Posted on: January 12, 2011 12:01 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2011 12:03 pm
I'm a firm believer that watching the video (or attending live) the introductory press conferences for new NFL coaches can give us a sense of where a team might be going with their roster.
This isn't always the case and I believe it is lessened when the head coach is taking over his second or third team. Rookie head coaches, however, perhaps because of their inexperience or enthusiasm, do sometimes let things slip in meeting and answering the local media's questions for the first time.
After viewing new Carolina head coach Ron Rivera's press conference (available on the Panthers' official website ), I came away with several thoughts on the direction he'll lead this team.
While most of the impressions I gleaned from the press conference deal with scheme and Rivera's early evaluation of the team's current talent, perhaps the most important one came from Rivera's personality. As stated, I've watched many introductory press conferences during my ten years in this business. Rivera's passion, drive and leadership stood out. I believe the Carolina Panthers are going from one very good head coach in John Fox to another very good one in Rivera. Considering how different the two coaches' personalities are, that's a rare feat.
In a previous blog post I cited Rivera's experience in the 3-4 scheme as a reason why Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley -- who I believe to be best suited to the 4-3 -- would not be the first overall pick. While Rivera was hired away from San Diego, which ran the 3-4 scheme, he is actually more experienced in the 4-3 having played (and coached) this style with the Chicago Bears and coached with the Philadelphia Eagles, as well.
Rivera took little time in addressing which style of defense Carolina would be running.
"As far as the scheme is concerned, we are a 4-3 defense," Rivera said. "That's what this team is, I think the personnel is set up for that. I think that the personnel is set up that if we can make a couple of additions to it we can be a solid unit and have success early."
Could one of those "additions" be Fairley, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus or LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson? Perhaps. All four are being graded as top five picks from a number of teams I've spoken to. Most cite Peterson as the best player in the draft.
Rivera left the door open for the No. 1 pick to be a quarterback, as well, but I don't believe he'll be
"I think we you look at it, that the one position we have to find answers for [is quarterback] - and I think he has some athletic ability and comes from a pretty solid foundation and that is Jimmy Clausen - to see if Jimmy or if there is a quarterback on this roster who can become that franchise guy you need," Rivera said. "Because if there is one thing I've been fortunate to be around my last four years is a franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers, who is very solid. That's one of the things that we need to take a look at on the offensive side and that is going to be a big influence and impact when we sit down with the offensive coordinator candidates and the quarterback coach is to find out exactly what their approach is going to be with the guys on this roster , okay, and the potential candidates that are out there in the draft or free agency."
I put "on this roster" in italics because Rivera stressed it. This is what I am referring to in actually viewing the press conference. Rivera's words, by transcription only, may lead you to believe that the Panthers will consider drafting a quarterback with the first pick - and, of course, they will. But, the fact that Rivera wants to know "exactly" what prospective offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches thought of Clausen and the Panthers "other" quarterbacks -- Matt Moore, Brian St. Pierre and Tony Pike -- could be an indication that he'd rather use the pick elsewhere.
An unexpected nugget came from Rivera when discussing the tight end position. While complimentary about virtually every other position, the new head coach sounded like a man expecting significant improvement from this position. Rivera, of course, is coming from a San Diego team that boasts All-Pro Antonio Gates - and players like that don't exactly grow on trees - but the fact that he highlighted the position is interesting.
This is pure speculation, but it leads me to wonder if Rivera thought that perhaps better play from the tight end position would have significantly aided Clausen's development as a rookie.
"Tight end is by committee," Rivera said. "There is [sic] three guys there that I like and that I think each have a quality of their own, but if there is a guy out there - whether it be through the draft or free agency or on our roster that does it all the time, we have to find him. I think that will help us as an offense."
The Panthers featured Jeff King, Dante Rosario and Gary Barnidge. The trio combined for 51 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns.
Posted on: September 16, 2010 5:59 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2010 9:12 pm
There are several noteworthy senior prospects who will be on the field tonight when Cincinnati travels to North Carolina State.
Posted on: February 24, 2010 7:26 pm
The Scouting Combine -- at least the workout portion of it -- has become the most overrated aspect of the NFL Draft process.
The Combine was originally designed to provide scouts with an efficient way to do medical testing of the 300+ best prospects in the draft. During the 90s, teams began to focus more and more attention on the results of the athletic drills, resulting in some of the biggest busts in league history, including the infamous Mike Mamula. With pre-combine facilities training prospects to excel in these drills -- and not football -- teams are now learning to revert their attention back to where it belongs -- on the film.
I posted a blog earlier about five players who I believe will struggle in certain aspects of the drills and/or measurement portion of the Combine. This wasn't meant to say these players will be busts in the NFL, but that they could see their stock slip a bit this week.
In reality, the players who are likeliest to fall significantly on draft day will be the ones who come up with medical or off-field concerns that are discovered there.
There are several potential Top 100 prospects whose final grades will hinge on their medical grades.
QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (shoulder)
OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa (thyroid condition)
OLB/DE Ricky Sapp, Clemson (knee)
QB Colt McCoy, Texas (shoulder)
TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma (knee)
RB Jahvid Best, Cal (concussions)
DE Corey Wootton, Northwestern (knee)
TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona (back)
QB Tony Pike, Cincinnati (forearm)
ILB Sean Lee, Penn State (knee)
DE Greg Hardy, Mississippi (knees, foot)
OT Jason Fox, Miami (knee)
Posted on: February 22, 2010 2:13 pm
Over the past several days, we've seen Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen and Dan LeFevour announce that they'll not be throwing at the Combine. Texas' Colt McCoy hopes to throw, but left himself wiggle room in case his recovering shoulder doesn't feel 100%.
Tebow, citing the fact that he's altered his throwing mechanics since the Senior Bowl, is not going to throw now.
Should these five -- arguably the top five quarterbacks in the draft -- all elect not to throw, it opens up a world of opportunity for Tony Pike, Zac Robinson, Sean Canfield and others to make a significant leap up the board. When "on" Robinson was as impressive as any during the Senior Bowl and the individual skills competition a few weeks ago. If you're looking for a darkhorse candidate to really leap up the board during the passing drills, he might be one to focus in on.
On another note, the decision to leave out worthy throwers like former Tennessee standout Jonathan Crompton could come back to bite scouts. Crompton, I'm sure, would accept a late invite to help make sure there were enough arms for the receiver, tight end and back receiving drills.
A few years ago, I watched former BYU star John Beck move himself into the top of the second round with a strong showing at the Combine. Last year, with Matt Stafford watching from the sidelines, I watched Mark Sanchez impress scouts with his competitive fire by participating, fizzle a bit during the workout and then leap up draft boards when he showed staggering improvement at the USC Pro Day roughly a month later.
Posted on: January 30, 2010 12:42 pm
You've read (or heard) us say how much more important the week of practice at the Senior Bowl is than the game, itself.
And while it is true that 90% of the scouts, coaches and front office excecutives that were in Mobile this week have now left, don't think that many of them will miss tuning in to the game (4 pm EST, NFL Network).
All players have an opportunity to help themselves with a strong performance today, but quarterbacks, running backs, and linebackers have historically gained the most.
Tim Tebow , of course, will get most of the attention, but be sure to check out the other South passers. West Virginia's Jarrett Brown could put a emphatic end to the week with a strong performance today and Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson has certainly flashed.
Because I promised myself I wouldn't write two consecutive sentences about #15, here's my final one -- don't pay so much attention to his elongated release (which remains the same it has always been), but instead to his ability to take the snap from center and accuracy downfield, as these were the two elements in which Tebow made consistent strides over the week.
It will be interesting, as well, to see if any sort of consistency comes from the North passers. Due to his mobility, Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour might be able to shake free some of the rust that hindered him this week. Cincinnati's Tony Pike has the arm to dazzle, but hasn't been able to string together more than a few completions in a row. Oregon State's Sean Canfield has struggled to get passes on a line outside the hashes due to a marginal arm strength, but throws a pretty ball down the seam and deep. If he can connect on a big one, he could leave Mobile with a positive.
The most dynamic running back this week of practice has clearly been Ole Miss' Mr. Everything Dexter McCluster . I haven't written about him, however, as the week of practice -- in which defenders were clearly instructed not to wrap up -- is perfectly suited to the elusive speedster's game. Now, don't get me wrong, McCluster showed remarkable strength and balance throughout his monster season in the SEC and may have a strong game today, but it will be tougher for him to break free for the 70 yarders that he was routinely zipping through in practice.
With defenders able to actually tackle backs, it will be interesting to see how the power backs Anthony Dixon (Mississippi State) and LaGarrette Blount (Oregon) fare. Be sure to watch for Wayne State's Joique Bell , who quietly helped himself this week and I wrote about as a one of the "honorable mention " risers from the week of practices.
Attempting to make the tackle on this blend of size, speed and power and shiftiness is a solid, but unspectacular class of linebackers. I'm particularly interested to see how effectively Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon , TCU's Daryl Washington , Florida State's Dekoda Watson and Washington's Donald Butler are able to fight through blocks and make open field stops close to the line of scrimmage, rather than downfield.
One final to note -- watch out for USC safety Taylor Mays to make an impact as a hitter in this game. As the opposite of McCluster, Mays' game is in the ferocity of his hitting, not the mobility he shows in coverage. Considering that he wasn't allowed to hit much over the week of practice, it isn't the least bit surprising that some feel he's struggled. The reality, is that Mays has been the same player this week as he's always been - the preeminent intimidator over the middle of at least the past ten years.
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.
Posted on: January 25, 2010 2:59 pm
College football teams are notorious for exaggerating the heights/weights and speeds of their athletes. The official weigh-in and measurements at all-star games and the Scouting Combine provide a truer picture of each player's actual size.
Some players come in smaller or lighter than expected and could see a slip down draft boards as a result. Others pleasantly surprised by measuring in taller or clearly spending some time in the gym or weight room since the end of the season.
A few players who disappointed during the weigh-ins were:
With all of the buzz around Tim Tebow, fellow South quarterbacks Tony Pike (Cincinnati) and Zac Robinson (Oklahoma State) did themselves no favors by each measuring in smaller than expected. Pike, at nearly 6-6, weighed on 212 pounds. His skinny build won't do much to convince scouts that he'll be more durable in the NFL than he's proven while with the Bearcats. Similarly, Robinson, who was listed by Oklahoma State at 6-3, 218 pounds, instead came in just over 6'2 and 210 pounds...
Pike's teammate, Mardy Gilyard , also came in very light. While certainly elusive, scouts wonder if he'll be able to get off press coverage in the slot at only 179 pounds.
Tight end/Fullback 'tweeners Dorin Dickerson and Garrett Graham also came in smaller than expected. Dickerson, originally listed at 6-2, 230 pounds, was instead 6-1, 222 and Graham (6-3, 250), only weight 234 pounds.
A few players who helped themselves during the weigh-ins were:
Florida State outside linebacker Dekoda Watson , boasting arguably the most impressive physique of either roster, surprised by measuring in at 6-2, 232 pounds. He had been listed by the Seminoles at 226 pounds and some scouts had estimated that he'd actually weigh in under 220.
NFL teams looking for bullish backs will be certain to keep an eye on Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon and Oregon LaGarrette Blount , each of whom measured in at an eye-popping 245 pounds. Their weight certainly wasn't due to extra slices of pizza following their seasons. Trim waistlines and thick lower bodies should aid in their transition to the NFL.
Utah pass rusher Koa Misi , who played defensive end for the Utes, seems to be taking his likely conversion to outside linebacker seriously. Expected to weigh in at 6-2, 263, but instead came in nearly an inch taller and at a relatively svelt 243 pounds.
Guards Jon Asamoa (Illinois) and John Jerry (Mississippi) each weighed in lighter than expected. Asamoa had been listed by Illinois at 6-5, 315 pounds, but actually came in at 6-4 and 300 pounds. Jerry was listed by Ole Miss at 6-6, 335, but had reportedly seen his weight balloon to over 350, at times, came in at 6-5 (and a 1/2) and and 332 pounds. We'll see if the drop in weight makes him even more athletic, without sacrificing his power.
The smallest player measured was Ole Miss all-purpose star Dexter McCluster, who measured in at a shade over 5'08 and at 165 pounds. Not surprisingly, Alabama nose guard Terrance Cody was the heaviest player, tipping the scales at 370 pounds. Cody's sloppy build will move him down some teams' boards. Notre Dame offensive tackle Sam Young, the last man measured, was the tallest player. He came in at 6'07 (and 3/4) and 305 pounds.
Posted on: December 5, 2009 12:16 pm
Senior quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy earn most of the media attention and there are NFL scouts I've spoken to who believe one of them will be the first senior passer selected in the 2010 draft.
There are, however, a signficant number of scouts who feel Cincinnati's Tony Pike is the best senior prospect at the position.
To warrant this praise, he'll need to be impressive today in the snow, on the road at Pitt.
The undefeated Bearcats have not faced a defensive line like this one before. Pittsburgh's ability to rush four and still generate pressure on the pocket will force Pike to read the coverage quicker, meaning he may not be able to take as much advantage of deep threat Mardy Gilyard. Pike will need to show great poise for the favored Bearcats to pull out this win.