Waldman’s insights on the skill players from the Dallas-led practice session.
My goal isn’t to create clickbait, so don’t read too much into practices. I state this every year and I’ll continue doing so until there’s reason to say something different.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t worthwhile nuggets from practice. Here are some of the players I thought had notable moments this afternoon.
Leonte Caroo: I’m a believer that athletes should have a reasonable amount of flexibility. I liked seeing that Caroo isn’t too stiff in the legs or hips. He dropped a pass early in cone drills designed for receivers to work on sharp changes of direction. It was clear he was thinking too much about his footwork. The most redeeming quality I saw from Caroo this afternoon was his consistent effort to work to the ball from his break rather than wait on the ball to come to him. The Rutgers receiver also displayed good use of his hands to work free of a cornerback during one-on-one drills. He didn’t have any deep targets today, but he made a smooth adjustment on a high throw over the middle halfway through practice. His quickness, use of hands, and breaks back to the quarterback were the three biggest reasons why he stood out to me.
Jordan Payton: Surprisingly, it was the sturdiest receiver on the North roster who also displayed the best bend of his hips in C.O.D. cone drills. This is an encouraging sign for Payton’s potential development as a route runner, because it indicates he has the capacity to develop into a more complete technician at the position than he was used in UCLA’s scheme. During one-on-ones, Payton showed enough nuance to bait defenders during his stems, including a route where he dipped outside a cornerback to earn separation and caught the target with a diving effort for the under thrown ball in the end zone.
Tajae Sharpe: The UMass product continues to display smooth route skills and enough burst to get immediate separation. He also won high targets with athletic adjustments during practice. He got open for a deep route where he was targeted, but the pass was over thrown. Just like his tape, he holds his own against top college competition.
Chris Moore: It should be no surprise to any Cincinnati fan that Moore earned easy separation with his vertical routes this afternoon. It was nice to see Moore get open on shorter routes that weren’t screen passes. I look forward to supply additional detail about his route running as the week progresses.
Nick Vannett: The Ohio State tight end won a one-on-one that Dallas’ staff set up when they pitted him against his teammate Tyvus Powell. Vannett used a head fake and stutter move to work past Powell up the seam for the catch. He also got wide open up the seam on seven-on-seven drills. These plays will probably earn him some praise in practice reports elsewhere, but I think his performance against tight, man coverage revealed a major developmental opportunity. When pressed on routes during drills, Vannett often used the proper arm-over or rip to defeat, but he didn’t execute it with enough violence or swiftness. The resulting effort left him tied up with a defender and too preoccupied with earning position to win the target. It’s one thing to win against air, it’s another to beat competition. Vannett has to prove he can beat opponents whose jersey numbers aren’t O2, CO2, and N2.
Henry Krieger-Coble: Iowa’s tight end couldn’t get notable separation and his targets all came in the short zone of the field, but he won just about every target against tight coverage. He knew how to push off or body-up and turn into the target for position. He even made an impressive, one-handed stab of a target while falling to the ground. He’s not weapon in the passing game that an offense will build around, but he’s among the best skill players in Mobile at winning short-yardage targets in tight coverage.
Bryce Williams: The Winston-Salem produce who went from Appalachian State walk-on to an East Carolina scholarship talent is worth keeping an eye on this week. He’s big, fluid, and displays some movement to beat safeties with his routes. He also dropped a pass because he used passive technique to wait on the ball. He’s rough around the edges, but I think there are physical and technical elements to William’s routes and hands to build on.
Tyler Ervin: When a running back adds 15 pounds from his listed weight as a senior at his college program, you have to wonder if he’ll lose speed and quickness. A pitch to left end to start the 11-on-11 session erased any doubts that Ervin lost the jets. No one touched on him on the play. I was most impressed with Ervin as a receiver. He used his hands well enough to earn separation against safeties one-on-one and there was a particular play where fought though a stumble after his break to the right flat against tight coverage, regained position, and made a diving catch at the boundary on a low and away target. His best-looking run up the middle ended with a safety ear-holing him with a hit so there’s more to see from Ervin between the tackles, but I liked his work in space today.
Kenneth Dixon: The LaTech runner found cutback lanes and displayed the burst and second gear to pull away from the defense repeatedly. He was notably quick in and out of turns after the catch and I liked his fakes to set up breaks as a receiver. His best run of the day was a bounce to right end during 11-on-11’s where he reached the right flat untouched. He was the best running back on the field for the North Squad.
D.J. Foster: When Foster earned a carry between the tackles he was engulfed within the first yard of the line of scrimmage. I didn’t see a successful cut back or press of a crease. As expected, he catches the ball well, but he was the only skill player I saw on the North squad lose his balance without contact and fall to the ground more then once as a ball carrier. He had at least three instances during practice where he fell down. I wasn’t impressed with Foster today.
Cody Kessler: The most notable things I observed of the USC quarterback was an instance of good pocket presence where he reduced his shoulder and climbed the pocket to find a receiver and a play where he looked left and went back to his right to find Tyler Ervin on a check-down to the flat. Kessler was the only quarterback I saw this afternoon who even looked to the right side of the field after beginning his initial progressions to the left. It’s indicative of his comfort level with absorbing knowledge and executing a new or less familiar scheme–even if it’s a vanilla one.
Kevin Hogan: No aggressive throws for Hogan today, but he was often pinpoint on short throws wide of the hash and numbers. He was the only quarterback during 11-on-11 drills to change a play at the line of scrimmage. He observed a pre-snap safety rotation and flip-flopped the direction of a running play. It didn’t work, but you have to appreciate him making an observant call.
Jeff Driskel: He was the most aggressive down field passer today, but he under threw all of the targets I observed–at least when he didn’t throw them too far inside or out of bounds. His accuracy was erratic this afternoon.
Carson Wentz: I didn’t watch much. I don’t think anyone really did. Having four quarterbacks in practice diluted the number of reps each earned. It seemed like I saw more of Hogan and Kessler than Wentz and Driskel. The velocity showed up on a target to the left sideline. He also threw a pass into the dirt thanks to a case of concrete feet. None of this is new to anyone who has watched him before. Most scouts have
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