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MEMOS FROM MOBILE:
SENIOR BOWL PRACTICE REPORTS


by Pigskin Paul Guillemette, editor of Paul's Pigskin Place and GBN Special Scout with contributions from Colin Lindsay, GBN Editor and Publisher

SATURDAY

It has become an annual tradition (10 years) for Pigskin Paul to post an end of the week All-Practice squad at the Senior Bowl. In answer to several readers who contacted me, Who am I to break with tradition?

QB    DEREK CARR                       FRESNO STATE
RB    CHARLES SIMS                    WEST VIRGINIA
FB    JAY PROSCH                         AUBURN
WR    JARRED ABBREDERIS        WISCONSIN
WR    JORDAN MATTHEWS        VANDERBILT
TE    C.J. FIEDOROWICZ              IOWA
T    ZACK MARTIN                       NOTRE DAME
T    BRANDON THOMAS             CLEMSON
G    GABE JACKSON                    MISSISSIPPI STATE
G    MICHAEL SCHOFIELD         MICHIGAN
C    TYLER LARSEN                     UTAH STATE

DE    DEE FORD                            AUBURN
DE    CHRIS SMITH                      ARKANSAS
DT    DAQUAN JONES                 PENN STATE
DT    AARON DONALD               PITTSURGH
MLB    CHRIS BORLAND            WISCONSIN
OLB    KYLE VAN NOY              BYU
OLB    CHRISTIAN JONES          FLORIDA STATE
CB    CHRIS DAVIS                      AUBURN
CB    STAN JEAN-BAPTISTE      NERBASKA
S    KENNY LADLER                   VANDERBILT
S    JEREA THOMAS                    GEORGIA TECH

Note I did not consider players who joined the practices later in the week (like CROCKETT GILMORE) feeling even 3 ½ days worth of practice was little enough time to make judgments on many players of pretty much equal ability. I am also practicing just a bit of literary license to move CHRISTIAN JONES from MLB to OLB.


FRIDAY

GUYS WHO PLEASANTLY SURPRISED ME

CHRIS BORLAND/LB/WISCONSIN
SHAQ EVANS/WR/UCLA
DEE FORD/DE/LB/AUBURN
STAN JEAN-BAPTISTE/CB/NEBRASKA
ZACK MARTIN/OT/NOTRE DAME
JERICK McKINNON/RB/GA SOUTHERN
MICHAEL SCHOFIELD/OT/MICHIGAN
CHRIS SMITH/DE/LB/ARKANSAS
BRANDON THOMAS/OT/CLEMSON
JORDAN ZUMWALT/LB/UCLA

GUYS WHO DISAPPOINTED ME

ADRIAN HUBBARD/DE/LB/ALABAMA
ROBERT HERRON/WR/WYOMING
JEFF JANIS/WR/SAGINAW VALLEY
WESLEY JOHNSON/OT/VANDERBILT
STEPHEN MORRIS/QB/MIAMI
CYRIL RICHARDSON/OG/BAYLOR
TELVIN SMITH/LB/DLORIDA STATE
SHAMAR STEPHEN/DT/UCONN
WILL SUTTON/DT/ARIZONA STATE
BILLY TURNER/OT/N. DAKOTA STATE

WEDNESDAY MORNING: NORTH PRACTICE

Wednesday is usually the heaviest practice day of the week as it generally features the most hitting and activity of the week. There will be no pads for the rest of the week until game day. It’s time for coaching staffs to get their players into game mode and establish team goals and objectives.

Cold but sunny and very little wind greeted us at Ladd-Peebles Stadium this morning. Coffee and hot chocolate were pouring out of the concession stand.

Watched DOUG PEDERSEN/TE/Wisconsin again today and it certainly looks like the FALCONS are trying to get a solid read on his all-around ability. He’s flip flopping in practice between an H-B slot and an inline TE position. The kid continues to hold up in pass protection drills from either spot and he’s making some nice catches, with good after catch run yardage. Answering a question about his TE group at the presser tonight HC MIKE SMITH was lukewarm in his answer. So is he really unimpressed, or is he attempting a poker bluff because his team really needs a pass catching TE to replace TONY GONZALEZ, now really retired?

I think we are watching the two best all-around guys at the S position in this practice. DEONE BUCANNON/Washington Sate may be the smoothest, most polished S in the game. He’s a true center fielder who can play in the box as required. He can have problems running with faster receivers, thereby losing rack of the ball in the air. He was just a tick late on several occasions getting his hand up as the ball zipped in on deep throws.

DEZMAN SOUTHWARD of Wisconsin is athletic enough that the coaches are giving him some reps on the Corner. And he is holding his own out there. But he really shines back at S. He moves around to help cover the slot and finds the ball readily in pursuit to help. He’s going to be a work in progress, but should make a very nice early Saturday Draft Pick.

Another S, Baylor’s AHMAD DIXON shows flashes and really likes to deliver the big heat. But I just get the sense that he tries to play that intimidator role a bit too much. At just under 6’ tall and 205 lbs. he’s likely to get hurt trying to be the tough guy.
   
CHRIS BORLAND was explosive again today in 1-on-11 and in drill work. He had another INT in the short middle of he field and ran circles around some blockers.
   
DAQUAN JONES/DT/Penn State uses his 323 lb. frame and a quick burst to just rumble past blockers in a regular basis. He clogs up the middle of the line of scrimmage and can penetrate into the pocket with regularity. He looks to be an ideal player for a team looking for that jumbo 3-technique in a 4-3 defensive scheme. He’s not the flash player that HAGEMAN is, but he shows something on just about every play. He will be a coach’s favorite with his work ethic.

There was some strong buzz the past few weeks when people envisioned a 220-plus pound CB coming to town in the form of STAN JEAN-BAPTISTE from Nebraska. He actually checked in at 6-2 3/8” and a rocks olid 215 pounds. That is still a great size, ala the recently retired NNAMDI ASOMUGHA. After eyeballing JEAN-BAPTISTE in drills and 11-on-11, I think eh has some solid similarities to NNAMDI. He is not a ball hawk, and won’t pile up big interception numbers, but he’s good at staying with receivers and deflecting balls away. His 32 3/8”arms certainly help him out in that department. During 11-on-11 he jumped high to break up a potential TD pass to Jared Abbrederis. This player may post some impressive numbers at the combine, and if he does his Draft stock could be rising significantly. Mark him down as a riser right now.
   
PIERRE DESIR/CB/Lindenwood (MO) looks like a much more aggressive, confident defender this week than he did last week at the Shrine venue. That would make sense for a small school kid who got a taste of big time competition and survived in St. Pete. Combine that confidence with some NFL level coaching and he may be poised to make his mark this weekend and set the stage for a combine appearance in Feb.
   
One of the biggest surprises for me among the offensive line here has been MICHAEL SCHOFIELD/OT/Michigan. The almost 6’7 tall, 303 pounder has looked agile, mobile & hostile in a controlled manner. He’s using his 33 ½” long arms to great advantage keeping defenders at bay. His technique gets a bit sloppy at times, but not enough to detract from his overall effectiveness. He keeps his feet well and moves smoothly. Best of all SCHOFIELD seems to understand the importance of getting his hands into his opponents’ chest to control his direction. He’s playing some inside and doing OK despite his length. Even when defenders get past him they are usually well into the backfield and past the QB. He’s gained points from me with his practice performance this week.
   
Solid, Solid, solid! That’s the best way for me to describe my opinion of the work of OT/ZACK MARTIN/Notre Dame this week. He may not be perfect in his movement, but he never seems to get really beaten by a defender. He is tenacious and fights to and thru the whistle. He’s effective against bigger guys, and he’s effective against faster guys. There is concern about his lack of ideal height, at 6’4, as well as his weight at 305. He also has just average arm length, but 32 ½” arm length does not scare me. I see no reason he cannot be an effective OT in the NFL. But I also think he could easily slide inside and be a starter at OG as well. He displays economy of motion, and I do not see a glaring flaw in any of his work this week. Solid!

I still am not enamored with the QB group for the North, but I will say that in my mind TAJH BOYD has moved to the top of the group on the practice field. Only the FALCONS coaching staff can tell you if he’s mastered the work in the meeting room. He’d be my choice as starter if the game were tomorrow. Not that it means a lot, but everyone will be asking that question over the next two days.

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOOON: SOUTH PRACTICE

The South continues to lose players left and right. The latest South player to go down is Virginia DE/DT BRENT URBAN, the big Canadian who has create a little buzz for himself as a potential 3-4 DE,  is out with an ankle injury. Replacements have been airlifted in to the MASH disaster area as we speak. The team has now lost 5 players since Monday to injury.
   
The JAGUARS coaching staff continues their self-professed mission to mold a team in 6 days. This group’s enthusiasm and energy is contagious, which is probably a very good thing given the potential for mental fatigue as teammates head for the hospital daily.
   
Although South/JAX HC GUS BRADLEY refuses to divulge a name the consensus amongst the media is that DEREK CARR has seized the lead as the top QB on he roster. Mark him down as your starter, and put a big shock face beside it if he’s not starting Saturday.
   
No offense to anyone else, but the arrival of CROCKETT GILMORE as a TE replacement has upgraded that position on the South roster. GILMORE had a solid week in St Pete last week and should be counted as the best all-around TE in this game. The 6’5 ½’, 253 pounder can block inline and catch and ramble for YAC. He had several nice catches in today’s practice.

I find MORGAN MOSES/OT/Virginia to be an intriguing prospect. The CAVS were a poor football team in 2013 so he disappeared from view for many folks. But he is a massive man, who is a good athlete. He needs some technique Improvement, but you can’t coach being 6’6, 325 lbs., with 34 ¾” arms and a wingspan of over 83”. He relies a bit too much on those arms to push people when they start to get past him. To some degree it has been an effective move, but some of those pushes will draw penalty flags in the NFL. He needs to work on moving his feet more quickly in his back pedal. He was a strong run blocker at UVA, but he running game is almost an after thought at All-Star Games. Just as a side note his shaved head and big beard remind me greatly of Isaac Hayes, the soul singer and actor. Also referred to as the Black Moses. For you younger folks, that would be CHEF on South Park.

Florida State LB CHRISTIAN JONES is having a solid week at MLB. But I still feel his athleticism will play best in then NFL at OLB in a 4-3 scheme. He played both inside and out while in college with solid results either way. He is thought to have a chance to sneak into Round One of the DRAFT. He’s solid against the run and is dropping into coverage nicely.
   
KEVIN NORWOOD/WR/Alabama is a smooth athlete and is also showing well this week. He’s not great at any one thing, but can be counted on to do his job and make plays. He was the same kind of player at ‘Bama. On an aborted throwback/WR pass, early in practice, he sailed a nice tight spiral 25 yards down the field. He has nice size at 6’2, 197, and his hands measure just over 10”. Watch for him to make a play or two Saturday in the game.

JAYLEN WATKINS/DB/Florida kept rotating between S and CB for the Gators over his college career, depending on where they needed help or had the best depth. He looks to be fast and flexible enough to play CB in the NFL. He is a “smooth” athlete if you watch him work around the practice field. His flexibility to play S as needed can only help him, and the JAX coaching staff are letting him split time here between the positions.

I like the overall athleticism and look of small school CB/WALT AKENS from Liberty. He has nice size and appears fast. But he did look a bit slower than the big school CB in his back pedal during agility drills for the corners this morning.

I also made a quick note while watching he OL blocking drills that BRYAN MATT STORK.OC/Florida State comports himself like one tough hombre. He does not give an inch to bigger and/or stronger DL he is asked to block. He is also an experienced college OL.

I also like the SEC safety combo of CRAIG LOSTON/LSU and KENNY LADLER/Vanderbilt, who appear to be the potential starters in the game Saturday. Both have decent size, at over 6’ tall and 200+ lbs. They both have good range to cover deep and are willing and able to come up in run support. LOSTON played in 45 career games, and had 7 career INT. I don’t think LOSTON is very far behind ERIC REID, who patrolled the LSU secondary last year, in overall talent. LADLER has more starting experience at Vandy with 50 career starts and a career high 5 INT in 2013.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: SOUTH PRACTICE

The practice started with a MASH report of injured South team players who are all out for the duration:

Tennessee OT JA’WUAN JONES - knee sprain
Fresno State TE MARCEL JENSEN - abdominal strain
Alabama DE ED STINSON - groin pull
       
Then half way through the practice Oklahoma CB AARON COLVIN, who had been having a solid week, went down with what has since been reported as a torn ACL.

Two new players will be arriving tomorrow for TE and OL help. Colorado State TE CROCKETT GILMORE, who played in last week‘s Shrine Game, will replace Jensen, while former Florida OT Matt Patchan, who provided escort services for 2,000 yard rusher Andre Williams at Boston College this past season, wll replace Jones at OT. 

    Meanwhile on the field, the SOUTH QB group continued to be headed by Fresno State’s DEREK CARR.  CARR was praised by Jaguars’ GUS BRADLEY for his meeting room habits as well as his on-field throwing. Meanwhile, San Jose State’s DAVID FALES JIMMY GARAPPOLO of Eastern Illinois, trail behind, but both would likely be an improvement if moved to the North squad.
   
I don’t want to keep highlighting the same players every day, but some of these guys are just tearing it up. Auburn DE/OLB DEE FORD, for example, is just so fast in his moves and rushes that he’s been literally unblockable most of the time. He also appears to have strong/heavy hands, which he uses to stun blockers.
 
I also continue to be impressed with the work of his teammate CB CHRIS DAVIS, a solid 5-10, 201-pounder who is very quick and instinctive in coverage. He did get turned around once by Texas WR MIKE DAVIS (no relation) and get burned deep, but that was the exception to the rule. Davis is also an aggressive, feisty guy who uses his body and hands to crowd receivers much like the Seattle secondary. He really came on as a senior under GUS MULZAHN’s staff and continues to look the part here and of course all college football fans are aware of what a dangerous return man he is.

North Dakota State G/T BILLY TURNER, who really got national pub this past season, especially after his team’s upset of Kansas State, is learning about life against a higher level of competition this week. There were times today in pass blocking drills where he was absolutely taken to the woodshed by some of his teammates. Some of that came when they tried him inside at OG for a while, but even back out at OT he was humbled mightily. But if he accepts the coaching he’s getting and works even harder he’ll survive this test and be a better player for it. He’s still a solid prospect, but we now know he’s also going to be a project for some NFL OL coach next summer.

I still like most of what I see from big Mississippi State OG GABE JACKSON who is going to need to go to an NFL team that still employs a power running game, but as I watch this giant work I still think of CHANCE WARMACK last year. WARMACK showed some warts as we watched more film of him leading up to the draft. I see the same kind of player in JACKSON, but even bigger. I also think if JACKSON had played on an OL with guys like FLUKER & the KUOANDJIO brothers it might have hidden some of flaws better as well.
   
The South spend a good deal of time today working on it’s running game, which is usually an afterthought in an All-Star Game. Their overall personnel may be better suited to being able to run the ball more than usual here, but it also might be partly because they have perhaps the two most explosive runners in the game.

JERICK McKINNON of Georgia State was simply electrifying today. His quickness, cutting ability, strength and speed were a deadly combo against what I think is a pretty solid South defense. The powerful little guy (5’9/209) ran through and around people all afternoon.
   
Western Kentucky ANTONIO ANDREWS was slightly less dynamic than McKINNON but is the total package who has quick cut moves, good acceleration and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.  He too was a headache for the South defenders to corral this afternoon. ANDREWS, along with unheralded Lorenzo Taliaferro of unheralded Coastal Carolina also had outstanding performances in the pass pro drills, as the continually stoned blitzing LBs.
 
Of the other small-school guys in Mobile, Liberty CB WALT AIKENS has been impressive. He’s another corner with excellent size at 6-1, 205; plus he’s also a great looking athlete when he runs. His feet are very quick and he has the agility to turn and cut smoothly. He still commits some errors in judgment in coverage, but he recovers nicely. He also looks to be accepting coaching readily.
   
In one more side note from Monday, SENIOR BOWL Executive Director PHIL SAVAGE shared with everyone in attendance at the proceedings the list of healthy players who chose to bypass participating in he Senior Bowl this year. Here is the list:

DARQUEZE DENNARD/CB/MICHIGAN STATE
JUSTIN GILBERT/CB/OKLAHOMA STATE
CARLOS HYDE/RB/OHIO STATE
LAMARCUS JOYNER/DB/FLORIDA STATE
KHALIL MACK/OLB/BUFFALO
JAKE MATTHEWS/OT/TEXAS A&M
A.J. McCARRON/QB/ALABAMA
C.J. MOSLEY/LB/ALABAMA
SHAYNE SKOV/ILB/STANFORD

That’s a lot of talent, a number of who could have helped their draft grade by coming to Mobile and competing, although the injury to Colvin is a huge reminder of what the risks of playing in a game like the Senior Bowl can be.

TUESDAY MORNING: NORTH PRACTICE

The practice begins with some local fan participation this morning. A local school group has arrived to populate the stands at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. AS the North team stretches they chant: JIM –MIE ROCKS, JIM-MIE ROCKS clearly in homage to hometown Mobile native JIMMIE WARD of Northern Illinois. You can’t miss this PDA.

The pecking order on the North Squad seems obvious when it comes to the QB position: CARR/FALES/MORRIS in that order. In fact, Miami’s Stephon MORRIS has been so erratic with so many of his throws it is almost painful to watch. At the same time, word around Mobile is that Fresno State’s Derek CARR is also a big hit in the meeting room as well as the field with the coaching staff, in addition to being the clear top passer this week.
   
Wyoming WR ROBERT HERRON may be the fastest player on the field in a straight line, but he is really struggling catching the ball. At times he looks like he’s just not ready for the throw and the ball gets on top of him too quickly. He also looks like he struggles to position his body and hands to make he catch at times.

Wisconsin TE JACOB PEDERSON is actually seeing duty as both a TE and an H-B. He’s showing good route running ability and dependable hands. He’s reminding me a lot of GARRETT GRAHAM, another ex-Badger who now resides on the roster of the TEXANS. Petersen’s size and skill set may be well better suited for the H-B role, but he’s going to have to ramp up his blocking a couple of notches.
   
One of my favorite drills has the LBs versus the TE/RB group in individual pass protection. The LB has a decided advantage in this drill, but the speed and violence of the drill does simulate the real thing rather well. The LBs win most of the time, which is always the case. CHRIS BORLAND and ex-teammate JAMES WHITE get matched up on several occasions. BORLAND just blows past WHITE the first time, but WHITE makes him look way around the QB on the second encounter. He may not be terribly effective at the drill, but RB/CHARLES SIMS is pretty chippy against the LB. Looks like he’s taking the drill personally.  If you can’t be really good at something at least work hard at it. Best pass block of the day by a back, though, came when Stanford FB Ryan Hewitt buried Wisconsin MLB Chris Borland who was coming up the gut in a 7-on-7 passing drill. However, it was the only time Borland was negated on the day as he again showed great instincts and range in getting to the ball.

Despite what some folks saw yesterday, Wake Forest WR MIKE CAMPANARO looked like an absolute natural catching the football today. Everything thrown his way was a natural, hands extended catch. After a quick tuck he was headed up field. He also displayed excellent footwork in tapping down 2 feet for sideline receptions.

Minnesota DT RA’SHEDE HAGEMAN continues to flash the most impressive skills along the defensive line as he has an impressive combination of strength and athleticism. He shows a quick first step, which then enables him to blow past his blocker, and/or just bury him. At his best he looks like a potential Pro Bowler. However, Hageman will also disappear for a few reps and you wonder if he’ll ever be more than a dangerous rotational guy.

Almost the opposite extreme in the DL group is Pittsburgh dynamo AARON DONALD who exemplifies the phrase: less is more. Donald measured in at just 6-0, 288 in Monday’s weigh-in, but on the field has been a scrapper who is a constant blur of motion. He is also strong for his size and is not easily handled by defenders. He has excellent balance and stays incredibly low in his rush. He reminds me a bit of an inside version of ELVIS DUMERVIL. Most big offensive linemen just can’t bend that low and maintain their balance. I believe that if this guy can play in a 4-3 scheme with a big 3-technique beside him he can have SAPP-like impact.

Stanford DE TRENT MURPHY is playing down at DE in spite of weighing in at about 253 lbs. He disclosed at today’s presser that he wants to get to the COMBINE at 255 lbs., so he can do some work at OLB as well as DE. He noted that back in 2012 he spent almost 50% of his snaps standing up. He admitted that the task of pass rushing this week is daunting for him because so many of the OT are absolutely huge, not just big. In fact, Murphy doesn’t look like he is ever going to make much of an impact off a bull rush at the next level, but did flash an impressive first step off the snap. Indeed, he ended up blowing up a couple of plays after taking advantage of a misstep by Miami OT Seantrel Henderson, who has really struggled keeping his pads down this week.

It seems as though the North secondary coaches have discovered, just as Wisconsin did, that DEZMEN SOUTHWARD is very athletic and is not purely a safety. Just as he did with the Badgers this past season SOUTHWARD is taking some snaps as a CB. He’s also a bright kid, who articulated to me that his desire is to compete athletically at the highest level and always challenge himself to do more. Watch this guy in the coming months. He‘s a SEA HAWKS style of DB.

Rice PK CHRIS BOSWELL came into this game rated as one of, if not the highest rated PK in the country. His rep says he is accurate and possesses a strong leg. However, BOSWELL had a tough time today trying to kick into a NW wind. He missed as many as he made and his kicks beyond 35 yards seemed to have no power and just died in the wind.

I’m just about ready to proclaim that Utah State C TYLER LARSEN has already validated his reputation as one of the best at the position in the country. He’s a big guy who’s plenty strong as well as being athletic in a short area. He’s also known as a smart player who will make line calls right away in the NFL. He’s not dominating people, but he is moving folks around and holding his own with everyone he faces. Unheralded Colorado State C Weston Richburg also quietly had a strong day. Richburg struggled at times to anchor when bull-rushed, but did a nice job moving his feet and staying between his man and the ball.

NFL personnel people were looking for better things from Baylor G/T Cyril Richardson, one of the top-rated prospects in Mobile this week, on Tuesday after he struggled on Monday. And while Richardson was better today, he still ha been a major disappointment to date. Richardson showed better jump coming off the snap today and was able to stand several DTs, including Hageman, up after making initial contact, but too often he allowed his man to slip off and get back into the play as he just didn’t keep his feet moving and demonstrated little lateral agility.

Interesting day for Notre Dame G/T Zach Martin, who came into Mobile as one of the fastest risers on the board despite being somewhat undersized with real short arms for an OT. What Martin has been able to do this week though is show that he is a fine technician who moves his feet well and can lock when he makes good initial contact. However, there were several pass block situations today where Martin wasn’t able to close down the edge off the snap and appeared to lack the length to regain the advantage.

Monday weigh-in and Tidbits from both the South and North practices

Day one is in the books for those of us in the media. The players were interviewing with NFL teams until 11PM or so last night Player info from this morning’s weigh-in process have been posted by most sights since noon so I will spare you the massive repeat of info. But I would like to highlight some of the numbers. Keep in mind that we have a total of 110 players in town, with 56 on the South roster, and 54 on the North.

27 of these guys weigh 300 pounds or more.
21 players weight less than 200.
Only 9 players have arms shorter than 30”.
21 players have arms longer then 33”.
6 receivers have hand spreads of over 10”.
2 receivers have hand spreads of under 9”.
The heaviest player in Mobile is Tennessee DT DANIEL McCULLERS at 348.
The lightweight of the bunch is Oklahoma WR JALEN SAUNDERS at 164.
Tallest players are McCULLERS and Miami OT SEANTREL HENDERSON at 6-6 7/8” each.
Shortest player here is Florida WR SOLOMAN PATTON at 5’ 8 1/2”.
McCULLERS also has the longest arms @ 35 5/8” and largest wingspan at 85 ½”.

Do you think it is safe to say than DANIEL McCULLERS is a giant of a man?!

The hand size of potential QBs is thought by many to be a key number to consider, particularly for teams in cold weather climes. The SEAHAWKS have publicly acknowledged on multiple occasions that the fact that 5’10” tall RUSSELL WILSON has hand spread of over 10” was a big factor in their belief that he could play in the NFL. So based on that, let me give you QB hand sizes for these seven guys in Mobile.
JIMMY GARAPPOLO       9/0”
DEREK CARR                    9/1”
AARON MURRAY             9/1”
DAVID FALES                   9/2”
TAJH BOYD                       9/3”
STEPHEN MORRIS          10/1”
LOGAN THOMAS            10/6”

    What do all these numbers mean. Based on the current composition of NFL rosters probably not much. But they do begin to give you the shape of things as they stand heading into the week.

Afternoon practices were split between the SOUTH @ Fairhope and the NORTH in Mobile. They ran back to back with no break. So my brief notes re based upon 2/3 of the South practice and 2/3 of the North session.

While former Vols DT McCULLERS is the giant of the group this year, but he’s running around with big old knee brace on his left knee. And he looks stiff and upright a little hesitant to bend and turn on that knee. He just does not look 100% healthy to me. Give him credit for toughing this out.

BYU OLB KYLE VAN NOY looks to be the best all-around LB in this game to me. He has excellent size at 6’3/244. He is also agile and hostile. He can stop the run, rush the passer and drop into pass coverage without skipping a beat. He made multiple plays in drills this afternoon. Expect more of the same all week long.

CHRIS SMITH comes out of Arkansas as a highly decorated, pass-rushing DE. But he checked in this morning at 6’1”, 266 lbs. You just don’t find very many DE in the NFL these days that short and lightweight. But as SMITH showed in drills at practice today he is super quick, has great balance and pure athleticism to pursue the ball and/or the QB. Look for the coaches to run him a bit with the LB group this week to see how he plays standing up.

Auburn DE DEE FORD is a bit like SMITH at 6’2/243. He looks an awful lot like COREY LEMONIER a 2013 Rookie with the 49’ers. He, I a close battle with SMITH, was the quickest and most athletic player in DL drills. But we’ll need to see how he compares with the LB group in my opinion.

I was surprised and impressed with Arizona State DT WILL SUTTON once the contact type drills got going. He is the guy who was a cat quick DT two years ago at Arizona State, who then added about 20 pounds. to his frame. He looked out of shape and slower when I saw him in action last fall. But today he was beating blockers on a regular basis, primarily with quickness. I’m still think he’d be better losing about 10 lbs. off his new 315 lb. frame. But I must admit he did not look like a fat guy to me today.

None of the QB group really stood out to me for the South today. In fact I was a bit disappointed in the inconsistency of Eastern Illinois QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO, who was at the Shrine Game last week and should have looked sharper than his counterparts who haven’t played in a while. I always say let’s give these guys until Wednesday to learn some plays and get into the swing of things. So far now…

I felt the pain of Oklahoma G/C GABE IKARD on Monday. He comes off a full week of practice and game at the Shrine venue as a late addition to the South squad. His reward was a move to OG today in pass pro drills. It was a tough go, but giving it the old college try at a new slot can’t hurt and has a couple more days to show improvement. Good like GABE.

Fresno State TE MARCEL JENSEN State is an incredible physical specimen at 6’5, 264 lbs. He’s also the owner of 10 1/8” hands and 34 ¼” long arms. But on day one the results of his play were mixed. He ran well and got some separation, but he had trouble on multiple occasions holding on to throws.

Jumping in the car, my companions and I hustled across the Bay to Ladd-Peebles Stadium to catch the second half of the NORTH practice.

Wisconsin MLB CHRIS BORLAND only measured in at barely 5-11, but was impressive in every drill I watched. He found the ball on a regular basis, and had an interception and a fumble recovery. And the fact that he only measured in at 5’11 may not hurt him all that much as many scouts actually expected him to be closer to 5’10. He’s still a tad shorter than the NFL norm, but with his instincts and hard work he could find the success as a pro of guys like ZACH THOMAS and/or LONDON FLETCHER.

I was disappointed in the poor throwing mechanics and lack of accuracy from Clemson QB TAJH BOYD on Monday. He has a tendency to drop down and just sling the ball at times. And as a result he missed several relatively open receivers. He’s a team leader and has a strong arm when he throws with proper mechanics, but he looks to me like a guy who is going to need patience and a guru QB coach to succeed at the next level.

Same story for Virginia Tech QB LOGAN THOMAS who was his frustratingly erratic self this afternoon. He’ll make a couple of really nice throws, followed by a play where you wonder if he sees the field very well at all. He’s still a big, talented TE trying to learn to play QB in my opinion. He’s not made much progress overall as a QB the past two seasons. The question may become whether, and when, some NFL team decides they have the ability to harness the stallion and teach him the nuances of being a top level QB. We’ll see how he progresses this week.

Minnesota DT RA’SHEDE HAGEMAN really showed some dominance in one-on-one pass-blocking drills today. He overpowered and/or blew by several linemen. He didn’t totally defeat everyone every snap, but the flashes were many and eye catching.

Toledo RB DAVID FLUELLEN spent a good deal of the 2013 season banged up, missing all or parts of games. But he looked pretty healthy today and showed what an all-around RB he can be. He’s not a blazer, not is he a power back. But he glides quickly to the hole and then burst through it for good yardage. He is also very smooth slipping out into short space and catching the ball.
 
After watching him pull in several deep throws I would have to say than Northwestern WRKAIN COULTER is a pretty smooth athlete for a guy who played mostly QB at Northwestern. He seemed to run some nice patterns and his hands look dependable. He could make his mark here and set himself up for a big COMBINE if he times well in he 40 there.

The best pass catching TE of Day 1 was JACOB PEDERSEN of Wisconsin. The 6’3, 242 lb. TE/H-B candidate made some very nice extension catches. He looks to be pretty much in the mold of TEXANS TEs OWEN DANIELS and GARRETT GRAHAM. Blocking is not his forte, but opening up the middle of the field with crossing routes is.

The coaches put in considerable Special Teams work on their punt units this afternoon. So it gave me a chance to pull out the Pigskin Paul stop watch and check out hang times and distance for KIRBY VAN DER KAMP. There is no way to put it other than to say he was incredibly inconsistent on his first day of punting here in Mobile. When he drops the ball correctly and gets full keg extension he hits them far and high. I have a bunch of 40-45 yard punts, with hang times of 4.5 to 272 seconds. But he also had several efforts of less than 4 seconds and 40 yards. Erratic would be he best word to describe his efforts overall.

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