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Blount, Ford, Wilson among standouts in North's first practice
MOBILE, Ala. -- While the South team practice had the screaming girls and hoopla due to the presence of former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the North side practiced Monday in front of a sparse crowd of NFL observers and members of the media at the site of Saturday's game, Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
The quarterbacks were typically tight for a Monday practice kicking off an all-star event week as they adjusted to mostly unfamiliar receivers. Oregon State's Sean Canfield really struggled to throw the ball across the field, looking as though he needed to get his entire body into passes. He had some good zip on short throws over the middle and in the flat, but really didn't handle passes outside the hash.
Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour looked mobile on rollouts as expected, but made his receivers work on short throws and lacked any sort of spiral on tosses down or across the field. Cincinnati's Tony Pike threw the occasional deep out on the money, but sailed some passes high over his receivers' heads.
Pike's teammate, Mardy Gilyard, and Clemson's Jacoby Ford took advantage of the lack of accuracy by their quarterbacks to show scouts their ability to snatch the ball away from their bodies.
Ford in particular showed outstanding hands most of the day, dropping only a couple of passes in drills when he allowed the ball to get too far into his chest. When matched up against a corner, however, he created separation with good foot quickness in his routes and caught wildly inaccurate throws from all three quarterbacks. He stands only 5-feet-9 and 180 pounds, but he's a prototypical slot receiver with a lot of potential as a return man.
Missouri's Danario Alexander's 6-5, 221-pound frame was impressive in the morning weigh-in, but prevented him from performing well in a four-cone drill as he struggled to stop and cut around the cones in a fluid manner. His hands weren't much better, as he could not extend for the ball on good throws or adjust to poor passes. Alexander did use his big body to shield cornerback Devin McCourty from the ball over the middle, and got the Rutgers product to mug him on a stop-and-go route in one-on-one drills.
Alexander and Gilyard also took their time getting off the line of scrimmage, which wasn't a problem because the corners didn't play a lot of press on the first day. But both striders will have trouble getting separation at the next level.
Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount is looking to put his well-documented issues behind him this week. He measured 6-1, 245, and looked like the I-formation back everyone expected him to be. His straight-ahead running style was not necessarily a great fit in Eugene, although he was productive there. During practice Monday, it was clear he could be a strong downhill runner with a bit of shiftiness in the open field. As a pass receiver, however, he's a work in progress.
Another back who impressed was Fresno State's Lonyae Miller, who lost carries to junior Ryan Mathews in 2009 after putting up 812 yards in 2008 when Mathews went down to injury. His burst through the line and quickness in the open field at 5-11, 220 pounds were obvious. However, his hands measured in at less than 8½ inches, which is small for a back and might cause ball security issues.
On the corner
Boise State's Kyle Wilson stole the show among corners. His 5-10, 190-pound build was stronger than most scouts anticipated, and no corner mirrored his man or made plays on the ball better. Corners knew what routes receivers were running early on, so Wilson easily stepped in front of a deep comeback route by Gilyard for an interception. Even when the routes were changed up, Wilson stayed with the speedy Ford or any other receiver on go routes and comebacks.
He also showed the strength to knock a short pass out of the hands of Pittsburgh fullback Dustin Dickerson (who played receiver, without much suddenness or sure-handedness, after weighing in at only 6-1, 222 pounds) after it appeared he made the catch.
Virginia cornerback Chris Cook measured in at 6-2, 212, and played like it. His length makes it possible to knock balls away on the sideline or over the middle, but he tends to play high, allowing receivers to separate from him with quick cuts. Brandon Ghee (Wake Forest) also tends to pedal too high and fails to plant and drive quickly enough to make a play on the ball.
On the other end of the size spectrum, Cal's 5-9, 182-pound Syd-Quan Thompson proved himself to be the perfect zone corner. He was on top of receivers as soon as they made the catch when playing off the line, and made a nice fingertip catch on drills testing defensive backs' ability to track the ball over their shoulder on corner routes.
Thompson's footwork was not particularly sound, which will cost him against veteran NFL receivers who will challenge his movement and balance on double moves. But even in practice, he displayed his nose against the run to chop down lead blocks or running backs heading outside.
Among linebackers, Utah's Koa Misi stood out as a player on the rise. Weighing in at 244 pounds instead of his listed 263, he was much more fluid than other ends trying to move to the second level, looking at home getting deep in his drop and staying with receivers and running backs in coverage. He even picked off a pass into the flat that most linebackers would only dream of reaching.
Two smaller-school offensive linemen really impressed scouts. Fast-rising UMass offensive tackle Vladimir Ducasse has the build of a guard, but the 6-5, 326-pound native of Haiti excelled on the outside, getting off the ball in a hurry and yielding no ground to any defensive end lined up across from him. In one-on-one pass rush drills, Wisconsin defensive end/outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield blew by Ducasse when he was late off the snap, but the former Badger reportedly tore his ACL soon after when Ducasse fell on his left leg.
Idaho's Mike Iupati was also extremely athletic inside, combo blocking effectively to neutralize linebackers like Washington's Donald Butler on run plays. He needs to work on getting out of a two-point stance, though, as he came out too high and lost his anchor a bit. Still, both players could easily be late first- or early second-round choices.
TCU offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse displayed the versatility to play inside or outside at the East-West Shrine Game last week. This week, Utah's Zane Beadles could have that sort of showing, as he appeared strong and mobile enough to handle duties at left or right guard or even right tackle after spending the past three seasons at left tackle.
Virginia Tech left tackle Ed Wang is a fine athlete who showed very good footwork against Murray State's athletic 6-6, 270-pound defensive end, Austen Lane, in team drills. But Michigan's Brandon Graham exposed Wang's inconsistency anchoring against smaller, stronger ends who get their hands on his numbers and drive him back. Wang also had trouble keeping Graham from getting the corner against him in team work.
Louisiana Tech's D'Anthony Smith is a very good athlete for a 300-pound defensive tackle, and his quickness against solid Illinois guard Jon Asamoah in one-on-one drills was impressive. However, just like during the season, Smith couldn't make plays on the ball when lined up inside where interior linemen can work in tight spaces. He doesn't handle double-teams very well, failing to split or hustle around them to the outside. He played end quite often for the Bulldogs to take advantage of his speed against lesser competition, but that won't fly at the next level.
Penn State's Jared Odrick, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, had a similar day. He penetrated with good quickness off the snap as a pass rusher (especially since the quarterbacks didn't change up the snap count much), but was blown off the ball by Arizona State's strong guard Shawn Lauvao on a running play. That dichotomous play was commonplace the past few seasons in Happy Valley.
Defensive tackle Cam Thomas (North Carolina) carried his 331 pounds well, although he did measure at a shade under 6-4. His strength at the point of attack stood out, as did that of Purdue's Mike Neal, who earned a late invite here with a good week at the East-West Shrine Game. Although he's only 293 pounds, Neal plays with leverage and strength that made him a weight-room phenom in West Lafayette.
Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu is not the strongest or quickest player up front this week, but always seemed to be around the ball because of his outstanding hustle. He pumped up his teammates and was often the first to greet them after they made a play. His ability to play outside at 291 pounds will also endear him to line coaches around the league.
Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.
Wisconsin defensive end/outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield blew by Ducasse when he was late off the snap, but the former Badger reportedly tore his ACL soon after when Ducasse fell on his left leg.
Maybe a Steelers dented-can discount?