Most of the prospects participating in the Texas vs. the Nation game this week haven't played in a meaningful game in over a month, so some rust was expected on the first day of practice on Tuesday. While the quarterbacks had their ups and downs, several wide receivers and tight ends flashed in the afternoon.
A transfer from Penn State, Oklahoma wide receiver Justin Brown (6-3, 207) did a nice job catching almost everything thrown his way during practice. He showed quick hands and smooth body adjustments to react to off-target throws, using his reach (78 5/8” wingspan) and large hands (9 5/8”) to finish. Brown lacks the speed or quick-twitch burst to routinely separate from defensive backs, but he made several impressive grabs using his length to make impressive grabs over defenders.
With the success of Johnny Football in College Station, Texas A&M wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu (5-11, 198) went somewhat overlooked in 2012, finishing just fourth on the team in receiving. Despite a career-low 26 catches as a senior, he recorded a career-best seven touchdowns this season and he showed that big-play ability in practice on Tuesday, tracking the deep ball and beating his man downfield. Nwachukwu isn't the most natural hands-catcher, but he knows how to create some separation and gain a step on defensive backs.
During the Senior Bowl, Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin flashed big-play potential that wasn't seen during his time with the Longhorns. And during practice on Tuesday, Texas tight end D.J. Grant looked much more impressive than he ever showed in Austin. He was smooth out of his breaks with the natural body control to adjust to the ball and complete the catch. Grant showed very good quickness and patience in his routes to hold the defender and create a clean target for his quarterback. He had just 30 career catches at Texas, mostly due to injuries, but it's safe to say he was underutilized in college.
Wide receivers Skye Dawson (TCU), T.J. Moe (Missouri), Ryan Spadola (Lehigh) and DeVonte Christopher (Utah) and tight end Matt Furstenburg (Maryland) also had strong practices on Tuesday.
- Sam Houston cornerback Daxton Swanson (5-10, 187) turned a few heads on day one of practice, displaying the athleticism and quickness that NFL scouts desire at the position. He looked balanced in coverage with the awareness and discipline to react to the ball in the air, competing with the receiver and even coming down with the interception on several throws. Talking to scouts after practice, Swanson is definitely a prospect who helped himself at practice on Tuesday.
- Although he didn't look uncomfortable at the tight end position, it was obvious that Minnesota's Marqueis Gray is new to the position, looking rough around the edges with his routes and catching the ball. A former quarterback, he took reps with his hand on the ground and in the slot, looking natural in his movements and staying balanced in his breaks. But Gray needs to improve his footwork and body language to square his frame and give his quarterback an open target downfield. He appeared to gain confidence catching the ball as the day went on, but he looked much more confident in the drills without defenders on the field. Gray is an intriguing project who is trying to convince scouts he's worth a draft pick.
- Former Miami safety Ray Ray Armstrong has plenty of questions to answer off the field, but scouts want to see him on the field this week after not playing a meaningful snap since November of 2011 with the Hurricanes. In practice on Tuesday, Armstrong looked the part (6-3, 227) and flashed the range he showed at Miami, but he also didn't appear to be going full speed just yet. He allowed too much of a cushion and conceded a lot of underneath throws in drills, playing very cautiously and safe. With his time away from football, rust was expected, but scouts would like to see more aggression from the safety as the week goes on.