The East team held its final padded practice of the East-West Shrine Game with a morning session in St. Petersburg, Fl. on Wednesday. It was the second time that the East squad wore pads and had full hitting. Players were not tackling ball-carriers to the ground, as instructed. On a stop, the defender would wrap up and hug the ball carrier before letting go. This practicing technique is done to prevent injuries.
To begin practice, the different players worked in their individual position groups. The defensive linemen did some work with blocking dummies, and it provided some good insight into which players have better quickness and footwork. The standouts in the drills were Miami defensive tackle Micanor Regis, South Carolina's Travian Robertson and West Virginia's Julian Miller. When the bags were brought in, closer some of the other defensive tackles performed better. Baylor's Nick Jean-Baptiste and University of Regina (Canada) tackle Akiem Hicks showed improvement in the short-area bag drills. The 6-foot-4, 324-pound Hicks used his power to win some one-on-ones with bull rushes as well.
One of the top performers in Wednesday's practice was Regis. The Miami product started strong in the run scrimmage nine-on-nine session, continued it into the one-on-ones and finished with a standout team scrimmage. He burst through the line for a run stuff in the nine-on-nine. During the one-on-ones, Regis beat Mississippi State's Quentin Saulsberry among others. In the team scrimmage, he came close to a sack on quarterback Austin Davis when he fired through the gap and almost ran down Davis on a bootleg. Later on, Regis beat guard Rishaw Johnson with a speed rush to get a sack. On an interception return, he laid out a wide receiver with a massive block from the blind side. It was a bit of a cheap shot in an All-Star game setting like the East-West Shrine Game, but it was an impressive block.
The other defensive lineman who stood out on Wednesday was Robertson. He has had an excellent week, and has been a problem for all the offensive linemen. He used a powerful rip move to beat both Saulsberry and Johnson in the one-on-ones. He has a good get off, and he uses that to quickly get under the pads of offensive linemen to gain leverage. Robertson also beat South Florida guard/tackle Jeremiah Warren with a speed rush and showcased some quick hands to shed the block. That came after he blew up Warren to bust up a run in the nine-on-nine scrimmage. This week, Robertson has definitely helped himself, but it leaves one wondering where this performance level was during the 2011 season when he totaled only 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for a loss.
Aside from his losses to Robertson, Warren had a quality practice. He looks much better on the inside at guard compared to playing on the edge. However, he beat Virginia defensive end Matt Conrath in one-on-ones on an edge rush. Warren opened up some holes in the ground game. Tennessee running back Tauren Poole had a solid day running the ball and Warren provided some nice run blocks. Poole juggled a screen pass, but he had some nice runs on sweeps to the perimeter.
The offensive star on Wednesday was Miami tight end Chase Ford. He had a rough day on Monday but has bounced back to perform well over the two most recent practices. In the team scrimmage, Ford was a force. He made a diving catch for a gain of about 20 yards and a touchdown. He -got open running down the seam on that play. He had a nice kick out block on a safety to spring Poole for a big run on an off-tackle run to the left. To conclude practice, Ford made a leaping touchdown catch in the end zone.
In speaking with some scouts, Ford is considered a mid- to late-rounder depending on the team and offense. He clearly struggles as a drive blocker, and does not have the strength to block at the line of scrimmage. At the same time, Ford is a good athlete with some deceptive speed to be a receiving threat. The 6-foot-6, 258-pounder is lean, but has the frame to add more strength and power. He is viewed as a developmental project, but one that could yield some definite rewards.
Another prospect who helped his stock on Wednesday was Duke safety Matt Daniels. He had a nice pass break up by perfectly timing when to slap the ball out of the receiver's hands on a quick slant. Daniels (6-1, 215) dropped an interception when he made a good read and broke on a ball in the middle of the field.
Of all the players on the East squad, there has been one prospect who has stood out across the board as being very physically talented and a potential player at the next level. That player is Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. Yesterday, we featured him in our write-up of the Tuesday practice after he made an acrobatic interception, and he was even better Wednesday. The 6-foot, 203-pounder has size and athleticism to go along with quickness. He has blanketed receivers all week and shown excellent instincts to get in position to make splash plays. Norman had a few interceptions in the Wednesday practice.
The first one came when the receiver ran the wrong route, and Norman read the quarterback to make a diving interception in the flat. The receiver cut in when he was supposed to go out. Norman got up with the ball and ran down the sideline. Coaches yelled at him to put the ball away, just like they did on an interception return on Tuesday. Norman was screaming in celebration and did a little dance after the play. The showboating may turn evaluators off, but it was a great catch to be proud of.
Norman's second interception came on an overthrown intermediate pass. He broke off his man a ways behind the other intended target and made a second diving catch. He sprung up and raced down the sideline for what probably would have been a touchdown return. He once again was screaming at the end of the play. Of all the prospects on either squad, Norman may have helped himself the most this week. He has been dominant, and could be pushing into the second day of the 2012 NFL Draft.
There were some other prospect performances worth noting on Wednesday. Florida quarterback John Brantely underwhelmed with a couple fumbled snaps and he tripped on a backpedal. Scouts said that California University of Pennsylvania wide receiver Thomas Mayo has hurt his stock this week with dropped passes. Tennessee Chattanooga quarterback B.J. Coleman was improved on Wednesday, but scouts are down on his week overall. Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis threw an ugly floater into the flat that was picked off by Central Florida linebacker Joshua Linam.
Scouts have praised Tennessee Tech wide out Tim Benford. When matched up with safeties in one-on-ones, scouts were saying that the safeties had no chance to stop the speedy Benford. Michigan State wide receiver B.J. Cunningham has performed better as the week has progressed after having had a rough start. He had big gain on an end around with some quality receptions.
Here is a rundown of some of the post-practice interviews between the player and a team that was spending some time talking to the prospect:
Kansas City - Army linebacker Steven Erzinger and South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson
Cleveland - Michigan State wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman and Presbyterian cornerback Justin Bethel
Jacksonville - Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson, Hampton cornerback Micah Pellerin and West Virginia defensive end Julian Miller
Indianapolis - Temple tight end Evan Rodriguez, and Hampton cornerback Micah Pellerin
Philadelphia - Ole Miss offensive tackle Bradley Sowell and California University of Pennsylvania wide receiver Thomas Mayo
Baltimore - Southern Miss offensive tackle Lamarr Holmes and Georgia fullback Bruce Figgins