By Jeff Risdon
The morning East practice was washed out, as it rained heavily right up until practice time and the field was ruled unready. As a result, the East team did a walkthrough at the hotel pavilion. It was nice to see the guys working, but it was more about gameplan implementation than anything scout-worthy.
In the afternoon, the West did hold a full practice session. Unfortunately about 65% of practice was a waste of time as coach Romeo Crennel continued an inordinate obsession with stretching and special teams. I spent most of practice watching the linemen and linebackers.
South Dakota LB Tyler Starr stood out in drills for the West. He was easily the most lithe and agile of the group, though he didn’t exactly have a lot of competition on that front. Starr is a legit 6’4” and 250 pounds with Clay Matthews-esque hair and muscle. He demonstrated fluid hips and burst from his stance in drills. During team sessions he excelled at ducking under the block and attacking the football, exactly what teams want from a 3-4 ILB. Most of his experience is as an edge rusher, so the transition might be a little longer than fans want, but Starr has absolute NFL starting potential.
Wisconsin DT Beau Allen is not very impressive physically. He’s built like a sumo wrestler, with all his 333 pounds between his knees and chest. But he’s impossible to move off a spot. During a drill working against double teams, Allen was able to not only anchor but create forward movement when others were lucky to avoid getting planted into the ground. His hand placement was solid, but what really stood out was his ability to drive with his legs and leverage with his arms and shoulders.
Wisconsin guard Ryan Groy earned a spot on the highlight reel by snagging a kickoff and quickly turning it upfield like he was Devin Hester. He looked very natural with the ball in his hands. Groy also looked good as a long snapper. Even if he washes out as a guard, and he’s nothing special there, he offers enough value on special teams to carve himself a roster spot.
Also impressing: Montana OT Danny Kistler, Louisiana Tech DT Justin Ellis, Nebraska OT Jeremiah Sirles, and Houston P Richie Leone.
It was not a strong day for USC linebacker Devon Kennard. He looked fairly fluid in some of the positional drills, but he displayed hands of stone. During the team portion of practice, he was hesitant and easily locked up in space, a cardinal sin for a linebacker. He needs to trust his eyes and instincts more.
It was even worse for Michigan State LB Max Bullough. He weighed in at a doughy 265 pounds and was very tight and upright in movement drills. He is coming off a suspension from the Rose Bowl which will not endear him to NFL coaches, and shows up here overweight and sluggish. It’s not been a good month for a player with a lot of impressive tape. It will be interesting to see how he manages the next few months. If he’s not below 255 at the Combine, I’m not sold that Bullough is draftable.
Others who failed to make a positive impression: Bloomsburg DE Larry Webster III, who is an outside linebacker in a beach volleyball body; Stanford DE Josh Mauro, Colorado State LB Shaquil Barrett, woefully miscast as a 4-3 WLB here; UCLA DE Cassius Marsh, more notable for his copious tattoos than his game.
I’m known as a Lions fan, perhaps beyond all else. After all, I cover the Lions for Bleacher Report and I’m the man behind DetroitLionsDraft.com. So I’ve been barraged with questions about the Jim Caldwell hiring. Here’s my preliminary thought:
It’s better than most alternatives, notably Mike Munchak. Caldwell is a completely different persona than Jim Schwartz, and I think that will go over very well in the locker room. I like the angle that it’s the first time a black coach has served under a black GM, and I know the Lions are proud of that too. I respect what he did with Joe Flacco in the last playoffs to coax legit greatness from an average QB, and I pray to God he does the same with the more talented Matthew Stafford. I would have preferred Ken Whisenhunt, which I explained in a video I shot this morning. My dream candidate was always Brian Billick, who apparently had no interest. Let’s just say that the angle I laid out above had particular interest to another notable potential hire too, but Caldwell’s accepting the offer made that a moot point.
I’ve been picking the brains of many folks here, both actual NFL employees and fellow draft scribes, and I’m somewhat surprised at the consensus low opinion of Texas A&M WR Mike Evans. If he doesn’t crack 4.55 in the 40, and my sources tell me he won’t, he’s not going to be a first round pick.
On that same front, opinions on Clemson QB Tajh Boyd are literally all over the map. I’ve heard him trumpeted as the 3rd-best QB in this draft and I’ve heard people refer to him as undraftable CFL fodder. I lean far more towards the latter, but my strong suspicion is he’s going to go in the second or third round.
There is going to be fierce debate over the top TE in this draft. I’m an avowed advocate of Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, while others are just as staunchly in support of North Carolina’s Eric Ebron. What I like here is that there doesn’t appear to be a wrong answer, as I think both will be instant impact receivers. If you care more about in-line blocking, you’ll want Ebron, but if you want deep middle route option, you’ll prefer Amaro.
As I was asked by someone today, my pick for the first player from the Shrine Game drafted will be Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir. Corners his size with his feet don’t come along very readily and NFL teams will value that, even if he doesn’t have great speed.
Draft, Draft Misc