MOBILE, Ala. -- 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. There's no getting around the fact that quarterback Tim Tebow will be a daily story this week.
|Tuesday is a much better day for Tim Tebow, but his work isn't done. (AP)|
On Tuesday, he did not have issues taking snaps and set up well in his drop. When he rolled out to his left or right, he set himself before throwing and was typically on target. However, it took him too long to set and throw on the move. It was obvious he worked on shortening his delivery, but he fell back into old habits as the practice went on, winding up and allowing cornerbacks to jump out routes.
Tebow displayed nice touch on deep balls and the zip down the seam that he has always had. When he held onto the ball too long or faced pressure, however, Tebow made bad decisions, throwing two near-interceptions that bounced off the chest of South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood and the hands of Miami middle linebacker Darryl Sharpton.
With all of the talk about Tebow, some people might not have noticed that the ball flat-out jumps off the hand of West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown. His accuracy was not deadly, but he gave tight ends running down the seams and receivers on the sideline every opportunity to make a play. Brown is still working on getting the ball from under center and is stiff in his drop. His solid arm and ability as a runner, however, bodes well for his future as a playmaker at the next level.
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 from not developing a rapport with his new teammates, as well as gusty conditions that were prevalent Tuesday. However, much of it is traced to inconsistent footwork. Pike also has a tendency to rely upon his fastball, and he didn't have enough touch to fit the ball between the linebacker and safety.
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Touch, however, is one thing Oregon State's Sean Canfield has been able to show. It is his lack of arm strength that has scouts concerned. Canfield rode a breakout senior campaign into an invitation to the Senior Bowl, but has done little thus far to show he has the arm necessary to be successful in the NFL. Canfield has to go into a full 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. However, he was the most erratic thrower Tuesday, struggling to hit his receivers in full stride. He has been limited in practice, as he has 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 the receivers.
Small-school wideout Andre Roberts (The Citadel) was the surprise standout among the South receiving corps Monday and Ohio's Taylor Price might be continuing that 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 practices: Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard and Missouri's Danario Alexander. Gilyard dropped numerous passes Tuesday. 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 who struggles to change directions and gain separation. Perhaps most disappointing is how often he has allowed passes to enter his chest plate, resulting in some ugly drops. According to scouts in attendance at Monday's North practice, Gilyard and Alexander were just as disappointing then. 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 5-9, 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 is as a tight end, but he played exclusively at wide receiver Tuesday. He lacks the speed to challenge corners deep and struggled to generate consistent separation.
On the South side, Riley Cooper, Tebow's favorite receiver and roommate, both helped and hurt the Gators quarterback. Cooper extended only one hand out on one pattern instead of running through the play, but later tracked a ball over his right shoulder, bringing it in with one hand down the sideline. Cooper saw another ball bounce off his chest after making a nice deep square-in to free himself of coverage. His inconsistency will cost him draft position despite his obvious athletic ability.
A receiver on the rise is Roberts. Scouts expected him to be closer to 5-10, 180 pounds, but he measured in at 5-11, 192. His quickness has not been hurt by the added weight, and his routes were outstanding. Roberts has the feet to run effective comeback routes, the suddenness to free himself on slants, and the vertical to leap up and grab a high pass on the sideline. Typically one FCS receiver is selected in the top 100, and it looks like Roberts fits that ball in the 2010 draft.
Other wideouts like Shay Hodge (Ole Miss), Jeremy Williams (Tulane), and Joe Webb (UAB) all had their moments. Hodge and Williams aren't explosive off the line, but caught everything thrown their way. Webb takes time to get going, but started to revert to his 2007 form at the position, using his body to shield defenders. None of the three can separate downfield or burst to the ball, but will be solid No. 2 or 3 receivers.
Inconsistent passing and catching has helped a strong roster of North cornerbacks gain even more confidence.
Chad Reuter characterized Boise State's Kyle Wilson as being the star at the position Monday 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. However, if he hopes to achieve that status, 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 causes 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. Thompson (5-9, 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 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. They have shown enough agility in their back-pedal, but they have been far too complacent in coverage, allowing easy receptions.
Things were different for the South secondary players.
The success of the receivers Tuesday today came at the expense of the cornerbacks, a group which scouts already considered weak. Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox, Florida State's Patrick Robinson, South Florida's Jerome Murphy and Kentucky's Trevard Lindley all had similar issues staying with their receivers and closing on the ball or making a play on it if in position to do so. Javier Arenas was the shortest of the bunch at under 5-9, but weighs the most (195) and played the strongest, keeping in contact with his man and ripping the ball away from Webb during a catch on a short route.
The South safeties didn't have much luck locking on receivers, either, especially in one-on-one drills. USC's Taylor Mays struggled to plant and drive coming out of his backpedal, looking like Fred Flintstone churning his feet without any resulting forward movement. Harry Coleman also looked like he had played linebacker this season at LSU, pedaling high and slow and struggling to change directions in space. USF's Nate Allen is much more fluid in coverage than Coleman or Mays, and scouts know all about his speed and range in the deep half.
• The top playmaker on the South offense was Ole Miss running back/receiver Dexter McCluster. He snatched just about every throw away from his frame, showed exceptional quickness in the open field, and a knack of finding the smallest of creases and exploiting it as a runner. The issue is that he is only 165 pounds and is a liability as a blocker. But any team looking for a dynamic player in the late second or early third round will look seriously at McCluster.
• Fullbacks and tight ends also made some nice plays Tuesday. Ed Dickson from Oregon looked like former Texas Longhorn and current Green Bay Packer Jermichael Finley as a route-runner, showing good concentration to bring in high and wide throws in traffic and running fluidly enough to make it tough for linebackers to stay with him across the middle or on corner routes.
• Wisconsin's H-back prospect, Garrett Graham, had trouble getting off coverage at times because of his marginal suddenness, but when linebackers did not check him at the line, he found holes to the outside and easily secured passes to move the chains.
• Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount also impressed, looking like a clone of Jacksonville fullback Greg Jones as a tough runner and willing blocker. A bit raw in pass protection technique and as a route runner and receiver (quarterback Dan LeFevour had a talk with him after they failed to connect on a throw to the flat), Blount has a ways to go to improve his overall game. But he ran strong and finished every play, even spinning off tackles inside. And it is obvious Blount does not back down from mixing it up on the field as a blocker. Don't be surprised if he comes up big in the game Saturday.
• Rashawn Jackson has been the top true fullback in NFLDraftScout.com's rankings for quite some time, and his receiving and blocking skills did nothing to change that rating. Though he needs to work on his punch and hand placement when facing oncoming blitzers, Jackson is athletic enough to be effective in pass protection and be a good positional blocker for the run. His hips are flexible enough to adjust to passes to the flat, elude a defender outside, and get more than a first down after the catch.
• It's easy to see how anxious the North linebackers were to show scouts they like to hit, as frequent repetitions against the run led to play-action plays that usually saw all three guys on the field taking two false steps toward the line of scrimmage.
• Washington's Donald Butler stood out as a run-stuffing middle linebacker teams usually look for late in the draft. He attacked run plays from inside-out, finding his way to get to the ball carrier.
• Daryl Washington played inside in TCU's 4-2-5 defense this year, but his move to the strong side seems likely after watching the past two practices. His ability to knife through traffic to rein in running backs and stay with Oregon tight end Ed Dickson down the field (and knock the ball away on one corner route in particular) was impressive. Though a bit high-cut, his speed and aggression makes up for it in space.
• Another Mountain West product, Utah's Koa Misi, again looks to be a legitimate outside linebacker prospect. He has the speed to handle tight ends and running backs in pass coverage, as well as the strength to take on fullback blocks. He has already shown his ability to rush the passer.
• There's nothing flashy about Iowa outside linebacker A.J. Edds, but he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Whether blowing up fullbacks or covering up receivers in the flat, he flashed the skills to be a Ben Leber-type coverage linebacker who will play for 10 years in the NFL.
• Another player making a change in position this week is Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. There's no questioning his production, and he could have the size to play inside at 6-1, 241, if he can stay at that weight during the season. He slid through trash to make plays in the run game Tuesday, and made life tough on running backs running routes in his area by pounding them within the five-yard window.
• Miami tight end Jimmy Graham had a phenomenal practice Tuesday, looking extremely fluid as a runner and catching everything in sight. The former Hurricanes basketball player left safeties and linebackers without a clue on where or when his cut would come; the out routes and square-ins were equally crisp and strong. That sort of route-running ability for a one-year contributor, and at 6-7, 258 pounds, is rare. Watch for his name to climb up boards all the way to draft weekend.
• The other South tight ends, Anthony McCoy (USC) and Colin Peek (Alabama) also impressed as able blockers and showed very good hands as receivers. Peek worked over Texas' Sergio Kindle in the BCS Championship Game and did the same Tuesday, while McCoy sealed the edge on run plays as he had done many times before for the Trojans. McCoy also used his long stride to get behind linebackers, making a nice diving grab down the seam.
Chad Reuter of NFLDraftScout.com contributed to this report.