Over the next few weeks, Aaron Aloysius will post reports on how the league’s rookies looked in pre-season action. He begins with the Hall of Fame Game, which included some marquee 2010 draft prospects.
With their 2010 draft class, the Bengals made sure the team would be better when the ball is in the air, adding multiple receiving targets and dynamic pass rushers. Tonight, their passing game flailed and their rookie targets failed to prove their worth, but the coaching staff has to be pleasantly surprised with the play of one of their new interior rushers.
1st round tight end Jermaine Gresham played most of the first half, yet he failed to register more than a few positive plays. The 6’5” Oklahoma product looked lean and awkward lining up with his hand in the dirt. He wasn’t very effective as an in-line blocker and didn’t get off the line with much giddyup.
Gresham looked much more comfortable lining up in the slot, but he didn’t look back in time to spot the ball on his only target. The uber-talented tight end should have a bright future, but he didn’t do much tonight to convince his doubters that his game translates well to the NFL.
3rd round pick Jordan Shipley did more than Gresham, but he too didn’t have an impressive night. Shipley struggled to beat press coverage, only bringing in the ball on two short completions that didn’t yield first downs. The former Longhorn did redeem himself with a 64 yard punt return late in the game, but the shifty receiver will need to do more to earn a top three spot in the Bengals’ now crowded receiving corps.
However, the Bengals have to be pleased with the performance of their 4th round pick, defensive tackle Geno Atkins. In the first half, Atkins subbed in as a situational pass rusher, and he was exceedingly impressive in that role. In addition to notching a sack and a QB hit, Atkins proved to be stout at the point of attack. When the Cowboys ran a draw play on 3rd down, Atkins held his own on a combo block, then whizzed past Sam Young for a TFL. He was effective as an every down player in the 2nd half, adding to his 3 TFL total and controlling interior offensive lineman.
Based on how he was used in the 1st half, Atkins appears to be set for a situational pass rush role this year. However, he displayed the potential to be an every down defender, which has to excite Bengals fans and the team’s coaching staff.
While Atkins played throughout the game, it was curious that 3rd round cornerback Brandon Ghee didn’t get on the field until the 2nd half. Starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph sat out the game, yet Ghee wasn’t able to get into the early game nickel defense. At this point, Ghee appears to be the #5 corner on the depth chart, behind backups Pacman Jones and Morgan Trent.
Though he could move up the depth chart over the next few weeks, Ghee’s most significant contribution this year likely will come on special teams, as it did tonight when Ghee delivered an illegal but unflagged hit on the Cowboy’s punt returner. And that may be a good thing for the extremely talented but inconsistent corner. If pressed into duty too soon, Ghee could face some serious struggles.
There wasn’t much to see when it came to the Cowboys’ rookies; their top three draft picks all sat out the pre-season opener. However, their 6th round picks had very active games, and their 7th round supplemental selection showed some decent potential.
Early in the game, 6th round corner Jamar Wall did a good job covering Chad Ochocinco, which drew praise from commentator Cris Collinsworth. However, a pattern quickly emerged that revealed Wall’s strengths and significant weaknesses.
Wall played well when he could jam the receiver at the line, but he struggled when playing off the receiver or when his technique failed him. He was beat deep by Bengals wideout Jerome Simpson; had the ball not been overthrown, Simpson likely would have gone for six. In the second half, Wall struggled mightily when trying to cover the 6’6” Matt Jones, giving up a series of sticks-moving receptions.
To make matters worse, Wall missed a tackle on Shipley’s long punt return. Despite his limitations, Wall could prove to be a valuable reserve defensive back, but he’ll need to be mistake-free on specials to make the Cowboys’ 53 man roster.
The Cowboys’ other 6th round pick, offensive tackle Sam Young, had a quieter but more consistent game. Young arguably looked better than he did for most of his mediocre senior season. The former Golden Domer showed some nastiness as a run blocker and mostly held his own in pass protection. He had a few negative plays — the Atkins TFL mentioned above, a QB pressure allowed when he lost his balance against a speed rusher — but Young looked like the kind of player who could earn a roster spot as a reserve offensive tackle.
The Cowboys’ 7th round supplemental draft pick, nose tackle Josh Brent, also showed some promise. Brent displayed the strength to take on double teams, as well as push the pocket as a pass rusher. Though the big man lacks great range, he showed some quickness running twists and moved fairly well laterally.
Brent’s motor didn’t appear to be an especially strong; he appeared to get slower and weaker at the point the longer he remained on the field. However, the squatty d-lineman showed signs of being a quality developmental nose tackle prospect, perhaps spending a year on the practice squad before becoming Jay Ratliff’s backup.