SAN ANTONIO -- The beauty of the NFLPA Game is that it's where small-school and non-BCS conference prospects get a chance to take on players from the "major" programs. It's a proving ground for guys like Jared Veldheer, the offensive line prospect from small Hillsdale College whom the Oakland Raiders selected in the third round last year, only to see him start at center and left tackle as a rookie.
So, with most of the football world focused on Dallas and the lead up to Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, more than 150 NFL scouts have congregated five hours south of the media circus to attend practices for the NFLPA Game.
On a cold, windy day at Heroes Stadium (a typically large Texas high school field seating 11,000 people), it was difficult to get a true sense of how the Texas and Nation teams (continuing the team formats used in the game's former name) would be able to move the ball.
The wind and temperature had little effect on battles in the trenches, however, which featured the most talented players on both teams. For example, Utah center Zane Taylor was one of the more impressive physical specimens at the morning weigh-ins, and he fought off Nation team defensive linemen very well in the afternoon practice.
Former South Carolina and current Hampton star defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis came into the week looking to make an impression, and he looked like the potential top 75 pick everyone expected him to be, strong and quick for his massive 6-foot-5, 336-pound frame throughout most of the day. But Taylor stood up very well to Ellis and current SEC tackles Lazarius Levingston and Ladi Ajiboye, both of whom have a chance to be drafted in April because they are active and play with leverage despite neither cracking 300 pounds.
During the earlier practice featuring the Texas squad, the center of attention was Missouri's Tim Barnes. The first-team All-Big 12 selection played with the strong base, quick hands and balance he displayed all season while taking on the most-hyped player entering the week, Ole Miss tackle Jerrell Powe.
It was difficult for anyone to move Powe on Tuesday, as you would expect given his exceptional talents and 6-2, 331-pound body. Barnes showed no fear going up against a player that many people expected to be a first-round prospect heading into the year. But repeatedly, Barnes stood Powe up, negating any chances for a pass rush by getting his hands inside and moving his feet to anchor and sustain.
Other than a spin move by Texas Tech defensive tackle Colby Whitlock that sent Barnes scrambling on one pass protection set, the Mizzou stalwart looked like the third- or fourth-round prospect many scouts saw on tape.
A small-school offensive lineman intriguing scouts Tuesday was versatile guard/tackle prospect Curt Porter from Jacksonville State. The 6-7, 308-pounder played a strong role in JSU's 49-48, double-overtime upset of Ole Miss early this fall, stoning Powe multiple times in that matchup. Though a bit off-balance at first, he played with strength at both right guard and tackle, anchoring against Levingston and Ajiboye.
Porter also refused to bow to SEC talent, like Taylor, when having a personal battle with Levingston. The LSU tackle jumped offsides on one play, knocking the unexpecting Porter to his backside. A couple of plays later, Porter pushed Levingston before the snap to show he was ready to go. Their battles when both players waited for the snap weren't malicious, but intense.
A few more players who impressed (or depressed) scouts with their play on Tuesday:
• Receiver Ricardo Lockette started football late and struggled to stay in one place for any period of time during his collegiate career. However, the potential of a former Division II 200-meter champion like Lockette was evident on the practice field. His exceptional quickness and straight-line speed, combined with an ability to snatch passes away from his frame, gave scouts something to think about; his multiple drops, however, revealed his relative inexperience.
• Two tight ends on the Texas squad are near mirror-images of each other. Florida Atlantic's Rob Housler and Fordham's Stephen Skelton are both 6-5 and slightly less than 250 pounds, and displayed quick enough feet and solid enough hands to be solid reserve receiving tight ends at the next level. Skelton is not quite as sudden or fast as Housler, however, making him a later pick or free agent prospect.
• An interesting storyline for this week is the return of Grambling State defensive end Christian Anthony. He was a legitimate top 125 prospect coming into preseason camp, but a heart condition caused him to miss the 2010 season. Anthony's natural athleticism has clearly not disappeared, but his inability to get off blocks made him look like he hadn't played for quite some while. By the end of the week, he may begin looking like his old self.
• North Carolina State receiver Owen Spencer dropped multiple passes on the day, and though the wind did affect the flight of throws, most were very catchable balls. He did make a nice back shoulder adjustment on one intermediate pass, however, that flashed the talent that got him into the upcoming scouting combine.
Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.