On a beautiful, sunny morning in Tampa, the East squad practiced and below is a quick run-down on those players that performed well and poorly. Unfortunately, California-PA offensive lineman Eric Kush injured his left ankle during the 1 on 1 drill and we did not see him return.
Players that impressed
1. Brandon McGee, CB, Miami (5106, 195 and 4.58): One of the standout performers this morning, McGee made two outstanding interceptions during today’s practice. Displaying loose hips and quick feet, he was able to flip hips to change directions easily. He consistently was quick reading and reacting to the play, which helped him to break and close fast. On both interceptions his jumping ability, body control and hands showed up as he high pointed the ball and made the interception over a receiver.
2. Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh (5093, 192 and 4.55 E): Lacking ideal bulk/size to be a feature back, Graham showed the quick change of direction ability and burst to make the jump cut to bounce runs outside. Able to change directions fast, he displayed excellent cutting ability and burst through the hole. In addition to running with the ball, Graham was impressive catching passes, both from a running back alignment and split out as a slot receiver. Making his performance even more impressive is that Graham still seems to be favoring his left knee between plays, but it did not affect his play.
3. Mike Catapano, DE, Princeton (6033, 270 and 4.85): As opposed to many of his classmates who will be working on Wall Street, based on his performance today, Catapano could have a long NFL career ahead of him. While lacking explosiveness off the ball, he consistently used quick, strong and active hands to jolt and defeat pass blocks. In 1 on 1 drills he was consistently able to defeat OT to pressure the QB. Although expected, Catapano’s smarts and awareness were impressive as he consistently used excellent technique and carried out his assignment. Strong, violent use of hands allowed him to jolt and shed run blocker with ease.
4. T.J. Johnson, C, South Carolina (6043, 323 and 5.20 E): Thick and well built, Johnson looked like a future starting center today. Able to bend knees to sink hips and block with good base/leverage, Johnson was able to physically dominate defensive tackles once he got his hands on them. He displayed a strong and accurate punch and consistently was able to “get a good fit” on the defensive tackle, which allowed him to tie up the pass rusher. During the 1 on 1 drills he really shined as he was never defeated and tied up and controlled man on nearly every play. On in-line run blocks, he was quick off ball delivering blow to defensive linemen with good leverage and had the strength to get movement consistently.
5. Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas –Pine Bluff (6050, 304 and 4.83): For a small school player, Armstead’s footwork was shocking. He was quick out of stance and could kick slide out in time to protect the edge. Not only able to slide out to protect the edge, Armstead’s ability to slide side to side to mirror pass rusher was impressive. Although he only has 33 inch arms, which are just okay for an offensive tackle, he did a good job of using his hands to keep pass rusher at bay. One area that Armstead will need to improve is his play against bull rushers, as a few pass rushers were able to jolt and drive him backwards today.
6. David Bass, DE, Missouri Western State (6036, 263 and 4.74): A natural pass rusher, Bass clearly has better developed pass rush skills than the typical small school player. Quick off the ball, Bass uses his hands well to keep the pass blocker’s hands off him and beats OT around corner and back inside regularly. Despite displaying good quickness off the ball, Bass did not show the same burst once he defeat block to finish the play. Disciplined in his play, Bass maintained proper positioning and carried out his responsibility against the run.
Players that shined in one area, but struggled in another
1. D.C. Jefferson, TE, Rutgers (6056, 255 and 4.85 E): For a tall tight end, his ability to bend knees and run block with leverage was impressive. He flashed dominant blocking ability from an h-back alignment on one play when he “pancaked” a linebacker in the hole so badly that he also took out another linebacker behind the linebacker he was blocking. Despite being a smooth and fluid athlete, he looked more like a one speed runner who lacks the burst to consistently get separation versus man coverage. In order to take advantage of his height as a receiver he will need to improve his receiving skills as he does not attack the ball in the air and seems content to wait for it to get to him.
Players that struggled
1. Robert McCabe, LB, Georgetown (6005, 227 and 4.80 E): Things seemed to move to fast for McCabe today as he was often late reading and reacting to the play and often was hesitant before breaking towards the play. His late reactions allowed blockers to easily get ahold of him and with his lack of size, they could tie him up and eliminate him from the play. He looked like a “tweener” who has the size/physique of a safety, but has the athleticism and speed of a linebacker.
2. Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina (6072, 275 and 4.85 E): Upholding the tradition of “look like Tarzan, play like Jane” Taylor struggles to make impact despite looking like “Mr. America.” While he flashes a good first step off the ball, his tendency to pop upright and play high allowed pass blockers to dominate him today. Too often he allowed the blocker to get their hands on him first, is slow to shed and get eliminated from the play. He has no real variety of pass rush moves and has a bad habit of stopping his rush if his initial move is stopped. Playing without base/leverage saps Taylor of the ability to play strong at the point of attack, both as a pass rusher and against the run.
Email Russ at Russelllande@yahoo.com and Follow Russ on Twitter @RUSSLANDE