It was a "Uppers Only" padded practice in Day One for the East Roster, so not a ton to glean from today's practice outside of quarterbacks and receivers trying to get on the same page, and defensive backs flashing the hip fliudity and footwork.
However, I had plenty of notes from today's first practice, including the struggling Collin Klein, the impressive Emory Blake, the flashing Terron Armstead, and the stand-out Cooper Taylor.
-Of the quarterbacks, Collin Klein of Kansas State was the one who brought the most intrigue to this Shrine Game quarterback class, mostly as it if…well…he is a quarterback. And based off the first day, we actually may have some answers. For one, his release looked higher and a bit quicker, which is a good start. But there’s still a hitch in his release, and he really aims the ball as he follows through to his release point. Also, his velocity downfield was a major concern, and he really could strike through to his targets across the field. His footwork was too short, and he really needs to explode back, get his depth, and plant and drive. Also, he capped a lackluster and concerning day with two late reads across the field that ended up as interceptions.
-The quarterback who impressed the most today (as expected) was former Ole Miss and Southeastern Louisiana’s Nathan Stanley. Quick, consistency release on shorter routes, he drives well through the ball. His high velocity across the field certainly stood out among the passers, and he was able to launch the ball vertically as well. The other quarterback, Colby Cameron, seemed the most off-target of the passers, but likely most of that has to do with getting the timing down. He did show his quick release, and though his velocity was a bit concerning, it wasn’t a bad nor surprising day for Cameron.
-The only real note from the running backs (again, not full pads) was how much quicker, faster, and more elusive Ray Graham was than the other two (Zac Stacy and Montell Harris). It was expected, but just how drastically quicker to the edge and decisive/explosive laterally Graham compared to the other two really stood out. We’ll see how contact goes tomorrow, but Graham’s burst certainly was shown off today.
-Montell Harris of Temple got some work as a punt returner today as well, something to keep track of as he hopes to provide value to NFL teams.
-The most surprising day came from Auburn’s Emory Blake, who really looked to cut hard and efficiently in his routes, especially in cross field routes. He timed his breaks well to the safety-pickup’s reaction, and was able to get separate against the cornerbacks. Hopefully he gets a chance to get more separation and continue to impress despite some lackluster passers this week.
-Rodney Smith of Florida State seemed to be the best outside and potentially X receiver of the group. He took well to coaching it seemed, and worked hard to fine tune his routes and get separate. He also adjusted on multiple occasions to passes, including a very nice between-two DB snag on a later-than-it-should-have-been pass by Collin Klien. A big week of consistency could make Smith a VERY intriguing receiver prospect.
-The two Virginia Tech receivers caught my eye today, but for different reasons. Marcus Davis looks the part, carved out of stone in his upper and lower half and looking like the most physical and naturally talented receiver here. But he struggled mightily to pick up where the deep ball was, had two drops, and looked slow and really unpolished in routes. It’s just day one, but it wasn’t a good start. As for the other Hokie, Corey Fuller showcased his weeks at times, and worked well in the slot position. I hope they leave him there all week, because his speed and body positioning on the interior could really give him a chance to thrive.
-As for the tight ends, the only likely draftable one of the bunch performed well in Rutgers DC Jefferson. While he’s not a burner, he worked hard in his routes, both across linebackers (where he fought through multiple chips and gave the quarterback a throwing window), as well as attacking the seam as well. Under-utilized at Rutgers, he’s shown the route development and the extension away from his body already this week. Blocking drills shouldn’t be a problem either for Jefferson.
-Didn’t take too close of a look at the offensive line today (not in full pads), but two that did stand out were Terron Armstead of Arkansas Pine-Bluff and David Bass of Missouri Western State. Armstead looked the part in pass protection, getting great extension on his deep kick slides, and setting up well and consistently to even anticipate inside rushes to pinch inside. As for Bass, he showed good burst and change of direction in the run game, and made an impact despite it not being full contact.
-Not being full contact didn’t stop UConn’s Sio Moore from being physical in mulitiple drills today. He went after tight ends, using his hands to dislodge their route tree as best he could, and adjusting upfield to attack the ball in the running plays of 12 vs. 12. He’s an active player, and his explosiveness and physicality is expected, and impressive. But I’ll be looking for his 4-3 linebacker polish this week.
-Robert McCabe of Georgetown also showed why he’ll impress in coverage drills this week, as he really looks like a too-big strong safety. He transitioned in a very impressive tight end pick up, playing a 4-3 under SAM position (basically lined up as a standup defensive end) and took a step upfield before adjusting to the pass coverage, sank and dropped to pick up the tight end. Just a small note I had, but impressive nonetheless, and it's a sign of things to come for McCabe in coverage.
-Man, there are a lot of defensive backs here, with nine cornerbacks and seven safeties on the East roster alone. Of the class, though, two REALLY stood out. One was Clemson’s Rashard Hall, who impressed me as I reviewed him for this game. He showed explosive hips and change of direction, and looked as though he could cover receivers (and likely will at times this week) in man coverage.
-The other really impressive defensive back was Cooper Taylor of Richmond. Get used to hearing that name this week, because he really looks the part of the hype I heard about him in the pre-season of this year. The 6’4 safety is a monster in the defensive back drills compared to his 6’0 or smaller counterparts, yet he’s reacting and closing on passes as well as any of them. His change of direction, efficient aggression, and reaction to the play were fantastic today, including a Collin Klien interception. I’ll look for him to be maybe one of three small schoolers here fighting for a Top 3 round pick.
-Cornerback Brandon McGee of Miami (FL) has loads of upside, and his hips turn effortlessly, but his footwork is way too wide, and he slipped on nearly every pivot he had to make in coverage because of it. If he can’t polish up his technique, he may not even be worth developing for NFL teams.