Over the next few weeks, Aaron Aloysius will post reports on how the league’s rookies looked in pre-season action. In his latest article, he details how the rookies looked in Thursday night’s matchup between the Panthers and Ravens.
Carolina’s 2010 draft class ultimately will be judged based on the success or failure of quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Fortunately, the former Golden Domer’s first game in a Panthers uniform was a fairly positive one.
Clausen displayed good arm strength and accuracy while working the middle of the field, connecting on two long completions. On a few plays, Clausen held the ball instead of throwing it away, but he made up for it by using his above average mobility to extend plays, gaining yardage on the ground and eluding pressure.
The rookie QB did have his share of ugly plays. In addition to taking sacks, Clausen fumbled a snap from center and threw a pick when the receiver slipped on what likely would have been a closely contested throw. However, the game didn’t look too big for him, which will be important if he’s asked to sub in for Matt Moore sometime this year.
Unfortunately, the Panthers’ early round receivers didn’t have as positive a night. On 3rd round pick Brandon LaFell’s only target, the former LSU wideout failed to come down with what would have been a touchdown reception. Drops were a chronic issue for LaFell in college, so it wasn’t encouraging to see the issue recur in his first pre-season game.
The Panthers’ other 3rd round pick, Armanti Edwards, had an even rougher night. The college quarterback unsurprisingly looked like a novice at receiver, dropping the ball twice when he anticipated contact. In addition, Edwards wasn’t very impressive as a returner, only coming up with 28 yards on four punt returns. If the first pre-season game is any indication, Edwards could be facing an extended adjustment period, which would limit his effectiveness this season.
Of the team’s rookies on defense, sixth round defensive end Greg Hardy by far was the most impressive. The Ole Miss product once was projected as an early first round pick, only to slide because of concerns about his toughness, durability, and work ethic. But Hardy quickly proved that those injuries haven’t stripped him of his immense ability, notching two sacks and four tackles for loss.
Hardy displayed good strength and impressive quickness for a close to 280 pound defensive end. Though he did most of his damage against undrafted rookie offensive tackle Devin Tyler, Hardy was disruptive while working at both end spots. He also showed off his versatility by dropping into coverage.
Though Hardy still needs to prove himself against better competition, his performance will have Panthers fans hoping that the team stumbled upon a major steal. For a team that just lost Julius Peppers, the possibility of having another freakish defensive end wreaking havoc off the edge certainly has to be an exciting thought.
The Panthers also received a pass rush infusion from 4th round Eric Norwood. The hybrid pass rusher split his time between defensive end and linebacker, making his major contribution on a strip-sack of Marc Bulger. Though not as impressive as Hardy, Norwood could develop into a key reserve at both end and outside linebacker.
Baltimore’s 2010 draft class has drawn a lot of praise from the online draft community, including an A in our AFC North Draft Grades. Based on the initial play of some of their rookies, it’s easy to see why the Ravens received so much love.
In the team’s pre-season opener, the biggest rookie impact came from mammoth 2nd rounder Terrence “Mount” Cody. The nose tackle slid in the draft due to concerns about his conditioning and work effort, which appeared to be validated when Cody failed his training camp conditioning test.
However, the big man showed up to his first pre-season game in decent playing shape. In addition to clogging up the middle, Cody showed good effort pursuing plays. He even did some nice work as a pass rusher, nearly clobbering Jimmy Clausen.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Cody’s performance was that he didn’t become less effective late in the game. Unlike most early round picks, Cody played well into the fourth quarter, yet he didn’t seem to wear down. If the coaches were testing Cody’s conditioning, the big man likely received a solid grade.
The Ravens traded away a cluster of draft picks in order to acquire Anquan Boldin, but the team may have found another quality receiving target in 3rd round tight end Ed Dickson. Dickson was much more impressive than his meager stat line would indicate (2 rec., 26 yards). And from the looks of it, the Oregon alum could be in line for a significant role.
The first team offense ran a lot of 2 TE sets, which included Dickson. Though an underwhelming blocker, Dickson quickly got off the line and into his routes. With teams expected to devote a lot of attention to Anquan Boldin, Dickson could wreak havoc over the middle, with his speed allowing him to be more of a YAC threat than Todd Heap or fellow rookie Dennis Pitta.
While working with the second team, Dickson went up and made an impressive chain-moving grab that sparked a long drive. He also proved his versatility by lining up outside at wide receiver, where he nearly burned a cornerback deep.
Consistency was an issue for Dickson in college, so he’ll need to stay focused to earn a major role in Baltimore’s offense. On one play late in the first half, miscommunication between him and Marc Bulger led to a lost play. But for the most part, the talented tight end presented himself very well in his first in-game audition.
The team also got a pleasant surprise in undrafted cornerback Prince Miller. Early in the game, Miller did an tremendous job jumping a route and nearly came away with an interception. In addition, Miller displayed great speed and shiftiness as a returner, returning a punt for a 57 yards. Miller’s dynamic special teams work and potential as a corner could be enough to earn him a roster spot. If that happens, the former Georgia Bulldog will be another solid member of what should be a very good draft class.