Monday January 12, 2009Chad Reuter, Senior Analyst, The SportsXchange, NFLDraftScout.com
It's time again for Houston to host the East-West Shrine Game. The first day of practices featured 60-plus degree temperatures and a lot of sunshine…exactly the opposite of last year, where the players had to move into the adjacent Texans' practice "bubble", which joins the practice fields across Kirby street from Reliant Stadium.
In today's beautiful weather, however, the teams were free to use the two outdoor practice fields. The regular NFL scouting crowd was there, some sitting on the bleachers to the east of the eastern practice field and others hanging out the two fields to catch the maximum amount of action. Sprinkled in there were a few media members, agents and others from local colleges like Rice and UH.
NFL scouts are not overly impressed with the talent level in this year's East-West game. There may be one or two top 100 players here, but that's about it (there was one last year). In fact, the senior class as a whole is down…thankfully a record number of underclassmen may enter the fold. Unfortunately, those juniors were not on the field today.
The East team was the first on the practice field after lunch. As is the case with this entire senior class, the defensive players stood out more than those on the other side of the ball. Georgia linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who played in the middle as a senior but was at the sam 'backer position, could be one of the few players sneaking into the third round of the draft. He played very strong at the line of scrimmage, delivering a nice punch to knock his guy off his route, and covering the flat against the tight ends and running backs.
BC's Robert Francois also displayed strength in coverage, although he will struggle to stay with quick ballcarriers in space. Johnny Williams from Kentucky looks good in his uniform but had to be coached up on how to get back in his drops. He can't sink his hips and lacks suddenness to change directions in space. Duke's Michael Tauiliili was eaten up by interior linemen inside but did fill the hole nicely when his tackles kept him free.
The most impressive corner on the East squad was Iowa's Bradley Fletcher. He used his length to knock away one pass to the sideline and high-pointing a deep ball for an interception in 7-on-7 drills. Norfolk State's Don Carey did not disappoint, either, looking fluid in drills, pressing his man effectively and enough speed to stay with receivers down the field. Tall but lean Morgan Trent (Michigan) has good movement but was slow to close on out routes when playing off the line.
Mississippi State safety Keith Fitzhugh looked strong today, showing some corner-like quickness in drills, breaking down well and bringing his hips to wrap up receivers and running backs in scrimmages. Curtis Taylor (LSU) and C.J. Spillman (Marshall) looked like safeties when doing backpedal drills, but both showed some willingness to close and hit in drills. Courtney Greene was a bit more fluid in drills but dropped passes and couldn't chase USF receiver Taurus Johnson down the sideline during 7-on-7's…and Johnson's no burner. Riser Brandon Underwood worked at cornerback most of the day but he also looked like a safety as he could not adjust to receivers pressing him then running the quick out.
Up front, Terrance Taylor was the d-line coach's whipping boy during one-on-one drills. Taylor's inability to get off a block or get past his man brought more than a little tongue lashing. Memphis quick tackle Clinton McDonald continually used his hands to beat his man inside in one-on-ones. Tall, massive Sammie Lee Hill (Stillman College) has raw talent, to be sure, and showed an ability to bull rush…but that was about it. He seemed to take to coaching well, however, as he used a spin move to beat his man later on.
Defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, from FCS champion Richmond, displayed his nice upfield pass rush in drills but also showed he has some work to do using his hands to get free from his man. Undersizes Missouri end Stryker Sulak had similar issues. Wisconsin's Matt Shaughnessy once again failed to show a burst, but consistently used his strong hands to get past Ohio State's Alex Boone.
Jamon Meredith played left tackle and guard at South Carolina, but his strong punch and good foot work at right tackle opened some eyes. Fellow RT Ramon Foster (Tennessee) displayed strength, as well, even if his feet didn't always catch up to his man. Kent State's Augustus Parrish looked overmatched at times because of his lack of strength at the point of attack.
The most impressive group of the day on the East squad may have been their guards. Maryland's Jaimie Thomas consistently played with leverage and destroyed Tauiliili at the second level. Ryan Durand (Syracuse) doesn't have great mass but seemed to always get his arms extended to push his man whatever way he wanted on run plays. Seth Olsen (Iowa) flat-out dominated his man at times using strength and good hand technique.
The East quarterbacks really struggled…again, this is not a surprise considering one (or no) senior quarterback may be drafted in the first three rounds. Then again, QB's and receivers usually take some time to get down their timing…so it's not time to be too harsh. The ball came out of big ol' Hunter Cantwell's (as John Madden might call him) hand poorly about half of the time and coaches had to keep telling him to get the ball out quicker, partially because of his delivery and partially because he's just late making the throw. Then there's little ol' Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, who had issues with accuracy in throws to all levels. Michigan State's Brian Hoyer was clearly the best passer on the day, showing nice zip and fair accuracy on most of his throws.
The receivers each had good and bad moments today. Darius Passmore (Marshall) showed great quickness off the line of scrimmage and ran fluidly, but body-caught multiple balls and dropped a couple of others. Penn State's Deon Butler doesn't look like much on the field and let some balls into his body but he flashed impressive quickness on out routes and in the slot. Tall Clemson WR Aaron Kelly is also slight and lacking great speed, but he did make a nice leaping grab while falling out of bounds on the right sideline in 7-on-7's. Taurus Johnson, mentioned earlier, found it tough to get separation or even find the ball on occasion. One of the more humorous moments of the day was when Johnson and Kelly ran smack into each other while trying to run a tandem route on the left side…now that's a rub route!
Northeastern tight end Brian Mandeville is tall and thin, but he found a way to beat linebackers on the line, put good effort into pass protection and actually crashed down on Sidbury on a running plays, pushing him down the line a few yards. Ellerbe tossed him aside on one play, however, bringing him back to earth a bit. Alabama's Nick Walker doesn't run particularly well but his hands are solid. David Johnson from Arkansas State has added girth over the course of the season. His in-line blocking wasn't as good today as it was against Sun Belt competition, however.
Running back Marlon Lucky didn't get a lot of work in Nebraska's offense this week but looked very good as a receiver and a one-cut-and-go runner today. Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton showed some short area quickness carrying or catching the ball and looked to be over his wrist injury.
Former Alabama coach Gene Stallings' West team came out immediately following former NFL and college coach Bobby Ross' East workout today because of the morning weigh-in. For the rest of the week, the teams' practices will be separated by a 90 minute lunch period.
The West's quarterbacks looked a bit better than the East's. Fresno State's Tom Brandstater has prototypical size and throws a tight spiral. Stephen McGee looks to be a prisoner of circumstance at Texas A&M. Although he has to step into his throws more often, his size and zip on the ball validated teams' belief he can be a late-round pick. Central Washington, and Washington State transfer, Mike Reilly has good size and athleticism but had troubles getting the ball out of his hand cleanly and did not display great arm strength or accuracy.
Colorado State RB Gartrell Johnson ran for 287 yards in his team's bowl game but his lack of speed or quickness was exposed today. The speed of his wheel routes could have been measured with a calendar. His attempts to catch the ball downfield were brutal. Jorvorski Lane, A&M's 290 pound fullback actually showed soft hands today, as well as the ability to pound defenders while carrying the ball. TCU back/receiver/returner Aaron Brown displayed a burst after reaching the line that scouts have seen all season…they just don't know how he will fit into their offensive system.
Receiver Jarrett Dillard looked right at home on the practice field (Rice University is literally right down the road from Reliant, after all), not dropping a single pass whether downfield or in traffic over the middle. He was the best receiver for either team today. Manny Johnson (Oklahoma) struggled to catch the ball a bit early, yet came on with quickness in his cuts and solid hands throughout the rest of the session. Arizona's Mike Thomas and Oregon State's Sammie Stroughter were as expected, small but quick and tough. Thomas caught the ball with his hands more consistently then Stroughter, however. Marko Mitchell, the productive pass receiver from Nevada, looked less than spectacular. His tall, extremely lean body looked stiff and awkward running routes, even when he ran the correct ones. He dropped or failed to get to multiple throws, and drew scoffs from scouts on the sideline when he was very late getting his head around to find the ball.
Another Central Washington product, Jared Bronson, looked like he belonged among this group both as a blocker and receiver. He lacks bulk, however, and wasn't particularly explosive off the line. Houston tight end Mark Hafner earned his invite with his play this year. He moved to fullback for today, getting in and out of routes quickly, making a nice catch and giving good effort as a blocker out of the backfield. Fresno State's Bear Pascoe struggled to get off the line of scrimmage and could not separate from any linebacker at the second level, making it tough for the quarterback to even try to throw the ball to him.
The West's offensive line didn't show a whole lot during today's work. Oklahoma center Jon Cooper lacks bulk but uses his hands well and rarely gave ground in one-on-ones or scrimmages. The other center, Washington's Juan Garcia, displayed slow feet getting to the linebacker and against quick tackles in one-on-ones. BYU guard Travis Bright also struggled against speed inside, getting beat off the snap in one-on-ones without even having his hand on the ground. Left guard Louis Vasquez (Texas Tech) was up and down, showing good strength to drive his man downfield on one play and overextending on others, which caused him to lose his balance or get ripped off. On the outside, Feneki Tupou (Oregon), Sebastian Vollmer (Houston) and Dan Gay IV (Baylor) did nothing special to improve their stock.
The defensive line took advantage of the offensive line's inconsistencies throughout the day. UC Davis' John Faletoese out-quicked his man early in the day with violent hands and spin moves but he lacks the bulk to hold up over the long run. Oregon tackle Ra'Shon Harris worked hard inside, ripping Texas' Cedric Dockery on one plays but plays too tall most times.
Another UH product, end Phillip Hunt, used his lack of height to get leverage and get under the shoulder on pass rushes against taller left tackles. However, he found it difficult to disengage to tackle the ballcarrier coming his way. San Jose State DT/DE Jarron Gilbert displayed quickness and length (he's 6'6") inside. As you'd expect, however, he could be moved easily by double teams. Stanford DE Pannel Egboh has length but his bull rushes were ineffective and he is not strong enough to rip off his man.
A couple of scouts were heard talking about TCU inside linebacker Jason Phillips, both basically saying he "just makes plays." His physical handling of running backs over the middle took away the QB's safety valve. Western Illinois linebacker Jason Williams is a well-built prospect that showed some pop playing inside and willingness to be physical at the point of attack. Cal's Worrell Williams looked pretty small among his defensive bretheren but was very active, as usual.
The West cornerbacks could be the top position group on either team. Texas' Ryan Palmer was consistently in the jersey of receiver Mike Thomas, who does not lack quickness. Palmer plays much stronger than his size indicates. Brandon Hughes (Oregon State) and Ryan Mouton (Hawaii) are similarly built players who also broke up passes and played more physically than you'd expect for their size. Cary Harris from USC, who may be the top prospect of the group, didn't do anything outstanding or poor on the day.
USC safety Kevin Ellison mixed it up throughout the practice; he'll probably start a fight before the week's over. On one sideline he shoved TCU's Aaron Brown out of bounds like it was the fourth quarter, then he popped a back in the hole on the next play with a little more physicality than was necessary in this initial practice. Given his high, stiff backpedal during drills earlier in the day, Ellison needed to make scouts remember he's a beast in the box. Texas Tech's Darcel McBath also looked stiff in defensive back drills and struggled staying with receivers in coverage, as well.
These practices aren't exactly the best way to judge linebackers or safeties, however, as they don't get a chance to show their full physicality and tackling abilities. Over the next couple of days, the hitting will get more intense and we'll see who brings their "A" game.*Post-game report*Wednesday practice report*Tuesday practice report* (Right click mouse to Save Target As) East-West Shrine Measurements (Height, Weight, Hand, Arm)
Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet by Chad Reuter*Monday practice report*East-West Shrine All-Star Rosters*East-West Shrine Journal: Central Washington QB Mike Reilly