Reese’s Senior Bowl Report Day 2: North-South Offense Notes

Brent Musberger said he talked to scouts who compared Tajh Boyd to Russell Wilson. Let's have a look from the pocket. Photo by PDA.Photo.
Tajh Boyd had a couple of good throws today, but his team isn’t the one to watch for signal callers. Photo by PDA.Photo.

Today’s practice report will have a stream of conscious format minus my id. I wouldn’t do that to you.

If you haven’t heard elsewhere, the jet stream made a personal appearance at Ladd-Peebles Stadium for Day 2 of Senior Bowl practices. I’m not sure if tomorrow will be as blustery, but the morning practice could feature sub-30-degree readings on the thermometer. One can imagine what swirling winds with gusts over 30 mph can do to a vertical passing game so keep that in mind as I proceed through my notes of the day.

Maybe it’s the fact he wears No.1 and he’s in the front row I see during stretches, but Josh Huff continues to be the player I’m drawn to first. This is the second day in a row where the Oregon receiver has earned at least two steps on a defensive back multiple times in a practice session. He had one drop today during drills, but the rest he caught and he used his hands well enough to earn these receptions while attacking the football.

Still, I haven’t seen situations where I would classify the quality of his hands beyond the term “competent.” The passes he has caught in the short an intermediate zones have been on the money with little need to adjust. The vertical looks he caught were in situations where he was wide open.

Huff’s drops on film come in more challenging situations where a player like Jordan Matthews has earned his reputation as a crunch-time performer: plays versus impending contact, tough adjustments to the football, or often both at the same time. Another issue I notice with Huff is some minor difficulty moving to his left. During footwork drills, Huff was much slower in lateral drills where he had to run patterns from right to left and even had to repeat a rep.

Huff had three reps with this lateral drill and each time he was far more deliberate and less precise with his feet than the other footwork drills where he was often one of the three best on the North roster. How this could matter, I’m not sure.

Maybe a defensive back picks up that Huff is slower or less precise moving left and that makes his job easier undercutting routes or funneling Huff in a direction where the receiver’s balance and agility is less dangerous. Then again, it could mean nothing.

Speaking of Matthews, the Vanderbilt receiver had the catch of the day – a back-shoulder fade at least 30 yards up the left sideline where he made a smooth turn to the ball, extended for the target and had two-thirds of his body parallel with the ground as he tight-roped the sideline. That said, the Jaguars staff had to remind him to work back to the ball after his breaks on shorter routes.

A receiver who might not be earning the same kind of buzz in Mobile because he’s not paired with the best trio of quarterbacks is Shaq EvansHowever, he has made a good impression on me for a number of reasons.

Evans’ routes are among the smoothest of the group and I especially enjoyed watching him run a stem that worked so deep into the safety’s frame that the defensive back couldn’t react in any direction. It allowed Evans to catch the defender off-balance, drop the safety with a forearm shiver, and then break outside for an easy catch. That’s how I’d define “crawling up a defender’s ass.”

Unfortunately Evans isn’t earning easy down field targets despite getting separation. One specific target up the right sideline featured a throw from Stephen Morris that was low, inside, and under thrown when it should have been high, outside, and leading the receiver. If Evans could have caught this ball it would have been the catch of the week, but he couldn’t stop his momentum, turn, drop for the low throw, and make the catch.

Where Evans has erred twice this week is throws that arrived a beat earlier than the receiver anticipated and he wasn’t looking for the ball as soon as he made his turn. As the result the passes were on top of Evans before he could react with his hands.

Today’s late reaction was a throw to his back shoulder up the right sideline about 25 yards down field. Evans juggled the ball and had two chances to secure it, but wasn’t successful. He’s a good player on this squad who has room to get better, but between the wind and his quarterbacks I’m skeptical we’ll get to see Evans show off his vertical game like he hoped.

QB Logan Thomas was hesitant where he needed to be aggressive today.
QB Logan Thomas was hesitant where he needed to be aggressive today.

Logan Thomas is one of these North squad quarterbacks and his accuracy beyond the 10-yard range has been sub par the past two days. The worst of these attempts was a deep streak up the right flat where the receiver broke wide open 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, Thomas saw it, and didn’t pull the trigger.

He hesitated for another two beats before attempting the throw. This was the kind of decision-making in the vertical game that Kerry Collins used to make in Oakland that almost ended Randy Moss’ career. Thomas’ throw was so late, the receiver had to wait on the ball and attempt to win the target against two defenders while facing the quarterback rather than running under the ball in stride 3-4 steps behind only one defender.

Tajh Boyd also missed a notable attempt in the deep passing game during a morning session where the wind wasn’t as great of a factor. While the throw to the right flat traveled 45 yards with nice touch, the pass was short and inside rather than long and outside. He did manage an accurate deep out at the right sideline resulting in a strong catch from Jared Abbrederiswho high-pointed the ball at the boundary for one of the better catches of the day.

The most confident throws came during the South practice. David Fales didn’t challenged the deep zones much, but he was willing to split zones in the short and intermediate game with good timing into tight spots.

Both Derek Carr and Jimmy Garappolo were sharp in the short game, but each had multiple throws targeting wide open receivers up the left sideline during wind gusts that carried the ball outside the boundary during the afternoon. There was little I’ve gained from watching these quarterbacks compared to what I’ve seen on tape, thanks to the weather and the nature of the practices.

A player I have gained a lot of knowledge about this week is former Northwestern quarterback Kain CoulterAlthough lacking the dynamic promise of Denard Robinson, Coulter is a far better pass catcher than his Michigan counterpart at this stage of their conversion process.

This time last year, Robinson was struggling to catch the football. Some of this had to do with an injury and over-thinking his routes. Coulter has experienced no such problems.

The best quarterback performance on the North Roster might have come from Kain Colter at wide receiver.   Photo by West Point Military Academy.
The best quarterback performance on the North Roster might have come from Kain Colter at wide receiver. Photo by West Point Military Academy.

The novice receiver has struggled earning separation and his routes need refinement at the top of his stems, but catches almost everything his way, including targets where the placement is to awkward locations to his frame. One such target was a ball that Coulter had to reach against his momentum and snare low and away from his back hip that even the best receivers in this class would have dropped 60-70 percent of the time.

A final evaluation on the upside of player making a position change is always one of the more difficult calls. What I can tell you at this stage is that Coulter’s hands aren’t a problem and I think if he displays a flair for the difficult play after he’s had time not to think about what he’s doing as a route runner, he’ll be a keeper.

Another intriguing position conversion project is Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon, who displayed sharp cutback ability in the backfield both to his left and his right this afternoon during 11-on-11 drills. I had an AFC scout tell me that his team is excited about McKinnon’s athleticism and they believe he has upside to develop into a contributor at the running back position. I’m still waiting to see a situation where he can showcase his long speed and an opportunity or two where he must display greater maturity to get down hill.

Charles Sims is the best all-around skill player I’ve seen after two days and while I should know better not to play amateur psychologist, I get the sense that he knows it. I interviewed Sims last night and he was an affable young man who possessed a looseness with his interactions that I’d hazard to characterize as a quiet confidence. Or to be more accurate, he was brimming with quiet confidence.

Sims was by far the best in blocking drills today and he won every match-up I saw against linebackers thanks to his quick feet, strong angles, a decent punch, and good hand position. He was decisive to the holes in 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, found a cutback lanes in the creases and found his way to the third level of the defense multiple times.

One of Sims’ more impressive displays of athleticism was a stop-start move to sidestep a linebacker who that he had Sims dead to rights in the backfield outside right end. I still don’t get the Matt Forte comparisons other than I believe these “Forte compers” see a bigger back with quickness and receiving skill and related it to the Bears’ back. The way Sims carries his pads and cuts is more akin to Demarco Murray if you ask me.

What matters is that he’s earning comparisons to good NFL starters. I’ll have another analysis if his game on the blog soon enough. If you haven’t seen the one I did this summer, you can find it here.

I’m also glad to report that James White displayed good feet and tenacity as a pass protector as well as maturity to hit the crease between the tackles and finish with strong pad level on runs where a larger opening did not appear. In contrast, David Fluellen – a 225-pounder – attempted to reverse his field on plays where the interior creases didn’t open. Although these plays looked good to less experienced eyes, it’s not a great sign in 9-on-7 drills where the intensity isn’t as high and the aim is to demonstrate mature decisions.

In pass protection Fluellen’s performance was spotty. He held his own numerous times with decent footwork and hand position, but he also lacked the aggression to deliver the first punch. He caught a punch from a linebacker that forced him into bubble of space near the coaching playing the quarterback during the drill.

Michael Campanaro is a player whose tape had me vacillating with my overall take. Is he a nice reserve capable of contributing along the lines of Falcons receiver Harry Douglas or can he do more as a super productive slot receiver? Nothing from practices is moving me firmly into one camp.

On some plays, he’s earning quality separation and others he’s too deliberate with his route or jammed at the line of scrimmage. If I had to make the call today, I’d say Campanaro’s upside is along the spectrum of Douglas. It means he’s a nice NFL prospect, but one only die-hard fans will find exciting.

I’m not a fan of Jalen Saunders’ game. Now that he’s asked to do more in practice than catch screens, crossing routes, and verticals, we’re seeing a player whose size is an impediment. Saunders was knocked off track almost every rep during press drills and has difficulty getting the opposition to give up position in tight man.

A receiver I was excited to see this week was Cody Hoffman, but I think his performance is another that exemplifies a prospect not playing in an offense that maximizes his positives. Hoffman is a free-access receiver along the lines of Vincent Jackson and it means he’s not a great route technician in close quarters prior to the break. Unlike Jackson, I don’t see the speed. Hoffman isn’t slow, but I’d be shocked if he ran under a 4.5-40.

Other than C.J. Fiedorowicz dropping a pass high and away from his outside shoulder in the flat and Jake Pedersen making a nice grab in tight quarters between zone defenders, I didn’t see much from the tight ends worth reporting at this stage. 

Tomorrow, the Falcons and Jaguars coaching staffs will switch teams. Yes, you read that right. Stay tuned for Jene Bramel’s Day 2 report on the defense – there’s a maniac lurking on the South roster.

For more Senior Bowl Info also check out:

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio.The 2014 RSP will available April 1 and if you pre-order before February 10, you get a 10 percent discount. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

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