The practices were back-to-back on the first day, which left little time to breathe. East practice came first, and it was a very useful session as run by Coach Jerry Glanville. The West practice, helmed by Romeo Crennel, was painfully slow and featured little for the disgruntled scouts in attendance to chew on.
Stars of the Day
Northern Arizona RB Zach Bauman stole the show at East practice. A shade under 5’10” but solidly built at 196 pounds, Bauman electrified the practice with his quick feet, sharp cutting, and amazing balance. He can plant, cut, and explode a la LeSean McCoy, able to change direction on a dime and still get to top speed off one step. I loved how well he attacked; many times guys with his skills and agility tend to run too horizontal and not get vertical up the field well, but Bauman turned it up fast. Very good first impression.
Baylor TE Jordan Najvar was the most impressive player at the West session. A very physically impressive 6’6” and 250+ pounds, he’s a brick house of a specimen. So when he repeatedly flashed soft hands to pluck the ball from the air, it really grabbed attention. Najvar showed he could extend well above his head but also well away from his body to make the catch, even in tight quarters. He made tough NFL catches and completed the full process even after taking a big lick (notably from South Dakota LB Tyler Starr). Just to show he can play in-line, Najvar threw a devastating down block on the defensive end during the all-too-brief team session.
Also impressing: North Dakota State CB Marcus Williams, Cornell QB Jeff Mathews, San Jose State WR Chandler Jones, North Carolina safety Tre Boston, and Toledo WR Bernard Reedy
Duke CB Ross Cockrell had a rough go of it at East practice. He’s not as lithe as most of his cohorts, and the East wideout crew is full of smaller, shiftier guys. His hips are tighter than others, and he repeatedly stepped into the bucket to change direction. This is not an ideal venue for his style, but I was hoping for better regardless.
Washington safety Sean Parker is a player I liked very much heading into 2013. He didn’t live up to my expectations during the season, and that carried over to the field at St. Pete High School. While there was not a lot for him to do, he was noticeably stiffer in movement drills. He also looked smaller and slimmer in person than I expected. Perhaps I need to rescale my view, because he does have some impressive tape.
Also underwhelming: BYU TE Kaneakua Friel, Minnesota safety Brock Vereen, San Jose State CB Bene Benwikere, Utah State CB Nevin Lawson, and Eastern Illinois WR Eric Lora, who looked incredibly nervous.
A Little QB Talk
I am apparently against the grain in my opinion of Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance. My notes include several negative marks, notably that he likes to throw off one foot and his deeper throws tended to dive down at the end. The coaches gave him a lot more attention and instruction than to fellow East QBs Jeff Matthews and Jordan Lynch, and he needed it.
Others raved about Garoppolo. Among his champions on Monday were NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks and CBS’s Dane Brugler, who was less than 5 yards away from me watching the same drill.
I came here with limited exposure to Garoppolo, and maybe my lack of background (I’ve seen one full game and half of another) changes my perspective. I’ve never been up or down on him or had to take a stance at all, and I think that freshness helps my opinion be truer here. I’m not criticizing my colleagues because in the end they might be right and I might look foolish, but I’m trusting my own eyes here.
Washington’s Keith Price did one of the most ridiculous things any of us in attendance can recall. In a 7-on-6 drill with no pass rush, Price scrambled as if Clay Matthews was chasing him, dropped his eyes so much he couldn’t see Indiana TE Ted Bosler uncovered less than 10 yards in front of him, and tucked the ball and ran. I can only imagine what will happen when guys like Shaquil Barrett and Larry Webster Jr. (who flashed impressive quickness) are really breathing down his neck. If Price is seeing ghosts in these drills, he’s got no prayer in the NFL.
I was talking with an agent as the West practice slogged along, and one of the things we talked about was how some certain teams never blow early picks on athletic freaks that cannot play football. We mentioned four teams--New England, Atlanta, Green Bay, and Baltimore. Three of those teams had their GMs in attendance, while the fourth (the Patriots) had a full complement of scouts but other fish to fry for the front office as they are still playing. It was a nifty coincidence. There were very few high-ranking execs here and almost no coaches.
The most impressive overall talent group is the East secondary. There are six East DBs with a chance to be drafted by the end of the fourth round: Pierre Desir, Phillip Gaines, Tre Boston, Hakeem Smith, Andre Hal, and Ricardo Allen. Desir, from tiny Lindenwood University, is a very impressive athlete and is not all that raw either.
By contrast, the least impressive group appears to be the West running backs. While I did not watch much of them today, the only real positive I saw was a nifty juke step by Air Force’s Anthony Lacoste. I’m bullish on Sam Houston State’s Tim Flanders but he was not impressive in the first day.
Auburn punter Steven Clark had a masterful BCS Championship game, and he might want to rest on that. He really struggled at Shorecrest Prep for East practice, including one side-footed shank that went exactly 20 yards in the air before bouncing backwards to almost where he kicked it from.
Bellhaven tackle Matt Hall came in listed at 6’10”. They aren’t releasing the official measurements here just yet, but he was among several players grumbling around the Tradewinds resort (the official hotel, and it’s awesome!) that they were shorted a little at the weigh-in Monday morning. He looked every bit of 6’10” to this 6’5” guy.
Just before the late practice ended, word started circulating that the Titans hired former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt as their head coach. Almost everyone, including Lions scouts in attendance, expected Coach Whiz to wind up in Detroit.
It’s an interesting choice by Whisenhunt, who could have had any head coaching job still open. One of the sticking points in Detroit apparently was Whiz’s desire to switch the Lions to a 3-4 defense, something the holdover personnel staff opposed.
Look for the Lions to have another interview with former Colts coach Jim Caldwell, who had a very strong and thorough interview last week. He could be hired as early as Tuesday night if some whispers I’m hearing are valid.