Chris Owusu WR Stanford
Throughout his career at Stanford, Owusu has had a tough time bursting onto the nation radar. Most of those struggles have been a direct result of injury issues. However, when he can stay healthy, Owusu is one of the most explosive players that the Cardinal have had on their roster in quite some time. Whether he’s making catches or making sparks fly in the return game, Owusu finds ways to make an impact whenever the ball is in his hands. During Stanford’s first game against the San Jose State Spartans, Owusu made his presence felt both on offense and special teams. He led the Cardinal in receiving with 76 yards on seven receptions, averaging 10.9 yards per catch. Although opportunities for kick returns were scarce considering the fact that Stanford stomped the Spartans 57-3, Owusu managed to pick up 59 yards on his one kickoff return attempt. The biggest question mark hanging over Owusu’s head is whether or not he can stay healthy. If he can, he’ll make quarterback Andrew Luck forget about the fact that the Cardinal lost their top two wide receivers from last year.
Chris Gallippo LB USC
Once considered one of the best linebacker prospects in the nation, Gallippo has had his fair share of struggles during his time as a USC Trojan. After a rather disappointing junior season, Gallippo started off his senior year with a strong performance against Minnesota. Now, he has one more chance to prove that he isn’t the waste of potential that he some see him as at this point. Against the Gophers, he tallied six total tackles, including 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. He also had a defended pass and was an intricate part of the defense’s late-game stand. If he can continue to build on his performance in the opener and find a way to harness the potential that he’s possessed for quite some time, he might actually make enough of an impression on NFL scouts to earn a mid-round selection in 2012.
Gary Tinsley LB Minnesota
Although his overall performance wasn’t astonishing, Tinsley definitely had some standout plays during Minnesota’s loss to the Trojans. Whether he was aggressively filling holes against the run or doing his best to aid his fellow defenders against USC’s outstanding receiving corps, Tinsley was constantly flying all over the field. By the end of the game, he had racked up seven tackles, including one for a loss, and two defended passes. He led the team in tackles last season with 90 and is the leader of the Gophers’ defense. The biggest concern I have with Tinsley is his questionable character. Prior to the 2010 season, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated as well as fleeing police. To make matters worse, that wasn’t his first alcohol related incident during his time at Minnesota. After walking on in 2008, Tinsley slowly earned his way into the starting lineup and will have a chance to impress NFL coaches in 2011 if he can keep himself out of trouble.
Rhett Ellison TE USC
During the Trojans’ close call against the Gophers, quarterback Matt Barkley completed 34 of his 45 passes, 17 of which were caught by sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods. Only three of those remaining 17 receptions were by Ellison. Heading into this season, Ellison was considered one of the top tight end talents in the nation. Unfortunately, he blended into the crowd and only managed to pick up 22 yards on his three catches. The one positive that came out of that game is the fact that he was part of the offensive line that provided young running backs D.J. Morgan and Curtis McNeal with plenty of room to run (103 yards total). It’s still early in the season, but I expect more of an impact from such a talented player.
Case Keenum QB Houston
Keenum tested out his surgically repaired knee against the team that injured it early last yearand promptly performed a surgery of his own – carving up the Bruin defense for 310 yards and 2 touchdowns. He even tested the knee early on some first quarter scrambles, moving effortlessly and picking up a couple key first downs with his feet. He did a good job at taking what the UCLA defense gave him and didn’t try to force balls into coverage. At 6’2 210 lbs, Keenum doesn’t have the prototypical size NFL scouts look for, but he makes for an intriguing mid-round developmental pick. His arm strength is much better than I anticipated, and he displayed good velocity on his throws.
Jonathan Franklin RB UCLA
Franklin finished the day with 16 carries for 128 yards and 1 touchdown. I was really impressed with his short area burst and vision – his weaving 18 yard touchdown run was beautiful to watch. You can tell by watching him run that he really understands pursuit angles and how to make defenders miss in the open field. Unfortunately for the Bruins, however, they weren’t able to give him more touches due to playing from behind the entire game. A true junior, look for Franklin to shoot up draft boards. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Franklin end up the Pac-12 rushing champion.
Joseph Fauria TE UCLA
Fauria isn’t a starting tight end, but he appears to be an integral part of the UCLA passing offense this year. Another junior, Fauria led the Bruins in receiving with 6 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. He is listed at 6’8, 252 pounds and has the size and speed to be an absolute matchup nightmare – especially down the seam. He has soft hands and plucks passes out of the air with ease. However, I went out of my way to watch Fauria’s blocking, and he appears to be a major liability. He whiffed on a downblock that led to a fumble and turnover on a “fly” run, and was notably unphysical and disinterested in making contact with defenders. He must show more effort in this area if he wants to be a full time NFL tight end and not a situational pass catcher like he is for UCLA.
Tyron Carrier WR Houston
Carrier was probably the biggest beneficiary of UCLA’s passive scheme. With the Bruin defense concentrated on taking away the vertical passing game, Keenum used Carrier to pick the Bruin defense apart underneath. Carrier is tiny (5’8, 170 lbs), but exhibits good lateral quickness and knows how to get open. Carrier is also one of the NCAA’s best return specialists as well – which will likely be his role in the NFL.
Cory Harkey TE UCLA
Harkey has a history of drops and dropped the only pass thrown his way (albeit it was an errant throw where he displayed good body control in adjusting to it). He absolutely jumps off the screen as a blocker, though. UCLA essentially uses him as a third offensive tackle, and that may be his most natural position in the pros. He’s a devastating down-blocker – collapsing the edge and giving pulling guards a tighter path to the second level. He also displays light feet in pass protection and looks for secondary targets after completing his assignment. Could do a better job at finishing blocks, however. He’s currently listed at 6’5 270 lbs and looks to have the frame to add more weight, especially on his limbs. Truth be told, he’s arguably UCLA’s best lineman even though he’s listed as a tight end.
Datone Jones DE UCLA
Jones is a physically impressive specimen at 6’4, 270 lbs with a long wingspan. He failed to make an impact in this game, though. He exhibited a nice burst off the edge in early series, but Houston’s quick passing game largely negated the UCLA defensive line – despite being bigger and significantly more athletic. The defense was on the field for seemingly the entire first half, and Jones either got frustrated or tired, not giving much effort throughout the rest of the game.
Tony Dye S UCLA
Dye’s slide isn’t so much his fault – UCLA has moved him from SS to FS and with the UCLA coaching staff so scared of Houston going vertical, they played Dye 15-20 yards from the LOS on the majority of their snaps. Dye did a fairly good job on the few plays he was down in the box – he needs to learn to “sort through trash” better, but he’s a good wrap-up tackler. Unfortunately for him, this wasn’t the type of game or scheme for him to showcase his talent as a big-hitting safety.
Sheldon Price CB UCLA
Price had arguably the worst game of any Bruin. A big, lanky junior corner with long arms, Price has the type of body that screams “man-press” corner. I’ve noted that UCLA schemed to take away the deep pass, yet the Houston offense still picked on Price quite a bit. He didn’t look willing to come up and tackle underneath and got absolutely burned one of the few times Houston looked to go deep. While none of the burns went for touchdowns, they showed that he has some struggles changing direction and has some hip stiffness. Both times Houston went deep with fades early, he prevented the big play by grabbing the WR – one got called, the other one didn’t. The third time he got burned was on a post route, and he got completely turned around. Luckily, the deep post was overthrown. The Bruins played Price in man-press more often in the second half, and he performed better and was more active in making tackles underneath. He must learn to be more physical and re-route receivers (using his long arms to his advantage) instead of trying to mirror the receiver.