Another day in Mobile. Another day of practice for the best seniors in the country in front of throng of NFL scouts, personnel and media. It was a beautiful day at Ladd-Peebles Stadium as a few players continued strong showings, while more than a few attempted to right the ship, if you will. Here are a few observations and takeaways from Day Two in Mobile.
Before I get to my observations from Wednesday, a funny story from Tuesday night. As we were packing up to leave the Media event, Washington State WR Vince Mayle sort of wandered into our area.
So as Drew Dougherty and I chatted him up, I reminded Drew that Mayle played for Mike Leach at WAZZU. Immediately, Drew broke into his best Mike Leach impression. Drew worked in Lubbock while Leach was Texas Tech's head coach, so he knew the Good Pirate well.
Mayle's a pretty serious guy and as Drew finished, Mayle deadpans "that was good, actually, a little too good".
There's so much change for these players and Mayle noted that as we spoke on Tuesday night. He said at Washington State he primarily aligned on the left side of the formation, moving to the right side to truly only run a jet sweep. This week, though he moved all over the formation, trying to learn the numbering system again, all the while impressing the NFL scouts in the process.
It's one of the least mentioned aspects of this week, yet a very real hurdle for these players to overcome.
I watched Baylor QB Bryce Petty a bit more today and it's quite evident that he's still adapting to "change" if you will. He's been under center the majority of the week, which is definitely new for him and even though he can make the drops, it's clear he's not comfortable from that vantage point. It's even more glaring when he gets back in the shotgun and he's nowhere near as shaky as he is pushing away from center.
His quick game passing acumen is good but after hitting two or three slants in a row, he threw a speed out well behind Mayle. The ball comes out hot and mostly on point, but he's not had success hitting anything beyond five yards in 1-on-1s, 7-on-7 or team.
-- Cincinnati LB Jeff Luc was a guy I really wanted to study this week and he has not disappointed at all. He's been stellar in most every phase. It looked like he may have mildly tweaked something late in practice, but then went back out of team drills and shined. The first play of 9-on-7 inside drill, he shed the running back and went chest to chest with one of the running backs. It was the first WHOA hit of the day and got the defensive coaches juiced up. At six feet and 263 pounds, he's a powder keg but he's shown the ability to cover in Tampa two situations and covering backs out in the flat. He's definitely made some money this week.
-- I saw someone compare Duke WR Jamison Crowder to Saints WR Brandin Cooks this week and that's fairly apt, I suppose. If you need an NFL player comp, that's pretty good. Not sure that Crowder's as fast as Cooks but he's as quick, so I'm excited to see what he does at the Combine. He continued his solid week catching the ball in space and playing on the perimeter.
-- Texas DB Quandre Diggs had another strong day in coverage. He ran with Ohio State's Devin Smith step for step to force an incompletion on one route. Diggs moved back and forth between outside and inside corner spots seamlessly. At one point, I heard the coaching staff yelling "great job, Q, GREAT job". I wrote in my notebook next to his name late in practice "top 100??". He's pushing hard to get into the group post Senior Bowl/pre-Combine rankings.
-- Kentucky DE Za'Darius Smith is making the most of the opportunity that his Kentucky teammate Alvin 'Bud' Dupree opened up for him. Dupree, the more ballyhooed edge player, decided not to make the trip to Mobile, so Smith was invited in his stead. Tuesday, he continued his good run after a strong Shrine Bowl week. Wednesday, though, he went to a different level. OL struggled all day trying to handle his power. He did individual drills with the OLB to start the day and didn't handle some of the movement drills well. But, the coaches worked with him a little as the period wore on and as soon as the next drill, he took the coaching, made adjustments and got some kudos. He made more strides rushing the passer during 1-on-1 pass rush drills. He's so strong and his stab move was on point, but he threw an inside spin move on an offensive tackle that got him free to the QB. I wrote his name in my notebook multiple times with his performance.
-- Arizona State DE Marcus Harrison continued to get my attention. He used more quickness today than his power but consistently was in the backfield, especially on the first play of team drills. He was on the back side of a zone run and he knifed past the tackle and got to the RB as he was handed the ball. The Sun Devil was a late add to the Senior Bowl roster but a wise one by Phil Savage and his crew.
-- Duke G Laken Tomlinson first learned of the game of football when he moved to the US from Jamaica around the age of 12. He's gathered some of the finer points of the game in a short time, that's for sure. He loves being physical and mixing it up, but his pass rush technique was solid on Wednesday. He faced Washington star NT Danny Shelton who is 343 pounds of pure power. As Shelton attempted to bull rush Tomlinson, the Duke star re-anchored, dropped his butt and stoned Shelton after giving a little ground off the snap. There's a lot to like with a well-rounded player/student/humanitarian/athlete like Tomlinson.
-- Speaking of Shelton, he continued to shed run blockers with ease, but I noticed one anomaly, so to speak, as he rushed the passer. When over the nose, he struggled to get rid of centers, but when he moved out over the guards as a two or three technique, he was more comfortable and effective. He rushed much better from that perspective than he had all day yesterday and today. when over the nose.
-- There are two defensive linemen that are completely wreaking havoc this week: Iowa DT Carl Davis and Stanford DT/DE Henry Anderson. Davis dominated with a full array of skills but I can honestly say I've seen an OL block Anderson effectively in 1-on-1 situations over the two days of practice. I was a big Anderson fan heading into the season and his play has backed up my early support.
-- Plenty of eyes have been on Pitt's T.J Clemmings this week and the former defensive lineman has been up and down. He faced Utah edge star Nate Orchard. Now, nearly every perimeter tackle had trouble with Orchard and Clemmings struggled with the Utah star. Clemmings gave up the outside after an initial punch/shock but stopped his feet and Orchard ripped past him instantly. Clemens then took on Penn State OLB Deion Barnes. On the first rep, Clemmings literally shoved Barnes into the turf, but on the second rep, Barnes beat the Pitt star tackle with an inside move that left Clemmings reaching for air. Clemmings played a bit too tall and lost v. other bull rushers. He's more powerful than he's playing this week but shown enough potential after only two years at the position. He did get kudos for his work v. Shelton in run game 1-on-1s from the coaching staff. The coaches let those in Ladd-Peebles know all about it…if you catch my drift.
-- Washington OLB Hau'oli Kikaha has been one of my favorite edge guys for a couple of years. Some of the prerequisite OLB space "things" are a challenge and he's working at them. But, this guy is dead red, locked in on the quarterback. His "dip and rip" is as low to the ground as anyone I've seen. The coaching staff worked with him a bit on his technique at the end of the drill to give him some of the finer points to work on.
-- Ali Marpet isn't a name many know. Hobart College is a name nearly no one knows. But, the DIII product from the aforementioned institution of distinction dominated his competition to gain a spot in Mobile. On Tuesday, I remarked a handful of times that he fit right in and proved he belonged. He did more of the same on Wednesday. Strong and quick, he bounced back and forth from each tackle position to guard at times. He has far outshone many of the players from more well know schools and conferences. During 9-on-7, he locked up USC LB Hayes Pullard and nearly dropped him for a pancake. About the only player I saw defeat Marpet was Stanford's Anderson who defeated nearly every lineman today.
-- Texas OLB Jordan Hicks appeared a little hesitant to fill in gaps with some pop on Tuesday but he did that, and then some, on Wednesday. He's still a run and hit backer but he was quicker to fill open gaps on isolation or inside zone runs and light up a blocker, if necessary. He put a hat on Minnesota RB David Cobb on an inside run that was audible in the far northwest corner of the end zone where I was observing. I truly wish he could've stayed healthy the past few years at Texas. There's no telling how he'd be perceived by the scouts/player personnel staff at large had he not missed so many games/reps.
Quick hitters to end the day…-- Yale FB/TB Tyler Varga made an outstanding block on Pullard to open a hole for Michigan State's Jeremy Langford during an inside drill run for a TD.
-- Speaking of Pullard, he was quick to the hole during run drills and he led every individual drill throughout the day.
-- This was the "make it tough on DL day" as the OL worked double team blocks for nearly a full period. Of course, it was the only way that group could block Shelton.
-- Oregon State QB Sean Mannion had an average day throwing the ball but hit a TE on a short seven route just out of bounds that was perhaps his best throw of the day into a tight window.
-- Another theme today was "stripping" the ball. The coaching staff harped on this in every non-individual drill throughout the day.
-- Arizona State S Damarious Randall made a tremendous play in press coverage on Crowder as Randall stoned him off the LOS and then broke on the throw for a pass breakup.
-- That said, the safeties aren't accustomed to so much man coverage, especially in 1-on-1s, so they resorted to a ton of clutching and grabbing throughout the day.
-- Stanford WR Ty Montgomery still struggled making all the routine catches he MUST make, but he beat USC CB Josh Shaw on a go route and snatched a TD pass during 1-on-1s.
-- Huge fan of Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah but his pass protection needs a TON of work. He wants to do it and isn't scared of contact, but he just can't stand up to the 230 pounds of hard charging linebacker.
-- By the way, Abdullah is wearing No. 28 this week and is the football doppelgänger of former FSU/Falcon/Buccaneer Warrick Dunn, in my opinion.
-- Harvard OLB Zach Hodges hurt his hamstring on Tuesday and although he tried to give it a go on Wednesday, he just couldn't for the majority of practice.
-- Ohio State WR Devin Smith made a number of catches on underneath routes throughout the day which is going to help him immensely.
-- I want to like the tight ends in Mobile, but I really don't. At all, other than Miami's Clive Walford. He's the only one here I'd spend much time studying. I spoke with another team's scout responsible for studying tight ends and he told me he'd "just as soon take a nap". Of course, it was said in jest, but the reality is that he, and the rest of us, aren't missing much.
-- But, Walford is lighting up Mobile. Corners. Safeties. Linebackers. No one can cover him during one-on-ones at all. Huge week for the Miami pass catching threat.
-- The Miami players have all starred this week - WR Phillip Dorsett, ILB Denzel Perryman, CB LaDarius Gunter and Walford. Makes you wonder why this team was 6-6 and lost its last four games of 2014. That list doesn't even include RB Duke Johnson. Mystery Wisconsin T Rob Havenstein shut down Nate Orchard's inside move as well as anyone had this week.