By | January 28, 2016

Today was day three of team practices, and the final ones of the week. I was very surprised to see so few NFL personnel people in the stands this morning at LADD-PEEPLES Stadium. Given that these were full pad practices, I expected that NFL folks would stick around through today. Some teams still had a strong presence while many had just a couple of scouts on hand. I saw TED THOMPSON of the Packers perched under the goal posts watching carefully at both practices. CHIEFS GM JOHN DORSEY, is clearly a chip off the old block. He and many of his guys were still around as I ran into them during lunch.

It was still fairly cold, with no sun in sight, and winds whipping around the stadium. But a little bit of football practice and most of the cold was forgotten.

With practice time being split between 4 QB this year it has been rather difficult separating one from another, except in the case of CARSON WENDT who has clearly separated from the other QB for the North. I watched the other three QB, but really couldn’t decide on one.

There has been an interesting twist to North practices under HC JASON GARRETT. During several breaks in the practice schedule the team forms a circle and some kind of limited participation competition takes place between selected players, very similar to one-on-one drills. All teammates gather around the selected players and cheer them on in their battles. It’s a team building exercise, as well as a competition reinforcement that I remember from my high school football days. But I have not seen it at this level before. I’ll bet PETE CARROLL does this in Sea Hawks practices.

Unfortunately one of my favorite players at this game disappeared half way through practice; JIHAD WARD/DE/Illinois. I found out at tonite’s presser that he hurt a wrist, but the severity of the injury is not known yet. Ironically, the injury probably is a result of one of WARD’s best qualities. I have seen him dozens of times grabbing a player’s jersey to cast them aside. Here’s hoping he can play Saturday but I won’t hold my breath.

I have been surprised this week with the quickness and strength that MATT IOANNIDIS/DT #90. MATT checked in at 303 lbs. which was about 15 more than he was listed at during Temple’s 2015 season. My first response was to expect him to be a tad slow. Not the case from what I have seen so far. He is really responding to coaching from DL/DC ROD MARINELLI. He’s winning most of his battles out on the practice field.

After the slew of injuries that I have mentioned in the last two days the North squad has been reinforced. The following players have been added to the North roster:
#19 DJ FOSTER/RB Arizona State
#5 ED EAGAN/WR NW Louisiana State
Some of you will no doubt remember that ALLISON was a standout in the Shine Game last week. He should be a great addition to the North roster. The team;s QB certainly looked like they enjoyed targeting him at this morning’s practice.

During an 11-on-11 session at this practice it looked like the KENNETH DIXON show. The RB from Louisiana Tech did it all today. He was effective at running hard for a TD. He also looked very natural catching a couple balls. he shows great hands as a receiver. And he lit up a couple of DL who got into the backfield trying to sack his QB. The only real question most of us have about DIXON long term is how much tread he has left on his tires. He had a lot of touches in his college career, but that’s another story for another day. Watch for him to make some big plays in the game.

Had a nice conversation with S/MILES KILLEBREW #25 as he warmed up before practice. He’s a really fir looking athlete (6’016/219) who played smaller college football at SOUTHERN UTAH. He is considered a top small college prospect and looks solid with decent cover skills and a penchant for coming up and delivering a blow to ball carriers. Watch for him to make a big play or two in the game as well.

NICK VANNETT/TE Ohio State #81 shared a lot of playing time on a loaded Ohio State roster loaded with talent. But he clearly looks to be the best all-around TE in this game to me. he is solid as a blocker at 256 lbs. He is also a long target (6’056) with soft 10″ hands. He’s probably at the top of a weak and thin TE group. He is a legit inline TE, IMO.

On the negative side OL/AUSTIN BLYTHE #63, is clearly over-matched as I watch him in blocking drills. He’s 6’022, 291 lbs.with 30 1/4″ arms. He is just being bull-rushed to death by the North DT as a group. He just cannot handle these bigger guys. I’m sure he has been taught excellent technique by the Iowa coaching staff, but he doesn’t appear to have a chance at all as a pro other than in a zone blocking scheme as an Interior OL career back-up.

IN the midst of practice CB/DEIONDRE’ HALL #20 seemed to have an emotional meltdown while covering WR/BRAXTON MILLER. Besides pushing and shoving he unleashed some profanity laced trash talking. Caches and teammates eventually managed to calm him down.

At the end of practice I spent a few moments talking with relatives of RB/TYLER ERVIN #7. They traveled all the way from California to watch him play in this game. Pretty neat!

As an initial observation for this practice I want to comment on the Punters here in Mobile this year. There is no doubt in my mind that they do not compare to the two guys I saw at the Shrine venue last week. I put the stop watch on both RILEY DIXON #22 North and ALEX KINAL #38 South and never clocked a punt hang time at over 5.0 seconds. I also seriously doubt they will both average 49+-yards per punt like MONDAY/KASER did last Saturday. We will have to take into account the fact that Ladd-Peebles is a very windy venue, but overall I would seriously doubt that either of these two players will be drafted.

Some roster changes have been necessitated by injuries to the South Squad as well in recent days. Gone to injury are SHELDON RANKINS/DL, JAKE McGEE/TE & CONNOR McGOVERN/OG. Added to the roster have been TE/DARION GRISWOLD #84 and DT/JAVON HARGRAVE, who both played key roles at the SHRINE venue last week.

I watched LSU giant OL/VADAL ALEXANDER #74 carefully in practice today. He measured in at 6’053/334 lbs. with 34 1/4″ long arms. His potential would seem to be unlimited, but his current level of play shows some serious deficiencies as a potential pro. He’s a bit slow reacting to pass rushes and plays way to upright, especially given his height to begin with. Watching him in practices this week leads me to agree with those who see him as more likely to succeed inside at OG. But his potential is still very high. THis is an impressive athletic specimen.

KENTRELL BROTHERS/LB #10 had an incredibly productive career at Mizzou. He was pretty much a tackling machine. Watching him in practice drills I would attribute much of his success getting to the ball to being very light on his feet and having the ability to explode to the ball. He also looks to be solid in coverage work, once again to his quick feet. He covers a lot of ground in a short period of time.

We have reached a stage in practice where guys are clearly becoming familiar with their mates and practice opponents. The best example of this came in watching 1-on-1 between linemen. The pattern of the day was seeing a DL beat the OL on the first snap, and then seeing opposite result on the next step. It happened time after time with neither unit, or individual, winning more battles than they lost. My conclusion is that these guys are ready for a game and new opponents to oppose.

NOAH SPENCE/DE/#97 is the player who was kicked out of the Ohio State program and resurfaced at Eastern Kentucky. He had an exceptional season in 2015 and has been flashing his pass-rush ability in every practice. He’s quicker than strong, but appears to have good upper body strength to work over OT. More than a few folks watching the talent this week think he will have a monster impact rushing North QB on Saturday afternoon.

Late add DJ READER/DT #94 from Clemson has proven once again that he is a load to try to move out of the middle along the line-of-scrimmage. He caught my eye in the National Championship game against Alabama. He’s low slung at 6’030″ tall, and weighs a whopping 340 lbs. He is just about impossible for Interior OL to move when he sets his feet and stands his ground. He’s been pushing OL around all week.

Another small school WR seems to be emerging as another athlete with a lot of pro potential. PAUL McROBERTS/WR #88 from SE Missouri made several excellent catches today. At least two of them that I saw were with defenders all around him. His long arms (33 1/2″) and good sized hands (9 3/4″) make his potential enticing. Now he seems to be showing some of that potential. Like many small school receivers in the last decade or so, it may require patience from his pro team, but the upside could be very high.

I have been intrigued from Day One here with Georgia’s JORDAN JENKINS #59 who was a sack master during his Bulldogs career. His size and athleticism are providing South coaches with a multiple position weapon who may well cause some defensive headaches to the North in Saturday’s game. He has played DE most often, but at 6’025″ tall and 257 lbs. there are serious concerns about his ability to act as full-time DE. We’ll probably know more about his likely pro position after his speed and quickness are tested at the Combine. Some believe he is quick enough to stand up in a 3-4 scheme at OLB. 11″ hands and 34″ long arms are very appealing and attractive for the scheming minds of Defensive Coordinators around the NFL. You Draftniks need to keep your eyes on this player on the weekend.

The practice week has concluded other than private walk-throughs on Friday.

I’ll find some time Friday afternoon to put together my All-Practice Week team.

Good night from Mobile folks.

Pigskin Paul