Scout’s notebook: offense
Observations and analysis from the 13th week of the college football season, including thoughts about some of the nation’s top offensive prospects.
Texas A&M two-step
Jerrod Johnson: QB (6-5, 243)
I knew heading into the Texas-Texas A&M showdown just how talented a quarterback A&M’s Jerrod Johnson was, and I knew he’d been taking dramatic steps over the past year or so under head coach Mike Sherman. However, what I didn’t expect to see was a quarterback who was so comfortable throwing the football outside the numbers while sticking big-time NFL throws into very tight windows. Johnson was absolutely brilliant Thursday night, carving up the Texas secondary and doing a great job using his pure athletic ability to create when nothing was there. The guy is a physical marvel at 6-5, 243 and possesses the arm strength and anticipation to throw receivers open and be accurate with the football. He’s still far from a finished product, and his mechanics and footwork have a tendency to get sloppy at times, but if you had seen this kid as a freshman, his development has been truly phenomenal. It’s obvious that Johnson is a student of the game and wants to mature, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him make a run at the top quarterback spot in the 2011 draft.
Kevin Matthews: C (6-4, 310)
Another standout in last week’s Texas-Texas A&M showdown was the play of Aggies center Kevin Matthews. You can tell Kevin is the son of a former All-Pro offensive lineman (Bruce Matthews) as he consistently plays with impressive technique inside. Matthews does a tremendous job getting into opposing linemen quickly off the snap and may have the quickest hands of any center I’ve seen this year. He’s consistently able to get under the chest plate of defensive tackles on contact and stay on his blocks through the play. Plus, Matthews is the definition of a Velcro player in the run game and did a great job repeatedly handling Texas DT Lamarr Houston at the point and opening up lanes inside. He isn’t the most gifted athlete and lacks ideal range in space, but he’s fluid enough to slide laterally in pass protection and can anchor consistently vs. the bull-rush. Matthews looks like one of the more underrated offensive linemen prospects in the draft and is a guy I could definitely see maturing into a potential starter at the next level.
One nasty Owl
Temple tight end Steve Maneri has caught all of 11 passes this season and lacks the type of speed and overall athleticism to consistently create any kind of separation at the next level. So why am I bringing up his name? Well, at 6-6, 275 pounds, Maneri has found a niche on the Owls offense and has developed into one of the most impressive blockers in the country at his position. His ability to play with power, balance and body control at the point of attack are rare to see from a tight end his size. Maneri made an absolute mockery of the Ohio run defense on Friday, routinely handling any defensive end they put in his way and easily driving/pancaking them away from the football. The guy definitely looks like a draftable prospect; the question is, at what position? There’s no doubt in my mind Maneri has the skill set to make a roster as a team’s No. 2 or 3 blocking tight end and could instantly enhance an NFL run game. However, much like former Arkansas TE Jason Peters (currently the Eagles starting left tackle), would it make more sense to ask Maneri to add about 30 pounds to his frame and turn him into an offensive tackle? He definitely has the athletic skill set and length to make the change and at least gives NFL teams plenty of options concerning his role at the next level.
The tools simply aren’t there
Coming into the year, I thought Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller had the ability to become one of the draft’s top senior quarterback prospects. He’s a tall, well-built pocket passer who has improved his release over the years and has the IQ to handle an NFL playbook. However, after watching him last week vs. Ball State, it became clear the guy simply doesn’t have the skill set to be an efficient starting quarterback in the NFL. Hiller is a limited athlete who struggles to buy time in the pocket and fails to make plays on the move. Plus, he lacks ideal arm strength for the position and really struggles to get the ball outside the numbers. You can’t take away from the kid’s production throughout his college career, but his lacking physical skill set doesn’t bode well for his chances at the next level.
Underclassman gone bye-bye?
One performance that really caught my attention this past weekend was that of Florida TE Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez finished with five catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns vs. Florida State and also displayed the ability to line up on the outside and easily create separation against the Seminoles’ best cover man, CB Patrick Robinson. Hernandez is a gifted athlete for his size and showcases the burst to quickly get on top of defenders and the speed to get down the seam. However, it’s his body control and balance as a route runner that consistently allow him to cleanly get out of his breaks and separate vs. man coverage. The guy also does a great job after the catch and looks like a H-back/TE that you can split out and create a lot of mismatches with in the pass game at the next level.
At the start of the season, Clemson offensive guard Thomas Austin was considered one of the nation’s top prospects at his position. However, after watching tape of him last summer, I came away less than impressed. And although his performance this weekend vs. South Carolina was a little better, he just doesn’t look like the kind of athlete who will be able to consistently hold up in pass protection at the next level. He showcases good power and girth inside, but he’s slow to redirect and really struggles to stay in front of his man after his initial punch. Plus, he’s limited in space and isn’t effective when asked to pull and get out to the second level. His size and power will likely end up getting him drafted, but I wouldn’t considered him a prospect who has the ability to start for an NFL offense any time soon.
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