In what was a very slow practice at the start and almost completely throughout, there wasn’t a whole lot to gain from a pad-less practice on Monday to start. However, during team drills, the passing game and the defense’s reaction to it lead to plenty of good notes to gather.
The winners today were WR John Brown, TE Jordan Najvar, OC Gabe Ikard, OG Dakota Dozier, OLB Devon Kennard, and CB Shaquille Richardson.
-It unfortunately wasn’t easy to get a feel for the quarterbacks on day one, especially with a majority of the practice devoted to “non-evaluatable” things. But, from the little that was gatherable from the quarterbacks, Keith Wenning was the clear best passer. His footwork (which is easily my favorite part about his game) was as calm and NFL ready as I expected, and his throws down field had adequate arm strength. He’s clearly the best of the bunch after day one (as expected).
-Tommy Rees had a handful of solid mid-field throws, and Keith Price seemed indecisive as he went through reads down field. In his defense, the offensive route combinations weren’t easy for day one quarterbacks with new receivers.
-I got nothing of note on the running backs, other than Tim Flanders and Brennan Clay cleanly catching multiple passes from the backfield. For Clay, this was expected. Flanders showed this ability, but if he can impress as a swing pass catcher this week, it complements to his “in the box, explosive upfield burst” running style well.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
-Easily the most “impressive” receiver today (doesn’t mean best overall) was Pittsburgh State’s John Brown. I hadn’t watched any of him coming in, but NFL Draft Diamond’s Damond Talbot (who used to be with Optimum Scouting and aided the Shrine Game this year) said many scouts thought highly of him. He didn’t wow at the catch point (yet), but his routes were crisp down the field, getting natural separation and proving comfortable and quick-twitch against the FBS defensive backs.
-Bernard Reedy of Toledo (who actually went to high school in the area down here) and Chandler Jones of San Jose State also showed crisp routes on the edge. Reedy was better in the shorter route drills, turning smoothly and snapping his head around well. Jones adjust his feet well in vertical double moves and sat well in zone. I’d expect both to play even better as they more reps with the quarterbacks as the week goes on.
-Maybe the most impressive player on day one was late call-up Jordan Najvar from Baylor. The smooth pass catcher had a handful of nice grabs, mostly working the corner route against this Cover 2/Cover 3 defense. He's found a niche in that role based on day one, so look for the quarterbacks to keep looking his way.
-I didn’t get much of a look at the lineman today because they were pad-less. However, two did stand out from the limited contact drills they were allowed to have. Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma showcased his quickness initially and ability to stay low, turn, and pivot to open holes consistently on the interior. He’s the best offensive lineman here, and so far he’s showing it. Also, Furman’s Dakota Dozier made a nice reach block today, something from the guard position he hasn’t been able to show yet. His transition there will be key to see if teams feel he can start early in his career at the new position.
-Similar to the offensive lineman there wasn’t much to gather today. Look for far more notes tomorrow when the “Pit” drill starts up.
-Linebackers got to show their ability in coverage on day one in the pad-less practice, and the one guy who was surprisingly solid was USC’s Devon Kennard. I had said in my preview that it wouldn’t shock me if the 3-4 outside linebacker was solid in coverage because of his smoothness as an athlete, and he didn’t disappoint. He transitioned to his zone drops well, stayed physical with seam tight ends, and didn’t lose his balance. If he can impress there this week, he could be a SAM linebacker option for 4-3 teams.
-Rumors are that Michigan State’s Max Bullough was weighed in at 265 today. That’s not good news for the inside linebacker. If he’s above 255, with his limited athleticism, he’s likely restricted to a 3-4 only set. I still think he’s a slightly less athletic version of Manti Te’o, which isn’t a bad thing in the 3rd-4th round.
-Hopefully one-on-one’s tomorrow show more for the defensive backs here, but overall, a handful stood out. Marcus Williams of North Dakota State is a small schooler myself and Matt Elder (formerly of BuffaloBillsDraft.com) have had our eye on since he was a sophomore, but his senior year was a bit up and down. However, he got the chance to play in off coverage, and his hip fluidity, balance downfield, and ability to gain speed and run with receivers was impressive in multiple deep coverage opportunities today. He certainly has the talent level to develop as an off-coverage cornerback, potentially an outside guy in nickel/dime sets.
-Texas’s Carrington Byndom and Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson both did a good job today protecting vertically today, both in Cover 3 and in man situations. Byndom was surprisingly willing to be physical (though it was against smaller receivers than he faced in the Big 12), and Richardson turned and ran downfield smoothly and with good position on multiple occasions.
-One late arrival I hadn’t checked out was Penn State’s Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, but he made a handful of nice plays today. He closed in coverage well, especially protecting the seam tight end on two separate plays. He was easily the most impressive Penn State player today.