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Re: East-West Shrine Practice
Monday, January 18, 2010
First practice sets storylines
By Todd McShay
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The first practice as the teams prepared for Saturday's East-West Shrine Game (ESPN2, 3 p.m. ET) was held on Monday. The players were in shorts and helmets and while there was contact, the real hitting won't begin until Tuesday, when the players put the pads on. There were individual and 7-on-7 drills, as well as team sessions and special teams work.
Here are some of the highlights of Day 1:
As important as the East-West Shrine Game is, it's the preceding week of practices that can send an NFL prospect's stock soaring or plummeting. ESPN Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl will be in Orlando, Fla., blogging live from the practices and offering daily reports on who is doing well and who still has some work to do.
• West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown will not be participating in the Shrine Game after receiving a last-minute invitation to next week's Senior Bowl. His absence opened the door for Penn State's Daryll Clark, who got off to a rocky start. He missed the strike zone on a few routine throws and we were also concerned with his drops and ability to reset his feet when forced to go through his progressions.
• Fordham QB John Skelton and Northwestern QB Mike Kafka both had up-and-down days. Skelton was impressive from a physical standpoint and appears to have the strongest arm of the QBs here this week. Like Clark, though, Skelton had a few issues with his accuracy as a few of his throws sailed on him. Kafka, on the other hand, was by far the most accurate East quarterback on Monday and he put great touch on his passes. The concern with him is his drops. Kafka is trying to transition from playing in a shotgun-heavy attack to a pro-style system and his footwork appeared awkward at times.
• Miami RB Javarris James made one of the better runs of the day. He started to the right and drew the linebackers up by pressing the line of scrimmage before cutting back to the left. He also did a nice job of releasing out of the backfield, squaring up to the quarterback over the middle and snatching the ball out of the air.
O'Brien Schofield is moving from DE to LB and while he showed some promise, he's still very raw.
• Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield is expected to move from end to linebacker in the NFL and he started making the transition this week in practice. Quickness and straight-line speed do not appear to be an issue. He can close quickly in the short area and he ran with TE Andrew Quarless on one play.
On the other hand, Schofield stumbled once when asked to change directions during bag work and looked stiff in space during the team period. In fact, the East coaching staff lined him up on the inside at times. Additionally, he's clearly a raw linebacker. He is taking too shallow of an angle when asked to drop into the flat, he doesn't time his jumps well in coverage and is taking a split-second too long to locate the ball in run defense. It will be interesting to see how he progresses during the week.
• The 2010 draft class is loaded along the defensive front and the 85th annual East-West Shrine Game has benefited with an unusually strong group, especially at defensive end. The top three end prospects -- Greg Hardy (Ole Miss), Willie Young (NC State) and Lindsey Witten (Connecticut) all hail from the East roster.
Hardy is clearly the most naturally gifted of the bunch. He looks the part at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds with very good athleticism and functional strength. Unfortunately, Hardy comes with so much baggage (injuries, attitude and work ethic) and has so much room for improvement from a technique standpoint that he might not be among the top five players drafted from this year's Shrine game.
Young flashed his athleticism during team drills, using solid double moves to keep offensive tackles guessing. He is smooth and has a long frame, but Young needs to show more explosiveness during practice this week. If he's going to be a legitimate contributor in the NFL, he should dominate this level of competition.
Witten is the most fluid and athletic of the East defensive linemen. He's also the leanest of the group, though. Witten, who ranked ninth nationally with 11.5 sacks this season, should have a strong showing during one-on-one pass-rushing drills but it will be interesting to see how he holds up physically at the point of attack versus the run. We also want to see how he does as a pass-rusher. Is he able to use his long arms and quick hands to disengage or will he get overpowered?
• There are a few intriguing midround defensive tackles worth watching this week. Granted, the players were practicing in shells, but Purdue DT Mike Neal stood out with one of the quickest first steps of the group. Neal is a bit undersized by most teams' standards, but he will fit well as a three-technique in a Tampa 2 type scheme (Colts, Bears, etc.).
• Virginia DT Nate Collins also showed a quick first step and the ability to disrupt plays in the backfield. He turned in a monster senior season in 2009, which included 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. However, he's even smaller than Neal and will struggle to be more than a sub-package player at the next level.
• West Virginia WR Alric Arnett turned in a solid day's work. We were impressed with his quick release and burst off the line of scrimmage. He also showed he can catch balls thrown outside of his frame, but he is a bit tight in the hips and isn't as fluid getting in and out of breaks as we'd like.
• One of the most underrated receivers in attendance is Michigan State WR Blair White. While he isn't the fastest receiver on the field, he makes up for it with sudden route running. White also did a nice job of working back to the quarterback and catching the ball away from his frame.
• Clemson CB Chris Chancellor opened a few eyes on Monday. He appeared smooth in his backpedal and flashed the ability to break on routes. In addition, he displayed adequate ball-skills throughout the afternoon. Chancellor did a good job of sticking with Buffalo WR Naaman Roosevelt on a go route before turning, locating, and high pointing an underthrown ball for an interception during the 7-on-7 portion of practice. He also appeared comfortable and smooth fielding punts during the special teams period.
• While one Chancellor appeared at home in the secondary, another one did not. S Kam Chancellor has a high-cut build and struggles to change directions quickly. He was late breaking on the ball on several occasions when lining up in a center fielder-type role during the 7-on-7s. Chancellor may be better suited to add a few pounds to his 6-4, 230-pound frame and make the transition to outside linebacker.
• Pittsburgh TE Nate Byham isn't exploding out of his breaks, but he's making crisp cuts and getting his head snapped around in time to locate the ball. He's also extending his arms and snatching the ball out of the air instead of allowing it to get to his frame. It comes as no surprise as he shows all the necessary skills to develop into a productive short-to-intermediate receiver when you watch him on film.
• Keenan McCardell, a former WR who played in the NFL for 16 years, could be seen working with the West's receiving corps during the special teams period of Monday's practice. Washington drafted McCardell in the 12th round of the 1991 draft and he lasted that long because he didn't have elite size or speed. Still, he emerged as one of the best No. 2 receivers in the league thanks in large part to his route running. In other words, you would be hard pressed to find a better mentor/coach for West wide receiver prospects Seyi Ajirotutu (Fresno State), Verran Tucker (Cal), David Reed (Utah) and Emmanuel Sanders (SMU). They paid close attention as McCardell showed them how to get a clean release off the line of scrimmage and set up their breaks.
Of that group of receivers, Sanders created the biggest buzz. He is explosive off the line and tempos his routes well. He consistently separated from coverage during 7-on-7 and team periods. In addition, he displayed strong hands catching the ball away from his frame. Sanders is a bit undersized but he has the burst and ball skills to develop into an effective slot receiver.
• CBs Devin Ross (Arizona) and Brian Jackson (Oklahoma) both had good first days. Ross is well-built, smooth changing directions and closes quickly. His quickness showed up during 7-on-7 and team periods, where he did a nice job of anticipating routes and limiting separation. There is a lot to like about Jackson, too. He runs well for his size (6-2, 205 pounds) and does a nice job of playing the ball.
• BYU TE Dennis Pitta wasted little time in showing why he has the potential to quickly develop into a productive receiver at the NFL level. He used his hands to get a clean release off the line, showed above-average burst, caught the ball in stride and looked smooth turning upfield after the catch during the team period.
• Lonyae Miller's decision to attend the Senior Bowl next week created a roster spot for North Dakota State RB Pat Paschall. The FCS prospect didn't look like a small fish in a big pond. He ran downhill and showed great burst through the hole. Look for his draft stock to rise if he continues to run hard once the pads go on and shows teams he can contribute as a receiver.
• Kansas WR Kerry Meier looks every bit of his 220 pounds and is providing the West quarterbacks with a big strike zone. Meier's experience as a former quarterback was evident throughout the practice and he did a nice job of finding seams in zone looks in particular. He lacks elite speed and explosiveness, but he has the makings of an adequate possession receiver.
• BYU QB Max Hall headlines the crop of West quarterbacks and turned in a solid first day. He is accurate when he throws in rhythm and has an above-average sense of timing. It comes as no surprise that he hooked up with former teammate Pitta on a corner route during the team period. He did a nice job of anticipating Pitta's break and allowed him to catch the ball in stride. Hall appears to lack ideal overall arm strength, which brings up concerns about his ability to push the ball downfield.
• While Hall got off to a strong start, the same can't be said for Kansas QB Todd Reesing. There is a lot to like about Reesing's competitive attitude and ability to create outside of the pocket, but he did little to quiet concerns about his ability to be an effective pocket passer at the next level. First and foremost, Reesing isn't tall enough to scan the field from within the pocket and he struggled to see over the offensive line during the team period of practice. Similar to Hall, he lacks ideal arm strength and it too showed up during the team period.
• At 229 pounds, Oregon State's Keaton Kristick lacks prototypical size for an NFL outside linebacker. It will be interesting to see how well he holds his ground against the run when they put the pads on, but he did a nice job of setting the edge working against 260-pound TE Nathan Overbay during the team period on Monday. He delivered a strong punch and kept Overbay off his frame by extending his arms. Creating this separation also helped him locate the ball.
• Stanford OT Chris Marinelli is not a great athlete but he is technically sound and gets the most out of his physical tools. He takes very good angles as a run blocker and does a good job of setting his hands in pass protection. Marinelli could emerge as a pleasant surprise for a team that takes a chance on him in the later rounds.
Todd McShay is the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998. Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl contributed to this report.