NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
North Practice took place in windy conditions and it definitely didn’t help the Quarterback prospects improve on shaky day one performances. From this perspective the offensive and defensive lines continue to showcase the most impactful players on the North squad, with a few skill position guys catching my attention.
Here’s everything that went down at this morning’s North Practice, the players that stood out and the players that performed poorly.
1. It was a very very shaky day for all the Quarterbacks. All three of the guys struggled in high winds, but Logan Thomas and Stephen Morris looked especially shaky. More passes were incomplete or off the mark than were completed and NFL scouts were getting very restless with the poor accuracy displayed. From my perspective Logan Thomas and Stephen Morris just don’t have the accuracy or consistency as a pocket passer to be successful in the NFL. It seems people still are enamored by their arm strength, especially Thomas’, but when you evaluate the rest of their game there are too many question marks. The poor QB play impacted the WR and their ability to showcase their skills.
2. The one WR that stood out this morning was Jared Abbrederis. He caught everything thrown to him, even when he had to elevate, reach behind him, or adjust to bad throws. His route running is far superior than any of the other North WR and it’s easy to see the polish he brings in the passing game. He gets out of his cuts, sells his fakes, and creates separation out of his breaks.
3. Chris Borland, another Wisconsin prospect, put together another really strong practice. He diagnoses the play so well and moves with such certainty in coverage. He made an impact as a rusher, displaying quick, decisive rush moves vs. running backs and he certainly stood out in special teams coverage drills. People will overlook him because he is under six feet tall, but he has enough bulk and power to be an every down linebacker in the NFL. At worst he’s a special teams contributor and a good one at that.
4. Colorado State Center Weston Richburg really impressed my in one on one drills. In back to back reps he handled Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman and Pitt DT Aaron Donald both on different types of rush moves. He’s been running with the first team in practice and clearly has the strength and feet to play in the NFL. By the time the draft process is over it’s not going to surprise me if he’s the top center off the board.
5. Speaking of Ra’Shede Hageman I thought he had a much better day. He utilized his bullrush a lot today and while he was creating pressure, he was having a tough time actually getting off the blocks. After a few reps Hageman started showing more, including a strong, sudden swim move that would have resulted in a sack. He was also more disruptive in 11 on 11 drills, where the defensive line did well in team drills. It should be noted Hageman has played mostly 3-Tech down here, but most people including myself think he’s a 5-Tech.
6. CJ Fiedorowicz was one of the best players on the field today. He was crushing defensive ends during team drills, opening huge holes for RB James White. While he hasn’t flashed in the passing game, his run blocking along has been awesome. He gets such great movement off the line of scrimmage and can more his feet good well enough to ride outside rushers out of the play to open a run lane. Fiedorowicz stressed to me that he has a lot more to give as a receiver and that he’ll prove to NFL teams he can be a great pass catcher.
7. Trent Murphy flashed multiple times in practice today. For a bigger man he showed above average bend while accelerating around the corner and created multiple pressures from his end position. The one thing that stands out down here like it did at Stanford is the motor and effort he gives each play. He refuses to stop or give up on a play until the whistle and he will simply out work an offensive tackle until he gives in.
8. Jordan Zumwalt is a bad man. He brings a physical presence to the field and just goes around looking to blow people up. He showed how physically imposing he can be today during LB/RB rush drills. He attacked the RB with a head of steam and set them up for a fierce swim move that resulted in the RB whiffing completely. While he’s not the best in coverage, and certainly won’t win any 40 yard dash races, he’s the type of ILB that teams need on 1st and 2nd down to set the tone in the run game. On top of that he’s got great size and a presence about him. After practice he was doing interviews with blood streaming down his face.
9. James White had himself a pretty good day, especially in pass protection. He caught my eye a few times with the way he was able to pick up blitzing linebackers and move his feet on their counter moves. White weighed in at a bulked up 205 pounds and up close he’s much thicker than I had envisioned. His lower-half especially is bulked up and ripped up.
10. The best RB on the North Team for my money is Charles Sims. He catches the ball extremely well and makes most things look effortless. He showcases fluid hips and lower leg drive, doesn’t force things when running the ball and allows time for outside run lanes to develop. His ability to catch the ball with ease should give an NFL offense plenty of versatility and options with him in the game. He was also the RB matched up one on one with Jordan Zumwalt. Zumwalt won his share of battles, but Sims wasn’t afraid to stick his nose in and get dirty.
11. Louisiana Tech DT Justin Ellis has been an under the radar performer this week. Every time I zero in on him in 11 on 11 drills he’s holding his ground and creating a pile in the middle of the defensive line. No offensive lineman can move him off the ball 1 on 1. He gave Michigan’s Michael Schofield plenty of trouble today, stuffing any runs to his side of the line. Coming off a strong week at the Shrine Game and now some positive reviews at the Senior Bowl, expect to see his stock start to climb in the coming months.
12. Zack Martin continued his strong play today. Of course he will get beat every now and then, but his most impressive rep of the day came vs. James Gayle. Gayle beat him initially off the snap, Martin was able to recover and when Gayle tried to counter inside Martin moved his feet and cut off the inside, ultimately stonewalling Gayle. The reason Martin is so good, is because he keeps it simple. He utilizes sound technique, keeps his hips lower, and moves his feet really well. He’s knows how to get hands on with the DE and just take him where he’s trying to go, usually out of the play.
13. Iowa LB Christian Kirksey has made himself some money this week. When he was asked to rush off the edge in practice today he won consistently. Kirksey can be a starting LB in the NFL relatively soon, but even if that doesn’t work out he’s going to be an impact special teams LB. Coaches are going to love this kid.
Other things that caught my eye today:
– Michael Campanaro gets constantly overlooked, but he gets open all the time out of his breaks. Shows good hands as well.
– Robert Herron dropped way too many passes today. Looked like he was fighting it after and early drop. Still one of the most explosive WR here.
– DaQuan Jones doesn’t have many moves to rush with, but he’s good at what he does. Jones gets under the opposing OL and just creates so much push with his power. Not sure he’ll every be a super disruptive player, but his power is tough to handle and he offers teams some versatility.
– Josh Huff continues to be one of the more explosive straight line vertical speed athletes here.
– Michael Sam really struggles to get off blocks. He’s been blocked way too much in the first two practices and doesn’t make nearly the impact I expected.
– Cyril Richardson is no Larry Warford. He’s been beaten a lot down here.
– Dez Southward struggles to cover as a corner. Not sure why they couldn’t get another corner and play him at Safety.
– Northwestern’s Kain Colter will get himself drafted this year. He looks better than Denard Robinson who tried to play WR down here last year.