Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
After focusing yesterday on the offensive skill positions and DBs, today was more about linebackers, safeties, and the trenches. It was much colder today in Mobile.
The linebackers and safeties faced off against the tight ends and running backs in a mano a mano blitz drill. The defense clearly had the advantage throughout.
Harding LB Ty Powell excelled at blitzing. On his first rep he slithered past Fresno State RB Robbie Rouse, who barely touched him. Powell showed explosive forward burst out of his shoulder move, very strong legs. On another rep he got initially stonewalled by Western Kentucky TE Jack Doyle but used a strong arm swipe to break free and continue towards the QB. It was about the only thing Powell really did well all day. During a drill right before this he was very stiff in the ankles and was admonished to “keep your eyes up and your ass down” more than once. He got stuck too far inside once in 11s, unable to navigate the traffic and looking very uncomfortable flowing laterally. But he definitely showed acumen as an inside blitzer and has enough power to merit looks as a 3-4 ILB.
Harvard FB Kyle Juszczyk got the best of Powell on one rep, however, and it was the highlight of the drill. He caught Powell being too high and lifted him off the ground, planting him with a suplex move that Roddy Piper would approve. Powell rebounded and beat Juszczyk on the very next rep with a stutter inside move that caught the Crimson fullback overextending. One thing that stands out with Juszczyk is his genuine love of contact and his aggressiveness. He has some Vonta Leach to him in that regard.
Robbie Rouse really struggled here. I am a subscriber to the “he’s not small, just short” camp on Rouse, but he was quite obviously too short to handle anyone here. It was cocktails all around for defenders attacking him. Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene put a quick spin on him and just slid right off, while on another rep USC safety TJ McDonald reached right over him with a powerful swim move. Rouse’s contact point is too low; he’s hitting guys in the abdomen and lower back instead of the chest. That is a problem he cannot fix.
Greene was a mixed bag. When he could get up the field with his speed he fared well, but he demonstrates very negligible upper body strength or leg drive. Blitzing is not really his game but the manner in which he was so easily locked up by Doyle (who was impressive all around today) and even Oregon RB Kenjon Barner was real discouraging. Once a blocker gets hands on him, he lacks the strength or acumen to break free.
His Rutgers teammate Steve Beauharnais is not much of a blitzer either. There’s no real creativity or variety to his approach. It wasn’t his best day all around, as he got caught over-pursuing twice and looked rigid trying to recover. On one instance he allowed a cutback by Rouse that would have gained big yardage as the safety (sorry it’s not in my notes who) also got too far outside and the MLB was walled off on a good block by Syracuse T Justin Pugh.
North Carolina LB Kevin Reddick does a lot of things well, but blitzing is not one of them. He was coached up about not knowing what to do with his hands, which were late and high. The forward burst isn’t great either. The only victory he had in the drill was on Colorado TE Nick Kasa, who was even higher with his hands and flat footed in trying to absorb a Reddick bull move.
Nevada safety Duke Williams looked explosive and crafty at blitzing. He used a great sidestep move that caught Kasa overextending and exploded past him with a quick-but-controlled burst that allowed him to flatten. Williams beat Ryan Otten with pure speed around the edge and flattened once he turned the corner. On another he just steamrolled Barner backwards. Barner was clearly not asked to do much pass protect at Oregon and needs some technical refinement, though the effort is there. Williams was one of the most impressive players on the field, quickly flowing to the sideline as a single-high safety to lay a lick on the ballcarrier and crashing the B gap on an interior run where he dodged around the LB/TE traffic to fill the hole nicely. Controlled aggression and balance are very evident in his game, just like last week in Shrine Game practices.
Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien showed real speed in the drill, but it was not his forte. He showed well in the 9-on-7 drill at recognizing the routes and picking up the tight end, and he also made a nice close on a sideline throw where he broke up the pass to Markus Wheaton, who was also well-covered by Blidi Wreh-Wilson on the play. There is a definite pop to his pads on the rare occasions there has been actual hitting too.
Fresno State safety Philip Thomas used a nice inside spin to get free once, and he used a good rip move on Nick Kasa to earn another defeat. Thomas was repeatedly praised by the DBs coach for his coverage work. He looked very natural and fluid playing single high and lined up 18 yards off the ball, showing he could focus on both the QB and the routes in front of him. On a scrambling rollout pass he held deep containment and didn’t allow the receiver to get over the top. I know this will come as a shock to Lions fans, but that is actually allowed in the NFL.
TJ McDonald had a very strong all around day. Aside from the aforementioned walloping of Rouse, he made a breakup in 11s and viciously put down a pulling guard in a play that drew oohs and aahs from the appreciate, shivering crowd.
Everyone is going gaga over Central Michigan T Eric Fisher, and he’s definitely impressive. But I saw a couple of things today that curb my enthusiasm a bit. He has a rather alarming tendency to arch his back when absorbing a power move, and that leaves him very vulnerable to pass rushers who can disengage or simply have enough power to move him. UCLA DE Datone Jones defeated him this way twice, using a powerful initial bull rush and firing out his arms to break free. Alex Okafor did the same yesterday on a similar move. Fisher is big and strong enough to get away with that in the MAC, but the NFL is a different story and he needs to learn to keep his
back flat and use the power in his legs more functionally. Having said that, Fisher had a lot more dominant wins than bad losses.
I liked what I saw today from San Jose State G David Quessenberry. I have him down for three definite victories over Penn State DT Jordan Hill, but the highlight was a move that I’ve seen him do before on tape: he caught SMU end Margus Hunt lunging out and simply pulled the chair on him, quickly retracting his shoulder and watching Hunt faceplant right in front of him. He lined up at both guard spots today and made a nice down block on the nose in 11s that opened a crease.
It was not a great day for Margus Hunt. He might be weight room strong, but it doesn’t always translate to the field. As I mentioned yesterday, his upper body is so long that it really puts him at a disadvantage to get leverage, and his upper body strength doesn’t counter it effectively enough.
Missouri Southern DT Brandon Williams is all about power, and he’s got a great deal of it in both his upper and lower body. He was able to forklift Notre Dame C Braxton Cave on one rep, and he used a powerful pnuch to jolt Kent State’s Brian Winters backwards before lunging into his rush. There is very little lateral movement to Williams and he was coached up about keeping his arms down to his sides when he moved, which allows him to get cracked and trapped easily. Lions fans will note that this happens to Ndamukong Suh all the time.
Winters spent the day playing guard and he’s clearly more comfortable at tackle. He showed some ability to anchor but he’s a more passive pass protector than I prefer inside.
Alex Okafor continues to impress. The Texas DE has very good power and quickness to get off the block, and he understands countermoves better than any of the ends here. Watching him do a rep and then Hunt follow him it’s glaring how much more savvy and technically proficient Okafor is to Hunt.
North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams reminds me a lot of Jerel Worthy from a year ago; if his initial jump doesn’t beat the guard, he’s got little to offer. But when he gets the jump or can wriggle inside a gap before it closes he has very good closing burst and strong hands to give himself space. He was praised by the coaches for his hustle on a stretch run where he was initially contained by Hugh Thornton (perhaps his only victory of the day) but busted it down the line and was in position to make the play on a cutback.
Yesterday I was very critical of Purdue DT Kawann Short’s body, but today he was one of the best players on the field. His blend of power and quickness overwhelmed both Braxton Cave and West Virginia C Joe Madsen. Short lines up very low in his stance and does a very consistent job of firing up into the bottom of the shoulder pads with powerful hands and good leg drive. He has a nice rip move but can also shift his weight quickly to disengage. He was a real handful today, though the interior line of the North is clearly the weakness of the team.
If you care about this sort of thing, Boise State CB Jamar Taylor was the first player on the field and quickly got to work on his return game. It was another rough outing for Denard Robinson as a return man. For those who have followed the Senior Bowl for a long time, the only player I’ve seen with less innate return ability is Derrick Williams.
Tags: Alex Okafor, duke williams, Eric Fisher, Jack Doyle, Jonathan Cyprien, Kawann Short, Kevin Reddick, Khaseem Greene, Kyle Juszczyk, Nick Kasa, Robbie Rouse, Senior Bowl, Sylvester Williams, TJ McDonald, Ty Powell