminate those two concerns he’s an elite combination of power, burst & speed. I’m not sure how much more we’ll find out in the game because running attacks are tough to put together in one week of practice. But he is a Home Run threat when he touches the ball. Based on practice, if he shows much in the game some NFL teams are going to be doing some extra due diligence on this young man.<>#68 DANN O’NEILL OT 6’7 317 WESTERN MICHIGAN>
I’m a sucker for long legged blondes and big athletic football lineman. At my age and stage of life, the latter is of much more practical interest to me. This guy blots out even the Florida sun out on the field. He has long arms and uses them pretty well to fend off defenders, but most impressively he has the feet of a much smaller man. And unlike some big guys he keeps them moving constantly instead of freezing up to engage defenders. I don’t think he’s quite quick enough for LT, where he spent most of his time this week, but on the right where the QB can see him out of the corner of his eye some of his pass pro deficiencies will be minimized. He played in the pass happy MAC, so you know he has experience protecting the QB. He also moved inside to OG on some goal line situations this week and moved the line of scrimmage quite nicely. That’s a nice twist for some team’s jumbo package.#13 KEITH POUGH LB 6’2 240 HOWARD
The small school, energizer bunny had an outstanding week of practice. The actual impact of his play making may have been exceeded by his exuberance, but he made some plays out there in both run and pass defense. And his fellow defenders really seemed to respond to his encouragement and enthusiasm for any good plays made around him. He looks natural on the Inside, and I would say he plugs in most naturally within a 3-4 scheme given his size and athleticism. There is a chance he could interest a 4-3 team as an OLB as well. Key for him will be a solid showing at the COMBINE.
#45 CALEB SCHREIBEIS DE/OLB 6’2 255 MONTANA STATE<>I see little reason to believe he can make a living as a DE in a 4-3 scheme, so this good looking, hustling athlete will need to convert to OLB in a 3-4 scheme. The switch is not as easy as it might seem to some, but lots of players have made the switch in the past decade. CALEB will get a shot because he shows a solid combination of strength and agility. He can get low without losing speed in his pass rush. His feet are very active and I have to believe he can cover enough ground to play 3 downs eventually as a pro. He’ll be a project, but could bring big rewards to a patient team, with a good teaching staff.>
#84 ZACH SUDFELD TE 6’6 260 NEVADA
For me he was the top player on the West
Squad. He’s a solid
inline blocker and is a legit downfield receiving threat even though he
average speed. He was even bigger looking than his impressive numbers
stood next to him on the sidelines at practice. He repeatedly made
catches, with hands that are soft and I would guess are going to make
scouts ooh and ah when measured at the COMBINE.
His footwork at tapping his feet inbounds was also
impressive. He’s not
a dump off option, he’s a real weapon who can troll the middle as well
stretch the field. If he was a “sleeper” or flying under the radar I
think he is any more. Lots of folks noticed him in Nevada’s Bowl game,
just reinforced what we all felt we saw there with his work down here
week. Color him, moving up Draft Boards, and reminding me of JASON
#29 SHAMARKO THOMAS S 5’9 217 SYRACUSE
The more I think about it the more this guy does remind me of BOB SANDERS when he came out of Iowa. The good news is that he’s heftier than SANDERS and might be better able to take the NFL pounding that he will inflict upon himself with his aggressive style of play. He had a couple minor injuries at the ‘CUSE, but he’s a short “stud”. His specialty is hitting, but he has some cover skills and will break up some throws. The real question will be whether he is wound too tightly (like SANDERS) to survive in the pros. He got plenty of attention from NFL Scouts at the end of practices, which is always a good sign for a player at an All-Star game.
in the end don’t be waiting for any First Round Draft
Picks to jump up from this game. But there is plenty of talent, and
intriguing guys in this pack of 100 or so players. I would expect a
scoring game because it’s hard to put in an offense in just a week, and
don’t exactly have dynamic QB types here. But there will be plenty to
Draftniks and football fans that are almost in withdrawal for their
*****Thursday: East practice
The Chamber of Commerce weather has departed from the Tampa Bay area. Temps are dropping and there’s a cool mist blowing in the wind. We didn’t expect much from practice today and we got even less and a little bit shorter because of the weather. I don’t think it’s because the players or coaches are afraid of the rain, but rather concern for field conditions. Short, thin, painted grass, as opposed to turf, is not the practice surface of choice in the rain for the size of bodies out there running around at a venue like this.<> So for lack of new viewing and excitement lets do some list action. How about the guys I felt were the top NFL prospects out on the field this week for the East. I’m putting them in alphabetical order for now. <>
MISSOURI WESTERN STATE
I was impressed with his athleticism and his willingness to learn this week. A smaller school guy should be looking to learn and he was. But he showed plenty of natural ability including pass-rush closing speed. He looks to me like a sack man for the League. If he can add a few pounds he might play in a 4-3, or he might get a shot as OLB in a 3-4. He should get a shot at both options based on his work down here. That’s how impressed I am with him athletically.
#93 IZAAN CROSS DT 6’4 300 GEORGIA TECH
CROSS has looked more athletic and explosive than I expected this week. On more than a few occasions he’s blown through gaps in the blocking and collapsed the pocket area. He’s been stout against the run and won more than his share of one-on-one battles with interior OL. I still envision him as a 3-4 DE because he’s not a flash pass-rusher or a big run stuffer, but in reality he may be able to contribute in any scheme. He could be very valuable to a scheme like the PACKERS, which varies their line groupings greatly from play to play.#15 MARCUS DAVIS WR 6’3 225 VIRGINIA TECH
This is an excellent athlete who’s on the upswing as a pass receiver. His size gets your attention immediately. Then his speed to get separation hits you. And finally you realize his ups and ability to high point the ball fit the bill for most NFL Offenses these days. I also like the way he is evolving as a leader out on the field. He’s still not at his ceiling yet, but really appears to want it now. He has No. 2 receiver potential as a pro. He’s like a raw MICHAEL FLOYD to my eyes.
#12 RAY GRAHAM RB 5’10 190 PITTSBURGH
The only question on GRAHAM has been his
propensity to be
hurt the past two years. He looked healthy and his old explosive self
in practice. He ‘s quick to the hole and has that jump-cut ability
with instant acceleration that allows him to burst through for 10 yards
many backs will only get 5. There aren’t a whole lot of RBs out there
don’t carry medical questions with them, GRAHAM has just had the
being hurt at the end of his college career. I’m sitting on this gut
that GRAHAM will break acouple long runs Saturday on turf.
I like what I see from HIGHSMITH a little bit more than some recent UNC wideout prospects. First off, he is almost a pure “hands catcher” much like HAKEEM NICKS. He also shows great awareness on sideline catches tapping his feet inbounds for completions several times a practice. After a bit of a slow start I haven’t seen many, if any, drops from this young man. He’s not a blazer but is a smooth runner and covers lots of ground quickly. He also has some shake & bake after the catch. He has shown me more than his college numbers might indicate.<>
#42 GERALD HODGES OLB 6’1 250 PENN STATE
HODGES confirmed this week that he is a very athletic, all around OLB, who can do almost anything asked of a LB. He’s also shown signs that he understands what he sees going on when the Offense breaks the huddle and lines up. He had a tough time on Tuesday getting tied up by the TE on running plays, but he battled to get off the blocks to the whistle every time. His feet indicate that he can run with receivers over the middle and can play going forward or backward. He also delivers a blow with his speed and leverage. This guy looks like a throwback to the old days when PSU was known as LBU. I think he’s scheme diverse, but I picture him as a strong side, 3 down player in a 4-3 scheme.<>#10 D.C. JEFFERSON TE 6’5 250 RUTGERS
Potential, potential, potential… that’s the word that comes to mind from what I have seen of him this week. He didn’t see the ball much at Rutgers, but the good side to that is he’s a better blocker than you might expect from a guy with his physical tools. He has shown some strong flashes of his inherent receiving skills all week. They will only require some good pro coach tutoring to blossom. He made an impressive leaping catch of a Hail Mary attempt at practice in the rain this morning. There’s more where that came from. He might have a MARCEDES LEWIS pro career in front of him.
#21 BRANDON McGEE CB 6’0 200 MIAMI (FLA)<>He may be the best prospect down here period. He’s a great athlete and a savvy, confident defender. The key to his future will be to convince him that not every pass can be an INT. And he’s more willing to hit in run support than a lot of the other Corners down here. From what I saw of him I would expect he’s going to put up some very impressive numbers in Indy in his shorts. I can see BRANDON as a solid 2nd Round Pick, which may be the highest selection from this game.
#3 SIO MOORE OLB 6’2 230 UCONN
I felt he was one of the more athletic LBs coming into this week and his all over the field play just confirmed it. He won’t be able to show it on Saturday, because blitz is a dirty word at All-Star Games, but he has real sack ability using his speed and good strength to work around and through blocking garbage. He’s also adept at dropping into coverage. He looks light on his feet with good change of direction. He’s also shown that he likes to hit. He too shows me the talent and athleticism to get drafted in the first 3 Rounds come April. Watch for him to make a few noticeable plays this Saturday.<>
#72 NICK SPELLER OT 6’5 295 MASSACHUSETTS
I wasn’t sure what to expect from SPELLER. UMASS really struggled in its first year in D1, and I never saw them play last Fall. I thought perhaps he was here based on his size and the desire to fill the OL slots with some smaller school guys. After a bit of a rocky start on Monday afternoon he got getter every day, which is exactly what you want to see in this kind of setting. He’s solidly built, and I’m sure he could add another 10 lbs. if an NFL team wanted him to. He showed desire and a very nice pair of agile feet. In his case a team may just have to be patient and consider him a work in progress for a couple of seasons. He’s the kind of long, lean, athletic OT that the PATRIOTS have been drafting lately in VOLLMER & SOLDER.<>
The WEST had a much more vigorous practice than I expected this afternoon, despite windy cool conditions. Luckily the rain stopped about 10 minutes into the session and held off for the duration.
MATT SCOTT finally looked like the guy we expected him to be with some decent passing, and nice running on QB read/option plays. However, he is still having trouble with fumbling the ball when taking snaps under Center. He shows the overall skill set to make him draftable as a potential career back-up and sub package player.
TYRONE GOARD was here, but in sweats today because he did indeed suffer a hamstring injury yesterday, not just cramping in the heat. Not sure about his status for Saturday, but if I had to bet or guess I’d say he’s not playing. The WEST is getting pretty thin at several positions. They now have 4 healthy WR, 2 TE, 9 OL and 15 DBs.
A lot of time was put in on the red zone Offense and it appears that the coaches have decided that an option style QB approach is their best chance to move the ball. The running combo of CHRISTINE MICHAEL & ZACH LINE makes me think this team may try to run more than we are used to seeing at All-Star venues.
The star of the day to me was a repeat: ZACH SUDFELD/TE/Nevada. This guy just keeps getting 10 plus yards downfield at over 250 lbs. and shows great catching mechanics and footwork. He had two more excellent TD catches on high throws where he pulled the ball in and also managed to tap both feet before going out of bounds. He’s also doing some solid work inline blocking in the running game. I’m positive he’s going to be in my TOP 100 after his work down here and in the Nevada Bowl game. Laugh if you want, but he’s looking like a poor man’s TONY GONZALEZ to me.
His college teammate DUKE WILLIAMS/S also continues to shine in that crowded secondary situation. DUKE had a pretty INT in the corner of the End Zone cutting off a throw to a seemingly open receiver. In reality it was a late throw, but he made the play and that’s what counts.Today's practices were almost completely devoid of NFL scouting personnel today. In fact I am confident in telling you that I saw only one solitary NFL figure scouting the afternoon practice. A guy named TED THOMPSON found a poncho to borrow, and stayed to the bitter end. I hope he didn’t catch a cold in the damp ocean breeze. What a grinder this guy is. That’s really no surprise, but I still shake my head every year. He has an eye for talent, but it is abundantly clear that much of his success in evaluating players is his willingness to put the time in. This man is the ultimate grinder.
Wednesday AM practice: EAST
We can’t be positive and sugar coat everything. For those of you COLLIN KLEIN-haters because he’s the new TEBOW, I’m going to break your heart and tell you he’s the best that we have down here this week. That’s not high praise, or if it is it’s pretty faint, but the sad reality is the group here in Florida is nothing special to say the least. There are a lot of pretty decent receivers down here running patterns and wondering if the ball is going to be anywhere near them as they finish their patterns. I’m seeing lob balls that land ten yards out of bounds. End Zone throws that lead the receiver into the crowd. IF we see a back shoulder throw it’s probably a mistake for that particular route.
Today the East introduced a Wildcat package with former ARMY QB TRENT STEELMAN (on the roster as a WR) taking snaps. It did not meet with much success in its limited debut, but it may be needed come Saturday to generate some O. This scenario also plays to KLEIN’s strength as a runner.
I can’t help but be impressed by the progress being made by #78/TERRON ARMSTEAD/Arkansas Pine-Bluff. He’s a mountain of a man at 6’5/310 ( with room to grow even bigger), He’s spending most of his time now out at LT and is burying people in one-on-one confrontations. He moves his feet well for his size and is really gatting the hang of arm and hand use. His arms are like vines, so once he gets the hang of utilizing them to max effect in pass pro he’s going to be tough to get around. He also put some very good DL on their butts with pancake blocks this morning.
Day by day ERIK HIGHSMITH/WR/UNC grows on me with his hand-catching and sharp cuts during route running. He’s also looking elusive and quick with the ball in his hands. I am now determined to find out what his hand spread is, because of the ease with which he snatches the ball out of the air. He’s very effective on the sidelines and in the end zone because he has ballet feet in tapping the turf in-bounds. Let’s put one item to rest about HIGHSMITH. As I suspected he is not the 6’3 player listed in pregame info. He measured in at about 6’1.5” at Monday’s weigh in. I am anxious to get a tape measure reading of his hand spread.
LUCAS REED/#44/New Mexico caught my attention yesterday with his blocking and today he showed up as a receiver. He showed great concentration on a tipped ball downfield and took it away from a defender who actually was in better position to make a catch. And he looked good running it the extra 20 yards to the end zone for a score. He’s certainly not an elite player, but with the ability to block and catch he’s helping to solidify himself a spot on Draft Saturday. Despite not being as athletic as teammate D.C. JEFFERSON/RUTGERS, he looks more polished and ready to help an NFL team out on the field as a Rookie.
I’m still having a hard time sifting though the droves of secondary players trying to find adequate playing time here this week. But I am intrigued by another Clemson defender in CB/XAVIER BREWER, who caught my eye late in the season for the Tigers, He’s got a nice solid build and is very well coordinated. Anxious to know what his 40-speed is at the COMBINE, or his Pro Day, but I am comfortable that he has enough quickness to play the position in the NFL. He sure looks to me like a Day 3 Draftable player.
I liked him at FSU and like his work here this week. ANTHONY McCLOUD/DT/#90 is a hard-nosed, stuff the middle DT who should shine in this game and on a 4-3 NFL team. He’s tough to move and when he gets a great start off the snap his first step quickness can really surprise the interior OL. He’s shocked and knocked down several opponents during drills and scrimmage time. He has good awareness of where the ball is and I’ve noticed him slide to the ball carrier even though he’s engaged with a blocker or two. Some think he should lose a 10+ lbs, and potentially improve his quickness, but I prefer him as a two down bulldozer who can stuff things against the run. Don’t mess with a good thing that can’t be taught; natural size.
An even more interesting player to my eyes is #93/IZAAN CROSS/DT/GEORGIA TECH. He played in primarily a 3-4 scheme at Tech and finds himself playing DT in a 4-3 scheme down here. And he’s looking very good at his “new” spot. He’s looking a little stronger and a lot faster to the ball than the guy I saw during the regular season. I still see him as a 3-4 scheme DE, but now I’m thinking he may be scheme diverse, which can only help his Draft status. He’s slipping through cracks in the OL on a regular basis in practices and holding his ground against the run. Now I wonder what kind of numbers he will post at the COMBINE and whether he can move himself up the prospect charts substantially over the next 3 months.
I couldn’t resist and had to ask Coach GLANVILLE as he exited practice today whether or not he would be leaving two tickets at Will Call this Saturday for THE KING if he showed up. With a straight face he informed me he had no need to do so, because he had him out there as part of his coaching staff. As my mouth fell open he quickly walked off.<>Wednesday PM practice: WEST
The missing equipment caper continues for K/ZACH BROWN of the West. Seems he participated in an earlier All-Star Game and there was a mix up in getting his equipment shipped on to St. Pete. The helmet and pads are being tracked and should arrive Thursday, but he also asked Portland State to ship him another set of gear. He did indeed feel “naked” out on the field trying to kick FG on Tuesday sans helmet. Good luck ZACH.
The OL group is thinning out for the West as the week progresses. Both MANASE FOKETI & BRADEN BROWN were MIA today and I don’t think they’re coming back to action tomorrow. No word yet that I know of if reinforcements are on the way, or if the team will move on with the 9 healthy players they have left. The task of replacing injured players is a bigger challenge than usual this year because of the added games. For instance, as we watch the practices down here there are two other games conducting their practices this week. That ties up another couple hundred players, so who do you call?
It struck me today that the West Squad has a much more diverse RB group at this game than the East, They have the smallest RB in KERWYNN WILLIAMS, the biggest in ZACH LINE and the in between guy in CHRISITINE MICHAEL. For the East their guys are all 5’9 or 5’10 and weigh between 190 and 214 lbs. Usually these games rely on the passing game for the bulk of their offensive production, with the passing game setting up the run game, so to speak. But if we get into red zone and short yardage situations the West could be at a distinct advantage with their variety in runners.
If we get into very many 3rd or 4th down and very short I will give the decided edge to the East as long as COLLIN KLEIN is out on the field as their QB. That’s one of the specialties that he looks very good at down here despite his passing issues.
Despite the crowded 15 player DB situation some guys are slowly, but surely emerging as just a little more impressive than most of their position group mates. SHAMRKO THOMAS/S/Syracuse/#29 is emerging as a scout favorite with his aggressive run support and overall speed to go along with some decent zone cover skills. THOMAS is a tick below 5’10, but weighed in as a solid 217 lbs. And I can attest to the fact that none of that weight is fat. He looks as ripped as can be with fireplug like legs. He plays a bit like a guy named POLAMALU, but has the bulk to more likely survive his own aggressive hits. I’d be watching for his Draft stock to be rising if he plays on Saturday like he has practiced so far. NFL folks are going to love the thought of a cross between BOB SANDERS and PLOAMALU.
TYRONE GOARD/WR who has looked awesome so far this week was walking around with a decided limp and being held out of action at the end of today’s practice. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is hoping that on another hot day it can be chalked up to cramping and not some kind of muscle pull. There is concern, because just before he started limping around he was the target of a long downfield pass that saw him tumble into a pole vault cushion beyond the end zone. The pass was broken up by the way, despite outstanding effort on GOARD’s part. We’ll hope to know on Thursday what’s going on with him.
No one has stepped up to grab the lead in the race to be the starting QB for the West after 3 days. Each guy has had their moments, but by the same token all of them have stumbled at times with bad throws or poor hand-offs, and even recurring fumbled snaps. I think it is also abundantly clear after 3 days of practice that none of them is going to tear up the game with his strong, accurate arm. A lot of open receivers are still waiting for the ball to get to them before defenders close in. Many of us feel that MATT SCOTT/#10/Arizona has missed an opportunity to assert his dominance in this group, with his somewhat sloppy and inconsistent play.<> To be honest with you today’s practices were most likely the high point of practice competition. Thursday will be some clean up work, installation of maybe a few more plays and Special Teams work emphasis. So barring some unforeseen developments let me rank the glamour boys for you based on my observations the past 3 days.
1) COLLIN KLEIN
2) MATT SCOTT
3) ALEX CARDER
4) COLBY CAMERON
5) SETH DOEGE
6) NATHAN STANLEY
Let me reiterate two thoughts on these rankings. The margin between these guys is very thin, and no NFL Personnel people are likely to be leaving here thinking they have potentially solved any of their team’s QB issues with the guys on the list.TUESDAY AM: EAST
It was another Florida Chamber of Commerce morning as the temps climbed into the mid-70’s under a cloudless sky. Not to jinx it, but it appeared as if everyone was available for practice this morning, meaning the squad may have escaped the injury bug for at least one day. As I mentioned last night I felt obligated to spend much of my time watching the big uglies at work this morning.
The EAST OL group has a lot of smaller school players in the unit. Of the 11 OL on the roster 7 are from smaller schools, if you throw in NICK SPELLER/OT/UMass, which actually entered D1 this year. But as they got pummeled each week I feel safe saying he’s in the small school group.
SPELLER is listed on the roster at 6’5, 290 LBS. He’s every inch of 6’5, but looks heavier than the 290 number. He’s one guy in particular I’d like Monday morning’s weigh-in numbers on. His arms are very long and he’s active with his hands and arms. He keeps DL off of him, but has a tendency to fall off his blocks early which allows his man to pursue the ball and get back in the play at times. He had perhaps his best play in a goal line situation, where he pulled from RT and made a solid block on a defender on the left side of the line. That was a physically impressive play and gives a hint at his talent and potential I think.
MATT STANKIEWITCH/C/Penn State looks like your standard Nittany Lions interior OL. He’s got OK size and average athleticism. But he’s tough as nails and football smart. He got rocked a couple of times by ANTHONY McCLOUD, but kept his feet, regained his balance and came back for more until the whistle sounded. I’m not sure he’s got enough to start in the NFL, but he looks like another guy who can back-up 3 interior OL spots and hold his own for short periods of play.
Just to break up the big ugly talk let me mention the relatively quiet, but effective work of ERIK HIGHSMITH/WR/UNC. He very seldom seems to be the primary target in passing drills, lining up in the slot, or to the left side. But he’s getting open and when throws do come his way he’s catching just about everything, especially during live action. He’s made several nice catches stretching along the sidelines to gain possession and keep his feet in bounds. He also looked sure handed and quick this morning returning kicks.
LUCAS REED hasn’t seen a whole lot receiving chances, probably because he really doesn’t seem to be getting much separation from defenders, but his blocking has been impressive. He’s so long and beefy that once he gets in front of LBs in the running game, they just can’t get loose from his grasp or around his wide frame. He gave GERALD HODGES fits on multiple occasions today, by completely engulfing him in blocks.
To no one’s surprise the INT of the morning came from BRANDON McGEE/CB/Miami in a drill featuring the East O working from their own five-yard line. After an acrobatic take away of a slightly underthrown ball, he flashed all over the field with the ball, almost turning it into a pick six. Based on his play as a Hurricane that’s what I would expect from him here and at the next level. In my opinion he’s the top CB prospect down here his week.
Things are not looking bright for the East Offense. I promise to watch in more detail Wednesday, but not one of the three East QBs has been at all impressive. And their OL looks to be more than a little shaky, in part I think because they have so many smaller school guys who obviously have talent, but have a lot of technique improvement work to do.
There’s a ton of coaching going on with the DL group and some of these guys are really responding in drill work. They too are a part of why the offenses are struggling so much. I have been mightily impressed by the attitudes and work ethic of two small school players #91/DAVID BASS/Missouri Western State & #77/MIKE CAPATANO/Princeton. CAPATANO is hustling his butt off and getting results from his effort. What has caught my eye with him is a reverse spin move to the inside on his pass-rush technique. That’s something you don’t see real often except in the most accomplished of pass rush specialists such as a DWIGHT FREENEY. CAPATANO has already made a believer out of me in two days with his size, strength, attitude and skills. This kid should get Drafted by Round 4 and has eventual starting potential.
BASS is more of a project, primarily because he is a relatively slim 260 lbs on a 6’4 frame. But he’s an eager learner and seems to grasp what’s being taught very quickly. If he could add 10-15 lbs. of muscle mass I think he could handle himself as a full time 4-3 DE, who could play 3 downs in a run and chase style Defense.
Florida PK CALEB STURGIS has stood out in every phase of his kicking duties. During Kick-Off return practice this morning about half of his kicks were touchbacks. He also displayed a 40-yard plus leg; with very good accuracy during FG drill work. Remember he started at Florida as a Punter, and if DYLAN BREEDING continues to struggle with his consistency I would not be shocked to see STURGIS try a Punt or two, even during the game.Tuesday PM: West practice
Watching some passing drills this afternoon it is clear that neither team should be expected to drive the ball up and down the field during game action, based on their QB play. ALEX CARDER probably looks the best overall in this mediocre group, but his arm leaves a lot to be desired. He was unable to get the ball to open receivers on several occasions when they were downfield and to the sideline over 15 yards.
And the sad part of that equation is that the WEST has some very good WRs to throw the ball to. TYRONE GOARD had another very good day. He gets separation all over the field and catches footballs like Spider Man. He also shows some shake and bake after the catch with his acceleration. KEENAN DAVIS/Iowa finds himself on yet another team with a QB who can’t get the ball to him when he comes open deep.
We may have another helmet debacle on our hands relative to K/ZACH BROWN/Portland State. He kicked helmetless today in a scenario that reminded me of MARSHALL YANDA & SCOTT CHANDLER of Iowa not having their helmets for part of Senior Bowl week some year’s back. Helmet or not BROWN was less than highly accurate today. He’s got the distance and he’s not off by much, but he missed about half of his kicks, just outside the posts to both sides. The snapping for him was better than for Punter HUBNER yesterday, and was split between Campbell & ROBISKIE. Special Teams could be another problem area for the West.
JOSH BOYD/DT/Mississippi State was impressive today in pass-rush drills. He’s very effective with a speed/strength combination that was very hard to block inside by everyone he went up against. I think BOYD is a lot better player than we give him credit for, but he pales in comparison to FLETCHER COX. Playing in the shadow of an outstanding player can work to one’s detriment when comparisons are constantly brought into play. BPOYD is limited by lack of size and great quickness, but he makes plays and could thrive in the NFL when lining up beside a bigger, stronger partner at the other Tackle slot.
There were two really bright spots in the WEST LB group today, once the pads went on and the hitting began. KEITH POUGH, who I mentioned yesterday, was very active once again today. He flies all over the field and delivers a pretty nice blow for his deceptively lanky frame. He’s also still a communicator and a positive celebrant whenever plays are made by his teammates.
But the best all-around LB for the West Squad is probably A.J. KLEIN/LB/Iowa State. The 6’2/244 lb. KLEIN is half of the KNOTT/KLEIN tackling machine duo that has dominated Cyclone opponents the past 3 seasons. I had projected KLEIN as a strong, hard charging run stopper in the past but I noticed him dropping more and more into coverage responsibilities watching Iowa State play in 2012. And indeed that is where he is shining already this week. In LB drop drills KLEIN was the first to demonstrate the different drop techniques and even seemed to show his position coach a new one this afternoon. He can still lay the wood, and hunts the ball relentlessly, but in today’s pass happy NFL a coverage LB is highly coveted. KLEIN can play 3 downs in the pro game. I also found it interesting that he and KNOTT both played a hybrid scheme with the Cyclones, which placed them both inside even though they had a 4-man DL in front of them. He’s playing primarily outside this week and appears to be directing a lot of traffic from there. I think he’ll fit best as a Mike in a 4-3 scheme.
CALEB SCHREIBEIS/DE/Montana State is not going to be able to play the DE spot in the NFL in anything but long yardage passing scenarios. He’s 6’3/252 and though solid, is just not big enough to play 3 downs with his hand on the ground. But he is incredibly explosive off the edge in pass rush work. It will be a project to change positions and adjust to the higher level of competition in the NFL, but from what I saw today with pads on, I think he can learn to stand up and handle OLB in a 3-4 scheme, while providing teams with hard-nosed tackling and pass rush pressure. Watch for this guy to climb up prospect lists in the next few months.
JOSEPH FAURIA was conspicuous by his absence from practice today, and I suspect by the time you read this he will officially be a scratch from the game. The West may be forced to go with only 2 TE. With the current proliferation of All-Star Games I’m not sure who would be out there and available to come in right now. I’ll monitor this one in coming days. As long as they can keep ZACH SUDFELD healthy they will certainly be OK at one TE slot. He’s looking dominant as a pass catcher and a blocker.
He may seem like the odd-man out and almost more FB than RB to some, but I am here to tell you that ZACH LINE showed more burst and speed than I thought he possessed on multiple occasions today. He got to the corner and ran up the sideline on a play where I thought a LB was sure to catch him from the side with an angle tackle. And he burst through a hole between the tackles for over 10 yards on another occasion. That would bring a dimension to the West Offense that the East cannot match with their smaller backs. How he gets used during the game will be interesting to watch.
The secondary situation confuses me more than a little bit folks. As of this afternoon the West Squad has 29 defensive players on it, and 15 of them are DBs. I am having trouble picking out the cream of the crop because none of them are out on the field long enough to make multiple plays that might catch my eye. I guess if pressured I would say that DUKE WILLIAMS of Nevada is the most active S, while CB/TRAVIS HOWARD/Ohio State (a late addition) has been the most productive of the CB crew. This is all too confusing to me and I don’t understand how the coaches are going to sort out the playing time and alignments. Remember, by rule this game has to operate with a standard 4-3-4 scheme, despite all the joking by we scribes.
Monday, January 14
A small setback for the Media this morning when no one was admitted to the Weigh-In proceedings but NFL team representatives. We’ll have to work on that with the SHRINE Officials for the future. I am prejudiced of course, but for all of the publicity he media generates for the game and its exposure I don’t think it’s too much to ask that some, if not all of us, be admitted to observe and record the vital stats of players who are in the process of being evaluated as Draft Picks. You can’t have it both ways NFL. If you want coverage of your League and its DRAFT we, the media, need access to information, and not in a censored format.
OK enough of the preaching and protesting. But it does mean we’ll all be trying to ferret out the info from someone, somewhere as the week goes on. Where in the world is WES BUNTING?!
And by the way, since I do not want to pay a hefty fine to the Chamber of Commerce, I must relate that it was a beautiful April day in central Florida. It was dry air, light breezes and in the mid-80’s. Just like the weather you see in those travel ads telling you to head to the Sunshine State. T is a law down here that this must be mentioned in any communiqué of this sort.<> The EAST held the first practice this afternoon and did so in full pads. SEAN RENFREE/QB/DUKE is not in town for the game because of a clavicle/collarbone injury suffered literally on the final play of their Bowl loss.
Right after the warm-ups began I started asking colleagues on the sidelines why both teams has 13 DB on their rosters, and concurrently no FB at all. Both of these are roster anomalies from previous years. Someone suggested the numbers were in order to run a 3-2-6 defensive scheme. I countered perhaps it was to run a 2-3-6 in honor of DOM CAPERS, DC of the PACKERS. Neither answer is correct, as they scrimmages in the standard 4-3-4 schemes that All-Star games all use by rule.
COLLIN KELIN is by far the biggest name QB here this week. SO of course I watched him from snap one as much as was practical. My first observation is that from the waist down he looks almost skinny. That would make sense since he’s currently listed as being 6’5/226. He needs some serious work on the lower portion of his body with an NFL conditioning & training expert. He showed decent footwork and mechanics when throwing most of the time. But he threw some wildly inaccurate balls out of a BYRIN LEFTWICH wind-up a few times. He also seems to lock in on this intended receiver way too son before he releases the ball. We’re going to leave it at that for now, because…
I don’t want to break my own rule regarding the first day of passing/receiving dynamics at a venue where none of the skill position guys have worked together before and are just digesting a playbook. Tuesday we’ll look for improvement in general, and on Wednesday I’ll be critical of the guys who still don’t get it.<> RAY GRAHAM/RB/PITT looked healthy today and when he’s healthy he looks explosive. He made some great cuts and showed the explosiveness that had me excited two years ago pre-knee injury. But he’ll be the guy to watch on this squad if he’s 100%.
It became apparent early in the practice that all 3 EAST QBs have their radar tuned in to D.C. JEFFERSON/TE/RUTGERS. JEFFERSON was lost in the Scarlet Knights Offense that ran the majority of the time, and featured WRs that were faster, but almost as big as JEFFERSON. Thus not man y balls came his way in college. But he’s a long, athletic looking guy who at 6’6/250, reminds me some of MAELLUS BENNETT, now of the GIANTS. Lots of throws came his way today and caught most of them, looking smooth in his routes both with and without the ball. You can almost smell the POTENTIAL with this guy. And down here he’s going to get his chances to shine.
Despite what a few others were murmuring on the sideline, I was impressed, on Day 1 with MARCUS DAVIS/WR/VA TECH. This is a physical specimen ala DEZ BRYANT, but raw as can be. He still misjudges some throws in the air, but he is huge, 6’4/225, and can sky for the ball. He only began to “get-it” about half way through the Hokies season. But as he continues to improve I think will make some big catches this week in the Florida sun.
I’ll try to watch a bit more of the big uglies along the OL on Tuesday morning.
There were so many DB s shuttling in and out that it was hard to really pinpoint one or two who really stood out, but I will say that S/EARL WOLFF/N.C. STATE stood out for a couple of break-ups, solid hits and a near INT. WOLF isn’t a burner, but when you factor in his almost 210 lbs. he moves pretty well and looks like he’ll readily play in-the-box. When called upon to do so.
RASHARD HALL/S/CLEMSON also caught me eye and ear. He was around the ball often and seemed to have asense of what the offense was doing. And he was quite verbal yelling out pre-snap info and directions to his defensive teammates. That certainly makes sense for a 3-year starter at a major program lime Clemson.
My most impressive defensive watch today was GERALD HOGES/OLB/PENN STATE. If you’re like me I couldn’t bring myself to watch a lot of Penn State football after their rape by the NCAA. This guy is one of the most impressive combinations of football smarts and athleticism that I've seen this year at OLB. Most of the big names I’ve watched were noted for their sack totals. HODGES plays the whole game. And like HALL, he was also very vocal with his mates as offensive formations were recognized. He moves very well for a guy his size (6’2/250) and I expect some popping pads from him the rest of the week.
MOORE/OLB/UCONN was also conspicuous in his athleticism and apparent
IQ. He kept things under control, because the hitting was limited today
coaches’ mandate, but he had several occasions where he could really
delivered a blow and most likely will in the next few days. He also
athletic enough to cover some ground and help in pass defense. I
consider him a
sleeper, who was the best athlete on a solid Huskies Defense this past
As I walked up to the 50-yard line just after practice started whom should I spy right in front of me? No not Santa and his reindeer, but TED THOMPSON/GM of the PACKERS. Let’s see TED was in San Francisco on Saturday, Green Bay on Sunday and in St. Pete by Monday afternoon. I think TED envisions this as a busy off-season for he and his organization, and now he must do it without JOHN DORSEY.
Unfortunately, JOSEPH FAURIA/TE/UCLA went off the field fairly early in practice after taking a tough fall trying to catch a ball. He did not return to the practice field. We’ll hope it’s a temporary thing that might heal up before Saturday. But with the caution taken regarding player health at this kind of venue I will not be surprised if we get a new TE roster name Tuesday some time. Too bad, because there are lots of questions about how the tall, rangy FAURIA can measure up to NFL style coverages and blocking assignments.
In his absence I was most impressed with the work of #84/ZACH SUDFELD/NEVADA. SUDFELD really caught m eye in the Nevada Bowl game as a downfield receiving threat despite his 6’7/255 size. He did it again today. He’s pretty quick off the snap of the ball, and his long legs really eat up yardage as he gains momentum on his routes. He’s a legit middle to long receiving threat, with good hands and is not afraid to block in-line.
Spent some time with MR. THOMPSON, watching the west OL work out. I sure miss MARK MANGINO working them out, but it was a spirited first day session. It was a limited session, but the best player in my opinion may have been SAM BRENER/G/Utah. BRENNER has incredibly quick hands in the pad drill, and the blocking pads popped when he hit them… louder than any of the other linemen.
These guys are all big in their own way, but DANN O’NEILL/T/Western Michigan towered over most everyone else at 6’8, and what looked like more than his currently listed 305 lbs. For his bulk I was impressed with the speed and continuity of his foot action. He was the best “dancing” OL of the group to my eyes.
And then there was ANDREW ROBISKIE/C/Western Illinois. He didn’t quite look his listed 6’2, but he looked like all, or more, of his listed 302. We’ll see how well he practices and plays against the big schoolboys, but he surely looks like the proverbial block of granite.
Las year one of the big hits of Day One was East WR/THOMAS MAYO. Well for my money that role today was handled by TYRONE GORAD/WR/Eastern Kentucky. The 6’4, 196 lbs. sprinter does look a bit fragile, but his hands and speed are undeniably good to excellent. I don’t think any of the WEST QBs can throw it far enough when he goes long. He beat MICAH HYDE handily, and I mean by a wide margin, on two fly patterns but the ball went to underneath receivers. MAYO peaked on Tuesday last year. Let’s see if GOARD can do more, for a longer period of time.
KEITH POUGH/LB/Howard was the energizer bunny of the West Defense today, with both his mouth and his body. He was all over the place and encouraging and goading on mates all practice. His practice reminded me of ERIC WEDDLE at the Senor Bowl a few years ago. Now let’s see how he does when the pads come on and the real hitting starts. I’m not skeptical, I’m just saying.
Other than WILLIAM CAMPBELL/DT/Michigan, the West DL is very small as a group. I think a good number of them are likely to be 3-4 OLB candidates as prospects like TRAVIS JHNSON & CALEB SHREIBEIS. I will be trying to keep an eye on SCHREIBEIS this week. I have word from a couple of trusted colleagues that his coaches at Montana State think he can indeed stand up as a pro and provide some pass rush in said 3-4 schemes.
Although, I do not have special permission to do so, I am unilaterally declaring P/JOSH HUBNER/Arizona State as the winner of the All-State Good Hands award for Day One. Since the SHRINE GAME does not bring Long Snapper specialists in the coaches must find their own snappers through trial and error. Today’s trial snapper was DT/WILLIAM CAMPBELL. And his selection was clearly an error. HUBNER spent the entire Punting/coverage period of practice jumping and diving for errant snaps from CAMPBELL. His punting yardage & hang time were marginal, but he gets an A+ for fielding all but one of the errant throws. Nice work JOSH. Let’s call this aspect of the West Squad a work in progress.
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