NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The pads went on today for the first time in Mobile as the players began to showcase their physical talents to these NFL teams. For the first day it was a physical practice with a good amount of hitting, a lot of enthusiasm and an uptempo pace.
It’s clear to see that there is a lot of competition between these positions this year, with many of the players ranked similarly and fitting for draft position.
Here are my 15 thoughts from the first practice of the 2013 Senior Bowl.
1. The QB play today was sub-par. If I had to rank them, Ryan Nassib would be first. He should good zip on the ball, pretty good ball placement on intermediate routes and moved well in the pocket. He’s definitely got the best arm of any QB on the North Squad. Mike Glennon would be next. He had an inconsistent day with a poorly thrown deep ball, missing the open receiver at times and it’s clear his large frame limits his ability to move around the pocket. It takes him a long time to reset and then get rid of the ball.
Lastly, Zac Dysert. It was a tough day for Zac, who threw a couple of picks, over/under-threw receivers and looked rattled at times. He held onto the ball for a long time and struggled to pull the trigger. He ended with a nice deep connection to Markus Wheaton, but it’s clear Dysert needs a better couple days starting tomorrow.
2. It was a very strong day for UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin. He was clearly the best running back on the North Side, showing good explosion, cutback ability and very good hands down the middle of the field. He ran hard all day and made one of the plays of the day, by cutting all the way back behind the line of scrimmage to turn the corner.
I also really liked the way he made sure to finish his runs, and sprinted to the goal line despite the play being over.
3. Receiver wise, I thought Markus Wheaton was in a class by himself. He showed extremely strong hands, with the ability to go over the middle and really snatch the ball out of the air. He ran well and made a terrific catch in tight coverage to end the passing drills, where he was able to track the deep ball make an adjustment and go up and get it.
Wheaton also worked to return punts. It was fun to watch him battle against his teammate Jordan Poyer who was in press coverage vs. him most of the practice. Wheaton called Poyer “the best corner he has faced” and remarked that “he has never met a smarter press cover corner”.
4. Speaking of Poyer, I thought along with Desmond Trufant they were the best corner-backs THAT I WATCHED today. (It’s tough to watch everything at once). Poyer’s press coverage was sound and his recovery is what stood out. One one play he got turned around out of press coverage, but was able to adjust and break on the pass, which if he caught it would have been a pick six. It looks like Poyer can play a number of different schemes. He is smart, physical and as Wheaton said incredibly savvy.
Trufant stood out for his competitiveness. He was going hard and he appeared to set some of the tone with his play to the whistle mentality and his ability to get his hands on the ball. Trufant was joined at practice by his brothers Marcus and Isaiah. When I asked him if he was more like Marcus or more like Isaiah he replied “he’s a combination of both, because he can play slot and outside.”
5. Datone Jones won the weigh in earlier today with his incredible physique, but he also had a great day of practice. Jones came off the ball with a great first step very good leverage and seemed to get very easy movement vs. which ever OL he was matched up against. Jones pointed out that he was playing a lot of 3-Tech today and feels he can be as versatile in the NFL, because of his frame and quickness.
He’s very explosive when he wants to be and he created a lot of havoc for the opposing offense with his penetration and collapsing of the line. As a side note, I was thoroughly impressed with Jones in an interview, he definitely prepared hard for his and is in prime shape. He’s very football savvy and pointed out that when he played NT at UCLA, his responsibility was to cover the RB. If he keeps hit up all week, we could be talking about a first round draft pick.
6. Speaking of the offensive line, I thought Eric Fisher was tremendous today. He slides his feet so well and gets his long arms extended. With a 6’7″ frame it’s clear he is the most NFL ready LT prospect here. He makes it look easy, because his technique is sound.
I give Fisher a lot of credit, because he could have easily pulled out of here this week, since he is projected to go so high. He chose to come and compete and he’s showing why he is a top OT prospect.
7. If you don’t know of Florida International Safety Jonathan Cyprien now you will know him soon. He was the most physical player out on the field today. Even though the players were only in shorts and shells, Cyprien was delivering hits and trying to strip players of the ball. He was flying around the field and flowing to the ball with regularity.
Cyprien set the tone for the North defense in team drills and it looked like the players feed off of them. Besides his play on the field Jonathan was one of the most impressive players at the weigh in this morning.
8. Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene looked very good in 7 on 7 coverage drills. He was able to stay with the tight ends and backs coming out of the backfield with relative ease. He’s a smart player and was communicating a lot with his other teammates calling out alerts and coverages.
On a side note, I think it’s great that Kansas State LB Arthur Brown was at practice today, even though he pulled out with an injury. He was watching drills and trying to stretch out what appeared to be a lower body ailment. At one point even, he was standing next to Dennis Allen picking his brain about the defense.
9. Texas WR Marquis Goodwin is undersized, but he is so explosive. He’s got another gear and plays with a smoothness and confidence about him. He was used one a ton of reverses and as a gadget type player.
It’s clear he didn’t even gear it up to top speed but, he still was running by players and turning the corner on reverses. Speaking to a scout in the lobby, Goodwin really turned heads in his one day of practice at the NFLPA Bowl with his explosive speed.
10. Denard Robinson was trying his hand at receiver and punt returner today. He didn’t look natural returning punts at all. He was caught in between a fair catch and letting it go and just seemed unsure of himself.
As a receiver there is definitely potential at the position, but a lot of work is needed. He was running rounded routes and just wasn’t as impressive as I thought he would be. Robinson has huge hands at 10″ and worked the sidelines well, it will be intriguing to see how Robinson grows as the week goes on.
11. Ohio State LB John Simon struggled in coverage, especially when dropping backwards. He’s just not used to it and isn’t fluid enough in his hips to turn and run with tight ends. However, when he is coming forward and playing with the play in front of him he is a different player. He was playing a lot of strong side linebacker and did a nice job of setting the edge vs. the run, especially on a reverse to Marquise Goodwin.
Tomorrow I want to see Simon in pass rush drills and one on ones, because that is where he will make his money. He’s got a great lower body and can see where he generates all his power from.
12. There are three UConn players on the North Roster and all three made impact plays today. I was impressed with how powerful Trevardo Williams was. He’s known for his speed but, converted that power to speed with leverage and really jolted the OT back off the snap. In change of direction drills he looked really fluid, coming out of his breaks nicely.
Dwayne Gratz made a good interception while covering Aaron Dobson and showed good coverage skills for a bigger corner, including good jams at the line of scrimmage. Blidi Wreh-Wright capped off the day with another interception. Looks like new BC Defensive Coordinator Don Brown did a great job coaching these guys up over the last three years.
13. Kansas State WR Chris Harper showed a tremendous blend of size and speed. He was physical at the line of scrimmage and was able to get off press coverage. He was able to catch the ball in tight coverage and was one of the tougher guys to cover. On one particular play he beat Utah State CB Will Davis badly.
14. Oregon OL Kyle Long rotated between RT and RG, it looked to me like he was more comfortable inside at guard and handle himself pretty well. His athleticism is evident as he looks like an NFL player in pads and is able to move his feet and bend well. UConn OLB Trevardo Williams gave him some problems with a power bull-rush move off the snap.
15. Finally, I think the overwhelming take away from day one is no QB managed to separate themselves today and the level of play compared to last year is much better. The north’s secondary is very good and we didn’t even talk about Jamar Taylor who made a nice INT on an under-thrown Mike Glennon ball. It will be fun to watch tomorrow as the full pads go one and the intensity is geared up even another notch. As one player told me today “today was just about knocking the rust off.”
Quick Thoughts from the Notebook:
– Aaron Dobson struggled today, ran a bad route, didn’t come back to the ball and got cut off by the corner.
– Missouri Southern NT Brandon Williams is an nose tackle only, but he is stout, powerful and quick for his size.
– Glennon really struggled on the deep ball, when he tries to put touch on the ball he under-throws it.
– Brian Winters played today just as he did during the season, he is mean, physical and has real good hands.
– Alex Okafor was real good at times today, showing strong pass rush moves.
– TJ McDonald had an INT playing what appeared to be cover 2. He’s an impressive athlete.
– UCLA punter Jeff Locke was booming punts with at least a 5.00 hang time about 55 yards in the air.