Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
This was my first look at the South roster and I spent most of the day looking at linebackers, secondary, tight ends, and wideouts. If you’re the type that likes to listen to music while reading, most of this was typed to Rush’s Snakes and Arrows live CD.
This was also my first real look at Georgia Southern safety JJ Wilcox, and I focused quite a bit on him. My notes are all over the map. Among the comments I scribbled are “dove at feet with head down”, “very low and balanced in stance and backpedal”, “exceptional burst to close on the ball”, “lost balance when making a wide break but recovered quickly”, “easily the fastest of the safeties in a straight line”, and “very fluid and quick out of break”. My general opinion is that he has the great size and speed and shows general awareness worthy of strong consideration but needs a good year of solid coaching before really finding his way in the NFL. I need to hit some tape on Wilcox, who did not stand out at all when I watched their playoff game against Old Dominion.
I also have very mixed notes on Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo. As he showed at Georgia, he is a guy that likes to physically separate the receiver from the ball instead of making a play on the ball, which doesn’t necessarily translate well to the practice sessions here. There were two passes where he was in great position to deliver a big blow just after the ball arrived but he relented in this environment. Some teams are going to like that Bernard Pollard-esque style, others will not. He made a very nice sideline break to beat Alabama TE Michael Williams to the point of the route, but on another rep he approached wildly out of control on an underneath catch by Rice TE Vance McDonald and got spun around on an easy move by McDonald.
McDonald was a real standout. I’m one of the very few people that has actually seen Rice play in person, and honestly he never looked that explosive while playing for the Owls. Wherever he is training for the draft needs to prominently advertise their work with him, because McDonald has dramatically improved his burst off the line and open field speed. He’s always possessed strong, soft hands and those were on display today. He made a great over the shoulder tracking catch after blazing past Alabama safety Robert Lester down the seam for an easy touchdown. He made a quick stutter move to shake Georgia safety Shawn Williams across the middle another time. The seam speed and litheness in open space he showed today are a real change from his Rice days, where he was somewhat held back by QB play and scheme. If the athletic blossoming is legit–and I believe it is–he will be a top 50 pick that is going to remind a lot of teams of Aaron Hernandez.
Michael Williams from Alabama has almost zero quickness, but that’s not his game. I like how he presented himself as a target and his ability to seek and destroy as a run blocker. Shawn Williams broke up a pass to him where I felt Michael Williams could have fought a little harder for the ball, but the throw was not where and when it needed to be. Shawn Williams also delivered a nice blow on Quinton Patton after a catch that drew praise from Jim Schwartz.
His Bama teammate Robert Lester had a very rough afternoon. As I noted, it appears as if he’s running at three-quarters speed compared to everyone else. He is quite obviously more than a step slower than every other DB here on either roster, and his lateral agility is substandard. Lester is also quite handily the highest of any DB in his backpedal. He might be better served gaining another 10 pounds and giving it a go as an outside linebacker.
A player who has some speed and quickness to lend Lester is SE Louisiana CB Robert Alford. He has exceptional balance and agility, and real good burst out of his breaks. A NFL secondary coach seated behind me was gushing about Alford’s hips and how well he exploded to the ball. He looked very natural returning kicks as well, good added value. He is just 5’9” and 187 but I noted he looked rocked up at weigh-ins and he didn’t play small today. I have in my notes that he tracked the ball well on a deep throw drill on every rep and caught the ball with his hands every time.
Cal corner Marc Anthony reaffirmed what I expected. He is not sudden at all and will probably run in the high 4.5s but is very instinctive and good in jam situations. He has good length and timing when playing the ball in the air, but he got absolutely torched by Baylor WR Terrance Williams on a fly pattern in 11s. Anthony recovered nicely and stepped in front of a slant pass to Duke WR Conner Vernon on the next series. Vernon didn’t do much but I did note his good blocking three times, including a great edge seal against Lester.
I heard rave reviews of SDSU CB Leon McFadden from yesterday’s practice, so perhaps I was expecting a bit too much form him. Almost all my scribblings on McFadden were not positive today other than noting he delivered a solid pop when tackling. He needs to work on his hands when jamming and his hips showed some tightness a couple of times.
The best receiver here is Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton. Yesterday I griped a bit about his being just 6’ instead of 6’2”, and he properly told me to put that in my pipe and smoke it. He was quite simply uncoverable, an outstanding, polished blend of quickness, strength, footwork, and speed. He’s not a blazer but he runs every route on the tree with great precision and showed he really gets the subtleties of the position. The NFC East team seated behind me could not stop gushing about him, peppering the one person in their group who had actually seen him before with question about his game. Earlier I mentioned Robert Alford’s speed, but Patton was able to get downfield behind him with a quick move in the open field and a subtle push just before the ball was thrown.
Georgia WR Tavarres King made the notebook for showing off very sharp footwork in breaking an out pattern on Wilcox and for making a nice leaping catch over the middle. But he also made it for mistiming a jump on the sideline on an admittedly lousy throw from Landry Jones, and for double catching another throw.