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Posted on: April 1, 2009 5:14 pm
Edited on: April 2, 2009 3:23 am
 

USC Pro Day, Maualuga Report

Inside linebacker Rey Maualuga needed desperately to work out well today because he ran a 4.88 40 while aggravating a hamstring injury at the Combine.

He did just that, running a 4.65 40-yard dash for scouts' hand-held times. And he ran his time with a quarter-size blister on his right foot, which he displayed after looking a bit tentative during linebacker drills. Maualuga, to his credit, did not make a big deal of the blister. He stepped to the side to speak to his agents as the linebacker drills were ending and I happened to be standing near them. I peeked over their shoulders as he took off his bright green shoe and pulled down his sock. There, under his big toe and on the primary pad of his right foot was a significant blister. The skin had been worn down and nearly rubbed off and looked quite painful. As he did this, fellow linebackers Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, Jr. finished the workout and most scouts' attention turned to quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was warming up.

Scouts were a bit surprised, frankly, when Maualuga returned later to run the 40. They seemed to appreciate the fact that he did not shut it down at that point, and that he also looked strong in the shuttle drills earlier in the day. His 4.25 and 4.27 short shuttle times were comparable to the best linebacker times in Indy.

Maualuga looked fairly fluid in drills before dropping a couple of faux interceptions, although he did rebound a bit at the end of that exercise. 

Teammate Clay Matthews looked fabulous in his drops and made multiple fantastic catches.

The team's fourth linebacker prospect, Kaluka Maiava, joined CB Cary Harris on the sideline with a pulled hamstring.

 

 

Posted on: April 1, 2009 4:58 pm
 

USC Pro Day, Sanchez Report

Mark Sanchez was his typical charismatic self and threw the ball well in his scripted workout today - better than he did at the Combine in February. Of his 50 throws, five fell incomplete but only two or three were inaccurate. He looked very smooth in his delivery, flattening his ball flight on out routes and showing more than adequate velocity.

Detroit Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan asked Sanchez to make some additional throws after the scripted portion of the workout was over. He threw some receiver screens, so Linehan could watch the flight of the ball up close, as well as a few roll-outs. Linehan talked with Carroll about five yards behind Sanchez as he threw.

The Trojan quarterback then launched a half-dozen deep balls, the first few were overthrown a bit but he eventually hit WR Patrick Turner on the sideline and former teammate TE Dominique Byrd down the hash. After he finished throwing, Sanchez spent time with the Lions' representatives.

Former USC and NFL quarterback Rob Johnson, who has been working with Sanchez this off-season, was also on hand for the workout.

Posted on: April 1, 2009 3:52 pm
Edited on: April 2, 2009 3:17 am
 

Southern Cal Pro Day, part two

Although linebacker Brian Cushing and his teammate, Clay Matthews, tested very similarly at the Combine, their 40 times were significantly different today according to initial reports. Scouts timed Cushing between 4.7 and 4.75, as much as two-tenths of a second higher than Matthews ran.

QB Mark Sanchez is now getting ready to throw as the NFL scouts huddle up to go over their 40 times to reach a consensus on each player.

CB Cary Harris is not working out today because of a pulled hamstring, and is very disappointed. He really wanted to improve his 40 time from the 4.67 he posted in Indianapolis.

 

Posted on: April 1, 2009 3:29 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2009 3:32 pm
 

Southern Cal Pro Day Begins

It's an absolute circus here at the USC campus, as hundreds of NFL executives, scouts, ex-Trojan players and others close to the program flood the field to get a close-up look at the school's top talent. General Managers in attendance include Billy Devaney (St. Louis) and Ted Thompson (Green Bay). Head Coaches Sean Payton (New Orleans), Jim Schwartz (Detroit), Brad Childress (Minnesota), Mike Singletary (San Francisco) are also among the hoards.

Among the early returns on 40-yard dash times was linebacker Clay Matthews' impressive 4.55 (hand held), which was not a surprise given the athleticism he displayed at the Combine in February.

Defensive end Kyle Moore posted a 4.7 (electronic), which is more than acceptable given his 6'5", 270-pound frame.

Patrick Turner's 4.58 40 (electronic) was exactly what scouts needed to see in order to keep him as a mid-round value.

Potential first round pick Rey Maualuga delayed his workout a bit this morning, but the reason why is unclear. He's on the field now, however, and he looks to be healthy. 

 

Posted on: March 31, 2009 11:48 pm
Edited on: March 31, 2009 11:55 pm
 

Cutler the wild card of 2009 draft

 

 On the day the young quarterback I've often compared to Jay Cutler did his best to earn the first selection of the 2009 draft, Jay Cutler, himself, threw his own hat into the fray.

Denver Bronco team owner Pat Bowlen released a statement to the media today indicating that conversations with Cutler's agent, James "Bus" Cook has left the Broncos' brass with the understanding "that Jay no longer has any desire to play for the Denver Broncos."

Rather than continue to try and appease the angry quarterback, however, Bowlen went on to state, "We will begin discussions with other teams in an effort to accommodate his request to be traded."

Each of the teams rumored to be interested in drafting a quarterback in the first round -- namely the Lions, Rams, Seahawks, Browns, Jaguars, 49ers, Redskins, Jets, Bears, and Bucs -- are thought to be potentially interested. Of this group, St. Louis, Seattle, Jacksonville, Washington and Chicago have all made the playoffs under their current starting quarterback, and thus, while potentially interested in a young passer to groom, won't necessarily be as interested in adding a veteran -- even one as talented as Cutler -- therefore, leaving the Lions, Browns, 49ers, Jets, and Bucs as the most obvious candidates for the Pro Bowl quarterback.

The going rate for a quarterback of Cutler's age and skills would be at least a first round pick; likely with extra compensation to be had based on Cutler or his new team's performance in 2009.

The Bucs, with only one first day pick -- the 19th overall -- would appear to be in the worst position to bargain of these four teams, as each of the others have their 1st and 2nd round picks in which to barter...

 

Posted on: March 31, 2009 8:51 pm
 

Sleepers at UCLA benefit from early USC crowd

 

 Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson and Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman were among the scouts on hand to watch several UCLA Bruins perform in their Pro Day on the eve of the USC workout -- the last of the big Pro Days -- tomorrow.

The workout began with the disappointing news that oft-injured quarterback Ben Olson had once again hurt his right foot and would be unable to participate. Olson was rated as the top prep quarterback in the country in 2002, but has struggled with durability throughout his career and has broken bones in his right foot three times in the past year.

Another Bruin quarterback Patrick Cowan, who was not invited to the Combine, elected not to run and wasn't impressive in throwing drills, according to scouts in attendance, despite working with head coach Rick Neuheisel in preparation for the event.

The Bruins' one Combine-invite -- running back Kahlil Bell was unable to dramatically improve upon the disappointing 4.74 time he registered at the Combine in the 40-yard dash by clocking in the 4.7s again. 

Scouts said the most impressive workouts were actually posted by punter Aaron Perez and by defensive linemen Tom Blake and Brigham Harwell.

Perez looked good in positional workouts, showing the strong leg that has led to his #7 ranking among all punters according to NFLDraftScout.com.

Blake, a little used defensive end who missed much of his senior campaign due to a sports hernia, showed better speed than expected, running in the 4.6s at 6-3, 265 pounds.

Harwell, who flashed enough in the first game of the season (Tennessee) to warrant my writing him up in Draft Slant, NFLDraftScout.com's weekly PDF available throughout the collegiate season, helped his cause by lifting the bench 36 times. Harwell, 6-1, 292 pounds, lacks the size and athleticism teams are looking for and has struggled with durability throughout his career, but still earned second team Pac-10 honors last year.

Posted on: March 31, 2009 8:03 pm
 

Stafford Strengthens Hold on #1

 

 According to multiple sources throughout the league, the Detroit Lions staff are raving about the workout put forth Tuesday by Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford.

Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz spoke to media at the owners' meetings last week and characterized Stafford's performance in Tuesday's workout as another critical element in the Lions' assigning their final grade on him. The Lions' offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was expected to orchestrate the workout -- a key difference from Stafford's Pro Day workout earlier in the month, when some suggested that Georgia quarterback coach/offensive coordinator Mike Bobo scripted the passing drills to highlight Stafford's strengths.

Schwartz explained how the Lions expected to change the workout to see if Stafford was indeed worthy of #1 overall consideration.

"You can put him in some situations and all of a sudden sort of throw some curveball, so to speak, at him -- see how he reacts, see how he handles that, see how he interacts with the other guys," Schwartz said. "Those are all things that you're probably going to see in a workout that you really couldn't see anywhere else."

Due to the fact that Stafford did not throw at the Combine, his performance at Georgia's Pro Day was important. Scouts in attendance told me that his throwing there was better than Matt Ryan's last year at Boston College's Pro Day. If the reports circulating through the scouting community are accurate -- that Stafford was even more impressive Tuesday -- the race to be the first pick of the draft could be nearing an end.

 

Posted on: March 30, 2009 3:29 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2009 3:39 pm
 

Vols DE Ayers "Most Polarizing Defender..."

With the draft less than a month away most teams are settling their draft boards. One player whose stock remains very much in flux is Tennessee defensive end/outside linebacker Robert Ayers.

There appear to be two camps when it comes to Ayers. Some teams view him as a top ten prospect. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, whose opinion I respect, recently ranked Ayers as the 5th best player in the entire 2009 draft. Other teams, however, view Ayers as a second round prospect -- and a marginal one at that.

I contacted four teams about Ayers -- two AFC teams and two NFC teams. Two of the clubs operate primarily out of the 4-3, two primarily out of the 3-4 defense. The reviews were stunningly mixed. One 3-4 team loves him. The other ranks him as the 8th best pass rushing OLB prospect of the draft. Similar results came from the 4-3 teams. Each viewed him strictly as a 4-3 defensive end in their scheme.

I respect the opinions of my contacts in the league, but ultimately, I trust my own eyes more than anyone else's. Therefore, I went back to the film. I own game-film of 6 Tennessee games (UCLA, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Wyoming, Kentucky), as well as the Senior Bowl. After two days of reviewing these tapes, I feel comfortable with my current grade of a late first round to early second round grade.

Ayers, 6-3 (3/8), 272 pounds, primarily lined up as the right defensive end out of the 4-3 alignment in the 6 UT games viewed. This is the position he lined up throughout the week of practice at the Senior Bowl, as well. I have detailed notes from those practices, as well as the Senior Bowl, itself, in which Ayers earned Defensive MVP honors with 3 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. I thought that Ayers was arguably the most impressive player early in the week of practice in Mobile and wrote as much in my Monday and Tuesday reviews of the South practices.

Monday: The surprise was vs. Oher was Ayers, whose quickness off the snap, strength to anchor and dizzying array of counter moves enabled him to beat Oher at times and consistently proved too much for lesser pass blockers. If he can build upon his initial showing with a strong week of practice, Ayers could be the latest example of players catapulting up draft boards with a strong performance in Mobile.

Tuesday: Perhaps due to the colossal battles waged between Oher and Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers on Monday, the two were rarely matched up against each other for this second practice. After an eye-opening initial practice, Ayers struggled with lesser blockers early Tuesday. He picked up his play as the one on ones heated up, however, and finished practice playing with the fervor he’d shown a day earlier. His final snaps of the scrimmage Tuesday, in fact, were spent bull-rushing Tulane tackle Troy Kropog onto his back during one play and using a beautiful swim move to cleanly get past the Green Wave blocker and into the backfield on the next.

 

The concern I and others have with Ayers is twofold. For one, he didn't establish himself as even a starting caliber player until his senior season despite signing with the Vols as one of the most highly touted preps in the country. Until this season, he was viewed by many as a bit of a bust. Secondly, even though he was as good as any defensive lineman in the SEC this season (and that is saying something) and absolutely deserved the 1st team conference honors he received this year (49 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss), he finished with only 3 sacks.

Based on the film, Ayers consistently plays to his level of competition. His most dominant game (statistically-speaking) was against Georgia, which unfortunately, I don't have film of. Against Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, Ayers showed good burst, impressive strength to shed, good agility and vision when redirecting and hustle. These were the same attributes I saw against Oher in the Senior Bowl practices.

Against lesser talent in the Wyoming and UCLA losses, however, Ayers disappeared too long for my taste.

Ayers' fluidity improved so dramatically from his Combine performance and Pro Day, that I can understand why some are very excited about him. Those close to the Tennessee program rave about his emergence as a senior leader and there is no denying his athleticism. While he predominately lined up at right defensive end, he also moved inside to defensive tackle, at times, to the left defensive end and was a standup pass rusher from either side, as well. He is not truly explosive off the snap, but can bend under the tackle and has very good lateral quickness to "get skinny" and beat the offensive tackle back inside after a jab-step to the outside to tackle runners for loss.

He has the versatility that every team is looking for and the opinion that he could be an ascending talent will likely push him into the first round -- but there is significant boom or bust potential here.

For these reasons, Ayers was characterized to me by a high ranking official of one of the four teams as "the most polarizing defender who's gonna go in the top 50. Some love him. Some are only luke-warm on him. He's moving up though..."

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com