EL PASO, Texas -- Practices for the fourth annual Texas vs. the Nation game began Monday. The rosters are lined with first- or second-round prospects, but competition is fierce among the many potential mid- or late-round picks.
The host school, University of Texas-El Paso, is well represented, led by future NFL slot receiver Jeff Moturi (listed generously at 6-0, 190). He impressed with quickness in his routes and solid hands. He distinguished himself catching most passes outside his frame rather than absorbing the ball with his body. He's explosive, and averaged 18.4 yards on 53 catches in 2009 (also averaged 8.5 yards as a punt returner).
UTEP defensive backs Cornelius Brown and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith and offensive lineman Michael Aguayo are also in the game. Brown and Cromartie-Smith showed quick feet and athleticism in drills, but Brown and Aguayo were on the short end when one-on-one matchups began. Brown will get another shot to impress scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
|Rusty Smith, shown playing for Florida Atlantic, is trying to boost his stock after missing the last half of his senior season. (US Presswire)|
One name most fans know -- Ryan Perriloux -- has a lot to prove as a passer and in interviews. He was dismissed from LSU two years ago after several off-field issues.
On the field, coaches said he needed improvement on his footwork and drops. Perriloux worked out of the shotgun at Jacksonville State (Ala.).
Coaches don't doubt his arm strength. Perriloux made several accurate throws deep down the sideline and on out routes, and should improve his consistency as he becomes more comfortable dropping back from center and working with unfamiliar receivers.
Troy quarterback Levi Brown also impressed with his arm strength and accuracy, displaying a tight spiral -- something most of the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl lacked. His size and arm strength make Brown worthy of late-round consideration.
Missouri State tight end/H-back Clay Harbor flashed pop as a blocker and caught almost everything thrown his way and even looked natural tracking a pass over his right shoulder for a long gain. His only drop came in five-on-seven drills.
Nation quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton (Tennessee) and Rusty Smith (Florida Atlantic) showed live arms and the ability to complete any type of throw. Crompton was late on one intermediate out and made his man adjust for a couple of throws, but generally got the ball to his receiver on time and on the numbers.
Smith seems to have shortened his delivery, getting the ball out more quickly and throwing with more confidence than he appeared to have during the season. Both players have something to prove because they were not invited to the Combine.
The star among the receivers and tight ends was Smith's teammate, H-back Jason Harmon. On back-to-back reps he made one-handed catches (with either hand) and pulled in everything the rest of practice. He was so good that it was a disappointment when he didn't bring down a high pass over the middle that was a coin-flip opportunity on most days. Harmon was Smith's favorite target this season (48-649-6) but teams aren't sure what to do with his 6-foot-2, 216-pound frame as a receiver/tight end/H-back 'tweener with very limited blocking skills.
Hillsdale's Jared Veldheer and Maine's Tyler Eastman stood out among offensive linemen.
Veldheer has the typical left tackle build, and looked athletic as advertised. His ability to use his length to keep defensive ends at bay, not only at the initial contact but also by resetting his hands throughout the entire play, was impressive.
Eastman's strength at left tackle comes from his thick lower-body build and leg strength, which he used to successfully anchor in pass protection and drills.
East Carolina running back Dominique Lindsey was one of the more underrated offensive threats in the country in 2009. In team drills Monday, he exploded through the hole and displayed a burst no other back has in this game.
The most impressive Nation defender was North Carolina defensive end E.J. Wilson. The former Tar Heel was nearly unblockable in pass-rush drills. He used his speed to get under the shoulder of offensive tackles and also has the strength to overwhelm blockers. He got a bit lost among the talented juniors wowing scouts on Butch Davis' defense at UNC, but he's a legitimate mid-to-late-round pick.
Unlike Galette, defensive tackle Andre Neblett stayed at Temple for his senior year and is trying to make the same sort of impression Temple's Terrance Knighton did in this game last year. Knighton's play in El Paso pushed him into the third-round of the '09 draft. He's not as big or strong as Knighton, but the 6-foot, 297-pound Neblett could be a late-round pick. He displayed a good motor and strength in drills Monday. Guards found it difficult to keep him out of the backfield and he forced a fumble in inside run drills.
Nation linebacker Simoni Lawrence (Minnesota) came up with a big play during team drills, dropping into coverage and snatching a ball from the air with full extension. His ball skills aren't surprising, given he had 10 picks as a freshman at Valley Forge Military Academy. His speed and aggressiveness as a tackler could earn him a draft spot despite his lack of prototype size (6-0, 229).
Defensive end George Johnson was productive at Rutgers, but displayed the agility to play outside linebacker at the next level. The 6-4, 265-pound Johnson will be on the minds of 3-4 teams late in the draft.
Several players not included in this report intrigued scouts and will be reviewed by NFLDraftScout.com following practices Tuesday and Wednesday from El Paso.