Tuesday, the longest day of the whole week, and I’m finally getting settled in my hotel room. We (I’m rooming with Depot alum Jon Ledyard, he says hi!) left before 7 AM to get there bright and early from the weigh-ins, took in two practices and two stadiums 40 minutes apart, and then went through a 3 hour media session this evening. Everything went off smoothly…until the Mobile skies opened and it poured on us walking out of the media session, the drive home, and our walk into the hotel. So close.
Enough about the frill. You want to hear how the day went from a football perspective. So let’s break it down. Normally, this day will be categorized into a North and South report but I didn’t catch much of the North today, getting their mid-way through practice traveling from one stadium to the next. The events are all held at the same location Wednesday and Thursday so there will be a more complete report on both sides.
We’ll break things down here by the weigh-in and each side’s practice results. Media, quotes and all that good stuff, will be handled in a separate post.
– We were advised to get there very early to be able to grab a seat. That is never bad advice though we could have shown up 20 minutes beforehand and still gotten our pick anywhere on the floor. The event takes places in a big ballroom with bleachers and floor seats (the picture above is from the weigh-in). Before Phil Savage kicked things off, most coaches and scouts were standing and socializing. It’s one of the few times the entire league comes together.
With how tight-knit and fraternity-esque the league is, it’s an awesome opportunity to catch up with old friends, former employees, stepping away from the long, shuttered grind the season demands.
Of course, this is also a time for coaching free agents to look for work, too. Saw it at the weigh in and throughout practice. Spotted Kevin Spencer at the South Practice. Special teams’ coach who was fired by the San Diego Chargers in early December. Also a former Steeler. There was also someone who worked with the Cleveland Browns for the past two years, I believe in the scouting department, but was apparently let go with the new regime entering.
– If you didn’t see my tweet, by total random luck, the Steelers’ scouts sat right in front of us today. From Mark Bruener, to pro personnel director Brandon Hunt, to my personal favorite, Chidi Iwuoma (I know!) it was a cool experience.
– Before the weigh-in, Savage introduced the event and basically called out, as he’s done in the past, three players who were healthy but turned down the Senior Bowl invite. Oregon DE DeForest Buckner, QB Connor Cook, and C Ryan Kelly. Certainly not dealbreakers but you love to see guys come down and compete. Especially Cook, given his position and history of negative comments surrounding him.
– To the important stuff. By now, you’ve seen the weigh-in numbers and I’m not going to trudge through every single player. Let’s just run through the highlights.
– Clemson WR Charone Peak is just another in a long line of tall, long receivers from that program. 6’2/2 208 pounds with 34 1/8 arms. Hands are on the small size, 8 1/2 inches, but he’s overall impressive on the podium.
– Wide receivers are notorious for getting listed taller than they really are and two fell victim to that today. Malcolm Mitchell came in at 5’11/3 despite being listed 6’1 and Paul McRoberts came in at 6’1/6 after coming in at 6’3 on Southeast Missouri’s website, though the latter isn’t that egregious. But worth noting.
– CB James Bradberry (Samford) looked great on the podium. Cut with six-pack abs. Sure looked the part of an NFL player. 33 3/8 inch arms are impressive too on his 6’1 body.
– Texas Tech LT Le’Raven Clark is an absolute tank with the longest arms in Mobile, 36 1/4 arm and a nearly 86 inch wingspan. Super impressive. At 312, he carries the weight well.
– Jake Coker was immediately after Clark. Looked like they just grabbed somebody out of the stands. Quarterbacks don’t need to look like bodybuilders but I don’t know if Coker has ever seen a weight before. Sure didn’t look like it.
– On Monday, I saw Baylor OT Spencer Drango walking around in the lobby. And I knew he was much bigger than that 310 listing on his team’s site. He was stretching the green Under Armour shirt he was wearing to the brink. Came in a 320 and has a noticeable gut.
– You could look at his bio (6’1, 180) and figure Harlan Miller was going to be lanky but man, does he had a thin body, especially his legs. Definitely could stand to add more good weight, increasing his muscle.
– Linebacker Reggie Ragland has the biggest calves ever. It’s really hard not to like this guy. I don’t think there will be on team who is down on him based on his tape or personality. Rather a question of what team will be the highest on him and pull the trigger.
– Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon came in at 215 pounds today. Huge thighs. Going to be a guy who is tough to just get your arms around if you’re going low.
– I like his tape but Iowa tight end Henry Kreiger-Coble is never working as a model for Abercrombie & Fitch. Relatively flabby body.
– On the complete other spectrum, Chris Swain, the running back/fullback from Navy, is a tank. Sorry if that mixes up the military references. Rock solid.
– Aaron Burbridge has 8 inch hands, the same as Tajae Sharpe, who has been publicly prodded out for having “baby hands.” Not a great look for a receiver whose length is only about average, maybe a hair better.
– I don’t know a ton about Illinois DE Jihad Ward but his body type is a rare one. 6’5 296 and just massive. He just looks dense, and I mean that in the best way possible. Like if a black hole had a child. Woah.
– Josh Garnett may have appeared to have come in “light” at 317 after being listed at 330 on Stanford’s website. But he told me he played in the 317-320 range all season long so to see him at this weight is actually just the norm.
Ok, let’s get onto the practices.
This was the one of the two I saw all of and have a much better feel for. The players who stood out for me:
1. Georgia WR Malcolm Mitchell had a solid opening day. Showed the ability to drop his weight and sink out of his breaks, creating separation, while making clean catches. Jacksonville Jaguars’ coaches were complimenting him pretty frequently.
2. Maryland cornerback/safety Sean Davis is one I didn’t know much about, despite looking at as many DBs as possible, but he jumped out to me today. Built at 6’1/1 201. Quick feet, no wasted motion on his transition downhill, and as noted, has played two positions. One Browns’ scout that stood near me was very open on how high he was on Davis. Excited to watch Davis progress the next two days.
3. Jerrell Adams, a tight end out of South Carolina, isn’t one player that I even had circled coming into this thing, but stood out in linebacker/DB pass pro today. Has the size, length to create separation, and strength, once putting SS Kevin Byard on his butt and into the overturned garbage cans the coaches set up.
4. Shawn Oakman is one of the baddest dudes to look and he understands the intimidation. Always rolls his jersey up in practice, showing off his six pack abs. And as much as he’s been criticized, I was one of many not to be high on his tape, he wasn’t terrible today. Got his hands to bat down one pass at the line of scrimmage and didn’t get washed like I saw him on tape. A small step but it’s nice to have some positive news coming out of his camp.
5. Sheldon Rankins had one poor rep early in OL/DL, told by coaches to “keep his eyes up,” but killed it the rest of the drill. Active hands a great first step, won at least once with a dip and rip. Not a fit in Pittsburgh but probably not a guy you want to see the Steelers have to go against twice a season.
6. The group of running backs here aren’t great but Dan Vitale has the look of a guy who can play on third down. By far the best blocker in one-on-ones. Solid base, strength on his punch, patient and doesn’t over-commit to the initial rush, and plays with heart to finish the rep. Coaches loved it.
7. I’ll be blunt and say I don’t know much about him but coaches were impressed with LB Deion Jones. Showed well in DB/RB. After another win, the coach called out, “Hell of a rep, you’re stringing them together.” At 219, he is awfully tiny to play LB.
And the players who struggled on Day One.
1. Not the start Jay Lee wanted, I’m sure. Coaches were getting on him for being slow out of his break, and I think one even mentioned something about his conditioning. Before one rep, with Lee in the slot against safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, a Jags coach turned to the group of receivers not in the play, and pointed out that all Lee has to do is beat Houston-Carson down the seam and with the single high look, he’ll be open. Lee didn’t stem his route at all and basically ran into DHC, creating zero separation.
2. Kenyan Drake is a big, elusive dude, but does not have a defined role in the NFL. RB or WR? If today was the final indication, and obviously it is not, RB wouldn’t be his home. Wrecked in pass pro. SEC guys beating up on him. Jake Ganus and teammate Ragland swam over him, slipping past in one quick motion.
He got a little better in one his last reps, causing head coach Gus Bradley to encourage, “Closer, you’re battling man!” To Drake’s credit, he didn’t give up and made a couple nice plays on offense with the ball in his hand. But if running back is his desire, he better step up in protection.
3. Sticking with the Bama guys. There is a lot to like about Cyrus Jones but I can see a comparison to Antwon Blake. Twitchy, fluid guys, though Blake is a little more physical and Jones has better feet. Big issue for both, they’re 5’9 and have trouble finding the ball on vertical concepts. Jones allowed at least two catches in that manner today.
Has to finish plays and come up with the ball, be it in one-on-one or on air in warmups. Also, and this is hard to fault the guy because they were playing at the “worse” field but he kept slipping out of his pedal. Grass was pretty chewed up after today.
4. I like Bradberry’s makeup at corner but he sits high in his pedal and isn’t very explosive at the top of his route and finishing the play after catching the ball. A natural issue with a lot of those taller guys.
5. Poor John Theus. Going to get whooped up on this week at left tackle. Oklahoma’s Eric Striker was one of several to beat him around the edge in one-on-ones.
Again, by the time we made the unexpected 40 minute trek, including hitting every red light that has ever or will ever exist, to Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the North practice was already underway. A lot of it was stretching and individuals but still, saw less of it than we did for the South.
But the few standouts for me.
1. Matt Ioannidis, the DT out of Temple, surprised me. Saw him as a decent player against the run but a limited pass rusher. Routinely dominated in one-on-ones with a quick first step. If he can keep that up, he’ll able to more teams, and his stock is going to lift.
2. Didn’t get as good a look at the secondary but Deiondre’ Hall and Tavon Young are two corners that play catch points well. Hall’s length lets him get back into plays he has no business making while Young finishes each rep hard. On an early rep, Braxton Miller beat Young on a pivot move, faking out and cutting in, appearing to make a clean catch. But Young finished the rep, got back to Miller’s hip and ripped it away for an incompletion or fumble, depending on your grasp of the NFL’s ridiculous catch rules. Thankfully, Mike Carey wasn’t around to stumble his way through an explanation.
3. Carl Nassib was a player I highlighted before this thing got started and he impressed today. Super explosive athlete, especially when you factor in that 6’6/6 273 pound frame. Even more surprising is his ability to get skinny and flatten the edge, working upfield as a pass rusher. I still see him as a 4-3 end but could a 3-4 defense or hybrid scheme add him onto their board watching him this week? It’s possible.
4. Center Jack Allen has a low center of gravity and wins a lot of his reps with leverage. Do-it-all player that any team should feel good about taking.
5. Virginia CB Maurice Canady is a guy I know very little but had a couple breakups today. Interested in learning more about him.
6. Just a quick note on a couple of inside ‘backers. Stanford’s Blake Martinez and West Virginia’s Nick Kwiatkoski were two feisty guys who’d stick their nose in every run play they could.
And some players on the North side I thought struggled.
1. Carson Wentz aside, the quarterbacks were all pretty bleak. Cody Kessler missed some gimmie throws, Jeff Driskel held onto the ball too long and his accuracy wasn’t anything great, and though I still like Kevin Hogan, I didn’t see much out of him today (good or bad, for the record).
2. Offensive tackle Kyle Murphy had a tough time against speed rushes off the edge. Just lacks the foot speed to seal the edge. Nassib and Ward both beat him clean today.
3. Nothing notable sticks out in any one player but want to see some receivers step up. Leonte Carroo, Burbridge. Jordan Payton did have a nice diving catch in one-on-one but that was about it from that group.
– Word of the day: perspective. It was only one day. We still have two more practices and a full game to evaluate plus the loads of game tape that exist and are much more important to us. Players didn’t get their playbooks until Monday night, less than 24 hours before their first practice. Asking a ton out of them, even if things are watered down.
– Food truck parked right outside of the Riverview Plaza Hotel today. Got a sausage/bacon hot dog of sorts with mac ‘n cheese. Gotta say, love some Southern Cuisine. Big props to TouringPlans.com for sponsoring my meals and letting me go without McDonalds for once.
– Saw several Steelers in attendance today, as you’d expect. Keith Butler and Joey Porter were hanging out together watching the South team practice. Carnell Lake was at the North squad, ditto with former Steeler turned Tennessee Titan Deshea Townsend. Fans were shouting Mike Tomlin’s name during the South practice, I think before he was leaving. I didn’t personally see him but he was there.
– Cowboys’ assistant Marc Colombo looks like a great coach to learn from. Spent a lot of time with left tackles Jason Spriggs and Joe Haeg. Spriggs and shooting his arms earlier so he would avoid being unable to lock his arms out and get uprighted on contact. And with Haeg, shooting his hands a bit higher in the chest to have a better punch. Focused a lot of time on the both of them and you love to see that. Why these coaches are here.
– One now Los Angeles Rams scout lamented behind me how he was going to be able to afford living in LA coming from St. Louis. Imagine the rent is just a little bit higher. And the pay is going to be the same. Oof.
– Juuuust saying. Don’t be surprised if the Cleveland Browns sign kicker Kyle Brindza to a future deal. Hear he has another offer with another team, but I imagine he’s gotta decide soon. In reality, little affect on the Steelers, but these are the “other” musings, not just Steelers.
– Some of the drivers down here are gutsy. Making a left and cutting across traffic on a three lane highway, just to pull into a Walmart a little bit quicker. No one honks so I guess that’s just the norm down here.
– Downtown Mobile is really peaceful. Not a hustle/bustle kind of place the way even Pittsburgh is. I dig that, Mobile.
– Biggest fear of the flight down? Losing my luggage. Especially because our flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte was delayed and we had to reschedule a connector from there to Mobile. Airport said they would make the switch without an issue but you never know. My bag came out last…after a 10 second pause between. I think time stopped. One girls luggage never arrived. It was well past midnight in a now empty Mobile airport. That’s an awful night, for sure. Poor girl.
– There are few places that combine the juxtaposition between casual and frantic than an airport. Some people are just strolling, hanging out, with plenty of time to catch their flight. Others are 100m sprinting their way through to try and catch their next one. My airport scouting report: inefficient
– No Mike Mayock sighting today. Sure he was around. But leaving disappointed.