ALLEN, Texas – Although the rain stayed away, the cold, windy conditions picked up on Wednesday as practice continued for the prospects participating in the Texas vs. the Nation game. On day two of practice, it was important for scouts to see improvements on the field, not only with player performance, but also chemistry as prospects adapt to new teammates and coaches.
While the quarterbacks in town have been mostly unimpressive, Tulane's Ryan Griffin has flashed some NFL tools that could draw some interest in the later rounds of the draft. He has a quick, short release and displayed good velocity and zip on his passes, especially considering the windy conditions at Eagle Stadium on Wednesday. Griffin needs to improve his timing and downfield accuracy, but when dialed in, he made several impressive passes downfield, clearly separating himself as the best arm in Allen this week. Griffin isn't a great athlete, but he showed enough mobility to get outside the pocket and make touch throws on the move. He is far from a polished product and isn't a lock to be drafted, but with few developmental quarterback options on day three of the draft, Griffin could be worth a gamble in the later rounds.
After a strong performance on Tuesday, Sam Houston State cornerback Daxton Swanson had another good practice on Wednesday. He is an intriguing athlete with the fluid footwork needed for the position to quickly transition and redirect his momentum to stick with receivers. Swanson doesn't have ideal size (5-10, 187) and needs some technique work, but the raw athleticism is there for him to develop and stick on a NFL roster. He was the only cornerback in practice who could stick with Texas A&M wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu, blanketing him all over the field during drills. It was a little bit of retribution for Swanson after he struggled against the Aggie receiver during the season as Nwachuwku recorded a career-best 160 receiving yards against Sam Houston State in November.
There are several small school prospects competing this week, but a pair of Division-II pass rushers have stood out: East Central Oklahoma's Armonty Bryant and Tarleton State's Rufus Johnson. Bryant finished the season with a team-best 10.5 sacks, which he achieved in just eight games due to a three-game suspension after he was arrested in October for a marijuana arrest. While his off-the-field issues are another issue, his on-field abilities have shined this week with good bend and flexibility off the edge with the quickness and aggression to beat blockers in space.
Bryant has long arms (35.5”) and strong hands to rip, shed and win at the point of attack, disposing of linemen during one-on-one's in practice. Johnson also impressed during drills, using his tall, lean frame and relentless motor to defeat blocks with his aggressive play style. He is still raw in several aspects of his game, including his unpolished pass rush moves, but Johnson continued to flash during practice. Both Bryant and Johnson are intriguing developmental pass rushers, who have created a buzz among NFL scouts this week.
- Maryland tight end Matt Furstenburg had just 16 catches in 2012 as he became an afterthought in the Terrapin offense with their quarterback woes this season. But he has done a nice job in practice this week, showing his natural receiving abilities and athleticism. Furstenburg plays the position like a wide receiver with good quickness off the line of scrimmage and smooth body adjustments to turn his frame and make tough catches look easy. He had a few drops on Wednesday, but for the most part he stood out as a player who tracks and finishes well, developing an obvious rapport with the quarterbacks due to his consistency.
- It was another tough day of practice for Minnesota's Marqueis Gray as he makes the transition from quarterback to tight end. He lined up at receiver during portions of his collegiate career, but during practice this week, Gray has looked extremely raw running routes and finishing catches. He did a nice job getting physical in his routes, but struggled to create much separation against defenders and dropped more passes than he caught. Like another former Big Ten quarterback Denard Robinson, Gray has struggled to impress NFL scouts during the all-star circuit as they make the transition from quarterback to receiver.
- Two other small school prospects who turned some heads on Wednesday were Lehigh wide receiver Ryan Spadola and California (PA) safety Rontez Miles. Spadola is a good-sized, gliding athlete who does a nice job making sharp cuts in his routes to gain a step in coverage. He did a nice job catching everything thrown his way throughout practice, showing toughness over the middle and aggressiveness with the ball in the air. Miles looks natural in his backpedal with athletic footwork and the competitive nature to close and make a play on the ball. He has room to refine some technique issues, but for the most part he kept his eyes elevated, showing good reaction quickness during drills.