East-West Shrine practice begins

ORLANDO -- It was a padless practice for both sides on Monday at the East-West Shrine Game, but the National Football Post still has plenty to report and break down from the opening day of workouts.

East team

Two up

Purdue DT Mike Neal and Ohio State DL Doug Worthington both made good first impressions on me Monday. Neal is a natural bender who displays an explosive first step and good power on contact, while Worthington looks like one of the most technically sound defensive linemen here. He does a great job staying low and balanced out of his stance while extending his long arms into contact, and even though he might lack ideal bulk to hold up inside at the next level, at nearly 6-5 and 288 pounds, he projects nicely as a potential five-technique guy.

Two down

Two defensive linemen who did not start the week with favorable impressions were North Carolina State’s Willie Young and Connecticut’s Lindsey Witten. Both are tall, long-armed defensive ends who definitely pass the eyeball test walking on the field. But neither is a natural bender, and both struggle to play with leverage and power on contact. Plus, both players are thin in their lower halves and didn’t exhibit the type of athleticism needed to make up for their lack of power/technique.

Small school can sling it

John Skelton, Fordham’s standout quarterback, is a tall drink of water who can really spin the football. He throws a tight, clean spiral even when asked to drive the ball outside the numbers and displays much more polished footwork than expected, generating a lot of power from his lower half once his back foot hits the ground. He isn’t the most gifted athlete and struggles with his accuracy when asked to reset his feet and quickly realign his body into throws, but he has a good physical skill set and looks like one of the more intriguing senior quarterback prospects in the draft.

A rough first go

Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark had a tough time finding any type of a rhythm on Monday. Clark isn’t a real decisive quarterback and struggles to be efficient with the ball when he doesn’t see the throw. But what really puzzles me is how sloppy his footwork can be for such a good athlete. He has a tendency to consistently lose his base in the pocket, and his accuracy suffers because of it.

Penn State pride

One bright spot for Penn State on Monday was tight end Andrew Quarless, who is far and away the most explosive TE on the East roster. His ability to fire out of his stance and get down the seam was a real eye opener, and he definitely looks like someone who can make plays vertically at the next level. The biggest concern I have with him is his awareness off the snap and his ability to consistently get off the ball on time. But overall, it was a productive first day for Quarless.

West team

Small school in a big package

Speaking of productive first days for tight ends, Eastern Washington’s Nathan Overbay had a solid initial practice. Overbay is a big kid who displayed a good feel for coverage, hauling in three tough grabs in practice and being the most productive target in the West passing game. He isn’t an explosive downfield athlete, but he’s a smooth/coordinated route runner who adjusts well to the football and knows how to extend and pluck away from his frame.

Change hurts

Arizona State DE Dexter Davis is trying to prove to NFL teams that he can make the transition to OLB if needed, but it wasn’t a productive start for him Monday. Davis isn’t a gifted athlete to begin with, and he really looked stiff when asked to get a bump on tight ends off the line and play in space. He consistently struggled to stay with BYU tight end Dennis Pitta any time the two were matched up, and he didn’t exhibit the type of fluidity needed to make me feel he can play in space as a 3-4 OLB in the NFL.

Safety dance

Oregon safety T.J. Ward isn’t the biggest or most physical athlete playing the position here, but the guy is an instinctive football player who knows how to decipher information and get after the ball. He displayed impressive bend, footwork and overall fluidity in coverage Monday and has the ability to redirect, accelerate and quickly close on the play. He has a tendency to get caught ball-watching and will take himself out of plays at times freelancing, but he looks like a player at the next level.

Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey possesses an ideal build for the position and showcased some natural closing speed once he got out of his breaks. However, he looked stiff in his drop and struggled to keep his feet under him when asked to click and close on the ball. He’s a safety who has the ability to put himself around the action in the pass game, but he doesn’t look like a guy who will be able to make many plays on the ball the next level.

Utah safety Robert Johnson isn’t a prospect you can get a good feel for without pads on because he’s a big hitter who does a good job closing on the ball and creating collisions on contact. However, the one thing that really stood out to me about the 6-2 safety was how thin he was in his lower half. Johnson possesses stick-like calves, and although he displays good pop when launching himself at receivers in the secondary, he doesn’t look like a guy who will be able to generate much power when asked to break down and tackle inside the box.

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