I am sad to say it but today was the last day of real practices and our last contact with the players until after the game. I am feeling melancholy already that my best two weeks of the year are almost over.
The NORTH took the field first this afternoon, on a more typical Mobile weather day in January. It was primarily overcast and seasonably cool with a high of about 57 degrees. Despite a brisk breeze I will make note of no rain. Almost perfect weather for football.
I must say after another solid practice that HASSON REDDICK/LB/TEMPLE is indeed one of the best and most versatile players I have seen in some time. He just continues to make plays and win his confrontations in drills. He’s playing with his hand down and up. He’s rushing the passer and running downfield with receivers. He has kept up with receivers better than some of the DB down here this week. I cannot see him lasting past Round 2 based on what I have seen the past 2 days. He should put up some crazy numbers at the Combine.
NATE GERRY/S/Nebraska #24 may not be a super athlete and is not likely to bowl anyone over at the underwear olympics in Indy next month, but he is a natural born football player and is always near the action. He’s better in run support than man-coverage, but once again today he was always around the ball, which resulted in an INT off of a deflected ball. He should be able to fill a back-up S role at the next level, while playing on every Special Teams unit and doing it well. He’s draftable.
The more I watch COOPER KUPP/WR/E. WASHINGTON #10, the more impressed I am. He does not look like a blazer, but he ain’t slow either. His hands are very dependable and he runs great routes. During one passing drill he made a simply magical toe-tap catch in the end zone for what would have been a TD. The defender who thought he had him covered just through his hands up in resignation. He also looks to be his squad’s top candidate to return punts and kick-offs. This is not your typical small school sleeper. He is big time in every way.
Sorry to say I have seen JONNU SMITH/TE drop way too many balls this week. He is especially susceptible to the drops when he has a defender near him. Clearly he gets distracted and or nervous unless he is wide open. Sorry to say not too many TE get wide open in the NFL.
ZAY JONES/WR/E. CAROLINA #7 was exceptional today. This is a smooth athlete. He has shown dependable hands and the ability to track the flight of the ball in the air. He made a great, over the shoulder catch down the right sideline, after he got a step on the CB, and raced to the end zone. He does not have a rep as a speed burner but he’s beating CB with regularity and can do some fancy footwork in the open field. During a two-minute drill he and RASUL DOUGLAS/CB #13 were matched up for about 4 straight plays. JONES beat him badly on a couple, and DOUGLAS broke up the pass on the other two. It was getting intense, and then the damn horn went off to change drills.
I was not the only scout watching to groan in protest over the horn. That live action stuff was just too good to break up.
RASUL DOUGLAS #13 is a top CB prospect because he has uncommon size for a CB @ 6’2/204#. And he looks to have very good speed. He likes to play press-cover, in part because it allows him to use his size to impede recovers, and also because in most cases he can catch up even if beaten. If he runs fast at he Combine, it will give scouts the chance to promote his value, because not many of his mistakes will result in total disaster. I like his style and attitude, which are both best described as physical and fearless, ala RICHARD SHERMAN.
I think AMARA DARBOH/WR/Michigan #82 put an exclamation point on his work this week with a big day catching the ball and then gaining YAC down the field. He’s not a burner either, but he has good moves, runs his routes well, and catches most everything. He beat several top CB today, including DOUGLAS and made them miss the initial tackles. He caught several balls with defenders right on him, but he was the clear winner of ball possession. He had DOUGLAS on his butt and frustrated. He looks to me like he’d make an excellent NFL NO. 2 WR, if paired with a fast No. 1 like BECKHAM. In fact he might remind me a bit of AMANI TOOMER, ex-Wolverine and ex-GIANTS, now that I think of it.
I must put in a word for KYLE KALIS/OG/Michigan #67 who sought me out after practice today. He wanted to touch base after our long conversation on Media Night. I asked if he felt like football was going on forever, and he quickly declared yes, but he wished the season did go year round. He is a gym rat folks. I asked about fatigue and wear & tear. He said 8 hours a night of sleep was the key, and that out on the field playing was ‘the medicine’. He’s sincere folks. He is not the most talented guy, but he is big (6’5/308) and can play inside or out if needed. I think he fits the mold very well of an NFL back-up OL and could play a long time as a multiple position backup/emergency starter. He strikes me as the kind of warrior you want in your foxhole.
Spent a delightful 10 minutes after practice chatting with BADGERS OLB VINCE BIEGEL. This young man is athletic and smart. He has also played in a standard pro set D, as a stand-up OLB much of the time in college, which he will proudly point out to you. His father and grandfather both played football at BYU, and many family members are wrestling legends in the Wisconsin Rapids area. His versatility this week has been conspicuous if you have watched him play OLB and DE, drop into coverage and rush the passer. I gave him some Pigskin Paul M&M’s and he took a ‘selfie’ of he and I. Go Badgers!
Under the guidance of the Browns coaching staff the WEST took the field for the late practice period. For some reason South team players are dropping like flies. 4 replacement guys have already joined the roster and 2 more are on their way tomorrow, hopefully at least in time to join walk-throughs. They are both TE, and both played at the Shrine venue last week; ERIC SAUBERT/Drake and BLAKE JARWIN/ Oklahoma State. Luckily, the South already has the best all-around TE here in O.J. HOWARD. This type of injury bug happened 3-4 years ago to the North squad, when 2 WR showed up on Friday and both played in the game Saturday. It just so happens, that both of those wideouts caught balls in the actual game only 1 day after arriving.
I have been mightily impressed with South FB FREDDIE STEVENSON/FSU #43. Most of all he has been everything they claimed he was as a blocker this week. He just stoned almost every LB that went up against him in 1-on-1 pass pro. He is strong and shows excellent hand placement into the chest, inside the shoulder pads. He also displays very good balance and has strength in both his lower and upper body. He has looked good catching a few short passes and is comfortable carrying the ball. I think he shows some of the same attributes of a former Seminole named KARLOS WILLIAMS. He could become more than just a blocking FB at the pro level.
Speed and more speed, has become the watch word around the NFL, when looking for players at almost any position. But there are some spots that also require good old-fashioned toughness and strength. Let me introduce you to #51 HARVEY LANGI/ILB/BYU. At 6’2/252, HAVEA (his real first name) is a throwback to the old time MLB of the BUTKUS/NITSCHKE era around the NFL. He is a force to be reckoned with between the tackles. But he also has solid athleticism. BYU actually played him at OLB some this past season because of his pass-rush ability out there. He has been a heavy hitter all week long and can get to the ball if protected by his DL. If he’s truly quick enough to provide a bit of pass rush he could find himself a job in the NFL. He could cap off this week with a bunch of tackles on Saturday.
Speaking of South LBs, I’d also like to point out that LSU/LB/DUKE RILEY #0 has had a fine week down here in Alabama. He has exceptional reflexes and hand/eye coordination. He’s a bit short at slightly under 6’1, and perhaps lacks ideal size to play inside (231). But watching him run around the field making plays, you realize that once the ball is snapped the position he plays is almost irrelevant based on his productivity. He is a high energy, almost relentless force, who is beyond quick. He is sudden, in almost everything he does. He may be a very late Draft Pick, but his work this week indicates he is a player.
One last player I would like to mention is JORDAN WILLIS/DE/Kansas State #75. WILLIS looks to be playing with his hand down exclusively this week, but could find himself as a kind of RYAN KERRIGAN/Redskins hybrid at the pro level. I don’t think he’s going to test off the charts at the Combine, but watching him this week I find him disruptive and versatile in his play. He does not have an explosive first step in his pass-rush but he gets close to QB often. His 10″ hands & 33″+ arms give him a chance to swipe the ball out of a QB’s hand. He might be the kind of player who doesn’t compile huge numbers of tackles and/or sacks, but will rank high in QB Hurries. He’s done well in Mobile and might do the same in the NFL next Fall.
I’m about at the end of my notes folks. Take a deep breath and watch the gbnreport.com Friday for my All-Practice team, plus a couple of other tidbits from Colin, I’m sure.
Also please join me if you can on the radio Saturday. I will be providing color commentary in the radio booth for WNSQ, Mobile’s sports radio station. Just go to wnsq.com , where it will be streaming live.