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Re: East-West Shrine Practice
Pads bring focus on individual battles during Shrine practice
Jan. 19, 2010
By Chad Reuter
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
ORLANDO -- Players donned pads at the East-West Shrine Game practices for the first time Tuesday, with scouts paying particular attention to one-on-one battles.
No matter the scheme, coaches need their players to win individual matchups.
It has been a few weeks since many of these players have been able to hit someone. By the end of the East practice, slight contact became big hits. Virginia Tech safety Kam Chancellor put an exclamation point on the morning session by lining up Tulane back Andre Anderson as he ran down the right sideline. Teammates greeted the hit with whoops and a few mid-air hip-bumps.
There was more coaching and drills Tuesday than in some practices, limiting the team scrimmage to the end of the day. The East coaching staff, for example, was working on getting the linebackers to be more patient against the run and preventing big cutback lanes. Coming from NFL coaching staffs, the message they've heard a hundred times before suddenly carries more weight.
The matchup between Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy and Indiana tackle Roger Saffold was worth the price of the flight to Orlando. Saffold controlled Hardy in most one-on-one drills, eating up a spin move, turning him and allowing him no space in which to work.
Other matchups in the trenches also piqued scouts' interest. Iowa tackle Kyle Calloway handled N.C. State's Willie Young in a similar fashion. Young's lean 6-5, 250-pound build makes him stand too tall, allowing Calloway to get leverage and anchor on the edge. Young was so anxious to get the edge on Calloway the second time around that he jumped offsides twice.
One end who got the best of his opponent was Connecticut's Lindsey Witten, who was too quick and too strong for Big East foe Kevin Haslam on the right side of the formation. Although Witten is of similar size to Young, and neither is likely to be a top 100 pick, Young plays stronger and quicker because of his quick-twitch movement and better lower-body flexibility.
The East's interior defensive linemen had better luck. Defensive tackles Nate Collins (Virginia) and Mike Neal (Purdue) displayed their strength and quick first step that intrigued scouts all season, beating Clemson's Thomas Austin and Ohio State's Jim Cordle on multiple occasions in drills. Cordle was clearly frustrated after he wound up on his back side on one play. Virginia Tech guard Sergio Render didn't display great feet, either, but handled Neal with a brute anchor, which got strong praise from the coaches.
None of the East quarterbacks, John Skelton (Fordham), Daryll Clark (Penn State) and Mike Kafka (Northwestern), had particularly strong days. Skelton clearly has the best size and arm strength, but failed to hit his target most times. It's difficult for quarterbacks and receivers to get on the same page early in the week, so even though Skelton couldn't connect with receivers downfield, the fact he could drive the ball deep while the Big Ten quarterbacks struggled to do so is still in his favor.
West Virginia receiver Alric Arnett's fluidity, quickness and hands stood out, especially when he lined up against Northwestern cornerback Sherrick McManis. Though the second-team All-Big Ten defender showed he likes to pop pads during wrap-up drills, his struggles staying with Arnett on square-ins and skinny posts was not encouraging.
Receiver Naaman Roosevelt had a solid year at Buffalo (70 receptions for 954 yards and eight touchdowns) even after quarterback Drew Willy left for the NFL, but he lacks the suddenness Arnett shows off the line or separation from his man. Roosevelt's routes have not been crisp and his hands only adequate this week.
Richard Dickson, a tight end from LSU working at fullback, once again proved he can catch the ball as well as anyone here. The problem is that once he gets it, he can't elude tacklers in the open field to make gains after the catch. With only marginal blocking skills, Dickson may have a tough time finding a way onto the field.
The West practice started with big hits, and the physical play didn't let up all day. Even teammates were fair game, as UCLA middle linebacker Reggie Carter put a big hit in the hole on fellow former Bruin Ryan Moya, a tight end/fullback prospect.
Another early rude greeting was administered by Oregon State linebacker Keaton Kristick, who pounded the helmet off stationary Utah receiver David Reed over the middle to get things rolling. Kristick is a lean 6-3, 226, but has good coverage skills and makes his presence felt when near the ball.
Arizona State's Dexter Davis continues to fail to impress as he attempts to transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. He couldn't stay with Eastern Washington tight end Nathan Overbay over the middle in one-on-one drills, even though Overbay is not exactly the quickest receiver here. BYU tight end Dennis Pitta also shook Davis off him at the line, easily cruising by him for a throw over the middle.
In an in-state battle, Colorado tight end Riar Geer extended high for a pass down the seam in the same drill against Colorado State safety Klint Kubiak. Geer also looked capable at fullback or moving tight end/H-back, where he'll play at the next level.
The West offensive line won battles of strength in the trenches, but couldn't handle the defensive line in one-on-one pass rush drills. Brandon Carter (Texas Tech) had too much power off the snap for Arizona's Earl Mitchell, and Iowa State guard/center Reggie Stephens anchored well against Mitchell during inside run drills. However, Mitchell and others exposed the heavy feet of Carter and Stephens when given the space. Carter also comes out of his three-point stance (which he didn't use much at Texas Tech) too low, lunging after linebackers and tackles and often losing his balance.
Another Colorado State Ram failing to impress was right tackle Cole Pemberton. He struggled against speed and power in team scrimmage and one-on-one drills, getting beat by defensive ends Jeff Fitzgerald (Kansas State) and Daniel Te'o Nesheim (Washington).
And while Fitzgerald was neutralized by sturdy Stanford right tackle Chris Marinelli on most plays, Te'o Nesheim got off a block from the Cardinal starter (who may be best inside at the next level) during team drills to get after a stretch play run to his side. The former Husky may not have great size (6-3, 250) or speed (4.82), but his strength, hands, hustle and intelligence are all well-known among scouts.
Hawaii center John Estes isn't a household name, lacks size and isn't outstanding in any one area. But the way he stood up and pushed back 6-1, 326-pound Stanford tackle Ekom Udofia and his ability to move his feet to help either guard on double-teams is exactly what teams like to see from a mid-to-late-round center prospect (think Green Bay Packers center Scott Wells).
SMU receiver Emmanuel Sanders is without question the quickest receiver here. He can elude defenders and accelerate quickly after the catch, although he will dance a bit too much at times instead of getting upfield. Though he's only 5-11, 182, Sanders showed himself a willing blocker against a stronger cornerback in Texas Tech's Jamar Wall, staying between Wall and the line all the way downfield. Wall did have one of the more impressive plays of the day later on, leaping high to break up a pass on an intermediate out route.
Sanders' routes weren't always crisp, as he squared off a comeback route which allowed UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner to jump the play and make the interception. Since receivers aren't typically running out-and-up routes in these drills, corners can squat on patterns, but Verner's five interceptions in 2009 showed he can regularly make plays like these when the ball is in front of him.
But all of the West cornerbacks have problems with recovery speed, which is why they're at the Shrine Game instead of next week's Senior Bowl. When Wall, Verner or Oklahoma's Brian Jackson stick to their receiver and don't fall for double moves, they can be tough to lose. But if they come off a receiver for a moment because of a nice route or misstep, they can't catch up to the play, therefore lacking what scouts call recovery speed. Jackson lost his footing when Verran Tucker from Cal ran an excellent square-in, which isn't surprising since his best moments as a Sooner (and in these practices) came when he used his size and strength to attack his man at the line of scrimmage. Jackson later showed Tucker what it means to be physical, as he knocked him to the ground when the receiver ran into him trying to get full depth on his out route. However, Jackson's secondary coach quickly pointed out that it would have been a pass interference penalty.
Even though all of these corners have issues on certain plays, they possess mid-round value depending on the scheme their future pro team runs. Teams like Green Bay, which relies on press corner play, will value the 6-foot, 203-pound Jackson more than the others. Zone teams will still like a physical corner with good hands and only adequate speed and/or size, like Verner or Wall, because they'll usually have safety help over the top.
That's why the phrase "one man's trash is another's treasure" could be changed to "one scout's free agent is often another's third- or fourth-round value" when speaking of how team draft boards compare come the end of April.