ORLANDO -- After a day of "practice" in a hotel ballroom -- players were forced to the makeshift field by weather -- the mere sight of outdoor practice was a welcome one for NFL scouts, agents and media assembled around the grass practice field outside of the Citrus Bowl.
Several prospects shined Tuesday, and a few haven't seen the light of day in months.
North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who began the 2010 season as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 2 ranked prospect, started off strong in one-on-one drills. He flashed quick hands and feet to bull-rush or run around mid-tier prospects such as Missouri State guard David Arkin.
|Marvin Austin flashes quick hands and feet, but scouts might want to see more to consider him a top-50 prospect. (US Presswire)|
Arkin returned the favor to Austin during team drills, standing him straight up off the snap on multiple occasions. Austin did stand his ground and move down the line while engaged against the run during live scrimmage, once pushing Purdue tight end Kyle Adams aside to swallow the back coming into the hole. Though it was a solid practice, scouts might want to see more to consider Austin a top-50 prospect, especially considering he was so highly touted as a prep and expectations were through the roof entering the season.
Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin garnered preseason attention for both his talent and the natural comparison to former Blue Hen and current Ravens' Pro Bowl starter Joe Flacco. He was easily the most impressive passer Tuesday. His footwork and posture in the pocket was solid and he consistently delivered tight spirals. He was generally accurate, throwing a bit ahead of or behind his target, which is largely expected in an all-star setting, as quarterbacks and receivers lack timing based on unfamiliarity. Fellow signal-callers Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech) and Ricky Dobbs (Navy) had nondescript performances, generally connecting on short throws but failing to make any exceptional throws.
Devlin, the former Penn State quarterback, had one throw he wanted to have back. After surveying the field for a deep option, he checked down to a back in the flat -- but failed to account for Oklahoma safety Jonathan Nelson, who stepped in front of teammate and cornerback Justin Rogers to pick off the pass.
Rogers had the best day among the defensive backs. He was more physical than is typically expected of a 5-10, 183-pound corner and broke quickly on the ball in team and individual drills.
Buffalo's Josh Thomas displayed the ability to make hits as a zone corner, but like two taller corners, Mario Butler (Georgia Tech) and Demarcus Van Dyke (Miami), he had a tough time transitioning and planting to drive to the ball. Butler and Van Dyke were adept at their specialty -- using their height and speed to run with tall receivers Terrence Tolliver (LSU) and Lestar Jean (Florida Atlantic) down the sideline to prevent big plays.
The East receiver group had up-and-down performances working with Devlin. Mount Union receiver Cecil Shorts III laid out for two low throws heading toward the sideline in team drills. But he didn't keep his feet when making cuts and was unable to separate on deep routes despite having 4.4-timed speed. Tolliver made an outstanding one-handed catch over the middle in one-on-one coverage drills but failed to adjust to low and high throws he'd be expected to bring in next season.
In addition to Arkin, two other offensive linemen stood out -- one good, one bad.
Lehigh lineman Will Rackley was fluid and tough in one-on-one and team drills. He could get a bit stronger, but there's no reason to think he can't be a solid mid-round pick with upside.
Right tackle Jah Reid from nearby UCF got by with his size and length on the practice field in most spots but looked very stiff in the process. Without upper- and lower-body flexibility, he will have a tough time moving laterally with NFL defensive ends and preventing them from bull-rushing him back into the quarterback.
The West team
If receiver Ryan Whalen hadn't had elbow problems in 2010, he would have put up big numbers with Stanford QB Andrew Luck throwing to him. On Tuesday, he caught every ball coming into his scope and fought through traffic to make plays. He's a bit slow into and out of his routes, but there's no doubting his toughness and reliability. Another Pac-10 receiver, Oregon's Jeff Maehl, had a rough day. He struggled to stay on his feet when making cuts and dropped a couple of very catchable balls over the middle.
SMU receiver Aldrick Robinson is carrying the torch for former Mustangs receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Steelers) -- who excelled at the Shrine Game last season -- using his quickness and slight frame to run crisp routes and displaying solid hands.
Players throwing passes to those receivers, Idaho's Nathan Enderle, Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien and Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson, didn't stand out. Enderle and Tolzien were solid but not spectacular, making accurate short throws between the hashes. Neither displayed a howitzer for a throwing arm and Enderle's passes did not always come out of his hand very well. Johnson looks like the prototypical passer but his ball flight was also less than ideal, with only an occasional spiral. An NFL quarterback coach will have to work long and hard to perfect his footwork, as he rarely steps into throws or releases the ball while in balance.
Playing across the line from Whalen are some intriguing cornerbacks. Cortez Allen (Citadel) looks a lot like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with his 6-2, 200-pound frame and quick feet. He survived a tough senior year and could acquit himself at this venue. His height keeps him from transitioning quickly, but receivers find it difficult to escape his long arms and aggressive nature on plays when the ball is in front of him or trying to get past him on double moves.
Other defenders who need to have big weeks include linebackers Chris Carter (Fresno State) and Dontay Moch (Nevada), who were defensive ends in college. Both struggled in coverage, looking lost trying to find receivers coming into their area in zone coverage. Moch did show an ability to stick the tight end at the line and run with backs on wheel routes, but lacks awareness, running into defenders and receivers. He showed more strength as a pass rusher than Carter, bull-rushing tackles into the backfield using their height and lack of anchor against them.
Boise State strong safety Jeron Johnson had some issues in coverage, lacking recovery speed to track down receivers when they got a step on him.
Among offensive linemen on the West roster, LSU left tackle Joseph Barksdale flashed excellent athleticism coming out of his stance and moving laterally. However, he could learn from Hawaii's Laupepa Letuli, who latched onto the defender and finished almost every block (though he was overmatched athletically). Barksdale tends to let up after initial contact. Scouts also noticed the former Tigers' tackle was the only player on either side to get treatment for cramps on a 70-degree day.
Defensive linemen Ricky Elmore (Arizona) and Ryan Winterswyk (Boise State) gave Barksdale and Letuli all they wanted. Though neither are exceptional athletes, their hustle and strength was evident at the point of attack.
UCLA's David Carter looked quick off the snap in one-on-one drills but lacks the power that would push him into the top half of the draft.