It was a fully padded practice day today, so it was a chance to see more full contact along with see the linemen work at 100% throughout practice.
The “winners” of the day for the North Practice were RB Charles Sims, WR Jared Abbrederis, OT Jack Mewhort, DE Trent Murphy, and LB Chris Borland.
We had myself (@OptimumScouting) covering the OL and DL today.
We had Mark (@MarkDulgerianOS) covering the QBs, RBs, and LBs today.
We had Alex (@OS_AlexBrown) covering the WRs, TEs, and DBs today.
–Logan Thomas continues to be extremely frustrating to evaluate. Today was a microcosm of his career at Virginia Tech as he impressed during 7 on 7’s with his ability to slice through 20+ mph wind and deliver (mostly) accurate balls while hitting 2nd and 3rd reads. Then, of course, he went on to have a terrible team session that included floating incompletions, holding the ball too long, and failing to find open receivers downfield. Sadly, there will likely be some quarterback coach who can convince his GM to draft Thomas in hopes of piecing him all together. Watching him today elicited similar feelings to watching Terrell Pryor with the Raiders—take that for what it’s worth.
–Tajh Boyd has a tight, compact release but today his release was noticeably lowered down toward his ear (maybe in hopes of cutting through the wind), which is not ideal for his height. It’s certainly not the over the top release he showed on film last year. He also had trouble with placement today, some of which was due to the wind and some of which wasn’t, but overall he made the best decisions of the North squad.
–Stephen Morris’s mechanics and accuracy have been subpar this week. He began 7 on 7’s with a fumbled snap and the struggles continued. His misses were high as he continued to dip his release shoulder and he didn’t show much anticipation when targeting receivers. He needs to bounce back tomorrow and Thursday so NFL teams can take away something positive from his play this week.
-West Virginia back Charles Sims had one of the stronger practices on the North squad as he was the best of the running backs today. He stood up several linebackers in blitz pickup and showed plus quickness and acceleration through the hole in team sessions. He ran determined and showed the strength to run through arm tackles.
-Wisconsin’s James White is small and it really hurt him in blitz pickup drills. Linebackers consistently drove him back and he kept stopping his feet at the point making him susceptible to countermoves. He looked like a situational back only.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
-UCLA receiver Shaq Evans had some difficulty adjusting to slightly off target throws in the vertical game, but got himself open by attacking leverage through his route stem and dropping his hips to accelerate out of the break. He needs to improve his hand usage when working to cross face of the defensive back, as he struggled primarily to fight through the defensive back’s inside positioning when running simple post patterns. He’s a size-speed type worth drafting and developing.
-The cleanest route runner and most polished receiver was Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, who displayed sharp plant and drive footwork to stay flat or work back downhill to the catch point depending on the route call. Even when forced to adjust to off target, high velocity throws (which was fairly often), Abbrederis never seemed to panic and was comfortable snatching the ball away from his frame.
-A player who struggled to adjust to the ball placement woes from the North quarterbacks, Wyoming’s Robert Herron struggled to finish receptions away from his body. Herron is a speedster and eats up off man cushion in a hurry, but he’ll have to improve his plucking skills, as his catch radius was a limiting factor in practice today.
-Conversely, Wake Forest slot receiver Mike Campanaro caught just about everything thrown or punted his direction. He never wowed in terms of suddenness out of breaks, but he locates, tracks and finishes receptions regardless of the defensive back’s positioning or physicality downfield.
–Josh Huff out of Oregon also caught the football well today, but made a good impression with his hand usage to create separation versus grabby defenders in off-man coverage. His short gait isn’t ideal, as it takes him more than three steps per 5 yards (measuring stick for outside receivers); however, his ball skills, refined hand use and clean plant footwork allow him to win in the short to intermediate route tree.
-Converting from quarterback to receiver this week, Kain Colter of Northwestern looked like he belonged on the field. He showcased natural ball skills, plus focus at contested catch points and the ability to redirect for off target catches. His footwork is still developing but he doesn’t drift upfield at the top of the route and snaps his head around to present an immediate target.
-Small schooler Jeff Janis won a fair amount of individual battles, having the physical frame and footwork off the line to work through press coverage. He doesn’t create a ton of separation and isn’t a consistent hands-catcher, but he reacts well to contact downfield and competes very well as a blocker. Need to see him clean up a few drops tomorrow.
–Zach Martin of Notre Dame continued to be the best of the bunch of the offensive linemen. With great feet on the move and working downfield, along with transitioning to his second block, Martin showed the athleticism to fit at guard or tackle in multiple spots. Holding up well at the point of attack, including against powerful rushers James Gayle and Ra’Shede Hagemen consistently, Martin has shown the ability to play offensive tackle, which may be his best NFL position.
-The opposite of Martin, Cyril Richardson of Baylor struggled mightily and now opens the door for heavy question marks about his NFL fit. Consistently working to recover laterally, Richardson has been easily driven off balance by quick rushers, and then struggles to adjust his feet and gets driven back far too easily for a lineman his size. He’s likely struggled his way out of the Top 40 picks this week already.
–Seantrel Henderson is simply too under developed to maximize all of his athleticism. He possesses tremendous power in his hands, and moves laterally as well as many of the tight ends here. But he plays too high after his initial placement, and can win against power rushers despite his poor positioning at times. But he was beat to the edge repeatedly due to his high stance, especially by Stanford’s Trent Murphy.
-Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort had a very solid day, getting work at both tackle spots. He doesn’t win every time, but he’s a plus pivot blocker in the run game, exchanging his feet as he drives the outside shoulder of his defender, along with winning at the point of attack as a run blocker. He may not have the elite upside or plus kick slide to be a high pick, but Mewhort looks the part of an eventual starting offensive tackle.
-Of the interior linemen, Weston Richburg gets the slight edge over Tyler Larsen based off practice today. Both had their moments and their disappointments on Day Two. Richburg has plus interior strength and can hold up one-on-one against power rushers, but needs to maintain that hand position through his block, and can be beat by counter rushers inside. Larsen needs to win initially with hand placement and quickness, or else he struggles to keep leverage against both rushing linebackers and interior linemen.
-Finally, Michael Schofield of Michigan and Brandon Linder of Miami struggled all day. Schofield was aptly dubbed “Michael HOLD-field” by Ryan Allesio (@JinxFootball on twitter), and the description fits what he does consistently to not get beat. Linder has the size and strength in his upper half, but he plays on his heels too much, worried about the counter rush. He was blown up by an initial push by Minnesota’s Hagemen.
-The best defensive lineman of the day was Stanford’s Trent Murphy. He had success consistently off the edge, playing with plus speed/bend around the edge, better than expected on film. He also was very active in exchanging his hands, disengaging at a high level against Seantrel Henderson and Jack Mewhort consistently. Some project him as a stand up, 3-4 outside linebacker, but Murphy may be best as a versatile defensive end in a 4-3 defense.
–Ra’Shede Hagemen is a prospect that’s easy to like, but tough to really fall in love with. He put four linemen on their ass today, including an initial push that forced Brandon Linder down, along with driving a double team block by Tyler Larsen and Michael Schofield that put all three down and would have collapsed a hole perfectly had it been team drills. However, he doesn’t slide and adjust laterally well enough for a rusher at his length, and gets completely controlled by lineman that can get underneath him initially. He’s a high upside, Top 20 talent that hasn’t developed enough to be a consistent threat in the NFL yet.
-Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald was the big winner of Monday, and he was certainly solid on day two. The most impressive takeaway today was Donald’s ability at the point of attack against double teams, winning with lower balance and hand strength. His hand exchange is so quick laterally, and he consistently wins with his counter rush move if he can’t simply drive underneath after his first step.
-After those three, I though James Gayle flashed his elite strength, but needs to control better initially. Clemson’s Brandon Thomas uses his length very well, extending with strength and plus power to protect the edge despite his 6’4 height. I expected a lot more out of Kareem Martin, but he’s done little to separate from this group. And finally, DaQuan Jones played with low, powerful extension in two gap drills, but didn’t impress as a pass rusher throughout practice.
–Chris Borland is really taking advantage of the week with another strong performance. He has a real feel for the game and minimizes his size limitations by using leverage and short area explosiveness to his advantage and disengaging quickly from blockers. Scouts have also been impressed with his pursuit effort as he’s been flying to the football all week.
-The lone “true” inside linebacker on the North, UCLA’s Jordan Zumwalt is taking advantage of his reps by showing fluidity in coverage and read and react ability versus the run to make tackles near or at the line of scrimmage. He gets into some trouble shedding if blockers absorb his initial pop as he isn’t the thickest or strongest but he’s a fighter. As expected, he’s the most fiery North player on the field and a vocal leader who teammates seem to respond to.
-Undersized safety Jimmie Ward had an entourage of fans in one corner of the Ladd-Peebles Stadium today, and he rewarded them with controlled footwork, quick diagnosis of plays and physicality during one-on-one drills. Ward experience at cornerback and safety at Northern Illinois was on display today, as he understands how to read and react properly in slot coverage or traditional single high safety alignments. Because of his ability to sink through his backpedal, Ward is able to efficiently transition to run fits or coverage drops.
-Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon is the arguably the top athlete here in Mobile regarding explosiveness and closing speed, but he continues to lack the anticipation or route progression to win consistently in man coverage. Dixon relies heavily on his makeup speed when asked to play off man coverage, and he tends to catch the opposing receiver’s route. As a single high safety, I actually liked Dixon’s play during team drills, as he didn’t overreact or bite to playfakes and protected the middle third on multiple occasions. Footwork and technique through his backpedal are areas that need improvement moving forward.
-Nebraska corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste had a pretty non descript day, but displayed technical inefficiencies with early hip transition and high pad level through his back pedal. He’s clearly most comfortable playing on the line of scrimmage or in cover two zone. In off man coverage, SJB opened the gate early, declared his positioning right away and comeback patterns gave him trouble as a result.
-Of all the defensive backs, I felt Washington safety Deone Bucannon had the best press technique and jam skills. He’s a well-built, firm handed safety that can man up against slots but looked at home when checking his man at the line of scrimmage. Bucannon stays squared and low in his stance while delivering a strike, latches onto the hip with consistency and directs the route with well-timed hand checks. He wasn’t overly confident in his single high safety reads and looks more like a strong safety type, but we have to remember that this is a new defensive scheme for these prospects.
-Lastly, Shrine game call up Nevin Lawson progressed well with the coaching received during man coverage drills. He’s still grabby and prone to holding receivers at the top of the route, but he anticipated and drove on multiple routes for pass breakups throughout the morning. He wins with physicality and establishes positioning early in off man coverage, displaying a high level of confidence in his ability to recover vertically. Lawson also competed and performed as a gunner on punt returns, utilizing his strong hands and physicality to secure his assignment downfield.