2014 Shrine Game: Tuesday West Practice Notes

Justin EllisThe East practice was all-but useless today, as the rain washed out any hopes of gather notes as the team practiced indoors in a walk-through type setting. Luckily the rain cleared up and there was the chance to evaluate the West practice. The field wasn’t in great shape, but it was certainly good enough to evaluate the offensive linemen.

The biggest “winners” today were WR John Brown, OG Austin Wentworth, DT Justin Ellis, DE Chidera Uzo-Direbe, and CB Shaquille Richardson.


Quarterbacks
-Easily the best quarterback today, as expected, was Ball State’s Keith Wenning. He was the only quarterback to consistently cut the wind well, thanks to having the most consistently tight spun ball. He has the definition of “adequate” velocity, just enough to have success on deep corner routes at an NFL level. Still, he’s not the type of quarterback talent that goes in the top four rounds. But he may have an NFL future as a practice squad/developmental backup type.

-Keith Price of Washington really struggled today, and he hasn’t done much to answer questions about his NFL future. His release is still a bit elongated and slow, and he really struggled today vertically. He doesn’t have the velocity to throw on a line past 30 yards, so he relies on touch and velocity control down the field, always tough for a quarterback with his limited arm talent.
 

Running Backs
-Unfortunately nothing of note on the running backs today from what I saw, outside of the fact that Tim Flanders of Sam Houston State may have the best body type of any running back here. Thick in his lower half, allows for burst upfield, and not thin anywhere across his body.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
-Best receiver once again today was Pittsburgh State’s John Brown. While receivers weren’t my focus today, he repeated displayed route precision in deeper breaking routes, which is what he’s being used mostly as during team and 7v7 reps. Cutting smoothly yet on a tight line, Brown has obvious focus and experience on his route development, and is able to get natural and non-quickness related separation. If it wasn’t for small hands (8.5 inches), he may be worth talking about in the mid rounds.

-San Jose State’s Chandler Jones had his moments the past two days, but he struggles with physicality at the catch point too much for me to feel he’s a consistent slot, 3rd option. Multiple times today he was out-matched physically that knocked him off stride. He’s a slot receiver, so physicality doesn’t HAVE to be a strong point, but it certainly limits him, and team’s may feel he’s an ideal 4th receiver (6th-7th round) and not a complete slot receiver (4th-5th rounder).

-Valdosta State’s Sentavious Jones certainly looks the part, and showed off, again, better than you’d think route development. I had heard from ESPN’s Steve Muench that while Jones was solid catching away from his frame early in practice, the ball started coming more and more into his chest. Hands catching and finishing through the catch are the two biggest concerns on his scouting report.

-I didn’t have anything notable on Quincy Enunwa of Nebraska on the field, but man does he look the part. Built well throughout his frame, especially in his lower half. He could work out very well in Indy based on the type of muscle he has across his body.

Offensive Linemen
-The linemen finally got to go at it today, and more than a few “surprises” emerged. Two college tackles that likely will be playing guard in the NFL, Furman’s Dakota Dozier and Fresno State’s Austin Wentworth both impressed today. Dozier held his ground very well against the two nose tackles on the West roster, and exchanged his hands well with a strong first punch and a quick hand rip on multiple 1v1s. Wentworth also was one of the few linemen to control Justin Ellis all practice, utilizing strong hands initially and positioning them with success when defensive linemen exposed their chest plate.

-While those two had success, most offensive linemen really struggled today. Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma is an ideal fit for a zone blocking scheme, as his quickness initially and footwork are near perfect at times. However, it was clear that he’ll always need help on nose tackles at the NFL level. Justin Ellis really made him look bad on four plays today that I saw, and it’s clear that Ikard doesn’t have the strength initially or the thick lower half to hold up against powerful rushers in isolation. This likely limits him to a 3rd day pick, barring a zone blocking team is in desperate need of a “play now” center.

-Charles Leno of Boise State also struggled today at tackle, which seemed likely based on his college play and sub-6’4 measurement on Monday. While he may have the length NFL teams desire at the position, but certainly can’t hold up against power rushers. And when he tries to protect himself against a bull rush, he over-commits on his interior base and gets beat on the edge. He needs to slide inside to have success, and I think he can if he doesn’t have to worry about protecting the entire edge.

-Both Ryan Groy of Wisconsin and Kevin Graf of USC both had their moments today. Neither bend all that well, but they were starters at programs known for producing offensive line talent, and it’s clear they can get the job done against mediocre rushers. However, I can’t see them holding up all that well at the NFL level.

Defensive Linemen
-No doubt in my eyes that the biggest winner of the day was Louisiana Tech’s Justin Ellis. At nearly 360 pounds, Ellis played with remarkable power in one-on-ones, and beat nearly every offensive lineman he faced. He played low initially a majority of his rushes, utilizing his remarkable power at the point of attack. He kept his balance in tight as a rusher, setting up counter moves (including a very nice, tight spin move on the inside). And he dominated the best interior player here in Gabe Ikard (who he does have almost 75 pounds on). He did, however, leave his chest exposed, which allowed for Austin Wentworth to utilize his strong hands and initial positioning to keep him at bay on one play. He’s certainly earned a heavy re-watch, and he may have shown enough for teams to consider him in the Top 100.

-Despite measuring in at under 6’0, Derrick Hopkins flashed a bit today with his ability to stay low and keep interior linemen off balance. Granted, he was taking advantage of not-in-unison offensive linemen in a zone blocking scheme, but Hopkins routinely was in the right place in his rushes in team work. The question is, for his lack of great height, can he win in double teams. That remains to be seen.

-Both Josh Mauro of Stanford and Cassius Marsh of UCLA fit the 3-4 defensive role, and both had their moments today. Mauro was great at Stanford in the role of setting up his pass rushers and holding gap integrity. He picked his spots today in team drills, and flashed his ability as an interior pass rusher with quick hands and a powerful first step from the interior. However, he struggled a bit on the edge as a rusher, showing that he’s probably best in a 5-tech or even a 3-tech role in the NFL. As for Marsh, he won a handful of times in 1v1s and team drills thanks to a quick first step and his ability to gain speed down the line, but he still gets too high at times and I don’t see him as a guy who can consistently eat up two blocks. He may be a situational guy only in a versatile defense in the NFL.

-Colorado’s Chidera Uzo-Diribe impressed me today as a pure speed rusher. He likely won’t have a role in the NFL as an every down rusher, but he showcased really impressive quickness initially and the counter-rush lateral ability to maybe be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He had the nicest rush combo of the day, winning with speed on the edge the first play, and then countering with a spin move inside the very next for two straight sacks.

-Larry Webster of Bloomsburg continues to prove his a project, as he struggled to disengage well enough and transition upfield from the defensive end spot. He still looks a bit too light, especially if he’s going to play defensive in a 4-3 defense. He’s also still proving to be very raw in his hand exchange work, both in drills and in team-work. In a league where projects are becoming more and more scarce with limited job security, Webster may not be draftable on many team’s boards. He does, however, have the athleticism and upside to be a future NFL starter, if a coaching staff can work with him long-term.

Linebackers
-I first and foremost wanted to get a look at Michigan State’s Max Bullough to check on the 265 pound weigh-in result. While he didn’t look “fat”, he certainly didn’t appear as cut as you’d like for a linebacker who already has range concerns. Certainly built thick throughout his lower half, he could conceivably stand to probably shed 5-10 pounds to start. He also seemed to lack the necessary bend and hip transition in coverage drills that was concerning on film. He’s beginning to look more and more like a 3-4 only, two-down linebacker.

-USC’s Devon Kennard impressed again playing the strong side 4-3 linebacker role, shuffling on the inside and filing on the interior well. He’s still ideally a 3-4 outside linebacker, but his play this week could put 4-3 teams, especially ones who run a lot of 4-3 “Over” defenses to raise him on their board.

-Also at linebacker, Prince Shembo of Notre Dame turned his hips in coverage and linebacker shuffle drills better than I expected for a guy his size. He wasn’t as stiff as I came in expecting. South Dakota’s Tyler Starr is probably the only linebacker here capable of playing a 4-3 WILL, and he showed balance, low transitions, fluidity in his hips for the position, and the footwork to remain explosive upfield. Finally, Colorado State’s Shaquil Barrett struggled at the weakside spot, clearly showing he can’t fill that role in coverage at the NFL level. He played primarily strong side in college, and produced there. Hopefully he gets work there in the coming days.

Defensive Backs
-The best cornerback that I saw today was Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson. After playing well vertically yesterday and keeping minimal space between he and his receiver, he got the chance to show physicality at the catch point and closing speed on the receiver. He showed both a handful of times today, and has emerged as the best cornerback on the West roster.

-Also at cornerback, Rashaad Reynolds of Oregon State and Bene Benwikere of San Jose State both showed the quick feet and the adjustments away from their body during drills and again during team work. Benwikere is still the better athlete, but both fit the role of a nickel cornerback at the next level.

-At safety, both Alden Darby of Arizona State and Daniel Sorensen of BYU impressed me. Both closed very well on inside routes in front of him, staying in position to cover their responsibilities and pickups in strong safety coverage. Sorensen did appear a little off balance as he transitioned in defensive back drills, something I’ll watch for again tomorrow, as it could be chalked up to a poor playing surface.

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