Scout’s notebook: Thursday review

Here are my initial reactions to the performances of some of the nation’s top prospects in Thursday night’s Missouri-Nebraska game.

<strong>Mr. Suh is a man on a mission

Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh once again was able to dominate the line of scrimmage and keep Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert out of rhythm most of the night. His ability to beat opposing linemen with either his first step off the snap or with his power as an outright bull-rusher is a trait not many defensive tackle prospects possess. Plus, he does a great job keeping himself clean inside and using his hands to disengage on contact. Watching Suh, a 6-4, 304 pound lineman, showcase the athletic ability to drop into coverage, read the quarterback’s eyes and pick off a pass in space leaves you shaking your head in amazement. I’ve heard the Richard Seymour comparisons, and as gifted as Suh looked on tape last year, I still thought Seymour and his freakish athletic ability were too great for Suh to measure up to. However, after watching Suh play in terrible conditions Thursday night and make play after play in all areas of the game, I’m starting to think the comparisons aren’t that far off.

Beating press coverage is key

After watching Missouri WR Danario Alexander, it was obvious the big 6-foot-4 wideout possesses a strong pair of hands and did a great job adjusting to the football. He showed impressive coordination, and his ability to pluck the football in traffic really jumped out at me early. However, the longer the game went on and the more physical the Nebraska corners got with Alexander off the line, the less effective he became. He isn’t a great athlete, and his lack of lateral shiftiness off the line was exposed every time he tried to beat press coverage. He isn’t a burner and lacks the speed to threaten defenders down the field, so opposing corners were able to get up in his face, sit on his routes and jump passes underneath. Alexander really struggled to create any kind of separation vs. physical press man coverage, and although he possesses a nice-sized frame, he doesn’t look anything more than a borderline roster guy.

One of the safest prospects in the 2010 draft

Most of the attention was on Nebraska’s stud DT Ndamukong Suh, and rightfully so. However, if there’s one senior prospect I’d bet the house on as a guy to come into an NFL training camp and nail down a starting job from day one, it would be Missouri OLB Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon showcases a real passion for the game and is an instinctive player who always seems to be around the football. He exhibits impressive flexibility and balance in his drop and does a great job staying low in his backpedal and instantly closing on the pass in coverage. He isn’t the biggest or most physical linebacker and needs to do a better job wrapping up ball carriers in the hole, but he looks like an ideal fit as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. I expect him to be playing/starting in the NFL for many years.

What a difference a year makes

While watching Nebraska game tape this summer, I came away less than impressed with the play of strong safety Larry Asante. Here’s what I wrote:

Impression: Showcases an ability to quickly attack the ball downhill, but is slow to decipher information and doesn’t make many plays in coverage. Isn’t a standout in any area of the game and looks more like a special teams candidate at the next level.

After watching Asante last night, I was shocked at how much more instinctive and confident he was jumping routes in the pass game. He’s a thickly built athlete who does a good job keeping his feet under him in his drop and cleanly clicking and closing on the ball. He showcases an explosive first step and gets to the ball in a hurry. Asante finished the game with two pass breakups on routes he undercut and did a nice job covering ground and in the secondary and eliminating throwing windows down the field. Plus, he displayed good physicality vs. the run game and did a nice job attacking downhill and wrapping up on contact. He’s one guy I will definitely have to go back and watch again after the season because, based on this game, he looks like a guy capable of playing effectively in an NFL secondary.

Quick hits

• Nebraska TE Mike McNeill is a smooth, crafty receiver with deceiving straight-line speed down the seam. However, he needs to continue to add more strength to his frame and learn to play with a lower pad level. He’s too easily disrupted off the line and doesn’t consistently get into routes cleanly.

• I was unimpressed with the play of Missouri RB Derrick Washington, who goes down too easily for back his size. Washington isn’t real shifty, and although he exhibits some patience between the tackles, he lacks any kind of burst or explosion.

• It wasn’t a good game for Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert, who finished 17 of 43 for 134 yards and two picks. However, the kid is loaded with upside, and I liked the overall toughness and guts he showed playing on a bad ankle. He displayed the ability to anticipate routes and throw receivers open underneath and looks like a potential big time QB prospect either in 2011 or 2012.

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