Matt Waldman shares his notebook on the weigh-in and Day 1 of practice.
The first day of practice is both the most and least important of the week. It’s the least important when considering the results. Day 1 winners and losers are for pop media consumption and as forgettable as a sugary snack that dissolves in your mouth as soon as it hits your tongue.
Day 1 is vital for setting a baseline for which you gauge the arc of each player’s performance for the week. If they come out strong, do they maintain that consistency throughout the week? If they have a mediocre or bad start or—if they are inexperienced with the techniques and skills demanded of them—do they improve with instruction?
The weigh-in also deserves at least some commentary about what the player brings to the game as an athlete and how that can help or hurt him immediately. This post will include my notes on the weigh-in and practices.
Expect more observations and initial impressions than conclusions because this week is a process and the opening day should be viewed with an open mind. This isn’t a comprehensive look at every player, only the notable moments through my eyes.
My notes are reserved for skill players:
As any draftnik with a Twitter account knows by now, Wisconsin RB Corey Clement impressed onlookers with the upper part of his core. His shoulders and chest were a thick framework of muscle and his measurements were 5’10”, 221 pounds. The major question facing him is vision and decision-making.
Wide receiver Amara Darboh off Michigan also showed of a good upper body build, weighing a sturdy 215 pounds. More athlete than technician, the most impressive thing Darboh can do this week is to demonstrate that he’s a quick study.
Syracuse wideout Amba Etta Tawo showed some strength and balance on film as a runner after the catch and the fact that the 198-pound prospect has room to tighten up his body and build more muscle is a backhanded sign of his physical promise.
Kareem Hunt earned a lot of talk for tipping the scale at 208 pounds today. Toledo listed its starting runner at 225 pounds at one point during his career. While many onlookers were impressed, I thought he appeared thinner than he should. It might be my bias for expecting Hunt to be heavier, but he looked like a back that I thought could add muscle and develop more explosion.Maybe he’s in the middle of a process of tearing down to build back up, but I have questions about this weight loss actually being good for his style.
Cooper Kupp, Ryan Switzer, Gerald Everett, O.J. Howard, Taywan Taylor, Chad Williams, and Jamaal Williams all appeared fit and well-defined in all the right spots for their positions. Taylor and Williams sport wing spans over 77 inches, which is long for a skill player—a length often in the range of the defensive ends in attendance.
Artavis Scott, Fred Ross, and Isaiah Jones had good frames with mostly well-proportioned muscle, but they lacked well-developed bubbles compared to their peers. Scott and Ross have speed and Jones showed quickness on an end-around today so I don’t think it impacts their explosion.
Evan Engram was also well-built, but I saw some room for him to develop his upper back, shoulders, and arms to the tune of another 10-15 pounds. As a move tight end, it would be nice to see Engram over 250 pounds.
Sad to say, but there are likely some teams that saw Donnell Pumphrey’s 167-pound reading on the scale and thought they should take him to the local Saucy Q for a plate of ribs, chicken wings, and a transfusion of barbecue sauce. It’s impressive that Pumphrey has been a record-breaking producer at the D-I level, but most NFL types will doubt the Aztec’s ability to offer anything more than a gadget or special team role.
LSU WR Travin Dural could tighten up his middle. I’m not looking for the receiver to become a ripped abdominal model, but additional muscle could really help his speed and explosion. Sprinters will tell you that a tight, well-defined abdominal area enhances speed and acceleration. Trying running without your abs contracted inward and then do it while squeezing your abs tight. You’ll notice the difference.
Tiffin QB Antonio Pipkin had the build of an H-Back or small linebacker. He wasn’t rocked-up, but he was thick and appeared country strong.
Aggie receiver Josh Reynolds is thin in the chest and arms. He should have little problem adding 5-15 pounds of muscle.
Hawkeye passer C.J. Beathard has a good frame to build on. He’s not rocked-up, which I think is a good thing not to be as a quarterback. But, Beathard can strategically add muscle to his upper, middle, and lower core to enhance his arm strength when throwing on and off platform.
Nate Peterman is 6’2″ and a solid 225 pounds. He’s a densely built athlete for a quarterback and I think it helps him, too.
The Browns’ practice has been criticized in the media and will earn more of it here from Jene Bramel. Keep in mind that while some of that criticism is justifiable due to the logistics of using the field and visual accessibility to scouts, the actual content of the practice is likely based on the demands of scout feedback to Senior Bowl Director Phil Savage.
On the offensive side of the ball, Cleveland’s staff often ran individual drills with receivers featuring hitches, curls, speed outs, and slants and then combined the offense to run plays with these routes against the defense. Then, the Browns would split into smaller groups for another focused drill and integrate these concepts on a larger stage.
While not ideal for some of us (whom the Senior isn’t primarily here to serve), I understand the logic from a coaching-educator perspective.
Josh Reynolds: He began the session with a slow and exaggerated break during drills featuring short routes. He also dropped a slant. His breaks became quicker as the drills progressed and later, exhibited good speed up the sideline on a target that he dropped. His exaggerated stems before his breaks continued occurring on drills or scrimmage situations that involved intermediate routes. Reynolds demonstrated two things I’ve seen from him on film every week, which is a strong catch radius and working back to the target. I counted three drops during this session. We’ll see if it’s over thinking or a repeat common issue that needs to be researched further.
Chad Williams: The Grambling State receiver earned a significant amount of positive and constructive feedback throughout the period. Williams displayed an extra gear of separation from the defender to the ball on vertical routes and some explosion in and out of breaks that weren’t technically as sound as the staff thought they could be. Williams often earned a pat on the back or slap on the butt accompanied by additional instruction that finished with another encouraging exchange from the receiver coach. Williams began the session with some tentative routes, a break where he was slow to get his head around to the quarterback, and a drop. As the session wore on, Williams exhibited a good head fake and closing speed on the ball against Tre’Davious White that earned the receiver a catch, praise and criticism from his coach, and a dap from White.
Fred Ross: He exaggerated multiple routes at the top of his stem but otherwise looked quick and caught the ball consistently. A double move was too slow and it resulted in a target that he couldn’t catch up to. He needs to get smoother.
Taywan Taylor: Once he got warmed up, he displayed suddenness with this breaks and a good speed cut. He dropped a target early in the session.
Ryan Switzer: Other than a robotic-looking route during his second rep of an early drill, Switzer appeared quick, under control, and reliable. He came back to the ball and made good adjustments, including a sliding catch on a low throw that lead him a little too far downfield to maintain his stride.
Travin Dural: The LSU receiver spent a longer part of practice trying to get comfortable with the routes run during these drills than his peers. He cut short stems, his pacing was too measured, and he let a hitch go through his hands. We’ll see if he gets up to speed tomorrow and isn’t over thinking his execution.
Josh Dobbs: He lacked pinpoint accuracy on routes breaking inside or up the seam throughout practice. He also missed an open first read deep and it forced him to eat the ball. Determined to complete a pass during his seven-on-seven reps, Dobbs forced a first-read check-down into tight coverage that appeared to surprise the receiver.
Evan Engram: He caught the ball well against tight coverage on short and intermediate routes and displayed sudden turns on these patterns. He had the smoothest performance I saw of any receiver today.
O.J. Howard: He committed a false start on 7-on-7’s and he couldn’t get off the jam against a linebacker. He tried to chop when a rip appeared to be the better course of action. Despite his big-play potential, I haven’t seen a focused player on tape and he was the only non-QB skill player to make this kind of error today.
Jamaal Williams: He had a couple of good choices between the tackles that didn’t earn big gains, but they displayed a willingness to hit a small crease with decisiveness and aggression.
Jamari Staples: The Louisville option displayed good reach on targets, but he struggled with route depth and he was hesitant with the length and pace of his stem on a few other reps. Quarterback Nate Peterman was also late to Staples on a curl that got defended well.Earlier in the drill, Peterman hit Staples in stride in tight coverage over the outside shoulder up the left sideline but the receiver dropped the ball. I still wonder if Staples lost something with his past knee injury.
Trent Taylor: His quickness in and out of breaks, acceleration during his stem, and reliability adjusting to the ball were all sound. Unfortunately, Taylor could not release from press coverage during any rep that featured it. A projected slot receiver, it would still be good to see him offer a little more.
Amba Etta-Tawo: He slipped during a stem and dropped the ball on an early rep. He also fought the ball on two targets, double-catching one at his back shoulder on a hitch. He later earned separation on his coverage but the throw was late and gave the defender time to recover and knock the target away.
Cooper Kupp: The Eastern Washington receiver had the most success against defensive backs in press-release drills, routinely winning with his hands and quickness to stack the defender. Even when he earned additional coaching for his release technique, he was getting easy releases.
Michael Roberts: I still need to see a play that puts his speed and quickness into focus, but he was fluid, earned separation on multiple routes, and he caught the ball in stride. These qualities helped him get downfield after the catch with separation from the linebackers covering him. He dropped an over-the-shoulder target up the left sideline against tight coverage.
Jonnu Smith: FIU’s tight end showed a good catch radius on a target. I want to see him a tight coverage target and some release skills.
Kareem Hunt: He made a smooth, one-handed stab in stride on a wide route that C.J. Beathard placed a step further down field than what was ideal. He didn’t appear notably quicker than what I saw on tape, but I need more reps to determine how accurate that statement is. One of my top priorities when I get home is studying more of his tape—specifically his burst.
De’Veon Smith: The big fella had a quick bounce outside on a run designed to left guard and he made a catch against contact in tight coverage over the middle after failing to get a clean release at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Nate Peterman made a pinpoint throw to aid matters.
Nate Peterman: The Pitt quarterback was the best performer at the position today. He routinely made accurate throws in the short, intermediate, and deep-intermediate range of the field. He was pinpoint against tight coverage and on one attempt, side-stepped the pass rushing up the middle, reset, and fired a seam route into bracket coverage that was on the mark. It wasn’t a pinpoint throw, but close enough for the receiver to make a slight turn to his back shoulder for the catch. It’s likely the defender would have sacked Peterman in a real situation, but it was still a good display of accuracy after avoiding pressure. While he didn’t look dominant, he was much sharper than the rest of his peers.
Antonio Pipkin: The Tiffin passer had multiple attempts where he was hesitant to fire the ball. He had consecutive reps where he missed open receivers. I’m hoping it’s just first-day acclimation on a bigger stage.
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