The last day of padded action for this year’s game was conducted today. Thursday’s practices will likely look much like walk-throughs, with emphasis on Special Teams units. I won’t be there, but rather will work from home and come up with my All-Practice Team. But for now, let’s review some of Wednesday’s happenings and observations.
As of this morning’s practice, it sure looks like the West will have a distinct advantage if this turns into a Field Goal battle, which Star games often do. Once my new friend COOPER ROTHE/Wyoming got beyond 35-yards, he just couldn’t get the power and/or accuracy to make his attempts. Unless this was an unusually bad day for him, and he can fix his stroke, DOMINIK EBERLE of Utah State looks to have a stronger and more accurate leg, by far.
The best overall QB to my eyes on the East roster, by a reasonable margin, is JAMES MORGAN/FIU #12. He ‘s been a slick ball handler and an accurate thrower, who can really bring the heat. However, he’s not breaking fingers and throws a very catchable ball. At 6’4/230, he’s a decent athlete who can run a bit and extend plays. I see him as a fairly early Day 3 draftee. He makes good decisions on who to throw to and can lob the ball high for his tall receivers on the sideline and end zone.
Speaking of his tall receivers, the new addition today was Clemson WR DIONDRE OVERTON, who was buried beneath an incredibly talented and deep receiving crew at Clemson, but his ability to get separation and make some nice “hands” catches was very noticeable this morning. Based on what I saw on Day One for him, I look for OVERTON to have a serious impact in Saturday’s game if he can get in sync with his new QB.
On the other hand, two beaten-up Clemson OL were not in uniform today. GAGE CERVENKA and SEAN POLLARD were at the practice, but not in uniform. Clearly their bodies took a pounding Monday night against a tough and big LSU DL. I saw them leaving practice a bit early with travel bags in their hands. I could certainly be wrong, but I would not be surprised if they were headed back to South Carolina for some serious hot tub time.
A nice surprise along the East OL this week has been UNC OT CHARLIE HECK, who is indeed the son of former Notre Dame and NFL player, Andy Heck, who now coaches in Atlanta. CHARLIE is a big guy at 6’7/305 lbs., but he has shown the ability to move his feet well and shows enough strength to protect the edge. He has a chance to really get some Draft attention if he plays well on Saturday.
MITCH WILCOX, who I mentioned on Monday, appears to have rediscovered his ability to be a solid receiver, to go along with his steady, effective blocking. He has been running crisp routes and getting some yards after the catch. He can go deep with reasonable speed, at his size.
MALCOLM PERRY/Navy QB, has made great strides in three days in his effort to display receiving skills. He has great foot quickness and can cut on a dime. Once the ball is in his hands, his quickness has helped him dodge some tacklers, even tho he hasn’t broken any long gains yet. I just have this feeling that he’ll have an impact in the game on Saturday.
On the defensive side, CAMERON GILL, a long lean athlete from Wagner is having a very active, impactful week. #92 has been very solid at diagnosing where the ball is going and then getting to it. He is also relentless in pursuit and runs quite well. Overall, he is a nice looking athlete who doesn’t get caught out of place very often.
I’ve been a fan of CB STANTLEY THOMAS-OLIVER of FIU for quite a while now, and he’s making some very nice plays in coverage here. In a red zone drill, he stoned a WR and knocked the ball away from a goal line catch. This young man has extreme confidence in his speed and cover skills. He shows good quicks with the ball in the air, as well.
In the afternoon session, I gave some serious scrutiny to the 4 West QB’s. The two front runners, as pro prospects, are KELLY BRYANT/Missouri (former Clemson) #7 and TYLER HUNTLEY/Utah #1. For some reason, HUNTLEY has looked jumpy and been inconsistent in his play. To the contrary, BRYANT has been consistent and effective every day. BRYANT reads the field really well, and throws a very accurate ball that looks mostly catchable. Perhaps his best attribute to my eyes is his ability to discern when he doesn’t really have an open receiver, and his willingness to throw the ball away (without penalty) and move on to the next play. Some very good pro QB’s never learn to master that art in 10+ year pro careers. BRYANT has also been able to move around effectively and extend plays, but is patient and doesn’t bolt from the pocket too quickly. I think he has been very impressive this week.
Just a quick mention that Boise State WR JOHN HIGHTOWER has done nothing to change my mind that he’s the best WR on the West squad. He made several hands catches today, where he just snatched the ball out of the air. His footwork on the sideline, and in the end zone, has been impeccable.
Seems to me that Oregon’s JUWAN JOHNSON (ex-Penn State) has been a monster force as a big, strong receiver who can motor for his size. He’s a very unpleasant dude for DB’s to try to tackle at about 230 lbs. I have heard speculation of him becoming a TE, but I don’t think his frame can carry any more weight without hindering his speed and movement. However, he certainly could fill multiple playing roles in various formations. I think we might also notice him on coverage units on game day.
For me, Illinois RB REGGIE CORBIN was a very frustrating watch for me last fall, because on 3 different occasions, he failed to play a role in Illinois games. No problem catching his act this week. He is showing great burst to and thru holes. He has the power to brush aside hand tackle attempts, and he has enough speed to outrun some LB’s into the secondary.
One of the best all-around DB’s on the West squad has been DAVID DOWELL, S from Michigan State. Like many Spartan S’s in the past, he’s a big hitter, who punishes receivers during or after catches. He’s over 200 lbs. and hits like a LB, but he also shows some coverage skills while roaming the deep secondary. He really showed well in some red zone 11/11, where the limited space allowed him to cover a lot of ground against both the runner and pass.
I had a chance to have a nice chat with the West kicking combo of P ALEX PECHIN #11 from Bucknell, and DOMINIK EBERLE, K from Utah State. I specifically asked EBERLE if he had noticed any loss of distance on his kicks here at sea level compared to the high altitudes in Utah. He said not at all, and I agree after watching him boom some in practices all week.
That’s it for now folks. I’ll work on that All-Practices team Thursday, and be tweeting from the actual game on Saturday. Then it’s on to Mobile right away Monday morning, on MLK Day.