College all-star game practices are different every year because there’s always a new coaching staff running them. This year, both the Redskins and Vikings coaches did less with its running backs and quarterbacks than what I saw in team practices run by the Lions, Bengals, Bills, and Dolphins in recent years. The same can be said about defensive players in general, because they are not allowed to finish plays.
The game will provide a little more insight into these players where practice couldn’t. Although film study of players during their college careers is still far and away more important than what this game will reveal, I thought it worthwhile to share what I believe you’ll see in the actual North-South match up. Here’s what I saw in Mobile this week that I believe will translate to the game:
The South defensive line will face a better offensive line than practice, but I don’t think the North’s resistance will be enough to limit this South front headlined by defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples. The South line was consistently disrupted in 11-on-11 drills throughout the week of practice and I won’t be surprised to see a few sacks, a few stuffs of running backs, and a few turnovers generated by the front’s penetration and pressure.
Kellen Moore, Kirk Cousins, and Russell Wilson are going to be hit and miss because of this defensive pressure. Moore is probably the most accustomed to the big stage, but he had the least impressive practices of any quarterback in Mobile. Practice and game performance can have mutually exclusive outcomes but that’s often the exception, not the rule. Cousins and Wilson are decent runners and I believe we will see them rolling away from the pocket or breaking the pocket on a regular basis. Expect a couple of big plays from them on the move, if they can avoid the likes of Ingram and Coples long enough for coverage to break down. I only say a couple, because I think coverage from the South defensive backs will be pretty good.
The North running backs are the best hope for the offense to stay on the field. I like North squad receivers Marvin Jones, Marvin McNutt, and Gerell Robinson, but I think they will be improvising a lot in this game due to the south defense’s pass rush. A strong running game will be a great remedy and the North has the best of the bunch on paper with Doug Martin and Chris Polk. Martin is such a decisive, downhill guy that I expect him to have the best per carry average in this game. I also expect Polk to show up more than he did in practice once we see real hitting.
Based on what I saw in South practices, I’d try to pull a linemen or wind back a fullback or tight end towards the gaps the Ingram likes to penetrate a little too recklessly. If the North catches Ingram abandoning that outside gap to slant inside, there could be some big gains to the back side. I would not try to run outside on Ingram or Coples and that means Isaiah Pead is probably going to be a non-factor on the ground unless the North offense fools the South defense with a counter or draw play. Pead’s best chance for a big play may come as a punt return specialist.
Tight End Ladarius Green will be open, but will the South quarterbacks see him? Green was one of the players I think could have generated a lot more buzz in practices but didn’t have the opportunity. He got open on some seam routes that required strong anticipation from his quarterbacks, which generally comes from more experience working with a player than 3-4 days of practice. If Green has a good day its because Brandon Weeden, Ryan Lindley, or Nick Foles finds him on a couple of seam routes 15-20 yards down field and delivers it early. My bet is on Weeden being the most likely to find him with the other two quarterbacks chances diminishing in the order I have listed them.
I don’t see a lot of successful deep passing plays in this game, but if I were to guess who will be targeted in the vertical passing game I believe Joe Adams, Marvin Jones, DeVier Posey, and Chris Rainey will see some deep fades or post routes. Adams faced physical corners all week and I have a feeling he’ll have a little less resistance from the North’s secondary. Jones seemed to get open on vertical routes whenever they let him run them. Rainey’s speed will require his quarterbacks to have strong anticipation or they will under throw the ball and negate Rainey’s separation. Posey is consistent enough to get open, but the question will be how well he tracks the football.
However in the red zone, there are some receivers worth watching. Juron Crinor, Marvin McNutt, Jeff Fuller, and Brian Quick join Adams, Jones, and Posey as players I would consider as likely targets inside the 20. Fuller struggled mightily this week in red zone drills. He either failed to get off the line or he dropped the ball. If he is fortunate enough to see a cushion or tight coverage without a punch from the defender, Fuller will make a play.