Authored by Jeff Risdon - 25th January, 2012 - 9:27 pm
The weather declined from the morning session. It was cloudy and quite breezy, with a cold wind blowing across the field that made the 72 degree temp feel about 10 degrees cooler.
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I spent most of Tuesday on the skill position guys, so the focus was on the linemen on Wednesday.
My star of the day was Illinois' Jeff Allen, who primarily lined up at left guard and looked very good. Allen was fluid in motion and stayed balanced on the move. In pass rush drills he capably handled Florida's Jaye Howard. Allen really fires out his arms with his punch and showed good hand placement. He also did well in deflecting Melvin Ingram when Ingram tried to cross inside.
Cordy Glenn also had a strong day, often playing outside Allen at left tackle. He is massive but does a good job bursting off the snap. He anticipates the rush well and can mirror and slide pretty adeptly. He did get high in his stance while engaged a few times but he stayed balanced and has such brute power that he managed to stay with it. Glenn did get beat a couple of times where the defender (Upshaw 1st, then Randall in a copycat role) got low and under his inside shoulder and got past his punch. Several coaches and scouts that I was watching with were very impressed with him. He handled Coples pretty easily in the pass rush drill.
Glenn's Georgia teammate Ben Jones looked better at guard than center. He struggled with some quickness on the inside rush, particularly in 11's, but he has a good sense of how to move and how to counter moves. I like his feet when he's engaged.
Baylor center Philip Blake looked strong. He is real squat of build but he can fire off the ball and find targets in space. Pad level is his friend. Probably the most reliable snapper of the football here too, which is an ongoing issue...as it is most every year.
James Brown from Troy was up and down. He moves well and really gets after his man in run blocking, although he did get too high with his hands at times and his arm length on his punch is substandard in comparison to his peers here. Brown seemed to take getting beaten quite hard, something he is going to have to get used to. He made a nice combo block in 11's while playing RG, though on another rep Tydreke Powell ripped past him with a nice burst.
Will Blackwell from LSU did not look strong. He really struggled to stand up to the bull rush, and balance was an issue. One rep was quite emblematic of Blackwell: Tony Jerod-Eddie of TAMU started with the bull rush and got into Blackwell's pads. As soon as Blackwell gathered his legs to anchor, Jerod-Eddie shed his arms easily and ripped past him. Blackwell was better in run blocking in 11's but nothing special.
Matt McCants from UAB also struggled in pass protection. He is very angular of build and lacks sand in the pants. Pass rushers took turns rocking him backwards, with Malik Jackson planting him backwards in a heap on one rep. He stays too wide in his base in an apparent effort to summon more strength and it leaves him very vulnerable to quick moves.
Brandon Thompson had an interesting practice. In the early pass protect drill he was fairly easily stymied by both Jones and Brown, including one rep where Jones turned his shoulders and Thompson rolled his ankle a bit. But the remainder of practice Thompson was dominant. One of the first reps of 11s he fired thru the B gap before Jones could get to him and Zebrie Sanders was leaning outside, blowing up a run at the point of handoff. On another he walked the blocker backwards into Nick Foles, forcing a bad throw. The hotel lobby buzz was not kind to Thompson last night, so his strong showing was a pleasant development.
Quentin Coples is a real interesting evaluation. Scouts love him and he looks almost exactly like Julius Peppers physically, a great athlete full of quick twitch muscle and great length for the position. He has good flexibility and strength at the point of attack. But the coaches seem underwhelmed and it's also easy to see their position; other than one notable rep where he crossed Zebrie Sanders' chest and beat his arm punch, he was nothing special as a rusher and really struggled to disengage from blocks. He lacks creativity. Coples also nearly ripped Terrance Ganaway's head off on a run play where he got his shoulders nicely turned by McCants. I side more with the coaches, who want to see more tangible results from Coples that demonstrate the ability to put all his immense physical gifts together.
Kheeston Randall from Texas had a strong practice. He has deceptive quickness for his size but what really stands out his is intensity and drive. Randall showed he can shed the block and explode to the ball, nicely flowing outside on a run and stopping the play for no gain. His energy is infectious and he is the type of player that coaches love. Pad level is inconsistent and he doesn't appear to be a natural pass rusher, which leads me to see him as a 3-4 strong side DE in the mold of Antonio Smith.
Courtney Upshaw played OLB at Alabama but he worked out as an end today, and looked good in doing so. He showed explosive power, really strong hands and arms. But he also flashed quickness in his pass rush, sidestepping an initial punch from Glenn on one rep and getting under him for an easy pressure. I see a lot of Brian Orakpo in him and the general buzz here is that he is a top 15 pick. His ability to play in space, which he showed a couple of times in 11's, will make him very attractive to a team that likes to use multiple fronts.
Melvin Ingram also really impressed, though the word is he was even better on Tuesday. He showed a barrage of pass moves that highlighted his flexibility and litheness as an athlete. But he also bull rushed Brown backwards pretty handily on one rep. He has some of the quickest feet of any DE I've ever seen. One coach within earshot favorably compared him to Cliff Avril, who is about to be franchised by the Lions after 20 sacks the last two seasons.
Malik Jackson was an injury replacement here but he has justified his presence. I had Jackson as a sleeper heading here but the cat is out of the bag. He shows good power and leg drive and has some legit closing burst off the edge. Many people in attendance like him as a 3-4 end, though he is not quite to the level of North players Kendall Reyes or Derek Wolfe, not as quick or aware.
Tony Jerod-Eddie looked pretty solid. He showed decent anchor strength and the ability to win the leverage battle most of the time. He gave Matt McCants fits.
I spent quite a bit of time focusing on the linebackers doing a pass rush drill and coverage drill, also getting some looks at the backs in pass protect. Let's just say that pass protection is not a strength for the South running backs, particularly Terrance Ganaway or Alfred Morris.
Jake Bequette looked more impressive today, esp. when asked to run with the tight end in coverage. He also blasted past Vick Ballard on one rep and was almost untouched going around the corner on Ganaway on another rep in the blitz drill. He did a better job with pad level and staying behind his feet today.
Zack Brown does a lot of things well, but blitzing is not one of them, no creativity or strength. Catching the ball is another area that needs improvement as he twice dropped pretty easy catches. He made up for it a little by nicely dodging a block in 11's and blowing up a screen play.
Keenan Robinson is easily the best backer in coverage here, and today he showed he can rush the passer pretty well too. He matadored Ganaway (notice a theme here?) and quickly shed a Morris block and knifed around on another rep. He blanketed Brad Smelley on a seam route in 11's though Smelley will never be mistaken for a vertical threat. His stock is rising rapidly, and the Steelers coaches were focused on him. Hard.
Robinson's Longhorn teammate Emmanuel Acho looked better today than Tuesday. He showed some juice as a rusher in both the blitz drill and in 11's, where he quickly split between TE Ladarius Green and the RT (can't recall, sorry) and forced Lindley into a de facto throw away. He is not as gifted as his brother but he understands what he does well. I talked with him yesterday and he is a real bright guy that coaches will love.
Sean Spence looked very good and natural at catching the football, but he was probably the least effective of the backers in the pass rushing drill. He seems content to try and slam through the block. The coaches pointed this out to him but as he lined up for another rep the horn blew, ending the drill.
I did catch the DBs doing agility drills early in practice. Quick observations:
Dwight "Bill" Bentley from La-Lafayette really looked great. He stays very low in his stance and explodes out of breaks, very fluid and quick. He wasn't great at catching the ball, which got into his pads too readily, but he has had a very strong week for himself and is playing his way up draft boards.
Antonio Allen looked very upright compared to his peers, very high in his stance as he shuffled thru the drills. He required an extra step to get his momentum shifted from backpedal to going forward. He looked better in 11's.
LSU safety Brandon Taylor also looked pretty stiff in the agility drill. He consistently needed a stutter step to gather himself when changing direction, a trait that carried over to the 11's drills. He struggled to track down the ball in the limited looks I got at another drill. I like him a lot more on tape and I'll trust that, but this is a stock to watch going forward whether he falls much or not.
Casey Hayward built on a strong Tuesday by showing real strong hands and quick, balanced breaks. He did get lost in coverage on a rep in 11's that was bailed out only by a terrible throw. He and Allen miscommunicated and turned the receiver free down the field. Watching their reactions was interesting; Hayward went straight to the coaches to find out what happened while Allen got right back in line and ready to go.
Brandon Boykin looked smooth, with a very quick spin that he exploded out of with balance and speed.
Janoris Jenkins took an extra step a couple of times switching directions but he has such explosion and burst that he still wound up being the fastest to complete the drill on most reps. Function over form, to quote a NFC South head coach who was intently watching him.
Florida RB/WR Chris Rainey annoyed more than one coach by having something to say to the Washington coaches after almost every rep. I've heard thru the grapevine he is not the best interviewee either, but he sure looks impressive and dynamic on the field. We'll see how that balances out...
Brandon Weeden was not as good today. I didn't focus much on the QBs but he made a couple of real poor decisions with the football. Nick Foles looked much more impressive than Weeden today. Lindley is a real project that has to quicken his release or else he has no NFL future.
Houston WR Patrick Edwards missed several reps, as did Quentin Coples. I did not see what happened to Edwards. Coples was favoring his left shoulder but got back into action in 11's.
RBs were not my focus but twice I saw Louisiana Tech RB Lennon Creer show very good vision and burst. He also nicely adjusted to a poor Weeden throw and would have made the catch if not for a nice play by Ryan Steed.
The Dennis Allen hiring by the Raiders is being very well-received here in Mobile.
Just as practice ended word got out that the Colts hired Chuck Pagano. He is well-respected by everyone but the overwhelming consensus is that this signifies a sea change in Indy. One that does not include Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, or Jeff Saturday.