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Senior Bowl Notebook: Tuesday South Practice
Authored by Jeff Risdon - 25th January, 2011 - 11:00 pm

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The afternoon practice ran about 20 minutes long, which was welcome because the first 15 minutes were the Bills coaches implementing game-specific stuff that didn?t translate well to the scouts and coaches in attendance. It was very dark and the field was damp from a rain that fell between practice sessions.

Linebackers:

Von Miller is the marquee attraction, and he gave fodder to both his supporters and critics on Tuesday. He?s on another level in terms of speed, athleticism, and closing burst and it shows. Miller is easily the fastest around the edge and in chase mode, and he is more fluid in movement than anyone else. But when you see the group standing together, Miller?s skinny lower body stands out as well. He also had a couple of reps where he didn?t feel the back flaring out fast enough; he recovered quickly but was late to make the play. There?s no way he?s anything but a 3-4 pass rushing OLB in the NFL, but he could be a very effective one.

Mississippi State has two LBs here, Chris White and K.J. Wright. Wright is bigger and carries himself as such, but White probably had the more consistent afternoon. In pass coverage drills, Wright struggled to get depth and showed choppy feet and took false steps. White was much cleaner in movement though he lacks Wright?s burst to the ball. In 11-on-11 drills White made a nice play at sniffing out a screen, though he couldn?t catch Noel Devine.

Kelvin Sheppard from LSU is a guy that I?ve held mixed opinions on all year, but I like what I saw today. He?s the best field general, a natural leader who is quick to pick up offensive sets and align teammates. He?s also thicker than he was in October, having gained about 10 pounds of well-worn bulk. He moved fluidly in cover drills and showed good football IQ in 11s. He still needs to work on staying out of the fray though; he got caught up in the trash a couple of times and was essentially helpless to get out. He?s got good potential as a Cover-2 MLB but isn?t a 3-4 ILB, and he needs to work on catching and scooping the ball.

Nate Irving of NC State did not impress. He appeared heavy-legged and rigid. He was too upright in a blocking drill and was easily steered by tight ends that aren?t noted for being good blockers.

I watched the OL/DL drills quite a bit. Observations:

Allen Bailey (Miami) moves like an outside linebacker despite being almost 280 pounds. He?s very lean and explosive, with quick feet and no wasted energy. But when asked to do anything but go around the edge, he really struggled. He extends out too far and got pushed to the ground every time when he ventures inside. He also doesn?t appear to know what to do with his hands all the time, doesn?t extend out or fight off offensive linemen?s punch.

Phil Taylor (Baylor) reminds me a lot of Shaun Rogers. Very big, very quick off the snap and immediately establishes leverage. He has the brute strength to walk back any lineman here, but he also showed some ability to change direction on the move. He?s 337 pounds but moves like he?s ?only? 300 or so. A couple of coaches standing with me during the drill were quite impressed with Taylor as well.

Pernell McPhee (Mississippi State) stands noticeably higher than the others, not necessarily taller but his hips and waist are visibly higher than his peers. He is an odd size at 274 pounds with his height, and he had trouble beating the offensive linemen to the punch. He out-quicked Lee Ziemba when the Auburn O-lineman was out of position at guard, but overall McPhee didn?t show a lot. For his part, Ziemba looked real stiff and very slow with his hand punch, and he had a couple of instances where he didn?t keep his feet moving after contact.

Chris Neild (West Virginia) was underwhelming during most of the drills until they did a goal-line drill where he morphed into a fire hydrant that could not be moved. He?s compactly built and has no neck, and his lateral range is subpar. But to his credit he?s tenacious and gets his hands inside well and could make a solid 0 or 1 technique as part of a rotation at the next level.

Jarvis Jenkins (Clemson) is very physically impressive and showed quick, powerful hands and arm extension. He doesn?t have great leverage once engaged and had some issues finding the ball, but I saw some ability to crash the A gap and pursue under good control with solid speed for a man his size (6?4?, 309 pounds). He needs to learn to drop his butt more, according to a DL coach within earshot.

Cedric Thornton (Southern Arkansas) strikes me as trying too hard to make an impression. He?s got good quickness and has some variety to his moves, but he wastes a lot of energy taking false steps. Thornton has cultivated a ?me against the world? mentality and appears to be deliberately trying to distance himself from his teammates. I like the chip on the shoulder, but he needs to learn how to more positively channel it. He looks like a later-round pick that could blossom down the line.

Brooks Reid (Arizona) had a rough afternoon. He is very methodical and appears to lack the ability to adjust on the fly. Example: he lined up in 5 technique on Alabama tackle James Carpenter, who telegraphed that he was surrendering the inside rush. Rather than attack that, Reid had already made up his mind he was going wide with an inside shoulder push. Carpenter easily tossed him away. On a very similar rep, Sam Acho (Texas) saw the opening and quickly shot inside, catching Carpenter lunging. The ?quickly? with Acho is relative, as he?s just not a real dynamic athlete and badly lacks lower body base. Sorry Texas fans, but I really don?t see it.

From the OL perspective, the South is well behind the North team. Arkansas? Demarcus Love struggled at guard, couldn?t handle the inside power of Jenkins or Taylor and had issues keeping his balance. He did better at RT but was outshined by Georgia?s Clint Boling, who is a guard by trade. Boling acquitted himself nicely outside, but he needs work on opening up his shoulders when he?s not covered by a tight end and an outside rusher is present. Love did look real good at run blocking; he and Ziemba had a couple of reps where they blew the DL backwards.

Florida tackle Marcus Gilchrist also needs to learn to open his shoulder and stay balanced over his feet. His initial punch is almost painfully slow; the defenders routinely got into his pads before he could extend. He actually impressed with his ability to adjust during the play and with his tenacity, but he?s more of a project than I expected to see. He reminds me of Jonathan Scott of the Steelers when he entered the league with the Lions.

Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State) came to Mobile as one of those ?high-ceiling? guys that intrigue, but he?s got a long way to go before he scrapes that ceiling. He looks the part more than any linemen on the South roster, but he?s very methodical and inconsistent. On some reps he fired out with a strong punch and showed good knee bend and balance, but on others his hands went too high and his first move in pass protection was upward and not reacting to the defender. On one run blocking rep he flattened Acho, but the very next rep he basically whiffed at Bailey, who made a nice matador move and crashed hard inside. It backs up game tape, where at times he looked real good but also had some plays where you wonder if he?s seen pads before.

Baylor?s Danny Watkins was also hit and miss. He tends to keep his hands too high and his punch isn?t real strong, but he showed good footwork and leg drive. I worry he?s a G/T tweener.

USC C/G Kris O?Dowd is very lacking in base strength. He got pushed backwards on almost every rep and was unable to get much surge in run blocking. He just doesn?t have the strength to turn shoulders or seal a seam. Blake Kirkpatrick from TCU was better, but not as much better as I expected.

Didn?t spend much time on the DB/WR matchups except at the tail end of practice. Some quick thoughts:

-- Hawaii?s Greg Salas doesn?t show a lot of wiggle but he has strong hands and decent speed. He ran a sluggo route that left Curtis Brown (Texas corner not having a good week) flailing, then tracked a good throw from Greg McElroy for a touchdown. On that play, Florida safety Ahmad Black was a half-step late but might have been able to make a play in real game conditions.

-- Jeremy Kerley (TCU) has strong hands and reliably made tough catches. He also showed some elusiveness once the ball was in his hands.

-- Ronald Johnson from USC is probably the most well-rounded wideout on the South. He high-pointed one ball, reached behind him to make a difficult catch on another. His routes are polished and crisp, and he sells his fakes well.

-- South Alabama?s Courtney Smith is a physical beast. Alas, he battled the ball all afternoon and is not a natural hand-catcher. He looked decent in route running, but I?d like to see him lose a little bulk and get a little quicker in changing direction.

-- Arkansas TE DJ Williams ran the exact same route that Greg Olsen did in the Bears/Seahawks game for the early TD and got open in just the same way, blowing past a flat-footed safety (Deandre McDaniel from Clemson, who otherwise had a good day) and getting wide open deep. But Christian Ponder never saw it. More on the QBs and DBs tomorrow.

Jeff.Risdon@RealGM.com