East-West Shrine Game: practice impressions

Top performer: Rodger Saffold, OT, Indiana

Saffold was not only the most agile pass blocker all week, he also showcased impressive bend, footwork and overall base strength when asked to anchor on contact. He looked natural sliding his feet, mirroring in space and using his quick hands to gain inside leverage and keep his side of the pocket clean. Plus, he displayed above-average range when asked to pull on the outside and exhibited some initial pop as an in-line run blocker. Saffold has definitely elevated his stock in my eyes and grades out as someone who has the ability to develop into a starting-caliber tackle.

Top wideouts

Emmanuel Sanders, SMU

Sanders played at another speed all week, consistently and quickly eating up the cushion off the line, creating separation out of his breaks and tacking passes vertically down the field. Plus, he does a much better job adjusting to the football than given credit for and, although he lacks size, he has some fight to him when asked to block in the run game. He looks like a guy who can create plays down the field from the slot in an NFL offense.

David Reed, Utah

There isn’t much flash to his overall game, but Reed is a coordinated wideout who does a nice job maintaining his balance and accelerating initially out of his breaks. He showcased an ability all week to create separation for himself in one-on-one situations and possesses a good combination of quickness and savvy in the pass game. You can definitely see a little of the Giants’ Steve Smith in his game.

Freddie Barnes, Bowling Green

Is Barnes someone who will consistently be beat man coverage on the outside and escape press vs. physical NFL corners? No, but he’s a well-built kid with good body control who does a great job gaining initial separation and plucking the football. He’s not a guy who will ever be a star in the league, but if you need a wideout who can come into a game as a sub-package receiver and move the sticks from the slot, Barnes is your man.

Didn’t meet the mark

OT Chris Marinelli, Stanford

After watching Marinelli in practice, I simply didn’t see type of initial burst from him off the edge to make me think he has the ability to consistently set vs. NFL-caliber rushers. He struggles to keep his base down on contact, can be overwhelmed at the point and isn’t an efficient puncher. Overall, Marinelli was beaten with speed, power and quickness this week and looks like a guy who will end up having a tough time making an NFL roster as a tackle.

OG Thomas Austin, Clemson

One common trait in Austin that kept showing up in my notes this week was “no base” or “lacks anchor strength.” Austin was routinely exposed vs. the bull-rush and doesn’t possess the lower body strength to consistently hold the point of attack. And it isn’t even that he plays overly high or struggles to bend. He exhibits a pretty good pad level on contact, but he lacks ideal strength through his base.

Time to re-evaluate

If an offensive guard at next week’s Senior Bowl gets hurt, I would really like to see Texas Tech’s Brandon Carter get thrown into the mix in Mobile, Ala. Carter played much better than I anticipated this week, showing good anchor strength inside with an ability to engulf opposing linemen on contact. He still doesn’t showcase much explosion off the snap in the run game and has tendency to roll his way out of his stance, but when he’s able to get his hands on defenders initially off the snap, something he wasn’t asked to do often in the Texas Tech offense, he can be very effective.

Good work by VT’s Chancellor

Thinking back to the 2007 Senior Bowl, I can remember former Virginia Tech safety Aaron Rouse being applauded time and again for his ability to press and reroute receivers off the line, especially in goal-line situations. Fast forward to this week at the East-West Shrine Game, where another former Virginia Tech safety, Kam Chancellor, also did an impressive job using his long, physical frame to bump receivers/tight ends and quickly find the football. Chancellor really did a number on Freddie Barnes on one occasion, absolutely manhandling him off the line, then followed that up with another physical bump on tight end Nate Byham before using his length and size to knock away the ball. My point: There’s no doubt Chancellor has the size, straight-line speed and physicality to play at the next level. But the team that drafts him needs to allow him to play to his strengths – near the line of scrimmage where he can play with his hands -- and not ask him to consistently redirect vs. NFL receivers in space. Like Rouse, he simply won’t be able to hold up.

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