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Weekly Rewind: Gamecocks' Ingram makes rare impact for DT

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could impact the 2012 draft rankings:

Those who witnessed Ndamukong Suh's dominance of Colt McCoy and the Texas Longhorns in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game probably believed they had seen the entire book on how a defensive tackle could impact a college football game.

Then on Saturday, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram only registered a single assisted tackle, but the redshirt senior provided big plays in every other conceivable way Saturday in a thrilling SEC East showdown against the Georgia Bulldogs: scoring from 68 yards out on a fake punt; the clinching score on a fumble return; recovering the Bulldogs' last-ditch onside kick attempt.

Ingram's superhuman effort was as surprising as it was impactful.

Overshadowed by junior Devin Taylor and freshman Jadeveon Clowney, the 6-foot-2, 276-pound Ingram was moved inside to defensive tackle this season despite the fact that he was coming off a junior season in which he recorded the second-highest single-season sack total (nine) in the program's history.

Undersized for the position, Ingram's quickness and good pad level made him a tough assignment for the bigger, slower Georgia offensive linemen.

While statisticians didn't give him credit for many tackles, Ingram was a constant thorn in the side of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, often pressuring the preseason first-team All-SEC pick and hustling downfield in pursuit of ball carriers.

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An instinctive and tenacious lineman similar to former South Carolina star Eric Norwood (Carolina Panthers), Ingram's NFL projection is to defensive end. The similarities between Ingram and Norwood may not end there. Ingram could wind up with a similar draft grade as his former teammate (selected in the fourth round, 124th overall in 2010). Teams will find ways in which to get the versatile athlete on the field despite his lack of prototypical size.

There aren't two more storied programs in college football than Notre Dame and Michigan. It was appropriate that the first night game at Michigan Stadium was a classic.

The offensive fireworks -- with 114,804 people in attendance and legions watching on TV -- generate the headlines, but many of the scouts on hand were there to evaluate Notre Dame junior inside linebacker Manti Te'o. He's the first defender from the Fighting Irish to generate legitimate first-round hype since 1997 (Renaldo Wynn).

The 6-2, 255-pound Te'o demonstrated last season that he's a budding superstar, recording 133 tackles, more than any Notre Dame defender since 1983. While the box score (five tackles, one tackle for loss) would lead you to believe that Te'o was less effective, that wasn't the case. He showed the same instincts, demonstrating burst through gaps and quick hands to disengage from blocks that intrigued scouts last season.

Scouts wanted to see if Te'o had the speed to contain Michigan's spectacular dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson. Te'o and the Irish generally did a nice job keeping Robinson in the pocket. Considered by many to be the most dangerous runner in college football, Robinson was held to "only" 108 rushing yards, with a substantial chunk of that production (39 yards) on one play.

Te'o, generally a reliable open-field tackler, was evaded by the slippery Heisman candidate on a few occasions, but was consistently in position to make the play because of his recognition skills and rare overall athleticism for a man of his size.

Arguably the most impressive demonstration of Te'o's speed came on the most disappointing play of the evening for the Irish.

Seconds after finishing what appeared to be the winning drive, Notre Dame inexplicably lost track of Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, who weaved his way from midfield all the way down to the 16-yard line. Though Te'o certainly was not to blame for the blunder, he was the Irish defender who gave the greatest effort pursuing Gallon, fighting through blocks to help force the 5-8, 180-pound receiver to run out of bounds. A play later, Te'o's efforts went unrewarded as Robinson found Roy Roundtree for the 16-yard touchdown that will live in infamy for Notre Dame fans.

Notre Dame's collapse can't be pinned on Te'o, and the speed and effort he showed in pursuit will be appreciated by scouts. His performance, in fact, could be good enough to push the Notre Dame defender ahead of Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict and Boston College's Luke Kuechly as the top inside linebacker prospect in the country.

It is difficult to scout any game involving the North Carolina Tar Heels and not be overcome by their individual talent. But the most consistently impressive player on the field in Saturday's home opener against Rutgersactually was Scarlet Knights junior wideout Mohamed Sanu.

The 6-2, 215-pound Sanu has dazzled coaches with his athleticism and versatility throughout his young career, but wasn't able to progress as a receiver last season with the team often asking him to line up as a wildcat quarterback.

Kept out wide against the Tar Heels on Saturday, Sanu responded with career highs in receptions (13) and receiving yards (119), including a dazzling one-handed 18-yard touchdown catch with 18 seconds remaining in the second quarter that put Rutgers in position to tie the score heading into halftime. Sanu, lined up in the slot, split the safeties and, like an outfielder reaching over the wall to rob a slugger of a home run, he leaped, stretched and pulled down the ball gracefully. Larry Fitzgerald doesn't make this catch any more beautifully.

Sanu's strong hands, prototypical build and good (not great) speed are his primary assets. He is a physical receiver who shrugs off tight coverage and knows how to shield defenders from the ball with his body, making him an ideal fit in a West Coast offense that attacks through quick slants and crossing routes over the middle.

Many suspect that this could be Sanu's final season of college football. Should it be, Sanu will only have to answer questions about his speed to potentially leap some of the biggest names among college football receivers to be considered a first- or second-round pick.

Upon Further Review

A new feature I'm adding this year to our Weekly Rewind, highlighting a player whose performance over the weekend significantly altered my earlier assessment:

NFL scouts saw the best and the worst from Missouri tight end Michael Egnew on Friday night in the Tigers' overtime loss to Arizona State.

On the positive side, the 6-5, 245-pound Mackey Award candidate made the biggest catch of the game for the Tigers, extending to snatch a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback James Franklin to tie the score at 30 with 2:50 left in regulation.

It was clear that the Sun Devils recognized Egnew's vital role in Missouri's offense. They mixed coverages on him, limiting the 2010 All-American to only three catches on the evening for a grand total of 27 yards. To put that in perspective, Egnew led the nation's tight ends with 90 catches for 762 yards and five touchdowns last year.

Egnew's impressive size, athleticism and production led to many rating Egnew as a potential top 50 prospect for the 2012 draft. Like former Mizzou tight ends Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, however, Egnew is a receiver specialist who is rarely asked to block. Egnew's lack of strength and overall physicality, in fact, was evident throughout the evening as a downfield blocker and when fighting through coverage.

For teams looking for a matchup nightmare, Egnew makes some sense. For teams operating out of a traditional offense, however, Egnew may struggle to generate anything other than late-round interest.

Rob Rang is a Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang .


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