South Practice Notes: Trio Of WRs, One DE Impress

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 22, 2013 – 6:40 pm

The South team took the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium for an afternoon practice at 1:30 on Tuesday, and I assumed the same position for their practice as I did for the North team’s practice in the morning. So the notes below will focus on the drill work and 11-on-11 action that happened right in front of me.

For Wednesday’s South team practice, I’ll be sure to spot myself in an area that will give me good vision to positions that are not covered in Tuesday’s notes…

WRs fun to watch
The South team has three WRs that caught my eye throughout Tuesday’s practice. We’ll go alphabetically and briefly address each one…

– The Vikings selected two WRs from Arkansas in last year’s draft – Greg Childs and Jarius Wright. And now there’s another one who will be eligible in this year’s NFL draft who may make some NFL team very happy. His name is Cobi Hamilton and he had a good day on Tuesday. Hamilton measured in at just under 6-2 and at 199 pounds, a frame that would suggest he’d play the X (outside) receiver spot in the Vikings offense. But I think he has the agility and skill set to play Z (inside/slot) receiver in an offense, as well. Granted I didn’t watch all of his snaps and I haven’t watched a second of film on him, but Hamilton appears to be a smooth route runner who makes catches look easy.

– You might not think of Louisiana Tech as a program that churns out talented players regularly, but they’re about to churn out an extremely talented receiver named Quinton Patton. A quick look at his highlights will get you excited to see what he can do at the NFL level. He appears to have a great burst and great long speed, and I also thought he ran clean routes and caught the ball smoothly. Patton lined up all over the field on Tuesday and on some of his film I’ve seen him line up wide, but I wonder if he wouldn’t be a tremendous slot receiver in the NFL.

Baylor’s Terrance Williams has gotten a lot of pub in this space the past few weeks because he’s been placed with the Vikings on many initial mock drafts. Of all the receivers – for both teams – on the field today, Williams appeared to me to be the most fluid and “pro ready.” Again, what I saw today is a blip on the radar screen when you consider these players’ body of work, and my designation of “pro ready” is something with which you should carry a grain of salt (I once said there would be no way Jimmy Clausen would slip from the 1st round). But for what it’s worth, Williams looked sharp today and I have little doubt he’ll be an impact player as a rookie in the NFL.

On the edge
In much the same way “Sly” Williams dominated the North team’s practice in the morning, Georgia DE Cornelius Washington displayed flashes of dominance during the South’s practice. He was easily the most impressive defensive lineman on the field, and he did it with a variety of pass-rushing moves.

The move that caused the biggest stir in the bleachers full of coaches and scouts was a bull rush he put on a player I couldn’t identify – it was as if he was shot out of a cannon. Washington also exploded past Virginia OT Oday Aboushi during one-on-ones and it was an impressive, quick move.

Washington did show a propensity to jump offsides, however. I counted 3 times in which he jumped, and it drove Detroit’s defensive line coach nuts. Each time Washington jumped offsides during a one-on-one drill, the coaches would take him from the drill and replace him with LSU DE Lavar Edwards, who had an up-and-down day. On one occasion when Washington was replaced with Edwards, it was Aboushi who benefited because he stepped up and stonewalled Edwards.

Offensive line dominant early, defensive line recovered late
The impressive performance from Washington notwithstanding, it was the South’s offensive line that looked dominant for much of the practice. I particularly noticed the South’s interior linemen performing well. Georgia DT Jonathan Jenkins entered this week’s Senior Bowl has the most-hyped defensive lineman on the South team, but the performance of the South interior line shut Jenkins down for most of the early part of practice. I was also impressed with Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson, who on back-to-back plays shutout Clemson DE Malliciah Goodman.

As the practice wore on, though, the defensive line turned it around. Washington started to dominate, Jenkins began to overpower the interior, and even fellow DTs Everett Dawkins (Florida State) and Cory Grissom (South Florida) eventually got in on the action and flashed ability.

Tight ends are intriguing
The South team has 3 TEs listed on the roster – Vance McDonald (Rice), Mychal Rivera (Tennessee) and Michael Williams (Alabama). Rivera looked the most fluid catching the ball today. He looks to me like a player who, if he reaches his potential, will be better than the NY Jets Dustin Keller but not quite as good as New England’s Aaron Hernandez. I’ll try to get a better look at McDonald and Williams during Wednesday’s practice. Williams was one of our 10 players to watch from earlier in the week.

Cal CB Marc Anthony was impressive in the late stages of Tuesday’s practice. He had a back-to-back sequence of plays where he angled off a RB from across the field and prevented a would-be TD and then followed that up by jumping a quick slant route and recording a PBU (pass break up). Then at the very end of practice, Anthony deflected a ball that was intercepted and returned for a TD by Florida State LB Vince Williams.
— Returning kickoffs for the South on Tuesday were: SE Louisiana CB Robert Alford, Georgia Southern DB JJ Wilcox and Williams & Mary CB BW Webb.

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North Practice Notes: DT Sylvester Williams Dominates

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 22, 2013 – 5:40 pm

The North squad took the field for practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday and worked for roughly 2 hours under the direction of Dennis Allen’s Oakland Raiders staff. I sat in the bleachers behind one of the end zones, so my observations for Tuesday’s action will focus on the drill work and 11-on-11 action that happened right in front of me.

For Wednesday’s North team practice, I’ll be sure to spot myself in an area that will give me good vision to positions that are not covered in Tuesday’s notes…

Dominant DT
The star of the show for the North team on Tuesday was clearly North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams. He displayed a combination of size, strength and quickness that could make him a dominant player in the NFL. In a one-on-one drill with Kent State G Brian Winters, Williams used a quick rip move to get past the blocker and find the QB. Then moments later in a drill where the defensive linemen were working against double-teams, Williams split the two players blocking him with ease to make a play.

Williams, who goes by “Sly” instead of Sylvester, measured in at the Senior Bowl a touch over 6-2 and at 313 pounds. He has a solid base and good upper body strength, which allows him to anchor well and also fend off blockers with his arms so he can penetrate the backfield to make a play or force a play the wrong direction so a teammate can make a play. There were a couple of times when Oregon RB Kenjon Barner was able to dance around Williams in the backfield, but I think you have to give the defense a break there because players don’t tackle to the ground in these practices and because Barner is a great player in his own right.

Another impressive part of Williams’ game is his ability to anticipate snap counts. I’m not sure if this was a strength of his during actual games in college, but during practice on Tuesday he was able to anticipate a few snap counts, which made his already explosive first step even more explosive and his already dominant performance even more impressive.

One to watch
One of the first players I noticed at practice on Tuesday morning was Texas DE Alex Okafor. Maybe it was because he’s the 1st string left DT. Maybe it’s because of his build – 6-4½ , 261 pounds. I’m not exactly sure, but you can see the potential this player has as an edge rusher for a 4-3 defense.

Okafor’s best season at Texas was his last, when he registered 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks along the way to being named 1st-Team All-Big 12 and an AFCA All-American selection. Also, his best game at Texas may have been his last game, as he collected 4.5 sacks in his team’s bowl game.

I like Okafor a lot as a left DE in a 4-3 because he appears stout enough to hold his own in the run game as well as be a productive pass rusher. He didn’t win every matchup on Tuesday – Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher stonewalled him twice in a row during one-on-one drills – but he displayed a nice combination of brute strength and pass-rushing ability.

Before we move on to another position, it should also be noted that Penn State DT Jordan Hill flashed some ability on Tuesday by using a bull-rushing technique to overpower both Notre Dame C Braxston Cave and West Virginia OL Joe Madsen.

A few offensive linemen were good, too
It wasn’t all defensive line for the North team on Tuesday. A few of the offensive linemen stood out, too.

I already mentioned Fisher from Central Michigan. The 6-7, 305-pound OT looked good a couple times against Okafor, and overall had a solid practice. I noticed on several occasions great hand placement and hand fighting by San Jose State G David Quessenberry. And finally, I heard before practice that Illinois G Hugh Thornton had an up-and-down day on Monday, and then I saw him have an up-and-down day on Tuesday. Thornton dominated an opponent in one-on-ones, but then lost badly his next time around to UCLA DE Datone Jones.

Denard doesn’t steal the show
So often during his career at Michigan, Denard Robinson stole the show. He hasn’t been able to do that at Senior Bowl practices. But you can hardly blame him.

After playing QB at Michigan, Robinson is at the Senior Bowl as a WR. He did have a nice up-and-out pattern today that resulted in a TD, but overall he looks like just a face in the crowd. I’m sure he’ll become much more than a face in crowd if he can ever adjust to the intricacies of playing the position. He is too athletic and too good with the ball in his hands to not have a place in the NFL.

The Raiders coaching staff also had Robinson back to catch punts today, and it wasn’t a great display. As he does with the details of playing the WR position, Robinson has much to work on when it comes to fielding punts. I think he’ll get there, though.

– The LB from Illinois that we put on the “10 Players To Watch” list earlier in the week – Michael Buchanon – recovered a fumble on Tuesday and returned it for a TD. Sweet.
— I counted 5 fumbled center-quarterback exchanges for the North team on Tuesday. Those are to be expected early in the week of an all-star game, but 5 seems a little over the top. That will be a point of frustration and discussion in meetings tonight, I bet.
— There were a couple of times when UCONN DE Trevardo Williams impressed me on Tuesday with his movement skills in space. He contained a screen pass and a swing pass – both to RBs – nicely during Tuesday’s practice and it was all because of his discipline to stay home and his ability to react quickly in the open field.
— Tuesday’s practice concluded on a play that saw Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib connect with Cincinnati TE Travis Kelce for a deep pass down the left seam.

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Who Is Aaron Mellette? Plus Other First Impressions In Mobile

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 22, 2013 – 12:08 am

I hadn’t been in Mobile more than an hour and hadn’t even sniffed a practice field, and yet I could already fill up a notebook of first impressions from the 2013 Senior Bowl. Before the Blog becomes consumed by my practice reports and observations, let’s empty out the notebook from Monday as made the trek from Minneapolis to Mobile, by way of Atlanta…

– Before I get in to a few notes about my time traveling to – and in – Mobile so far, I want to mention a player down here at the Senior Bowl who has captured the attention of some already. His name is Aaron Mellette, and he is a wide receiver for the North team. Mellette measures in a 6-4, 215 pounds, so it sounds as if he has a prototypical build for an NFL WR. He played collegiately at Elon University, a school located in Elon, North Carolina and a program that competes in the Southern Conference. In his senior season, Mallette hauled in 97 receptions for 1,398 yards and 18 TDs. The reason I became aware of him is because I saw NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock upon my arrival in downtown Mobile on Monday night and before our conversation ended I had to ask him about Aaron “Mitts” Dobson. Mayock gave me a positive response on Dobson, but while he was doing that, Charles Davis, also of NFL Network, made a comment about Mellette’s performance on Day 1 of Senior Bowl week. Not sure what to make of it all yet, but it’s another name to add to the list of players to watch this week.

– I couldn’t help but pay attention to the temperature outside as I drove toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to board my flight. One bank marquee listed the temperature as -3 degrees. The temperature here in Mobile isn’t anything incredible – 57 degrees when I landed – but it beats the heck out of -9. The weather in general is supposed to be pleasant here in Mobile for the week, with temps tomorrow of around 57 and increasing to 61 on Wednesday, 67 on Thursday and 68 on Friday. Last year inclement weather forced Leslie Frazier to move one of his practices indoors, a major bummer for the players and for NFL teams trying to scout the players.

– It’s awesome when pilots get on the PA system and declare to the passengers what route the plane will take to arrive at its destination. It’s frustrating to look down from your window and not know what’s below you. The pilot on our flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta extended the courtesy of informing us of our flight path. I appreciated it.

– The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane and entered the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was the amount of San Francisco 49ers-clad travelers were scurrying around the building. The 49ers had of course just defeated the Falcons in the Georgia Dome the day prior, so the many 49ers fans who traveled to see their team play were on their way home.

– It was fun running into Chad O’Shea at the airport in Atlanta. He was an offensive assistant coach on Brad Childress’ staff with the Vikings from 2006-08, but took a promotion with the New England Patriots and joined Bill Belichick’s staff in 2009. Talk about a quick turnaround – O’Shea and the Patriots had lost the AFC title game less than 24 hours before I saw him in the Atlanta airport connecting to a flight for Mobile.

– It’s a different vibe down here this year compared to last year. Remember, last year Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and his staff were in charge of the North squad. This year, Frazier and his staff are just like the other teams who aren’t coaching one of the teams. So it makes for a different environment all together, but it will still be productive for the coaches and scouts, and for the Vikings Entertainment Network (VEN).

– One thing is unmistakable – the people down here in Mobile love their college football. I sat next to a woman on the flight from Atlanta to Mobile, and she had so much to say about how much the Senior Bowl means to the Mobile community and she had so much to say about many of the players who’ve played in the Senior Bowl itself in years past, from current players such as Andy Dalton, Clay Matthews, Tim Tebow and Russell Wilson, to throwbacks such as Tee Martin (a Mobile native).

– Speaking of Mobile natives, there is a Mobile native who will be a senior next year and who, if he plays in the Senior Bowl, will be a bigger sensation than even Tebow. University of Alabama QB AJ McCarron. Yes, the back-to-back national champion who is looking to be a back-to-back-to-back national champion with head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. If McCarron does that, and if he chooses to come back to Mobile and play in the Senior Bowl, the scene down here next year could be nuts.

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