CARSON, Calif. -- It was the first practice for prospects preparing to play in Saturday's NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Quite frankly, it looked like it.
The American and National teams, coached by former NFL coaches Tom Flores and Dick Vermeil, featured many players out of uniform, missing helmets and virtually none of them were wearing the numbers listed on the event roster.
Absent NFL evaluators, who aren't allowed to attend the event because underclassmen are permitted to participate, CFL and Arena League scouts were on the field to get a good look at the talent. NFL teams will have video-recorded practices sent for review. There are legitimate pro prospects on the field who warrant close inspection.
Based on a practice in which players performed without shoulder pads, grading a player as the elite talent might be a reach. But Miami (Fla.) junior offensive lineman Brandon Washington stood out with his versatility and thick build. Washington, who earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2011 at left tackle, saw time at both tackle positions.
Another junior prospect added to the roster late last week wasn't as impressive. Defensive end Max Holloway left Boston College following his junior season but he looked much more like a linebacker than a defender capable of holding up to the 300-plus-pound behemoth offensive linemen in the NFL. He showed some burst and quick feet but was easily pushed back during the scrimmage portion of practice.
Without full pads, grading offensive and defensive linemen wasn't fair, but the skill-position talent here earned a long look.
If you were wondering what LSU head coach Les Miles was thinking in not allowing quarterback Jarrett Lee an opportunity against Alabama in the BCS Championship Game, you wouldn't have liked Lee's performance in the first practice. Lee never found any rhythm with his receiving corps and several of his passes fell woefully short of their target.
Miami (Fla.) QB Jacory Harris wasn't much better in the National practice a few hours later.
Eastern Washington's Bo Levi Mitchell (American) and Tulsa's G.J. Kinne (National) were the most impressive quarterbacks. Mitchell, the reigning Walter Payton Award winner, is short and slim but demonstrated a surprisingly live arm challenging defensive backs on short-to-intermediate routes and effectively beating them over the top once the corners started biting on his targets' initial breaks.
Kinne threw several impressive touch passes early in practice before firing a couple of long passes. The first was a strike down the seam. The next was a beautiful deep ball that should have been caught by UCLA's Rosario Nelson but was instead broken up by San Jose State cornerback Peyton Thompson. As impressive as Kinne was early, he must be able to manipulate defenders with his eyes to have any success against NFL athletes. Kinne saw a short dump-off pass to a running back taken away by Southern California linebacker Chris Galippo as the National practice ended.
Every talent evaluator watching an all-star game practice is hoping to see players dominate and make their job easy. This rarely occurs, which is why identifying players with NFL body types or explosive athleticism can often be helpful.
These receivers and one cornerback made the most of the low-impact practice format:
WR Isaiah Thomas, Hampton -- Thomas' blistering speed got him behind the defense on multiple occasions. He showed less-than-reliable hands, dropping a few passes and a couple of punts. Thomas also lacked physicality and competitiveness when the ball was in the air, seeing two passes taken away -- a jump ball in the end zone and a crossing route.
WRs Lavasier Tuinei, Oregon and Keith Nichol, Michigan State -- If these receivers played with more suddenness, they could surprise as late-round picks come April. Tuinei is a glider with deceptive speed who might have the most reliable hands of any receiver at the NFLPA event. Nichol is well built, runs precise routes and vacuums the ball in, but the vast majority of the routes he ran Tuesday were short and across the middle. When he did attempt to push defensive backs onto their heels, they generally turned and ran with him easily.
WR Aldarius Johnson, Miami (Fla.) -- Though Johnson was one of the players practicing without a helmet, the lack of headgear didn't stop him from leaping high and taking tumbles to secure the football. A lean, lanky athlete with deceptive speed, he lulled cornerbacks to sleep before exploding upfield for multiple big plays.
WR Brandon Carswell, Southern California -- Playing time wasn't easy to come by in a loaded receiver corps at USC, but Carswell has the burst, body control and hustle to stand out in this arena. Defenders had little choice but to play off-man coverage. Carswell attacked the cornerback's cushion, exploded out of his breaks and made the catch of the day with a leaping, twisting grab despite tight coverage. Perhaps even more impressive, Carswell rushed downfield on multiple occasions in an effort to block for teammates, the type of selflessness is rarely seen in all-star game practices.
Jay Smith, North Carolina State -- The most impressively built wideout in this game, Smith has a strong build with wide shoulders and good overall athleticism. He made several impressive plays on intermediate routes early in the practice before pulling his groin. He completed practice, but clearly had lost a step. He told me he was hopeful he'll return Wednesday.
CB Richard Crawford, SMU -- He was beaten badly for a long touchdown by Tuinei, but otherwise remained in the hip pocket of receivers throughout much of the practice and was the thief who stole the ball from Thomas in the end zone.
Rob Rang is Senior Analyst of NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.