2013 Senior Bowl: South Wednesday Practice Notes

Lane JohnsonIt was a busy day for the Optimum Scouting team, with myself handling the offensive and defensive lines as well as the running backs and linebackers, while Alex Brown and Mark Dulgerian tag-teammed the quarterbacks, receivers, and defensive backs.

We saw EJ Manuel flash more and more, Larry Warford and Lane Johnson dominated, Montori Hughes intrigues, and Shawn Williams among other defensive backs show some ability.


 

Quarterbacks

-E.J. Manuel experienced a better day of practice, having improved placement down the field, in addition to more decisiveness through his progressional reads. Though a bit mechanical and robotic in his delivery, Manuel does a nice job of maintaining a firm-throwing base with trash around his feet. Very much a work in progress, Manuel possesses plus physical tools and the movement skills to entice teams in the day two range of the draft.

-Landry Jones’ performance fluctuated wildly today, and it’s becoming more apparent that he is in fact, a system quarterback. Slow to process in the post snap phase and often late to pull off of his primary, reset to his number two option and pull the trigger, Jones had multiple bad decisions today in 7-on-7’s and 11-on-11’s. When the throw is accurate, the timing is off, and vice versa for the former Oklahoma Sooner, and I question his presnap awareness at times. Though he struggled at times, Jones also flashed at times, with a few beautifully placed 9-route throws outside the numbers in the vertical game.

-Easily the best quarterback of the group, Tyler Wilson continued to excel in processing post snap information, accessing the full field with his reads and generating velocity with an effortless throwing motion. The best throw of the day, came on a hitch-and-go, where Wilson drove the ball close to 40 yards on a tightened arc, with ideal velocity and placement on the back end. More importantly than making all the throws, however, was Wilson’s internal clock and understanding of when to pull the trigger down the field or work to his check down.
 

Running Backs
-I was impressed today the most by Stepfan Taylor from Stanford who was probably the best of the bunch in every drill today. He stayed on his feet well through contact, he showed the strength at the point off attack in pass protection drills, and he cuts well and with controlled routes out of the backfield.

-Also of note, I thought Mike Gillislee did an adequate (yet still a work in progress) job in pass protection, but impressed mostly with his decisive steps up and through the hole and at the second level. And, new add Mike James from Miami (FL) showed his 3rd down back ability, holding ground well in pass protection especially well.

 

Receivers
-For the third day in a row, LaTech’s Quinton Patton was the best receiver on the South squad, and it wasn’t close.  He is polished in everything he does and is probably the best receiver at the Senior Bowl.  If there was one area he showed room to improve this week it was against strong press coverage.  One on play, he was jammed all the way through his route after missing the swat at the line and lacking the upper body strength to recover.  Still, there were enough times Patton showed quickness and proper hand countering at the line to think he’ll be more consistent in this are.  His best play was against Robert Lester (a mismatch) where he ran a stop and go and tracked a deep pass down the sideline and into the end zone while keeping his feet in bounds.   

-Baylor’s Terrence Williams had some nice plays downfield which is where he seems most comfortable in using his frame and body control to track the ball over coverage.  On intermediate routes, Williams becomes a bit more ordinary, not showing much route savvy at the top of his breaks and lacking explosiveness out of them as well.  He’s a strider who fits as a downfield big play threat.

-Tavarres King had a steady, albeit not spectacular performance today, working back to the throw at the top of his route running and catching the ball cleanly away from his frame. Despite being a one-speed type of receiver, King is very fluid and calculated with his release, setting up each cut and accelerating out with balance.

-LSU’s Russell Shepard was a late add to the Senior Bowl roster, due to an injury to Texas A&M slot receiver Ryan Swope, and competed his tail off during Wednesday’s practice session. Quicker than he is fast, but fairly sudden in the short to intermediate area, Shepard can drive out of his cuts with burst and speed to sustain separation. He’ll need to improve his strength to hold up versus more physical DB’s and keep his balance better through downfield contact, but all in all he fought, competed and gave consistent effort throughout the practice.

-The athletic darling of this tight end group, Vance McDonald does present plus size, physicality and explosiveness to NFL teams. Able to run directly through contact at the top of the route and recover through his cut, McDonald can be brutish when working down the seams. Even showcasing reaction time and ball skills, McDonald made an impressive one-handed snag on a stick route that was thrown well before his break. Wednesday was just another strong outing for the size/speed tight end, and the only concern now should be his ability to extend for low throws, as well as experiencing the occasional focus drop.

-Mychal Rivera also had success in this practice, continuing to showcase the ability to extend for throws away from his frame and complete the catch through contact. Rivera is limited in terms of overall size and girth as a blocker, but has shown more than adequate effort, positioning and willingness to develop further as an end-of-the-line Y. Rivera’s fairly developed route tree should intrigue teams in need of that second or third option at tight end.

 

Offensive Linemen
-Easily the best tackle on the South roster and maybe outperformed the North’s Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson of Oklahoma showed today why he likely will work his way up to the mid/late first round. The athletic build, laterally balanced athlete showed great hand readjustments, strong hands throughout, and got great extension on the outside. He does reach a bit and his base gets quite wide at times, but he doesn’t lose with it. Combine his play today, this week, his relative inexperience as a tackle, and the versatility to play on the right or left side, Johnson has thoroughly impressed this week.

-Arguably the best lineman overall today on the South roster was Larry Warford of Kentucky. Utilizing great inside hand placement consistently, driving blocks well on the interior, adjusting to a variety of rush moves against him, and getting great push/holding his anchor while extended, Warford impressed today and warranted our pre-week 1st round grade.

-Cal center Brian Schwenke showed to me today that he’s polished in his set up, initial hand placement, and understanding of how defenses want to attack him. However, he’s not a great athlete laterally, struggles with stronger rushers at the point of attack, and can consistently maintain balance after first contact. He needs help on the interior, but he’ll get that in game action.

-Virginia’s Oday Aboushi got work in drills/11 on 11s at both tackle and guard, and flashed and disappointed some. He gets beat with inside rushes (including one devastating inside rip by Lavar Edwards), and has a bad habit of waiting until contact to react to his rusher. Still, he slides well with balance for a tackle, and if he can get his hands more consistently inside (especially at guard), he’ll have NFL success.

-Also of note on the OL: New addition Jordan Mills from Louisiana Tech was active and certainly looking to start a fight today. He plays a bit high, but he did well to hold his ground. That aggressiveness could be a good thing. Xavier Nixon from Florida also shows that good initial step to his kick slide, but doesn’t work back inside.

 

Defensive Linemen
-The man I was curious to watch today was Ezekial Ansah from BYU. He missed part of individual drills today, unfortunately, so the look wasn’t AS thorough as I wanted, but he still showed some of the concerns he had on film. He needs to react and adjust his body better when engaged by double teams, as he gets rendered useless far too easily. He was inconsistent, especially in team drills, in his ability to adjust his hands and work against the run, with part of the reason just not feeling comfortable with any developed hand-separating moves. He also needs to adjust his rush much quicker when his first move fails, and he seems to just wait for runner/QB as opposed to staying active and winning again. Maybe his most NFL ready skill set is his ability to shoot his hands up and limit the vision of the quarterback, as he batted down a pass today.

-I was surprisingly intrigued by Montori Hughes of Tennessee-Martin today. The small schooler was active and low off the snap nearly every rush, and was getting consistent penetration. He does seem to drive to outside too often and doesn’t seem to have the adjustment to cut back inside, but it seems like more of a technique thing than an inability to do so.

-Georgia’s John Jenkins didn’t show much to me at all today, which is frustrating. He wasn’t generating nearly enough pressure against a single blocker, and wasn’t working upfield while he was exchanging his hands. He showed (in individual drills) the transitions and cuts laterally that should impress for a guy his size, but he doesn’t utilize that in game situations.

-Also to note on the defensive line: Cory Grissom struggled all day, lacking laterally quick moves and had an inability to drive upfield with force. But, he does seem to hold his point of attack well vs. double teams. Everett Dawkins of Florida State has balance concerns, as he struggles to adjust himself on the interior and over-extends himself too often. Lavar Edwards from LSU lacked any consistent burst off the line, but he does have some developed rush moves that could work situationally in the NFL. Malliciah Goodman has fantastic length and looks the part at times, but on the interior, he lets players get inside of him too often.
 

 

Linebackers

-The best linebacker of the day was Zaviar Gooden of Missouri, who was active across the field, explosive change of direction, and made three noteworthy plays in coverage, including a tipped pass and an interception. Gooden has a phenomenal build, and his range and burst is great to see. I do worry about his physicality, both on the field and mentally. I’ll be looking into that concern, but it’s not a good question to be raised.

-I thought Chase Thomas from Stanford had a better day today, and showed some ability off the edge (working as a pass rusher mostly today, thankfully), and in using his hands vs. bigger bodies. Myself and Mark Dulgerian agreed that while he lacks great athletic ability and won’t wow in individual work, he’s a “gamer”, and a guy who impresses a lot more when he fits into a scheme.

-Two of the most surprisingly impressive linebackers today were Nico Johnson from Alabama and Vince Williams from Florida State. Johnson isn’t anything impressive in coverage, but with his ability to engage and slip through blocks and his instincts in the run game are impressive enough to warrant possibly a mid to early rounder, despite being a 2-down player. Williams finishes his tackles with great pop, drives well on the interior, and doesn’t shy away from contact. I’m excited to go back and watch more of him after this week.

 

Defensive Backs

-At safety, J.J. Wilcox has a lot to like physically, with his muscular build, explosive burst to and through the point of attack, ability to drive and close space on routes, and overall ball skills as a former running back. On the flip side, Wilcox also can be inconsistent in reacting to the throw, as he broke early on multiple occasions in practice to create early contact with the receiver. Overall I like the physicality he can bring to the table, but there’s far too much separation between he and the tight end in man coverage situations. Wilcox’s value at the next level could be tremendous if developed properly, and again, he possesses physicality and explosiveness to be a real force against the run. Moreover, Wilcox performed well in special team reps, contributing on the edge as one of the two, jamming cornerbacks on punt return.

-Georgia safety Shawn Williams had a nice day in coverage in one on ones as well as during the team session.  He isn’t physically imposing and doesn’t possess any real special qualities but he’s physical and uses his hands very well to direct the route.  He will likely need to polish up his hand usage at the next level to prevent interference calls but he showed good route recognition today and made several plays on the ball and in rerouting receivers. 

-California’s Marc Anthony made more plays today as one of the more unheralded defensive backs at the Senior Bowl.  He’s a guy I will need to go back and watch film on, but there is no doubt he has the athleticism and physicality you like for the position.  He had a handful of pass breakups between one on ones and team sessions, but the concerning thing is that they were on plays in front of him in which he seemed to guess the route.  There was also a play where he completely guessed on a stop and go and was beat badly.  As film shows, he breaks on the ball very quickly (in run support as well) but his instincts and route recognition in coverage are still a question. 

-Cornerback Robert Alford (Southeastern Louisiana) had a solid day today, especially in press coverage.  He displayed strong hands and did a nice job of countering receivers when they tried to rip or swat him.  He played with balance against physical receivers and kept his footing when it looked like he was being handled on top and stayed in his man’s pocket.  He showed marginal deep speed and didn’t show great recovery speed when his man had a step on him downfield, but he showed nice short area quickness underneath to stick with double moves/quick hit routes.

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