NEPD Contributor: Jeff Risdon
I was fortunate enough to attend the Cowboy Classic kickoff game between Alabama and Michigan in beautiful Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
A lot of future NFL talent was on display, most of it wearing crimson. Without the benefit of watching tape of the game, here are some scouting and general observations from Section 148:
(Editor’s Note: Jeff is going to be a regular contributor to our network this season, culminating in the creation of DetroitLionsDraft.com later this year. He is a former draft consultant for an NFL team and also works for RealGM.com and NFLsFuture.com)
Best player on the field—Chance Warmack- The Alabama left guard has a bit of a sloppy build and is visibly shorter than his linemates, but I’m not sure I’ve seen an offensive lineman dominate a major college game between quality opponents so thoroughly since Orlando Pace. Warmack consistently exploded off the snap and established dominating leverage. He routinely turned the shoulders of his defender and drove the player backwards, creating several huge holes. On one 1st quarter run he pushed his man into the end and knocked them both over. I love his ability to keep his feet moving when engaged and driving upward with his arm extension. On a screen he released perfectly and was looking to blow up targets that never came. I saw just one instance in pass protection where he was beaten, got too far extended and the defender went over his shoulder and got a sack. Paired with what I’ve seen on film in the past, Warmack looks better than either David Decastro or Mike Iupati, recent 1st round guards.
Barrett Jones— The Alabama center also looked very good from end zone view, and it stood out especially when Bama was rolling towards the opposite end zone. Because Michigan didn’t use a 0-technique much (if at all), Jones was free to give an initial chip with one of his guards and seek out second level defenders. He did so very well, notably on the long Yeldon run. Jones squares his targets nicely and engages with real force. During one timeout after he and the right guard allowed a pressure, Jones brought the line together and went over what happened, correcting the mistake with emphatic nature but not such that it caused strife. That’s leadership and Coach Saban clearly approved. His snapping looked flawless, not bad for a converted tackle.
Nico Johnson— I made a point to watch the Bama linebacker as much as I could. He didn’t make as many splashy plays as some of his mates, but he facilitated several plays by staying disciplined with his gap integrity and not allowing any sort of cutback on runs. He was very aggressive in taking on the fullback and letting other guys flock to the ball, anticipating the hole and taking out the lead blocker. He was very active pre-snap, presenting different looks on several occasions that kept the offense guessing. Showed he can close with power. Made a tackle on Robinson where the quarterback had him beat inside, but Johnson reached out an arm and delivered enough jolt that it stopped Robinson and allowed Johnson to wrap with his other arm and complete the tackle.
Michael Williams— The big tight end caught an early TD pass on a play that showed legit NFL skill. Lined up tight inside the 10, Williams quickly sidestepped an overzealous chip attempt by the backer, then beat the safety outside and gently plucked a well-delivered high throw from McCarron. He doesn’t have great speed but he’s quicker in person than he looks on tape, got a couple of other clean releases and broke open into the intermediate range outside the linebacker and safety. Looked good lowering his shoulders and sealing the edge on the run, though he’s not a great knee bender. Got whistled for a false start and had to be told to get himself covered up in the formation a couple of times by the wideout.
Dee Milliner– I didn’t know a lot about Milliner headed into this one but he really opened my eyes. Very active with the ball in the air. Lines up with outside technique and quickly bails, very quick feet and fluid hips. He reminds me of the classic Virginia Tech corners that like to give a little space to bait the QB and then take it away. Made one nice INT and got a deflection on another throw where he closed the gap with excellent burst and confidence in his athleticism. Did get torched over the top once when he got caught staring in the backfield, but the safety (#3) picked it up and nearly got an INT on the bad overthrow as Milliner hustled back and forced a higher throw. More than a little Deangelo Hall to his game…and that includes the tackling, which is not ready for prime time yet. Saban has some work to do to keep Milliner from diving at feet, and he looked less sure in tighter coverage when the receiver fought him a little. Excited to see more of him; he carries himself like someone who is coming out early.
Thoughts on Michigan’s prospects and the game experience are on page two.