ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman is one of 20 prospects from non-FBS schools at the East-West Shrine Game, and he isn't merely taking advantage of the opportunity to show NFL scouts he stacks up against players from major conferences.
Norman might be having the strongest week of any player in attendance through the first two days of practice.
Playing for the East squad, Norman has a tall, narrow frame with good length and muscle definition for the position; he definitely looks the part on the field. Through two practices, Norman shown off his quick feet and fluid hips, looking natural in reverse but also driving on plays in front of him with good timing and anticipation. He showed on several occasions his willingness to hit and get dirty, to go along with terrific ball skills when the ball was in his area.
Norman is flexible but he gets a bit high out of his stance and overpursued on a few drills, allowing the running back to reach the sideline and turn upfield. Norman received plenty of attention from several NFL teams that wanted to talk to him after practice. He entered the week as a likely late-round pick, but Norman's arrow is definitely pointing up through the first two days.
Another cornerback from the FCS level who has flashed is Hampton's Micah Pellerin. Like Norman, he has a tall, lean frame (6 feet, 195 pounds), but not as much bulk. Pellerin struggled a bit with his footwork in coverage drills, but he's decisive in his movements with a smooth backpedal, getting to top speed quickly. He played with confidence on the field and didn't back down or look tentative against Big Ten receivers A.J. Jenkins and B.J. Cunningham.
At linebacker, Shawn Loiseau out of Merrimack College has stepped up and taken control of the East defense. He is extremely aggressive and plays with enough intensity for the entire team, showing natural leadership ability. Loiseau isn't the biggest or most athletic, but he plays fast with solid instincts and lateral agility. I'm not sure he has enough to crack a starting lineup at the next level, but he'll be one of those players who will make it tough for a team to cut him because of his motor and intangibles.
In the trenches, it's hard not to notice big defensive tackle Akiem Hicks from the University of Regina (Canada). Weighing in at nearly 6-5, 324 pounds with 35½-inch arms and a ridiculous 84-inch wingspan, there is no doubt he is physically imposing with the size that simply cannot be taught. Hicks, who originally committed to LSU as one of the top JUCO prospects in 2009, is extremely raw and needs a lot of work, but his movements for a player his size are rare and he is definitely one of the better developmental linemen in this draft class.
Another pair of small-school receivers continues to impress during practices. Tennessee Tech receiver Tim Benford is a natural plucker, using his unusually long arms (33¼-inches, longer than 10 offensive linemen participating this week) to snatch the ball out of the air. He looks quicker than fast with sharp footwork to break out of his routes with sudden burst. Benford is a bit lean and he wasn't as impressive on deep-ball opportunities, but he was a popular player among NFL teams talking to prospects after practice.
Wideout Thomas Mayo from California (Pa.) has had a few drops in practices, but showed off his impressive ball skills with a few one-handed grabs. He also showed his physical, feisty attitude, getting in more than a few skirmishes with cornerbacks in 7-on-7 drills. Mayo is rough around the edges, but his natural acceleration and toughness is evident.
Other notes from practices Tuesday:
• DT DaJohn Harris, Southern Cal: He was the most impressive player at the West practice, disposing of blockers very easily. He has quick hands and arms, but will rely on his upper body too much at times and needs to be more aggressive instead of waiting to catch blockers off-balance with his rip moves. Overall, he has definitely helped himself and might be the top prospect on the West squad.
• WR B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State: He stepped it up from Monday and looked like the veteran of the group with his polished route running and natural body control to adjust to off-target throws. I do question his overall vision and hand-eye coordination to secure quick, contested passes, but when he has time to locate and track the ball, Cunningham comes down with it.
• LB Josh Kaddu, Oregon: At 6-3, 235, Kaddu continues to impress with his fluid athleticism for his size. Technique isn't a strength for him and he has lean limbs, but he oozes raw ability and strength. Kaddu is naturally flexible with a smooth burst that is rare for a player of his size.
• TE Chase Ford, Miami (Fla.): He had only 16 catches in his two seasons with the Hurricanes, but he worked very well Tuesday. While he struggled in blocking drills, especially with his angles and body positioning, Ford looked natural catching the ball with body fluidity, above-average focus and soft hands. After practice, a scout confirmed my beliefs Ford is "one-dimensional" at this point, but the upside is there and he has definitely improved his chances at getting drafted.
Dane Brugler is an NFL Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange