It was an action-packed day for both teams.
Continuing the theme that players are on different development tracks and coaches recognize it, there’s no better place to begin on Day 2 than with the South wide receivers and Al Saunders.The work that the venerable receiving coach of the Browns revealed great intel on each of his charges. Getting as close to the action as possible was worth every effort during Day 2.
One of the earliest drills of practice featured out routes. Grambling’s Chad Williams was third in line during the first set of reps when he made the catch and punctuated the grass inside the boundary with the toes of each foot before exiting the sideline. It was a good catch and effort to stay in bounds.
After Saunders praised Williams for the catch and effort, he stopped the drill for a teaching point.
“Do you see what Chad did? When he reached the sideline with the ball, he tapped his feet like this,” said Saunders, who demonstrated William’s technique. “But when you tap your toes this way, it slows you down and gives the defender a chance to hit you in the back and the ball comes out.”
Saunders imitated the action of a receiver getting hit in the back and his arms flailed forward. The coach retreated a few steps from the line and showed the technique he desired.
“When you drag your back foot, the motion is quicker and smoother. It doesn’t slow you down. See?”
This is just one of a few nuggets that Saunders revealed during today’s practice. Williams, Travin Dural, and Fred Ross made notable strides with different lessons during the session. Read the details in the position profiles for the South Team Practice below and learn what Saunders counsel was for these prospects.
Jalen Robinette: It was the Air Force receiver’s first day of practice due to an academic commitment at the academy that prevented him from attending Monday’s session. Robinette, a 6’2″, 218-pound option with a 78-inch wingspan (larger than Taywan Taylor and Chad Williams’ reaches) is known for his skill at the catch-point, but difficulties earning separation. This was true of his first day.
Robinette earned criticism for slowing down through his break on a slant early in the session. He dropped the next rep on the same route. The following rep, he allowed to get into his body for a more difficult catch than necessary. Robinette then ran a tentative stem and break on a comeback.
After a smooth dig route without coverage, he got hung up on a release against a defender and could not get free for the next target. In addition to difficulties running his stems and breaks full speed, he failed to keep his eyes up field to sell the coverage on the possibility of a vertical route. Robinette dropped a hitch soon after the admonishment about his eyes and head because he was late with his turn to the quarterback and late to get his hands up.
All of these issues are often a product of a receiver thinking too much about new things and throwing off ingrained habits in the process. I would be surprised if Robinette makes a strong leap as a route runner this week because his route tree at Air Force wasn’t extensive. Even his deep game has issues on tape and the one deep play I saw was a double move—a stilted effort at a hitch-and-go that didn’t trick the cornerback for an instant.
Robinette’s best plays were high-pointed targets on fades in the red zone. One of them he dropped after the defender facing the receiver’s chest ripped the ball loose. The other was a good catch. The final red zone target was a route that Robinette was supposed to break to the end line, but he couldn’t separate from the defensive back and Nate Peterman had to throw the ball away.
Amba Etta-Tawo: The Syracuse wideout also began the drills with slow transition from stem to break on his first two slants. He then dislocated his finger and the medical staff had difficulty getting the digit back into place. Once corrected, staffed taped his finger to another and put the glove over the tap-job. He dropped one of the first targets after this injury at the sideline, but gradually adjusted to the injury. He earned separation up the seam with a rip move and made a fine reach for the ball on an out route later in the session. His stems and breaks need to tighten up. His elbows are often too loose from his frame.
Cooper Kupp: The Eastern Washington receiver is one of, if not the best, receivers at the Senior Bowl. He continues to earn separation on a consistent basis with strong footwork and a variety of release moves with his hands. His acceleration through his moves gets him on top of press coverage and lets him stack early and control the route. Kupp was winning one-on-one routes so often that the opposite corners began playing off coverage and Kupp earned multiple targets under them from his quarterbacks who realized the opponent couldn’t cover the receiver. The play that ended this run of single coverage was a stop route with a sudden break that forced the corner 3-4 steps too far.
There were also two notable vertical routes for Kupp. He ran a smooth post-corner double move that faked out the defender and earned the receiver three steps on his coverage. Unfortunately, C.J. Beathard was late with the throw and the ball arrived well behind the receiver’s path and created a contested situation where the cornerback had the better position.
The play of the day for Kupp was a vertical route where the receiver failed to earn separation against a patient corner. Kupp tracked the ball, read the back-shoulder trajectory and timed his undercut of the defender perfectly. Kupp high-pointed the ball falling away from the defender, took contact, and fell inside the boundary while catching the rebound of the juggled ball against his chest. It was one of the catches of the day.
Jamari Staples: The Louisville receiver has strong moments and he’s an intriguing prospect. The tall, lanky receiver was too upright with his stem on a dig route and couldn’t turn the cornerback’s hips. But later in the session, Staples made a smooth transition from the top of his stem into his break and showed late acceleration to the ball to pull away from tight coverage. He also displayed great reach to extend or C.J. Beathard’s on-time pass at the sideline.
Staples displayed a smooth release against a cornerback trying to jam him at the top of the stem and once again showed good lean for the ball out of is break at the catch point. Staples as the look for a late bloomer with NFL ability that needs further refinement thanks to an injury-riddled career.
Zay Jones: Although many of his plays are quieter than his peers during North Practice, he continues to display maturity. He ran one of the better dig routes of the session—a difficult pattern for young players to get right because of the speed required in the stem into the break, the angle of the break, and the courage to barrel into the middle of the field for the catch. His effort was on display during a route against tight coverage where he had to use two different moves at different points to work free of the corner’s hands and he still managed to make a tough adjustment to the ball. Later, his stem on a skinny post was a perfect straight line with great pad level, eye level, and pacing to turn the defender’s hips.
Amar Darboh: He made a few nice extensions to the ball but many of his stems and breaks were deliberate, if not rough.
Michael Roberts: The tight ends began with blocking and footwork drills this afternoon. Roberts was smooth with footwork moving north south, but notably slower with east-west variations. With blocking drills, Roberts got a good punch and moved his feet but earned feedback from his coach to roll his hips more into the contact. He showed some snap on his turns on stick and out routes. I still don’t have a clear answer about his burst. The one route I saw with a chance for him to separate, he was tightly covered.
Jonnu Smith: Smith had the best lateral movement of the three tight ends on the squad. He also looked smooth with his north-south footwork drills. He could deliver more snap to the turns on his breaks, but he wasn’t deliberate in his turns. His noteworthy play of the day was a target from Nate Peterman to a small window over his left shoulder in 11-on-11’s. I like this athletic ability and he has been consistent catching the ball in the reps that I’ve seen.
Jeremy Sprinkle: Although is footwork wasn’t bad, he was the most deliberate of the three on this depth chart. He has a variety of moves with his arms on releases, but he tends to bludgeon his opponent with the placement of his hands and it’s a sign he’s not playing under control. The one notable reception I saw was a juggled pass on a short out.
Kareem Hunt: I saw evidence of functional burst up the middle and on one outside run. He was too deliberate on a bounce, stopping his feet in the backfield and it cost him. I need to see more from him as a blocker before I comment. As a receiver, he was active on wide routes and showed enough burst against a linebacker to score on a pass to the flat.
Corey Clement: He had a nice cut inside on a stop-start move that was decisive. He also made a catch over the middle at the goal line on a check down against tight coverage.
De’Veon Smith: He was most effective on short passes to the flat. No run plays stood out in terms of decision-making and it was difficult to see evidence of real power in this practice session. He did make a man miss in the right flat after the catch but on a pitch play he was cut off by the DB despite an initially strong angle to get the corner.
Nate Peterman: He made a few accurate throws in the intermediate range and deep range and he dropped the ball into the bucket to his tight ends. I haven’t seen a real power throw from him. He threw well on the move on a designed sprint and he tries to take the aggressive decision with his reads even if he ultimately checks down.
C.J. Beathard: He made a good deep throw up the left sideline, but was well short of Cooper Kupp on a post-corner where Kupp had a three-step lead at the point the ball should have been in the air and placed over the receiver’s head. Beathard was at his best on shorter routes today.
Joshua Reynolds: Coach Al Saunders corrected Reynolds twice on intermediate routes where he tried to earn separation with east-west moves rather than maintaining a long, straight vertical line to put pressure on the corner to turn his hips and run. Both times, Reynolds failed to earn separation. In the middle of the session. Reynolds ran a slant that was well covered but at the urging of Saunders, he continued to work through the physical play and finished with a contested catch. Saunders also corrected Reynolds’ stems because he worked up the field with his eyes and head down, which didn’t sell the vertical possibility.
A lot of these early demands contributed to Reynolds juggling a pass and dropping a ball. But later, he delivered a good rip and an inside-out move to fool the cornerback on a smooth route in the short zone of the field. He also caught a fade route to the right sideline.
Fred Ross: Coach Saunders consistently worked with Ross on the depth of his stems. Ross was cutting them short early. Saunders explained that the longer the stem, the more room Ross could earn coming back to the ball because that stem would force the corner to turn and run. Once Ross took Saunders’ advice, the benefits were immediate and Ross repeatedly earned quick separation on sudden stops and breaks back to the ball off long stems that gradually forced the corners to honor his speed. Ross also looked good on a few boundary routes with his footwork.
Although I think he has work to do on his routes based on his film at Mississippi State, this one tip from Saunders made him look like a much better player because it maximized the effect of his speed, quickness, and natural footwork. After making these improvements, he had a route where he did a great job with the stem and used an excellent head fake to set up his break, but forgot to come back to the ball after his break. He’ll need time and practice to get these lessons integrated into his game without thinking about it.
Travin Dural: The LSU receiver was one of the most deliberate performers during Day 1’s practice and it carried over early on in Day 2. Saunders wanted to see Dural show more speed and urgency off the line of scrimmage. He also wanted Dural to keep his eyes up and his pads low through the entire stem. Then there was the looseness of his arms at the break point.
It took Dural a lot of reps in different drills to finally execute these things, but to Dural’s credit, he was clearly engaged with his coach, responsive to the feedback, and positive about the process. As these three things began to click, Dural earned better separation and made some tough catches on targets thrown behind him—even on a break where the ball arrived behind the spot where he slipped during his turn.
He’s working on a lot of little things, but you can see the athletic ability when he attacks the ball in the air and he’s not thinking too hard. The intensity off the line of scrimmage is the one thing he didn’t fix during the session.
Chad Williams: Grambling’s receiver was quick on drills weaving through cones into a speed break for a reception. Listening to the ball hit his hands, you can tell he has soft hands and catches the ball with minimal sound. Williams had some routes where he worked back to the quarterback with excellent burst at the end of his break.
As mentioned earlier, Coach Saunders used Williams’ rep on a boundary drill as a teaching point for all receivers. Williams never got completely comfortable with the technique during the drill and later in the session, he caught a boundary route at the opposite side of the field during 11-on-11’s where he tapped his toes rather than executing the prescribed slide. It will take him some time.
Williams authored one of the better catches of the day when he leaped for an over-the-shoulder target on a skinny post between high-low coverage. He came closer to a catch than many might expect on a pass up the left seam that was thrown well behind him, but he exhibited the body control to reach behind his body with his right arm and get a hand on the ball.
Williams later drew a pass interference call on his defender on well-run stem that forced the defender to grab the receiver to keep up. Williams has techniques to learn and refine, but the athletic ability is abundant, he’s physical, and he’s confident that he belongs with his competition.
Taywan Taylor: The Western Kentucky receiver had to work hard with two moves on a defender to get separation during 7-on-7’s but showed tenacity to get open and win the ball with an inside-outside move. He later made a back-shoulder catch for a sweet reception at the left sideline.
Antonio Pipkin: He remains hesitant about throwing the football down field or on routes that aren’t designed to a single read. The one time he let the ball rip, he threw a wobbly duck to Evan Engram on a sail route. The lack of velocity and placement made it an easy target for the defender to undercut for the interception.
Josh Dobbs: I still haven’t seen consistent accuracy or quick decision-making. He’s holding the ball too long and I’d at least like to see him pick a side of the field based on an advantageous pre-snap look and stick with that side before looking elsewhere. He’s either waiting too long on a route or skipping around too fast.
Matt Dayes: He looked smooth catching the ball and getting open on one target that I saw. He also displayed good burst downhill and made a nice back-side cut. I didn’t see a ton, but what I saw was good. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a good day in Saturday’s game. He’s decisive and agile.
Jamaal Williams: He made a good downhill cut in 11-on-11’s. He also looked smooth with his footwork in pass protection drills requiring him to work side to side.
Gerald Everett: His suddenness on a stop route caught my early and he earned separation and made plays on a sail route and deep cross. Earlier in the session, he dropped a slant. Overall, I liked how Everett moved and tracked the football over his head.
Evan Engram: Although he lacks O.J. Howard’s speed and lacks the smooth head fake at the top of his stems that I’ve seen from his peers in both practices, Engram is the tight end I like the most thus far from this event. He’s consistent at getting open, his stems and breaks are smooth and he tracks the ball well at every angle. Although the sail route was his longest reception, his best was a short out where the linebacker undercut the target and forced Engram to snare a pass where the ball was blocked from view just before it reached the tight end’s hands. He made a good catch and turn on the play.
O.J. Howard: I thought Howard didn’t try hard enough on a crossing route to begin the day when he had a shot at the ball if he leaned to the target and made a full extension with his arms. Not long after, Howard dropped a sail route where he delivered a half-executed head fake and he earned a rebuke from his coaches. It was the most negative response for any skill player I saw all day and the Browns were positive with its receivers and tight ends with constructive feedback couched in praise. On this play, I believe I heard something to the effect that Howard had to make up for what he did. Later in the day, he looked quick and fluid with a snare of a target at helmet level in stride across the middle.
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