Because the North and South practiced at the same time, I couldn’t see both teams. The guys at www.NFLDraft101.com had Doug Lancy over there, and here is his report. Thanks to them.
The South team held its first practice today in Mobile, AL as rain threatened. The Buffalo Bills coaching staff ran the practice efficiently as players quickly moved from drill to drill. Players weren’t in full pads, so hitting was limited, but it was a great opportunity to watch skill positions and see players techniques. Here are today’s observations
1. The star of the day was Miami WR Leonard Hankerson who made many difficult catches with ease. He showed hard effort the whole practice and had very quick hands. He even had a nice outstretched one handed catch showing good hand size. Downfield, he was a willing blocker and played to the whistle every play. Other receivers from the south also had good days, although not the production of Hankerson, including Greg Salas of Hawaii and Jeremy Kerley of TCU and TE DJ Williams. Salas was solid, although not specatacular. He caught everything thrown at him, and made the cuts, although they weren’t sharp. He was good at using his body to shield the ball from the defender. Kerley made very sharp cuts and jumped to catch the ball at the highest point. He also had good feet and would settle into a spot quickly and the show a quick burst cutting away once he caught the ball. Kerley returned punts too, showing versatility and a willingness to be a playmaker. Williams was a pass catching beast showing good range and soaking up any ball that came near him. Edmund Gates of Abilene Christian and Courtney Smith of South Alabama looked a little out of place, likely still adjusting to the level of play here. Gates at times didn’t seem to show the effort needed and looked a little too relaxed againt man coverage, but was excellent at attacking zones and finding the space and settling down.
2. The passing game of Greg McElroy from Alabama looked to be on par with Christian Ponder of Florida State, a definite plus for McElroy, but a negative on Ponder. Both made crisp throws of short and intermediate lengths and accuracy was good. McElroy showed the ability to read the whole field quickly, albeit with no pressure. He looked very natural in handing the ball off to running backs and moved nicely in the pocket keeping his feet under him. His stance was a little wide though which could cause issues. Ponder excelled at keeping his feet in position while moving in the pocket and threw a great deep ball down the seam between defenders. But neither really shined, although they are both far ahead Andy Dalton of TCU. Dalton’s passes lacked the zip of McElroy and Ponder and he struggled making reads across the field. His footwork will get better, but right now he struggled when having to move, both in setting his feet and making good throws on the move.
3. The defensive backs had a great opportunity to shine and have someone move ahead of the pack. However, it was more about those that fell from the pack. Shareece Wright of USC struggled in the man coverage. He didn’t flip his hips well and jammed a receiver late when the receiver was about to beat him. He wasn’t quick to the ball and didn’t seem to follow the ball. You could see Ahmad Black of Florida was struggling with the way the coaches were asking him to play, and he’ll have to learn quick to make a good impression. Marcus Gilchrist of Miami showed excellent drive to the ball, but needs to track the ball better in the air. DeMarcus Van Dyke of Miami has good reach and is aggressive, but was also burned going for a ball. Johnny Patrick may have had the best day and showed excellent ability to stay low during his back pedal and then to drive quickly when the ball is in the air.
4. The defense worked their rush skills by testing their swim, spin and swat techniques. Defensive end Sam Acho of Texas showed good speed getting around the edge and has a high motor willing to go again and again. He was definitely better with his hand in the ground and lacked the burst needed when standing up. Pernell McPhee of Mississippi State showed excellent technique, using his hands well to both swim and disengage from the blocker to get at the quarterback. Brooks Reed of Arizona showed the best spin move of the day, flashing past his man to quickly be at the quarterback. His bull rush was lacking, he’ll have to be a speed rusher at the NFL. Defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins, however, had a great bull rush and really drove with his feet. Chris Neild of West Virgina showed great improvement as the coaches worked with him. He’ll need to use better techniques to be a starter at the next level. Cedric Thornton of Southern Arkansas looked much better lined up inside than out. He looked a little light to be a dominant tackle, but doesn’t have the skills to be an end. Phil Taylor was garnering the most interest. The Broncos seem to be considering him for nose tackle, while the Saints were also paying close attention. He showed good hands with a passable swim move. His bull rush was very strong and he has the size and shape to become a force in the middle for years.
5. The lineman weren’t completely ignored, although their evaluation is more on their hand technique and burst then their hitting since they weren’t wearing full pads. Centers Jake Kirkpatrick (TCU) and Kristofer O’Dowd (USC) made good snaps but each struggled during blocking drills. Kirkpatrick showed a tendency to stand straight up instead of staying low and driving with his legs. O’Dowd was very quick off the snap but more held his blocks then drove with his legs. Guard Clint Boling of Georgia keeps good leverage and has the flexibility to handle both speed and strength. Offensive tackle Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State is very solid and strong but needs to stay lower and drive with his legs, however, he listened to the coaches and showed improvement. He needs to be a little faster off the snap, else he may begin to get false start penalties as he tries to predict the snap. OT James Carpenter of Alabama is a mauler and had the only pancake block of the practice along with repeatedly driving his defender backwards.