In an SEC match-up that features an offensive and defensive line battle between Tennessee and Florida, it's an idea evaluation game for offensive tackles Tiny Richardson/Ja'Waun James vs. defensive lineman Dominique Easley/Ronald Powell.
(JR) Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, OT, Tennessee (#74), 6’6, 327
A gifted left tackle prospect, Tiny Richardson has refined his craft over the past year to remain patient in his initial pass set, maintain bent knees through contact and keep inside placement with his punches. Most noticeable in the early going of the 2013 season is Richardson’s awareness in the presnap phase, as he’s doing an increasingly better job of addressing the numbers in the box and locating his assignment. Because of his size and strength, many are quick to overlook Richardson’s plus athleticism and impressive foot speed –this is a left tackle prospect at the next level. Richardson is quick out of his stance, can reach interior defensive linemen from the backside, and works to impose his will in the running game.
Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee (#72), 6’5, 323
One of my top sleeper prospects in the SEC, Zach Fulton very much is a draftable guard prospect and a potential day two talent. Built like an offensive tackle but having the mindset and power of an offensive guard, Fulton ideally projects to a man-blocking scheme where he can collapse down blocks, combo to the second level and win one-on-one matchups. Last week, Fulton did an excellent job of creating movement off double teams, as well as finishing blocks to the whistle, but struggled with balance and body control when asked to execute blocks down the field. He’ll need to bring his feet with him and stay within his framework as a downfield blocker in this one, as Florida will employ odd fronts and force Tennessee’s offensive line to handle their athletic linebacker corps.
Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee (#70), 6’6, 318
In preseason study, James immediately stands out because of his physical presence in the run game and natural movement skills to slide in pass pro. Still, I had a difficult time overlooking his unrefined kick slide technique and penchant for “opening the gate” against speed rushers. Improving his kick slide range with a deeper bucket step off the snap, James has taken the next step as a draft prospect that previously had the ideal physical traits but mediocre technique. Those technical adjustments not withstanding, James still has some work to do with his hand usage; although he lands firm punches with proper placement, James is unable to finish blocks to the whistle as a result of an unsecured fit on the chestplate of his defender. James slid off quite a few blocks against an athletic Oregon front a week ago, and his job won’t be getting any easier as Tennessee enters into conference play.
Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee (#98), 6’8, 351
McCullers is a mountain of a man, and quite frankly I don’t buy his listed weight. Regardless of his true weight, McCullers is the ideal two-gapping, “war-daddy” on the interior, capable of taking on and ending multiple blockers off the line of scrimmage. McCullers currently lacks the technique to two-gap and appears more concerned with winning individual battles, before tracking the football and making the play. This week, Florida returns their stud offensive guard Jon Halapio, who McCullers outweighs by more than 30 pounds. Still, Halapio packs a punch and will be receiving help from another senior prospect in center Jonotthan Harrison. McCullers will have to anchor the point of attack and use his powerful arms to collapse interior running lanes, as Florida is a heavy, power-running team.
(JR) A.J. Johnson, ILB, Tennessee (#45), 6’2, 243
Being a large, athletic middle linebacker, A.J. Johnson surprisingly has the hardest time taking on blockers and holding his own at the point of attack. After a breakout freshman season, Johnson hasn’t progressed like evaluators have hoped he would, as he truly is a talented inside backer. More of an instincts-player with a hunting mentality, Johnson has a nose for the ball and possesses plus closing speed for his size. A big concern I have moving forward, is Johnson’s tendency to run underneath blockers. He must improve at using his hands forcefully and using extension at the point of attack to stay disengaged from the blocker. In coverage, you see the ability to flip open and run down the seams with inside receivers or redirect downhill against shallow crossers; however, multiple receivers flooding his area give him trouble due to unrefined footwork in coverage drops. I need to see Johnson use his hands and jolt opposing linemen on contact, as he should be a better take-on defender than he has shown on tape.
Other Tennessee Notes:
- Center James Stone’s (#64) inability to create movement or play with power was highlighted in last week’s preview, and that weakness reared its ugly head against Oregon last Saturday. Stone doesn’t have the anchor strength to warrant more than a late round selection, and will have his hands full for a second consecutive week against the incredibly disruptive Dominique Easley.
- In addition to facing some disruptive individual matchups, left guard Alex Bullard (#78) had difficulty in collisioning and passing off stunting defensive linemen versus Oregon, leading to multiple pressures and sacks. He’s going to see plenty of stunts in this one, so it’ll be important to see if Bullard can play from a more balanced pass set and redirect more efficiently with crossing defenders.
Despite the loss, running back Rajion Neal (#20) displayed solid pass catching and third down ability a week ago. Turning short screens and checkdown passes into first downs, Neal has the quickness and burst to create after the catch. He’ll need to trust the play call’s design on running plays, as he unnecessarily forced multiple bounce cuts to the outside against Oregon.
Jon Halapio, OG, Florida - #67, 6’3, 320
Returning from a partially torn left pectoral injury that sidelined him during fall camp and kept him out of Florida’s first few matchups this season, senior Jon Halapio is back and ready to pile on some more pancake blocks. Extremely aggressive in pass protection, Halapio seeks out work when uncovered and will plant unsuspecting defensive linemen into the ground. Halapio’s footwork remains a work in progress, as he tends to come up out of his stance and overextend himself for initial contact. Halapio needs to play with more bend to his knees and work within his framework as a pass blocker, but needs to keep playing with the same brawler-mentality in the running game. Competing through the whistle, Halapio has very powerful hands and can create movement in a phone booth. Quickness and balance have been his struggles in years past, so we’ll see how his footwork has improved over the offseason.
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida - #2, 6’2, 285
Continuing to impress with a rare first step to disrupt run or pass plays, Dominique Easley’s quickness off the snap led to a handful of holding calls. Although his impact wasn’t overly impressive on the stat sheet in Florida’s week 2 loss to Miami (zero sacks, just 1 tackle), his movement skills and ability as a one-gap penetrator are eerily similar to current Dallas Cowboy DT Jay Ratliff. Neither Ratliff nor Easley possess plus measurables in terms of arm length or power at the point of attack, but both present terrifying mismatches versus interior blockers. Easley has experience playing outside at defensive end, but is best suited to play inside a 4-3 defense at either the 1 or 3-technique positions. This week he’ll face a step up in competition level against a veteran Tennessee offensive line chock full of NFL talent.
(JR) Ronald Powell, DE/OLB, Florida - #7, 6’4, 240
Hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker Ronald Powell can crank up pressure from a variety of alignments. Whether lined up as a 7-technique, standup rush linebacker or walked up blitzing backer in Florida’s 3-3-5 look, Powell gives the Gator’s defense the ability to be versatile with their fronts. Showing full functionality and 100% health after multiple knee surgeries following a torn ACL that kept him out all of last season, Powell is leading Florida’s defense in tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback hurries through two games. As a likely 3-4 outside linebacker projection, I’d like to see improved lateral balance and body control when stringing perimeter runs to the sideline. Additionally, Powell lacks a real go-to counter move and his production is largely a byproduct of Florida’s use of him as a stunting linebacker. Matching up against a potential first rounder in Antonio Richardson and also likely to take reps against mid round prospect Ja’Wuan James, Powell needs to showcase the ability to setup and defeat blockers with improved hand usage and overall body control as a pass rusher.
(JR) Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida - #15, 6’0, 190
The junior cornerback made his return from a one game suspension and didn’t appear much different or improved from a season ago in Florida’s loss to Miami. Still a bit raw in his technique and early to flip open to turn/run, Purifoy gave initial separation to receivers on curl and comeback patterns. On the other hand, Purifoy still remains an elite athlete with the makeup speed and closing burst to work himself back into position, despite his timing and footwork issues. Ultimately, NFL evaluators will marvel at his athletic traits and movement skills, and a projection to the safety position may be in the works for the ultra-competitive player. Where Purifoy stands out the most is on special teams, where he can do damage as a returner, coverage unit defender or punt block specialist. Against a struggling passing attack with uncertainty at the quarterback position, look for Purifoy to have an impactful performance.
Other Florida Notes:
- Standing to benefit from Halapio’s return will be starting center, Jonotthan Harrison (#72). Not one to drive shaded nose tackles off the line of scrimmage, Harrison has a difficult time winning individual matchups but does a solid job of climbing to the second level on scoop block assignments. Harrison is a fundamentally sound blocker with experience as a three-year starter and versatility to play any of the three interior offensive line positions.
- Undersized (5’9, 177 lbs) and underutilized in previous seasons at Florida, senior wide receiver Solomon Patton (#83) put up more receiving yardage against Miami (118 yards) than he had produced in his entire career (79 yards). Patton’s role in the past had been limited to kick return duties as a freshman and sophomore, as well as a handful of jet sweeps and reverses last year (14 rushes-140 yards in 2012); however, due to a preseason injury to starter Andre Debose, Patton has been thrust into the lineup and been surprisingly impressive. Patton can win in the 3-step timing game with elusiveness after the catch, in the intermediate passing game with crossing patterns and deep downfield thanks to his ball tracking skills. He’s shifty, explosive and a better hands catcher than I anticipated coming into his senior season, but will be limited to the later rounds due to his lack of ideal height and weight measurables.
- Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (#6) had a statistically solid outing that was, at times, unbearable to watch against Miami. A big-bodied kid with a plus arm and plus mobility, Driskel simply hasn’t developed in the manner that the Florida coaching staff envisioned when they named him the starter two seasons ago. Bailing on opportunities to climb inside the pocket and instead tending to drift into outside pressure, Driskel is responsible for much of the pressure and hits he takes at the quarterback position. More balanced in his pocket movements from setup to delivery, Driskel’s biggest issue remains his inability to work through his progressions in a timely manner and diagnose coverages properly. If he cannot improve at reading defenses, Driskel’s professional future may lie in baseball, where the Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 29th round of the MLB Draft. Driskel hasn’t played a baseball game since high school, but did sign with the Red Sox, giving the franchise his professional baseball rights should he decide to make the cross sport conversion.