Weather continues to be bright and crisp, near perfect for playing football. And that they did as the South squad came out for their final practice session.
`After talking about lack of separation in the QB group in the North practice I feel like I finally have seen some based on this practice. And to be quite honest it does nothing but further even up the QB ranking race to be best. JARRETT STIDHAM staked his claim as the most productive QB this week with his effort today. STIDHAM has looked calm in the pocket this week, and been able to extend plays with mobility. His lack of a rocket arm is still clear, but his ability to read the field and deliver the ball accurately to his receivers of choice has been more consistent than anyone else here in my eyes. He has really shined in the 7-on-7, 11-on-11 simulated game situation segments. I’m becoming convinced that in a ball-control pro offense he will be able to get the job done for the right NFL team. Based on his work here he may not get past Day Two of the Draft for a QB needy team. He could make a very solid career as an NFL backup QB, with a chance to win a starter’s role in time. Kudos to Jarrett for making the most of his opportunity this week. Now just deliver Saturday, when they begin keeping score.
One more QB note here. Even though I still believe that anyone drafting TYREE JACKSON, Buffalo #3 has to look at him as a developmental project, his talent and upside were confirmed in practices this week. He often looks like a thinner BYRON LEFTWICH. But after watching him a bit at Ladd-Peebles I think his throwing motion with those 35″ long arms is not quite as elongated and winding as LEFTWICH’s was. He has shown all the arm strength that we expected him to, but when I have watched him I’ve been impressed overall with his accuracy and touch. He is a good athlete, but his mobility is not as effective avoiding the rush as I thought it might be. He’s just a stereotype work-in-progress with a probably huge upside if handled correctly. I do fear he may struggle with pressure in Saturday’s game because the pass-rush from both defenses could be intense this year.
Perhaps the best all-around player here has been DEEBO SAMUEL #1 WR/SOUTH CAROLINA. Time lost to off/on injuries as a Gamecock, and average QB play during his collegiate career kept a lot of folks from seeing much of him in action. But he took the bull by the horns and has made this venue his oyster so far. He was one of the clear winners back at the weigh-in with a rock solid 5’114″/216 body with 10 1/8″ hands at the end of his arms. He is very dangerous after the catch, with that strong RB-type body. He also is showing deep speed, and creating separation running his routes. For my money, he is one of the small group of players here who are likely to go in Round 1 of the Draft. This young man has been making himself some money this week.
Speaking of receivers, how about an ex-WR who is now playing CB for this South squad. His name is ISAIAH JOHNSON of HOUSTON. He wears #14 and has most uncommon size for a CB, as his Head Coach this week might say. He weighed in at 207 pounds and measured 6’022. He has long 33 5/8″ arms. He shows cover skills and a willingness to be physical. All that’s left is for more action at his new position and an accelerated learning curve for his craft. He did some very nice work, right in front of me, in end zone passing drills. He got beaten a couple of times but also broke up a few throws. Expect him to be very athletic in the Combine DB group next month.
A quick mention of a young man who just showed up Wednesday as a replacement player, JIMMY MORELAND/CB/James Madison. MORELAND was a bit of a sensation last week at the Shrine. He is a tad small at 5’10/175, but is quick and reads the offense very well. He’s breaking up a lot of throws here, just like he did in St. Pete. He shows good speed and can run with all the receivers on his team, even SAMUEL. If he rings the bell Saturday in the game, then a slot in the April Draft should be a given. He has Nickel-CB written all over him right now.
ISAIAH BUGGS/DL/Alabama has impressed this week with his quickness, heavy hands (even if they are kinda small) and a non-stop motor. He’s not an elite athlete, but he earns his spot out on the field with his energy and determination. He has dominated at times in pass-pro blocking drills against the OL. The only real caveat to his make-up are his very short arms, at 30 7/8″. But to my eyes, he makes up for his lack of length with his explosive drive off the snap. I expect some QB pressure from him in the game, and a solid pro future. He is also likely to evolve into a locker room leader for his pro team.
I am always happy to issue an apology to a player who disappointed me in some film watching, but then shows me at this venue that he is better than I thought. Everybody can have a bad day or two. Once it became clear that DAX RAYMOND/TE/UTAH STATE was coming out for the 2019 Draft, I made sure to watch him in his Bowl Game. I thought he struggled to catch the ball in that game, dropping several balls that looked very catchable. He set my mind at ease in Thursday’s practice with several very nice catches, a couple defeating good coverage on him. At 6’045/249 he has good size, and yes, he can line up inline and block a bit. When his hands measured 10 3/8″ I did a double take remembering how I had been disappointed in that bowl game. He has redeemed himself here in my eyes. His work here this week has him moving up in my prospect rankings. I did hear some murmurs this week of interest from the Cowboys in particular.
I had a nice chat with COLE TRACY after practice. He, who was a grad transfer from Assumption College in Massachusetts and had an excellent single season for LSU last year. He showed no fear going from a thousand fans per game to kicking big time in the huge SEC stadiums. Given the havoc reeking winds and rain this week he has held his own in practices. He does not have a booming leg, but with steady technique the 5’10, 183 pounder can get good range on his kicks. He also displays a calm, quiet confidence in his craft. Continued success Mr. Tracy.
Be back at you after the game Saturday.