North Team Practice
Today started the normal practice sessions, both of which will be held at Ladd-Peebles Stadium here in Mobile. It was a packed house (though not nearly as packed as yesterday’s South practice) and there was plenty of action to watch. I spotted several head coaches at the practice including Broncos HC Josh McDaniels, 49ers HC Mike Singletary, Falcons HC Mike Smith and Steelers HC Mike Tomlin. Also attending was former Redskins HC Jim Zorn, who I saw chatting it up with a Seahawks staff member. I also spotted Bengals DC Mike Zimmer as well as Bears OL coach Mike Tice.
I watched a lot of the defensive line for the North team today, which has a lot of talent. Of course, I wasn’t the only one there watching the defensive linemen. Scouts from the Jaguars, Redskins, Seahawks, Giants, Rams and Ravens were all watching intently. Lions assistant defensive line coach Kris Kocurek was keeping the d-line players fired up and running the practice with a lot of intensity. Michigan DE/OLB Brandon Graham really stood out here. He has a very quick first step and gets to the backfield quickly. Purdue DT Mike Neal also stood out to me. He might see his stock really rise this week after a strong performance at the East-West Shrine game and a strong performance here. Neal stays nice and compact when he moves, and he can be a bit of a wrecking ball in the trenches.
When watching the North linebackers, the first thing that stands out is Sean Weatherspoon. This guy is a leader. Sean is constantly getting the other LBs fired up and keeping everyone on task. He also likes to talk some trash on the field, but backs it up. Spoon flowed to the ball well in team drills, showing an ability to wade through the garbage and get to the ball carrier. He seems to quickly diagnose running plays and does a more than adequate job in coverage.
I wasn’t impressed by the quarterbacks out there today. Dan LeFevour really has a weak arm, putting no zip on his passes. He’s not “Graham Harrell” bad, but it’s not good. Pike might have been the most impressive of the North group and he completed a nice deep pass to Mardy Gilyard.
Ed Dickson, the TE from Oregon, really stood out to me in team drills. He’s an outstanding receiver and goes up to get the football in traffic. If he can continue to work on his blocking abilities, he’s going to climb draft boards.
Wake Forest CB Brandon Ghee had an up and down day, but made one particularly solid play. On a deep pass thrown by Sean Canfield, Ghee stayed with the receiver in his route, turned and found the ball at the right time, and almost pulled in an amazing one handed interception. Ghee has the fundamentals down but I’d like to see him improve in the press coverage area.
Wide receivers Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati and Danario Alexander of Missouri were really bringing their A-game today. Both were diving for passes and going the extra mile to impress the scouts. They’re practically polar opposites as far as receiver types, but are showing their skill sets well. Both are also showing the willingness to be a downfield blocker for the run game.
LeGarrette Blount, RB from Oregon really impressed me today. He seems a bit quicker than in Oregon’s bowl game and ran with solid power. Blount was hitting the hole hard and certainly doesn’t shy away from contact. On one occasions, Blount burst through the line, heading straight for Ohio State DB Kurt Coleman. Coleman attempted to tackle him head on and basically bounced off of Blount.
Speaking of running backs, I am very impressed with Wayne State running back Joique Bell. Bell showed some versatility, catching the ball out of the backfield and running both between and outside the tackles. On one play, Bell got the hand off, made one cut and hit the hole, taking it the distance for a touchdown.
TCU LB Daryl Washington looks to be solid in pass coverage as he was able to stay with the athletic TE Ed Dickson on numerous occasions, and had the ball skills to break up some passes.
One of the most exciting events to watch for me is what most refer to as “The Pit,” where pass rushers match up against offensive lineman. Today was impressive. The North defensive line is clearly more talented than their offensive line and the defense was grabbing the attention of scouts. Michigan’s Brandon Graham put a sick spin move on Utah’s Zane Beadles, leaving him blocking nothing but air. The move actually made scouts go “oooohhh!!!” Cal DL Tyson Alualu engaged the massive Mike Iupati, and threw him to the ground like a rag doll. Ipuati didn’t have a good day, in my opinion. He was beaten by several players, including Graham, Alualu and Carrington. Alex Carrington of Arkansas State planted Iupati on his rear in the pit, also making the scouts respond.
After a very impressive practice, I observed the following players talking to these NFL Teams:
Browns: Jared Odrick, Chris Cook, Vladimir Ducasse, AJ Edds, Zane Beadles
49ers: Jared Odrick
Eagles: Jared Odrick, Justin Cole, LeGarrette Blount
Vikings: Mike Hoomanawanui
Chiefs: Mardy Gilyard
Bengals: Mardy Gilyard (WR Coach Mike Sheppard)
Patriots: Sean Weatherspoon
Panthers: Garrett Graham
Chargers: Garrett Graham, Tyson Alualu
Redskins: Koa Misi, Danario Alexander
Titans: Kyle Wilson
Saints: Terrell Skinner
Ravens: Brandon Graham (Vince Newsome)
Funny story about Graham. Yesterday, Graham told me that his favorite player is Ray Lewis and talked about how amazing it would be to play on the Ravens defense. When Graham met with Vince Newsome of the Ravens, Graham seemed very excited saying, “Man, thank you! I’ve been WAITING on the Ravens!”
After talking with a few players, I have interviews lined up with Mardy Gilyard, Mike Hoomanawanui, Joique Bell, Ed Dickson and Kyle Wilson.
South Team Practice
Now on to my South practice report. As usual, several NFL head coaches were in attendance. I spotted Steelers HC Mike Tomlin, 49ers HC Mike Singletary, Bucs HC Raheem Moris, Ravens HC John Harbaugh, Falcons HC Mike Smith, and Texans HC Gary Kubiak. Along with Harbaugh was basically the entire front office for the Ravens; GM Ozzie Newsome, Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta, OC Cam Cameron and DC Greg Mattison. The Ravens have always relied heavily on the Senior Bowl in drafting their players and they had their eyes on one in particular; Riley Cooper, Florida WR.
Cooper had a pretty solid day and is really starting to generate some buzz. While he dropped a couple passes during practice, he really appears to be the complete package. Cooper runs smooth routes and gets in and out of his breaks quickly. He might have had the catch of the day, catching an over the shoulder deep pass from Tim Tebow with one hand while tip-toeing on the sideline. That made the Ravens staff take notice. Cooper is certainly helping his cause here and told reporters after practice that he is officially giving up baseball.
The other player of the day had to be Ole Miss RB/WR Dexter McCluster. This kid can flat out play. Dexter lined up at both WR and RB throughout practice and shined at both spots. McCluster made the other catch of the day, a long pass from Tebow that was a bit overthrown, but Dexter dove and caught the ball. On several occasions, I witnessed McCluster completely leave defenders behind while running routes. He basically schooled Perrish Cox, Javier Arenas and Jerome Murphy on different occasions. McCluster told me last night that his ideal position to play would be slot receiver, but he just wants the ball in his hands. He’s proving that size doesn’t matter as much as some think. Some people can just play.
The other receivers for the South team looked solid at times as well. Joe Webb, a former QB that is playing WR for the first time, certainly has some potential. He caught some nice passes but is clearly raw as a receiver. Shay Hodge of Ole Miss looks fairly solid overall, catching most passes that came his way in drills.
John Jerry, the offensive lineman out of Ole Miss had a tremendous day. He just kept beating pass rushers, constantly pushing them to the ground. He clearly showed that he has the strength to handle his own in the trenches and is catching the eyes of scouts.
Terrence Cody is also a forced to be reckoned with. It’s almost impossible for a single blocker to move Cody out of the hole and sometimes double teams don’t even work. He’s an ideal NT in the NFL and will demand double teams on any running play. While he’s clearly out of shape, he has the talent to be dominate in the NFL if he can develop a stronger work ethic.
Geno Atkins from Georgia looked very quick in the pit today. He was shooting the gap in double team drills and getting a nice arm rip in one on one blocks. Atkins has been hustling all week so far and is starting to get some attention in a talented group of defensive linemen.
Looking toward the defensive backs, Javier Arenas and Nate Allen both stuck out to me in the one on one drills. Arenas made good plays on the ball while staying tight in coverage. He might be small, but he knows how to get his hands in there and break up the pass. Even though Allen is a safety, he still covered well in the man on man drills. He has the speed and athleticism to stay with receivers and decent ball skills as well.
Eric Norwood impressed me again. He is a physical player that seems to really enjoy contact. Norwood is a hard hitter and is showing good play recognition skills. Look out for Norwood the rest of the week. I think his stock is rising.
Well, I guess I have to talk about what is being referred to as “The Tebow Show.” Tim actually made some improvements today. Though it was reported that he has strep throat and is on IVs, he didn’t play as poorly as he did on Monday. Tebow had less trouble with the snap from under center and had some nice deep passes. However, he looked pretty awkward all day. During early passing drills, I think Tebow must have been so focused on his mechanics that he slowed down his delivery even more and it just looked odd. His tempo picked up during team drills but maybe it was just the sickness holding him back. Either way, he still hasn’t shown any improvement on his mechanics and is having serious trouble putting zip on his sideline passes. That could really hurt him when he works out for NFL teams. He’s not passing as well as other QBs that are here, so he’ll need to step it up a bit.
Speaking of the Tim Tebow show, I was lucky enough to interview Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard. One of the things we talked about what all the attention Tebow is getting. Gilyard told me that players are getting tired of all the attention towards Tebow and that he feels bad for the other players on the South team because they’re being overshadowed. I’ll have the transcript of this interview up soon.
After practice, I made my rounds trying to see what teams were talking to what players. I had the chance to line up interviews with South Carolina LB Eric Norwood and Florida WR Riley Cooper. They’ll be coming later this week. Here’s what I saw from the NFL teams:
Jaguars: Patrick Robinson
Vikings: Anthony Dixon
Patriots: Darryl Sharpton, Roddrick Muckelroy
Browns: Daryl Sharpton, Roddrick Muckelroy, Leigh Tiffin, Jeff Byers, Geno Atkins, Ben Tate, Jarrett Brown, Nate Allen
Saints: Anthony Dixon
Chargers: Eric Norwood, Cameron Sheffield, Perrish Cox
Chiefs: George Selvie, Jarrett Brown (also saw them having a sit down with Gilyard at hotel later)
Redskins: Perrish Cox
49ers: Perrish Cox
Rams: Matt Dodge, Eric Norwood, Dan Williams
Ravens: Matt Dodge, Eric Norwood
Titans: Jerome Murphy, Taylor Mays
Raiders: Daryl Sharpton, Eric Norwood
Cowboys: Ben tate
Eagles: Jeremy Williams, Nate Allen, Dan Williams, Jarrett Brown
Time to pick up Rob from the airport. Expect even more coverage tomorrow now that there will be two of us! North practice starts in the morning and I’ll be working on getting some of these interview transcripts done tonight.
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