More clues about the skill prospects emerged from the second day of North practices. Waldman has you covered.
Let’s begin with a bit of advice for observing practice in an outdoor stadium during cold, wet weather. Layers are essential. But you knew that if you weren’t raised by wolves.
A small athletic bag stuffed with a couple of pairs of wet weather pants is also helpful. If it rains, you can put them on over you outer wear and stay dry. If it doesn’t, you can use that bag as a pillow to sit on or recline against the row of bleachers behind you.
Get a wool overcoat or pea coat that extends over your hind parts, so you have another extra layer between you and the metal bleachers. A scarf is also versatile and keeps the wind from biting too hard.
My buds know me as a Georgia boy, but I was born in Massachusetts and raised my first 10 years in the lake effect winters of Cleveland, Ohio. I was good to go all day.
So were some of these receivers and backs on the North squad. Much of what I’m sharing will seem like more of the same, but there are some notable moments that I thought were most telling–especially about some players earning much love around here.
Chris Moore: Mr. 9-Route has shown a little more thus far and that’s a positive sign. He displayed some bend with change of direction drills–more than guys like Aaron Burbridge, Braxton Miller, and Leonte Caroo. If I were his coach, I’d have him spend the next several months on mastering hard breaks.
He repeatedly beat defenders on fades and streaks during practice (one defender just decided to blatantly hug Moore on one move up the right sideline rather than get fully embarrassed). Adding a mastery of hard breaks to his speed game could make Moore a compelling receiver with a lot more to offer. Santonio Holmes had this combo early in his career.
Jared Payton: Once again, he bent better at the hips in and out of breaks than anyone on the North roster. He also made a sweet one-handed grab early in one-on-ones. He also schooled a cornerback on a double-move later in the drill period, but the route was an intermediate pattern and his break back to the QB gave the CB room to recover. During press-release drills between a narrow runway of cones, Payton got even with the defender twice. They weren’t show-stopping results that draw praise from most, but when you’re a receiver of Payton’s size and physicality, even is good enough. What might not be good enough is his long speed.
Despite getting open deep multiple times during the first two days, Payton has been overthrown on every target with the exception of one under-thrown pass. One of these overthrows was a pass from Kevin Hogan up the left sideline where the ball was placed perfectly just inside the boundary but dropped about 2-3 yards “too far.” I placed those two words in quotes because I’m beginning to wonder if the “overthrows” are actually good targets to a receiver who might not be fast enough.
Even if he’s not fast enough for deep routes, Marques Colston and Jordan Matthews had more trouble getting separation when I watched them as a prospects. Payton is impressing me with what he can do. There’s enough to his game that makes him a worthwhile late-round pick, especially when teams overvalued guys like Shaq Evans, Robert Herron, and Vince Mayle.
Leonte Caroo: One of my favorite sights in one-on-ones was a play where Caroo ripped through a defender’s reach and the violence of the receiver’s move worked through the defender’s hands, hit the defender in the head, and snapped his head back. I like violent hand work from offensive players. If I were the North receivers and tight ends coach, I’d tell Nick Vannett to watch Caroo’s reps and try to do do the same things with his hands. Caroo also beat two cornerbacks handily on vertical routes today.
As Matt Caraccio of the Saturday2Sunday podcast said during practice, Caroo must know that he’ll need to work on winning at the top of his routes with physical play and it appears he has worked on getting his upper body strength to a place where he can hold his own. I’d like to see him do a better job maintaining his line during his initial separation so he’s not driven too wide in a direction from the intent of his route.
Tajae Sharpe: The UMass prospect got hung up on reps where he drew patient cornerbacks not willing to bite on his first move during the stem. When Sharpe didn’t win right away, he was less effective at this stage of his development.
Braxton Miller: I love the raw quickness and the control he has of his feet. He’s especially quick in and out of his breaks. He also catches the ball in traffic and doesn’t appear distracted by bodies around him.
But if Miller doesn’t win separation early in the route, he resorts to attempting multiple moves and he throws off the timing of the pattern. In other words, stop him early and Miller will take himself out of the quarterback’s consideration because he’ll take too long to get open. He also gave up on a route on 7-on-7s where Kevin Hogan did a great job of setting up an opportunity to come back to miller if the receiver continued his break from right to left.
Despite the flaws at this stage of his development, the Buckeye is the best “conversion” prospect to receiver that I’ve seen at an all-star game. He’s also the one who has played the position for a full year. If the tape displays similar things that I’ve seen for the first two practices, Miller is exciting, but he won’t be a year-one impact player unless given a very specific role in an already productive offense.
Aaron Burbridge: The most impressive move I saw all day was from the Spartans receiver when he executed a whiplash fast head fake at the top of his stem on a dig route. Unfortunately, he dropped the ball. There were more reps where he got hung up with a corner than I’d like to see. I’ve been more impressed with what I’ve seen from Burbridge’s tape than what I’ve witnessed thus far in Mobile. He hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t consistently beaten the corners in these practices with his technique and he’s not a top athlete at the position. I’m beginning to wonder if he’s the type of prospect who will have to master a wide range of skills at the position to develop into an NFL starter.
Cody Kessler: The most notable play was a 7-on-7 where the USC passer waited inordinately too long to find an open receiver and when he did, he threw the ball behind Aaron Burbridge on a route breaking across the middle. He also threw behind Chris Moore on a short in-cut and under threw Braxton Miller on a deep streak up the left sideline. Kessler connected deep in on-on-one drills with Leonte Caroo, but I didn’t see any evidence of his driving the ball with pro-caliber velocity. The tape will tell the story more than these practices, so I wouldn’t read too much into these observations.
Kevin Hogan: I loved watching Hogan look left-right-left with a progression of three routes and deliver the ball on that final route breaking left to Braxton Miller. Too bad Miller stopped running. Hogan also delivered a sweet little shoulder fake to the right and threw the deep fade up the left sideline to Jordan Payton, but “overthrew” it (see Payton’s entry for an additional layer of info there) despite good placement near the sideline. I liked the nuance and smarts on display during these limited reps.
Carson Wentz: I didn’t like that Wentz targeted a tightly covered short route at the far sideline after initially coming off the route because he saw it covered. It was an impulsive decision and the corner jumped Aaron Burbridge for a near-interception that would have easily been a pick-six in a game. I like his willingness to target tightly covered receivers on film, but the context was different. This was a boneheaded decision. But it’s important to remember that this kind of error in the context of Mobile is not nearly as big of a deal as it is on tape in the offense you’ve been executing for years. Mulligan.
Wentz also found Chris Moore in tight coverage on a short route to the left, but placed the ball a little too far inside and forced Moore to make a strong adjustment to take the ball away from the defender. He had another placement issue on a short route to the left flat. Consistent advanced placement of the football is something Wentz has to work on.
Henry Krieger-Coble: He can’t separate from safeties and NFL-caliber athletes at linebacker when required to run routes where he doesn’t post up or settle under a zone. There’s a lot that Coble can do as a blocker and receiver that will make him a viable contributor to a roster. But if he can’t outrun the defenders in this game, I doubt he’ll ever become a viable NFL receiver. It’s a shame, because there’s so much about his game that is played the right away that you want a player like him to have the extra athletic ability that can vault him into a different tier. He’ll find a niche.
Bryce Williams: He nearly caught the rebound of a contested ball in the left flat, but ultimately dropped the diving attempt. Even, so the hand-eye coordination and the effort were positives. He’s a smooth athlete who often appears “this close” on any given route or target to making an impressive play. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a good game this week even if his practices aren’t awe-inspiring, because of the fact that his performances consistently display good moments that he almost puts together. I think he’s an appealing developmental option who still has an upward trajectory.
Nick Vannett: Once again, he couldn’t catch a good target against tight, physical coverage. Until he does so, I can’t agree that he’s having a a good week of practice. He’s a promising player, but one easy to project good things because he looks like a pro tight end in a uniform or winning against air.
Tyler Ervin: No linebacker can cover Ervin thus far. He’s a complete mismatch due to his speed, his quickness in and out of breaks, and his ability to adjust to the football despite contact. One of his better plays was an adjustment up the left flat on a pass covering more than 25 yards. Ervin had to adjust to the ball working from the inside-out, finishing the catch sprawled on the ground. I still didn’t see any attempts where he stood out as a runner between the tackles. I’d bet that if Ervin has some larger gains in the the actual game, they will come off outside runs or a draw play. It isn’t a prediction based on his ability as much as it is on the way the Cowboys will use him. If you want to see how he does between the tackles you’ll have to revert to the tape.
Kenneth Dixon: Not much more to say that wasn’t said yesterday.
Continue checking for additional Senior Bowl coverage at the RSP blog’s Senior Bowl Central.