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Blog Entry

Review from Tuesday's North practice

Posted on: January 27, 2010 1:00 am
 
With pending deadlines for various NFL draft projects looming, my editors are struggling to review my rambling, half-coherent notes from today's Senior Bowl practices onto the website quickly enough to satisfy some readers.

Rather than wait longer for them to catch up, here are my unedited notes from today's North practice. This was my first look at the North squad after spending yesterday scouting the South team. As such, I focused my attention on the North's quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs.

With any further adieu...

NFL scouts came to Mobile hoping to see one of the quarterbacks emerge from the pack.

After two days of practice, they're still hoping.

Cincinnati's Tony Pike is the most gifted thrower of the class, demonstrating the arm-strength, accuracy to all levels of the field and mobility rare for a player of his 6-5 frame. The North's starter in each passing drill, Pike zipped passes through tight windows, consistently placed his deep outs low and wide so that only his man could get them and seemed increasingly comfortable dropping back from center.  Unfortunately, for each series of impressive throws, Pike would leave scouts scratching their heads with inaccurate passes, especially in the intermediate zones. Some of this is due to his not yet developing a rapport with his new teammates, as well as gusty conditions Tuesday. Some, however, is due to inconsistent footwork. Pike also has a tendency to rely upon his fastball, not showing enough touch on this day to fit the ball between the linebacker and safety.

Touch, however, is the one thing that Oregon State's Sean Canfield has been able to show. It is arm-strength, or rather lack thereof, that have scouts concerned. Canfield rode a breakout senior campaign into an invitation to the Senior Bowl, but has done little here to prove he has the arm necessary to be successful in the NFL. Canfield has to fully windup to get the ball to the sideline. Though the throws do get there, they arc and are slow in arriving, which will result in interceptions in the NFL. While the zip isn't there for the intermediate routes, Canfield was the North's most accurate deep ball passer due to impressive touch and good trajectory.

Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour lacks Pike's big arm, but was able to drive the ball with more authority than Canfield. He was the most erratic thrower on the day, however, struggling to hit his receivers in full stride. He's been limited thus far in practice, as he's been asked to remain strictly in the pocket. Without the threat of scrambling, LeFevour's less than ideal accuracy is being exposed a bit against the North's quality defensive backs.

Some of the North's quarterback issues are a result of inconsistent play from its receivers.

Small school wideout Andre Roberts (The Citadel) was the surprise standout among the South receiving corps Monday and Ohio's Taylor Price may be continuing the theme. The 6-0, 200 pound Price is quick off the snap and catches the ball cleanly.

The same could not be said for the North's two most highly touted receivers entering this week's practice; Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard and Missouri's Danario Alexander. Gilyard dropped numerous passes today. These sudden struggles have only added to the questions about how his spindly frame and lack of upper body strength will hold up when pressed. The 6-5, 221 pound Alexander, on the other hand, has plenty of size. He'll need a system in the NFL that allows him to catch passes while on the move as he did when starring for the Tigers, as he has the straight-line speed to run away from cornerbacks, but is a long-strider than struggles to change directions and gain separation. Perhaps most disappointing is how often he's allowed passes into his chest-plate, resulting in some ugly drops. According to scouts in attendance at yesterday's North practice, Gilyard and Alexander were just as disappointing Monday. They'll need strong bounce-back Wednesday practices if they are to save their falling stock before most scouts leave.

Clemson's Jacoby Ford is proving among the more secure handed receivers at the Senior Bowl this week - a bit of a surprise to some who had labeled as only a big play threat. Though short, the 5-09, 181 pound Ford has good strength to gain his release off press and has the speed to eat up the cushion. He has impressed scouts so far this week with his ability to adjust to poorly thrown passes and haul in tough catches.
Pittsburgh's Dorin Dickerson was listed by the Senior Bowl at tight end, but played exclusively at wide receiver on Tuesday. He lacks the speed to challenge corners deep and, as such struggled generating consistent separation.

Inconsistent passing and catching has helped a strong roster of cornerbacks gain even more confidence.

My fellow senior analyst Chad Reuter characterized Boise State's Kyle Wilson as being the star at the position yesterday and the former Bronco only helped himself further with another strong performance. Blessed with great foot quickness, balance and the acceleration to catch up when beaten on a double-move, Wilson is gaining momentum here to be considered the best cover corner of this senior class and a potential first round pick. If he is to achieve this lofty grade, however, he'll need to prove more willing to come up in run support than he has been throughout much of his career in the WAC.

Rutgers' Devin McCourty and California's Syd'Quan Thompson have also helped their cause this week. McCourty has the agility and straight-line speed for man coverage. He breaks on the ball quickly and has the active hands to rip away passes at the last moment. Thomson (5-09, 182) lacks the size and straight-line speed teams want as a press corner, but his instincts and physicality make him arguably the draft's top zone coverage cornerback. Unlike Kyle Wilson, McCourty and Thompson are standout run defenders, who haven't been able to show off their physicality and aggression in practice due to the no-tackle rules being enforced.

A pair of lanky ACC corners, Virginia's Chris Cook and Wake Forest's Brandon Ghee, have struggled locating the ball and making the plays necessary to earn a high round pick. At 6-1 and 6-0, respectively, each has the height scouts like and have shown enough agility in their backpedal, but have been far too complacent in coverage, allowing easy receptions.

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