CBS Sports: Senior Bowl Day 3 Notes

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CBS Sports: Senior Bowl Day 3 Notes

Postby Pudge » Thu Jan 23, 2014 1:08 am ... h-practice

2014 Senior Bowl: Under-the-radar defenders highlight North practice
By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/
January 22, 2014 2:13 pm ET

Marqueston Huff's (left) athleticism is sure to intrigue scouts looking for cover corners. (USATSI)
Marqueston Huff's (left) athleticism is sure to intrigue scouts looking for cover corners. (USATSI)
More Draft: NFL Mock Drafts | Prospect Rankings | Latest news | Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. -- Blustery winds frustrated the quarterbacks practicing at the Senior Bowl Tuesday, but a day later it was the awareness and athleticism of defensive backs which made passing difficult.

Wyoming defensive back Marqueston Huff blanketed receivers, showcasing the light feet, fluid hips and straight-line speed to turn with the North's variety of receivers, ranging in size from former Cowboys' teammate Robert Herron (5-foot-9, 193 pounds) to Saginaw Valley State's chiseled 6-foot-2, 212-pound Jeff Janis.

Huff's athleticism is sure to intrigue scouts looking for cover corners and he's previously shown the toughness to handle NFL physicality due to his time at safety at Wyoming.

Another small but feisty defensive back catching the eye of scouts at the Senior Bowl was Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward.

While lacking the frame scouts would prefer at the position, the 5-foot-10, 193-pound Ward is an aggressive downhill tackler, who crashed the line of scrimmage in run support and raced down the field as a middle defender on kickoff coverage.

Ward was moved all over the field by the Atlanta Falcons' coaching staff, lining up as a single-high safety, dropping down to cover tight ends as a traditional strong safety and splitting out to cover receivers out of the slot. In each case, his vision and burst to the ball consistently put him in position to make big plays.

One particularly impressive play came while he was backed up as a deep centerfielder. Reading a wide run to the right (his left) from West Virginia running back Charles Sims, Ward exploded towards the line of scrimmage, zipping past would-be blockers to "tackle" the 6-foot, 214-pound back in the open-field. Tackling is strictly forbidden during the all-star game practices, but Ward came in so fast, Sims had no choice but to attempt a jump-cut to his right, losing his balance and falling to the ground on a play in which he appeared to have an wide lane for an easy score.

Other standouts from Wednesday morning's North practice:

Given the Seattle Seahawks' success with long, athletic cornerbacks, scouts are keeping a close eye on the North's towering trio of Lindenwood's Pierre Desir (6-foot-1, 191 pounds), Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) and North Carolina State's Dontae Johnson (6-foot-2, 199 pounds). Each had their moments on Wednesday, with the small-schooler Desir perhaps showing the best fluidity and speed of the group. While an impressive athlete, Desir literally let an opportunity slip through his fingers in dropping an easy interception midway through practice. Desir read a telegraphed pass from Clemson's Tajh Boyd, stepping in front of the wideout near the goal-line. Desir's ball-skills have stood out on tape but this pass slipped through his hands and bounced off his pads, bouncing into the air with an audible thud that could be heard high in the stands. The pass resulted in an incompletion rather than the turnover that could have turned a good play into a great one for the D-II All-American.
Oregon wideout Josh Huff might be the gifted of the North's receivers but he showed the same frustrating struggles with consistency which characterized his career with the Ducks. Possessing broad-shoulders, strength and toughness, Huff is capable of fighting through safeties to gain position, as well as the quickness and speed to separate from cornerbacks. Unfortunately, the tendency to lose focus on the details - like exploding through his routes or securing the football through the entire catch process - again came into play during Wednesday's practice. Huff can make the spectacular play, demonstrating the ability to track the ball over his shoulder on vertical routes as well as twirling to make acrobatic catches against tight coverage. He also dropped a beautiful deep ball down late in practice down the right sideline and too often was knocked off his feet by aggressive cornerbacks.
Frankly, while Huff made some splashy plays, more consistency was shown from Herron and even Northwestern's Kain Colter, who is making the transition to receiver after starring as an option quarterback with the Wildcats. While perhaps best known for his straight-line speed, Herron has impressed scouts with his stout frame, competitiveness and willingness to extend for the contested grab. He made the catch of the day early in practice, soaring high to snatch a high, hard pass from Boyd along the left sideline. While clearly a work in progress as a route-runner, Colter (5-foot-11, 199 pounds) has the agility and balance to generate separation and caught the ball cleanly.
Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort looked strong during drills for the third straight practice on Wednesday, making it a chore for rushers to line up across from him. The former Buckeye blocker lined up primarily at right tackle and did an excellent job sinking his lower body at the point of attack to anchor, dig his cleats in the ground and be a stubborn lineman to move from his spot. Mewhort utilizes every inch of his tall, stout frame (6-foot-6, 306 pounds) and large winspan (80 1/4") to engulf and control rushers. Based off tape and his performance in Mobile this week, Mewhort looks every bit the part of a future starting right tackle in the NFL.
During off-season preparation for the 2013 season, Notre Dame OL Zack Martin emerged as one of Dane Brugler's "prospect crushes" because of his ability square, punch and mirror rushers. He has lined up at both guard and tackle this week and routinely stymied the competition with quickness, power and overall technique. Martin is very good at keeping his feet underneath him while keeping his butt low to handle both speed and power. His lack of elite lateral range was tested on a few occasions, which is why his best NFL position is inside at guard. However, he has been one of the few blockers this week who has been able to keep up with Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald. Entering the week, Martin was Brugler's top overall player participating in Mobile and after three days of practice, that's not changing any time soon. Some teams will look to keep him at tackle, but he is a future Pro Bowler at guard. ... o-pressure

2014 Senior Bowl: OLBs Attaochu, Van Noy step up to pressure
By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/
January 22, 2014 6:26 pm ET

Kyle Van Noy could have entered last year's draft and earned a top-64 selection. (USATSI)
Kyle Van Noy could have entered last year's draft and earned a top-64 selection. (USATSI)
More Draft: NFL Mock Drafts | Prospect Rankings | Latest news | Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. -- The Senior Bowl, like most all-star games in any sport, is catered to the fans with popular players earning more playing time and little attention given to the final score.

It is the week of practice leading up to Saturday's game that annually draws hundreds of NFL personnel to Mobile. Wednesday's scrimmages and one-on-one matchups rank as the most important day of evaluation as the final two days of practice are typically just glorified walk-throughs. The vast majority of scouts, in fact, leave town after Wednesday's afternoon practice or early Thursday.

Smart talent evaluators enter the process with a strong baseline for the prospects playing in the game. They are looking for prospects who play even better than expected or show improvement in new techniques taught by the NFL coaching staffs selected to participate in the game -- in this case the Jacksonville Jaguars (North Team) and Atlanta Falcons (South Team).

A handful of under-the-radar defenders helped their cause during this morning's practice. It was a pair of well-known linebackers -- Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu and BYU's Kyle Van Noy -- who stood out this afternoon.

Attaochu starred as a pass rusher with the Yellow Jackets, lining up as a stand-up outside linebacker and occasionally attacking the edge as a defensive end. In Mobile, however, the Jaguars' coaches have asked him to play virtually all over the field, including at inside linebacker, outside linebacker and rush from a three-point stance. Not surprisingly, Attaochu showed his greatest comfort when rushing the quarterback, demonstrating burst, agility and a powerful slap-and-sidestep to get past would-be blockers.

Asked to play off the line of scrimmage as a traditional strongside linebacker in the Jaguars' 4-3 alignment, however, Attaochu also has shown improved recognition and gap integrity against the run, as well as patience when dropping back into coverage. On Monday, Attaochu looked like a fish out of water dropping back. Today, when running backs came into his zone, Attaochu ran with them, closing as the ball arrived and showing quick hands to rip at the ball as it arrived. Scouts knew the 6-foot-3, 253-pound Attoachu was athletic; this week he's also shown football intelligence and work ethic.

Van Noy is a much more polished defender than Attaochu. He could have entered last year's draft and earned a top-64 selection. Some questioned his decision to return. In doing so, however, he's proven that his playmaking ways are a reflection of his terrific instincts and efficient athleticism rather than a reflection on the Cougars' level of competition.

The 6-foot-3, 244-pound Van Noy doesn't wow you with his frame or his straight-line speed but he ranks among the country's most pro-ready defenders because he does the little things so well. Van Noy shows excellent play recognition, takes on blockers with the correct shoulder (allowing him to slide off would-be blockers and into ball-carriers easily) and is equally effective slipping into coverage or sliding past offensive linemen on his way towards a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. He's subtle rather than physical, which draws complaints from some scouts but is deadly effective.

Here are a handful of other observations from the North Team's all-important Wednesday practice:

While Fresno State's Derek Carr and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo starred the first two days in Mobile, San Jose State's David Fales enjoyed his strongest performance of the week. Carr and Garoppolo seemed to play it safe Wednesday, frequently taking check-downs and rarely risking dangerous throws. Garoppolo, for example, elected to throw an intermediate sideline route out of bounds rather than attack deep down the middle to an open receiver on a surprise flea-flicker midway through practice. Adding to his reputation as a "gamer," Fales kept his eyes downfield, rifling a few well-thrown intermediate and deep passes, including one particularly well-thrown pass to Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore after escaping the rush and rolling to his right.
Entering the week of practice, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews was receiving plenty of praise for his polish but Texas' Mike Davis has proven just as reliable as a route-runner and hand-catcher throughout the week. The 6-foot (and 3/8), 193-pound Davis' value is increased because of his sure hands and burst as a returner.
On the offensive line, North Dakota State's Billy Turner enjoyed a nice bounce-back effort on Wednesday after struggling a bit with speed yesterday. Playing predominately inside at right guard (though also seeing some time at right tackle), the athletic small-schooler showed renewed aggression and strong hands to latch on and control defenders. Florida's Jon Halapio has also impressed with his physicality. Finally, Nevada's Joel Bitonio has quietly done a nice job rotating throughout the offensive line all week, as well.
Some flashy plays were turned in members of the secondary -- especially Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens and Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler -- but the news wasn't so good for Utah cornerback Keith McGill, who appeared to be battling cramps throughout the practice. McGill is a talented player whose terrific size (6-foot-3, 213 pounds) and ball-skills is sure to draw plenty of interest of teams as either a cornerback or potential safety conversion. Unfortunately, McGill appeared to feel the greatest pain on pass plays in which he was clearly already beaten. Some will credit McGill with fighting through the pain to return to the action (trainers worked on him yesterday too) but there were some in the stands who wondered aloud about his toughness. Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who, of course, has shown a fondness for lanky cornerbacks, had as good a view as anyone of McGill and their trainers working with him by observing the action from the sideline.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.

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