Monday, December 28, 2009

Next Level Scouting NCAA All-Decade Team

The Next Level Scouting NCAA All-Decade Team for the 2000's.

QB Vince Young, Texas
RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
RB Reggie Bush, USC
FB Mike Karney, Arizona State
WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh
WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
TE Kellen Winslow, Jr., Miami
OL Dominic Raiola, Nebraska
OL Shawn Andrews, Arkansas
OL Jake Long, Michigan
OL Bryant McKinnie, Miami
OL Joe Thomas, Wisconsin

DL Julius Peppers, North Carolina
DL Dwight Freeney, Syracuse
DL Glenn Dorsey, LSU
DL Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
LB A.J. Hawk, Ohio State
LB Derrick Johnson, Texas
LB Paul Posluszny, Penn State
LB Jonathan Vilma, Miami
DB Derrick Strait, Oklahoma
DB Michael Huff, Texas
DB Sean Taylor, Miami
DB Ed Reed, Miami

K Mike Nugent, Ohio State
P Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor
LS Ryan Pontbriand, Rice
All-Purpose/Return man Darren Sproles, Kansas State

Photos Courtesy of College Press Box

Meineke Car Care Bowl – Pittsburgh 19, UNC 17

* Run Baby, Run: As he has all season long, freshman tailback Dion Lewis carried the load for the Pittsburgh offense. The Albany (New York) native turned in his 10th 100-yard game of the season and eighth in a row. His season-low 79 yards came on September 19th against Navy, which was also the only game he failed to average over four-yards per carry (3.4 versus the Midshipmen). Lewis’ 159-yard day against the Tar Heels was his fourth straight over 150 yards and seventh such performance of the season.

What the freshman tailback lacks in straight-line speed, he more than makes up for with burst—when he sees the hole, Lewis shoots through it. With excellent vision and instincts the Panther does a good job of weaving between the tackles, and is stronger than you think. His patience gives his linemen the opportunity to block. His first step is where the play is designed to go, after that it’s a lot of instinct. He’s extremely dangerous when he cuts back and goes against the grain. The little guy almost gets lost in between the tackles, then finds a little sliver and emerges from the scrum. Even in small spaces, he has the quickness to take a little side step to make someone miss. The lost fumble by Lewis is very uncharacteristic, the first of his career—he went 302 carries as a collegian without a fumble.

Lewis broke the legendary Tony Dorsett’s freshman rushing record at Pitt, which stood since 1973 at 1,686 yards. His 10 100-yard games matched Dorsett’s 1973 campaign, while Lewis’ 17 rushing touchdowns and 19 total scores are new marks for Panther freshmen. The rookie ball carrier finished the season with a total of 1,799 yards, second all-time in school history, passing Craig “Ironhead” Heyward (1,791 yards in 1987), looking up only to Dorsett’s Heisman Trophy season in 1976, when the Hall of Famer ran for 2,150 yards.

Lewis isn’t the next coming of Dorsett, but could anyone ask for more from the lightly recruited three-star recruit? After the game, head coach Dave Wannstedt evoked the name of not only Dorsett but Emmitt Smith and Ricky Williams as he spoke about how great backs get stronger as the game goes on. North Carolina’s Butch Davis compared him to a former Miami Hurricane.

“He reminds me of Clinton Portis,” Davis said of Lewis. “He has that same explosiveness in the hole as Portis. He can jump straight, sideways, spin and cut. Because of his speed and because of his quickness he doesn't take a lot of blows.”

We should also recognize Pitt’s fullback Henry Hynoski, who at 6’2” and 260 pounds has prototypical size for a lead back. He did a great job much of the day taking on North Carolina’s star-studded linebacking corps, neutralizing them on most of the Panther’s positive runs. Many of Lewis’ effective runs came following Hynoski into the hole. The sophomore also has decent hands making three catches on the day. Senior tight end Nate Byham did an excellent of job of blocking at the point of attack as well. At 6’4” and 265 pounds, Byham is a legitimate tight end.

* The Arial Attack: After getting away with a potential interception early on—when Bill Stull tossed one under pressure and overthrew his receiver, dropping the ball into the hands of a UNC defensive back—the senior signal caller had a very solid performance to lead the Panther’s to the victory. The Pittsburgh native completed 17-24 passes for 163 yards. He has a decent arm, and when given time to set and throw, he’s a pretty passer. Stull has nice touch on his passes and when he’s on, the quarterback can be fairly accurate. For the season, Stull finished with 2,633 yards, 21 touchdown passes and eight interceptions (65.1 completion percentage), almost shocking numbers after such an inconsistent 2008 campaign—2,356 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions (57 completion percentage).

Leading receiver, true sophomore Jonathan Baldwin had a quiet day—three receptions for 31 yards, as did senior pass catching tight end Dorin Dickerson—four receptions for 21 yards. The duo had trouble making things happen against the speedy and athletic North Carolina secondary. Baldwin did show off his upper body strength using his stiff arm to get extra yards after the catch on his first grab of the game. Not many receivers climb the ladder like Baldwin, who always uses his hands to catch the football. He is a good and willing blocker. Typically for a man of his size—6’5” and 225 pounds—Baldwin is impressive after the catch. Dickerson who is undersized for a tight end—6’2” and 230 pounds—can line up at fullback and H-Back, in addition to tight end. Dickerson struggled to make plays after the catch and needs to work on his blocking, otherwise he will be limited at the next level. The senior also dropped a would- be touchdown—he was interfered with (flag thrown)—but Dickerson should have made the catch anyway.

Stull’s favorite target on the day came as a surprise, as freshman backup Mike Shanahan led Pittsburgh with five receptions for 83 yards. He worked the deep in route to perfection. Shanahan got deeper than the UNC linebackers on a regular basis and caught passes in front of the Tar Heels’ defensive backs. He has great size (6’5” and 220 pounds), good hands and runs his routes well. On the Panthers’ go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, Shanahan made a big catch, taking a big hit. Entering the bowl game, the freshman pass catcher had just 10 career receptions—Shanahan could emerge as a solid number two receiver taking advantage of all the attention paid to Baldwin by making plays across the middle of the field.

In addition to his run blocking, Byham was very good helping out in pass protection. Left tackle Jason Pinkston was also impressive as a pass blocker. For the most part the junior did an excellent job on North Carolina’s speedy pass rushers. On the other side of the line, sophomore right tackle OT Lucas Nix had his trouble keeping their ends out of the backfield.

* Best Pro Prospect – Pittsburgh:
DE Greg Romeus, Junior – 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PD, 1 FF

First off, don’t leave your tight ends to block Greg Romeus. North Carolina tried and the junior end shed the block with ease and engulfed the North Carolina runner in the backfield for a loss of three yards. For a player who did not play organized football until his senior season of high school, Romeus displays some impressive instincts. He made a nice read on an end around that he attacked perfectly on the weakside–Romeus was disciplined in containment and let the play came to him. The difference-making end didn’t make the tackle but the UNC receiver retreated to get around Romeus and wound up losing 11 yards on the play. The junior also does a good job of getting his hands up. On one particular play he read the screen and batted the ball down, using his amazing wingspan. He’s really learning the game, which makes one hope he returns for his final season, even though he appears headed towards being a second round pick. Romeus can bring it off the edge, but he can also stunt and bring pressure from the inside. The Florida native keeps playing to the whistle—he doesn’t stand around if he can’t get into the backfield. He’s also very strong, ripping the football out of the hands of North Carolina’s tailback, even when the runner had both hands on the ball. He is an impressive athlete, who on occasion even dropped back in coverage. Romeus is 6’6” and 270 pounds so size is not an issue.

* More Pitt Defense: In addition to Romeus, the Panthers have one of the more talented front sevens in the country, beginning with a deep, productive and versatile defensive line. Manning the other defensive end position for Pitt is fellow junior Jabaal Sheard, who at 6’4” and 260 pounds can more than hold his own. Sheard is capable of getting off blocks, which allowed him to record two tackles for a loss, including a sack. Throughout most of the game, Sheard lined up extra wide on the strongside, outside of the tight end rather than tackle.

Senior defensive tackle Mick Williams is one of the quicker linemen around, using that first step and footwork to get into the offensive backfield. Williams recorded two sacks on the day, although on one of them was completely unblocked. He is only 6’1” and 280 pounds, which is why he won’t be a high draft pick despite being co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. Fellow senior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas (6’3” and 285 pounds) is your classic overachiever—a high effort player who finds a way to make in impact. Even with Williams, Mustakas and possibly Romeus on the way out, Pittsburgh has more than enough talent coming back. In addition to Sheard, keep an eye on sophomores Myles Caragein (tackle), Chas Alecxih (tackle) and Brandon Lindsey (end), as well as freshman defensive end Shayne Hale, who is already 6’5” and 250 pounds.

At the next level, sophomore Max Gruder and freshman Dan Mason were impressive. Gruder is very active against the pass, not allowing much after the catch. On one tackle in the short passing game, the weakside linebacker forced a North Carolina fumble. He fills in nicely and is a sound tackler. The sophomore backs up his linemen well and gets in the mix at the line of scrimmage. He was all over any pass play on the flat to a back or tight end. Gruder recorded a game-high 11 tackles. Mason had good coverage and showed solid hands on his third and goal interceptions, just outside the goal line. He fills the hole well and wraps up when he gets there. There is a lot to like about this young linebacker. Sophomore Greg Williams (three tackles) was relatively quiet, but is another piece to what should be a stellar defense in 2010. Senior MIKE Adam Gunn made seven tackles, but he’s in trouble when engaged with blockers. Gunn lacks speed and isn’t very big (230 pounds), lacking the measurables to play at the next level. Another senior, corner Aaron Berry didn’t do much to help his stock this season. He has put up decent numbers but isn’t very big (180 pounds) and he doesn’t possess the breakaway speed NFL teams look for in their defensive backs, which is why he won’t be able to play man-to-man at the next level. He did make a great read, dropping back into the end zone, making it a tougher throw for the quarterback. Berry will likely get a look as a priority free agent for a team that plays predominately zone coverage in the secondary.

* Decision Time:
The North Carolina Tar Heels have four very talented juniors—defensive tackle Marvin Austin, outside linebacker Bruce Carter, middle linebacker Quan Sturdivant and safety Deunta Williams—who could be first or second round picks should they declare for the 2010 NFL Draft—all four could go, but none of the four has to go.

Most evaluators would list Austin as possessing the most potential of the group. He can be such a force at the point of attack, twice tackling Lewis after a short gain. He is so quick and explosive for a man of his size (6’3” and 305 pounds). Using that quickness, Austin exploded into the backfield and got to Lewis at the goal line, but missed the tackle—he blew up the play, which resulted for no gain, but it could have been a better play. That epitomizes Austin, glimpses of greatness, but more often than not leaving you wanting more. At times, he gets blocked one-on-one by average players, which shouldn’t happen with his ability.

Normally consistent performers, neither Carter nor Sturdivant were very impressive from their linebacker positions. Each made four total tackles—three solos by Sturdivant and one solo by Carter—with no interceptions, pass breakups, sacks or tackles for a loss. The 6’3” and 230-pound Carter is normally a big playmaker, but wasn’t very active versus Pitt. In the second half he made a great open field tackle on Pittsburgh’s Dickerson, where he got to show off his sideline-to-sideline speed. Sturdivant did a nice job of covering Dickerson on a passing play with the Pittsburgh playmaker coming out of the backfield after having lined up at fullback. He’s an effective blitzer, who plays a hard and relentless brand of football—he will make plays on the other side of the field—but more was expected of the junior MIKE. You wonder if the physical power attack of Pittsburgh was something the Tar Heels weren’t ready for and neutralized their speed and athleticism. We have been big fans of both Carter and Sturdivant, and while one game doesn’t tell the whole story, if they are thinking of making the jump, one would have expected a better effort.

Williams didn’t turn in his best performance of the season either. The junior safety allowed Dickerson to run right by him on a potential touchdown, which Dickerson dropped. Williams interfered on the play and not very well, as Dickerson still got in the open and the ball hit him on the hands. Williams was not very physical and on one missed tackle he was simply sloppy, not wrapping up on the ball carrier after attacking the line of scrimmage. He displayed good coverage ability, as he ran stride for stride with Baldwin, and positioned himself well between Baldwin and the ball, ensuring the Pittsburgh playmaker could not get to the football.

* The Senior Defensive Linemen: Defensive end E.J. Wilson had a good showing in his final game wearing Carolina Blue. The senior recorded five tackles, a sack and forced two fumbles. He is an all effort player, and his first forced fumble was due to that hustle—it came 30 yards down field at the UNC one-yard line just outside of the end zone as Lewis was headed for a score. On his sack, he blew by Pitt’s right tackle and got his hand on Stull to force fumble (Pitt retained possession). At 6’3” and 280 pounds, Wilson is also very strong and stout at the point of attack, which is why some view him as a potential 3-4 end at the next level.

Defensive tackles Cam Thomas and Aleric Mullins are rotation-type players. Thomas displayed nice pop off the snap. He is a legitimate run-stuffing space eater and a potential nose tackle at the next level. Thomas checks in 6’4” and 325 pounds. Not as big, but no small man is Mullins, who is 6’3” and 305 pounds. Mullins showed the ability to get pressure on the quarterback and he is capable of getting a push up the middle. Of the two, Thomas should get drafted, while Mullins may have to earn his way on to a roster as PFA.

* The Front Seven–Stars of Tomorrow:
Maybe the brightest star on the entire Tar Heels team regardless of class is sophomore defensive end Robert Quinn, however against Pittsburgh he was a non-factor other than one hit he got on the quarterback. Quinn had trouble getting by Pittsburgh’s left tackle (Pinkston). The sophomore is athletic with prototypical size (6’5 and 270 pound) and should begin the 2010 season on many preseason All-American lists. Fellow sophomores Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo should be back as well, with Coples the likely man to replace Wilson in the starting rotation. In the fourth quarter, he got good pressure coming off the edge to force Stull out of the pocket and on the next play, Coples picked up a sack. The end is quick and explosive getting into the backfield. Quinn, Coples (6’6” and 275 pounds) and McAdoo (6’7” and 245 pounds) would make a fine frontcourt for Roy Williams on the hardwood. Should Austin make the jump to the NFL, they still possess a former four-star recruit in red-shirt sophomore Tydreke Powell (6’3” and 300 pounds). At outside linebacker sophomore Zach Brown and freshman Kevin Reddick are two more talented defenders. Brown made two tackles, while Reddick finished the game strong, making several plays in the second half. The freshman has good size and speed; he’s a sure tackler versus the run and very comfortable near the line of scrimmage.

* The Defensive Backs: Joining Williams in the UNC secondary were a trio of juniors—strong safety Da’Norris Searcy, along with corners Kendrick Burney and Charles Brown. Burney, a two-year starter is also considering making himself available for the 2010 Draft, but would be wise to return. He was beat one-on-one by Baldwin early on, who used a stiff arm, but otherwise had a solid night. Burney likes to play near the line of scrimmage and is an excellent tackler who his capable of getting in the backfield. Burney (4 tackles, 1 TFL) can deliver a big hit once he bursts through on a run blitz. Brown (5 tackles, 1 TFL) was also active throughout the contest. He had good coverage on a deep route by Baldwin on pass to the end zone. With Pittsburgh backed up at their own end zone (at the two-yard), the junior cover man stayed with Baldwin down the field, one-on-one, with no help. He also made a big time play getting underneath the block of the right guard on screen pass and wrapped up well on Lewis—read and react. The only blemish on the night was a dropped interception. The least heralded of the Carolina defensive backs is Searcy, who probably had the best game of the bunch. The strong safety made eight tackles, six of the solo variety to lead the team. He did a great job beating a Dickerson block to make play in the backfield going wide. Later, he had good pass coverage on Dickerson. The junior can also creep up and make a play near line of scrimmage and deliver a big hit against the run. Searcy returns kicks (93 yards on 4 returns) and punts (28 yards on 2 returns) as well for the Heels, adding value. He is an underrated football player.

* The Carolina Offense:
The best offensive player for the Tar Heels was junior wide receiver Greg Little. The first offensive play for UNC was an end around to Little for a 31-yard gain. The former running back is a player the Heels can’t get the ball to enough. He made several outstanding catches, capable of going up to get the ball and catch it at its highest point. Little is an impressive athlete, who is developing as a wide receiver—he has good hands and catches the ball away from his body, which is what you want to see. Little caught seven passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns, numbers which could have been bigger with better quarterback play. Little went over 60 receptions for fifth best single-season in school history. This was the first game in which Little had multiple touchdown receptions.

“For the first time Greg Little got to play the position for a full year for the position we recruited him to play,” Davis said afterwards. “When we recruited him to play, we said this is a prototypical, big time wide receiver. He is big, he's strong, he has great hands, he has run after catch. He didn't know anything about being a receiver. We wasted a lot of time trying to make a running back out of him just to get some speed at that position.”

Freshman wideout Erik Highsmith is the up and comer on the UNC offense. He can make things happen after the catch—quick acceleration and strong running with the football. But he also had a bad fumble—when turning up field the freshman needs to secure the ball better. Another pass catcher who could have a breakout 2010 season is junior tight end Zack Pianalto. In addition to his two receptions for 26 yards, Pianalto made a nice one-handed grab for a would-be touchdown, which was negated by an illegal formation penalty. He has soft hands and is a good athlete, who can make things happen after the catch. UNC moved the junior around—he lined up at split back and in the backfield. He needs to get bigger and stronger—he had no chance to block Romeus when asked to do so one-on-one.

The running game centers around power back Ryan Houston, who is built like a brick house (6’2” and 245 pounds). Houston is limited, purely a between the tackles runner, but he is good at what he does. The junior is a physical runner and once he gets his momentum going he is difficult to bring down—he either breaks the tackle or will at the very least fall forward. Typically, he won’t make many tacklers miss in the backfield, although he made nice cutback to make Romeus miss—it looked like he surprised the Pitt defensive end. Houston is an excellent short yardage back and often gives that second effort to get the yardage that is needed. He is tough to deal with late in games as a defense gets worn down.

Photos Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh, Dennis Hubbard & UNC Athletic Communications

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Music City Bowl: Prospect Watch

By Justin Van Fulpen

Here are the following players to keep your eye for the 2010 NFL Draft in the MUSIC CITY BOWL.

Clemson Tigers:

RB C.J. Spiller
Spiller is all around offensive threat; running, receiving and returning. That versatility should make him a high 1st round pick.

WR Jacoby Ford A small, quick receiver who should do very good working the slot in the NFL. Ford could go as high as the 2nd round but most observers believe he will go in the 3rd-4th round range. Could be the fastest wide out in the 2010 Class.

OG Thomas Austin Austin has shown very good ability as a run blocker and is a decent athlete; he should end up being a 7th round pick.

DE/OLB Ricky Sapp Sapp is the type of player that 3-4 defensive teams crave as an outside linebacker. The strength of his game is his ability to be a pass rusher, which bodes well for him because there is a high demand in the NFL for players that can get to the quarterback. He could go as high as the 1st round.

OLB Kavell ConnerConner is an all around outside linebacker that can not only play the run but can also adapt to pass coverage, as he is an above average cover man. He currently holds a 6th round grade.

CB Chris Chancellor Chancellor is a player who is moving up on many draft boards and could use this game, as well as an all-star game to help push his stock up higher. Right now he has a 6th round projection.

CB Crezdon Butler
Butler has shown flashes of ability but needs to be more consistent, right now he is considered to be a free-agent type.

Kentucky Wildcats:

DT Corey Peters
Peters has gotten better every year at Kentucky and is a true 4-3 defensive tackle who is a good athlete who can make plays up and down the line of scrimmage. Right now is likely a 3rd round pick.

ILB Micah Johnson Johnson is a two-down linebacker who likes to play down hill and can make plays against the run but will have to come off the field in passing downs. Currently, he is a 4th round pick. With his size, he should fit in nicely in a 3-4 scheme.

CB Trevard Lindley Lindley is an athletic cover cornerback, who will come up and tackle but needs to get bigger and stronger to be a complete corner in the NFL. However, he does posses a lot of skills and should be a 2nd round pick.

For more NFL, NFL Draft news, you can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jvanfulpen.

Photos Courtesy of Dennis Hubbard & SEC Sports Media

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Breaking News: Meyer To Step Down

According to ESPN, Florida's Urban Meyer is stepping down as the school's head football coach. Meyer is in his fifth season as the Gators' head man, with a record of 56-10 during that span. He has led Florida to a pair of BCS and SEC Championships as well.

In a release, this is what Meyer had to say about his decision:

“I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family. After consulting with my family, Dr. Machen (Florida President), Jeremy Foley (Florida Athletic Director)and my doctors, I believe it’s in my best interest to step aside and focus on my health and family. I’m proud to be a part of the Gainesville community and the Gator Nation and I plan to remain in Gainesville and involved with the University of Florida.”

Meyer has been coaching for 24 years, the last nine as a head coach, including two years at Utah before he arrived in Gainesville and two seasons at Bowling Green before that. Overall, Meyer has a record of 95-18 for a winning percentage of .841, the best among active coaches who have been coaching at least five years. He also tied former Alabama head coach Frank Thomas, as the fastest to reach 50 wins in SEC play (it took them both 59 games).

At this point it is unclear whether or not Meyer will coach the Gators in the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati on January 1 (8:30 on FOX). The Bearcats are already without their head coach Brian Kelly who left the Big East school to take the head coaching job at the University of Notre Dame, a job that had been mentioned as a potential landing spot Meyer on multiple occasions.

Photo Courtesy of the SEC

Emerald Bowl: Prospect Watch

By Justin Van Fulpen

Here are the following players to keep your eye for the 2010 NFL Draft in the EMERALD BOWL.

Boston College:

C Matt Tennant
One of the better all around centers in college football, Tennant has a chance to be the first center drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft and should be picked in the 2nd or 3rd round.

LB Mike McLaughlin – McLaughlin has decent size and athleticism, but many expected him to play better this season. He had an underwhelming performance and is now is a free-agent type.

S Marty Bowman –
Bowman has great size for a safety at 6'2" and 225 pounds, but just hasn’t made enough plays to look at him as anything more than a free-agent at this point.

USC:

WR Damian Williams
Williams is a big athletic wide receiver who is expected to declare for the 2010 NFL Draft and should be a first round pick. USC has had a number of high draft pick wide receivers not live up to the hype, but many think that Williams will be different.

OT Charles Brown Brown is an athletic left tackle that NFL teams love and should be a late first round pick because of it.

OG Jeff Byers Byers is a hard working offensive guard who is a good, but not great player. He lack athleticism, but still could be a late draft pick.

OG Alex Parsons – Parsons isn’t as good as Byers but is still a player that will get a chance to play in the NFL; more of a free-agent type.

DE Everson GriffenGriffen is a junior that many people believe will declare early and could end up being a first round pick because he has the size and athleticism to be a great player at the next level.

CB Kevin Thomas – Thomas has good size at 6'1" and 190 pounds, but he has taken that physical ability and turned it into big-time plays on a consistent basis. He could be a late round pick or priority free-agent.

S Taylor MaysWhat else is there to say about Mays? He is just a phenomenal physical talent that should light up the combine and could end up being a top 10 overall pick.

S Josh Pinkard Pinkard is a good player in the secondary that has played both cornerback and safety at USC, but knee injuries will be a question mark around draft time. Nevertheless, he should hear his name called around the 5th round.

For more NFL, NFL Draft news, you can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jvanfulpen.

Photo Courtesy of College Press Box

Meineke Car Care Bowl: Prospect Watch

By Justin Van Fulpen

Here are the following players to keep your eye for the 2010 NFL Draft in the MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL.

Pittsburgh:

QB Bill Stull
Stull has really come on this season and has opened a few eyes in the NFL, but most scout just think he is more of just a guy than a prospect, but he should get a look as a free-agent.

TE Nate Byham Byham has shown that he can both be a blocker and a pass receiver. The senior also possesses decent size; he projects as a 5th or 6th round pick.

OG Joe Thomas – T
homas is a good run blocker, but needs to improve as a pass blocker. Right now he is considered a free-agent type.

DE Greg Romeus Romeus is a physically gifted defensive end who can rush the pass as well as play the run. He is only a junior and many people around the league believe that he will declare; if he does look for him to be an early 2nd round pick.

ILB Adam Gunn – Gunn is a hard-nosed player who swarms to the ball and is good against the run, but doesn’t do a great job against the pass. Right now is a free-agent type.

CB Aaron Berry – Berry doesn't have great size and wide receivers have shown the ability to take advantage of him when he plays man-to-man. Right now he is a free-agent type.

North Carolina:

DE EJ Wilson
Wilson has great size for a defensive at 6'2" and 280 pounds, along with excellent speed and quickness. The Tar Heel is a very good tackler who does possess pass-rush ability. Many scouts view him as a 3-4 defense end at the next level. He should be a 6th round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

DT Marvin Austin An athletic defensive tackle, Austin is also able to play defensive end in the 3-4 defense. Should the junior declare, he is projected to be selected late in round one.

DT Cam Thomas Thomas is a massive defensive tackle at 6'3" and 330 pounds, and he may be able to play nose tackle at the next level, which could boost his draft stock. He carries a mid-late round pick.

DT Aleric Mullins –
Mullins has good size but he hasn't played a ton because of the presence of Thomas and Austin. The NFL will like his ability to be a rotation type player on the defensive line and he should sign as free-agent.

ILB Quan Sturdivant - Sturdivant is a sideline-to-sideline inside linebacker who could step in and play middle linebacker in the NFL, but he is only a junior. It Sturdivant decides to declare, the Tat Heel would likely be be a 2nd round pick.

OLB Bruce Carter
There is talk that Carter has already made his mind up to come back to North Carolina for his senior season, but he could ultimately decide to come out and be a 2nd round pick due to his size and athleticism at outside linebacker.

CB Kendric Burney – Burney doesn’t have great size, but he will come up and hit; a very strong tackler for a cornerback. There is some talk about him coming out early and if he elects to forgo his senior season, expect him to be selected in the middle rounds.

S Deunta Williams Williams has great size at 6'2" and 205 pounds, in addition to having a knack for making big plays. He is only a junior but should he declare he could wind up being a 2nd round pick.

For more NFL, NFL Draft news, you can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jvanfulpen.

Photos Courtesy of Dennis Hubbard & UNC Athletic Communications

Thursday, December 24, 2009

CFI Recap: Poinsettia Bowl – Utah 37, California 27

The bowl juggernaut that is Utah football could not be stopped, not by an early 14-0 deficit, not by a true freshman quarterback and certainly not by Pac-10 foe California. The Utes have now won nine straight bowl games, which matches USC’s streak from 1923-45. They are two away from Florida State’s all-time streak of 11, which they achieved from 1985-96.

* Just Wynn Baby: Utah’s true freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn had a happy holiday homecoming—the California native completed 26-36 for a career-high 338 yards and three scores (one interception). It was the first 300-yard game of his career.

As good as the final numbers were, his night didn’t get off to a good start. Already trailing 7-0, Utah took the field for their third possession of the game when Wynn threw an unacceptable interception, which Cal’s Eddie Young returned for a touchdown putting the Utes in a 14-0 hole. The freshman didn’t see the Cal linebacker and threw the ball right to Young. Wynn was locked in on his receiver, who was running a slant behind the linebacker. You can put that one in the vault on label it “freshman mistake”.

At that point many might have thought the stage was too big for the rookie, but on the very next possession Wynn led the Utes on a scoring drive. Wynn’s first touchdown pass of the day was a thing of perfection, connecting with his target in the back right corner of the end zone. During the play, he put the ball right on the hands of his man and just out of the reach of the Cal defender. On his second touchdown pass, a Cal linebacker had excellent coverage on Utah freshman Kendrick Moeai running down the middle of the field—with very little room for error—and Wynn dropped it right into the hands of his tight end to give Utah its first lead of the day, 17-14. The first-year signal caller displayed timing, touch and accuracy throughout the contest, and the kid throws a beautiful spiral. The future is bright in Salt Lake City, with three more years of Wynn(ing) ahead.

* Ready, Set, Go: John Wooden once said, “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.”

Too often coaches are unprepared and it costs their team. Facing a fourth and less than one yard, the Utes went right to the line of scrimmage, snapped the football and converted. You love to see that—a coach with a plan. There was no debating, no looking over the play chart—head man Kyle Whittingham already knew what he was going to do and what play he was going to call. Why don’t they all? These situations will come up and they should be prepared for. Also, big ups to coach for calling a hook-and-lateral in the red zone, one of the prettiest plays in football, which is not used often enough and usually only in desperation.

* More Utah Offense: In the fourth quarter, Utah’s senior wide out David Reed made the first man miss on a short pass, which he turned into a 39-yard gain, setting the single-season school record for both receptions & receiving yards (81 receptions for 1,188 yards). Reed has very quick feet and is more of a playmaker than many anticipated—he’s elusive and has good balance. Reed also has reliable hands and does a good job of floating to an open spot against zone defenses, to give his quarterback a nice target. Where the Connecticut native comes up short is in the measurables—he’s not very big (6’0”/190 pounds) or fast.

As good as Reed was, Jereme Brooks may be even more dangerous after the catch. The junior caught seven passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, his seventh scoring snag of the season. Freshman wide out Luke Matthews caught three passes on the day and the aforementioned Kendrick Moeai, their freshman tight end, caught his first two touchdown passes of his career. Moeai is an impressive looking athlete at 6’5” and 235 pounds.

Another playmaker Utah will have back for 2010 is all-purpose talent Shaky Smithson…that’s right Shaky Smithson, an announcers dream. Smithson’s season best 61-yard kick return set the Utes up for good field position on their first touchdown of the day. With Matt Asiata out, Smithson has emerged as their Wildcat quarterback. Not only can he run, but Smithson possesses a decent arm and Utah let him air it out twice. A would be touchdown was called back because of illegal formation. While the arm strength is there, Shaky needs to show a little more discretion—on both plays it appeared he was throwing it up no matter what. Smithson also caught two passes and he can make things happen after the catch.

Along the line, we were disappointed with the play of senior left tackle Zane Beadles who had trouble with the Cal defensive ends. At times, Beadles was knocked back, tossed aside and run by. He made his share of blocks, but the negative plays are why he will probably shift inside to play guard at the next level. The senior still should receive a mid-round grade for the 2010 draft.

* Best Pro Prospect – Utah: FS Robert Johnson – 4 tackles, 1 INT, 2 Pass Breakups

The LA native let it be known, you don’t want to come into his hood when he laid out Cal receiver Verran Tucker—the ball was already dropped by Tucker, but Johnson’s message was sent. If you come across the middle of the field, expect to get hit…hard. On the next possession, Johnson and Tucker met again at just about the same spot and while the safety didn’t come up with a devastating blow, he did knock the ball away from the Cal wide out. In the third quarter, Cal’s tight end dropped a pass and may have heard Johnson’s footsteps–who could blame him?

Johnson is more than a big hitter, he plays the ball very well, along with putting his anticipatory skills and speed to good use. On consecutive second-half possessions, Johnson made great reads on the football—the first one he deflected setting up his teammate to intercept the ball. On Cal’s next offensive play, Johnson made the pick himself, as he displayed his excellent hands—most DBs would not have come down with that INT. The interception was Johnson’s sixth of the season and 13th of his career.

* Senior Linebackers: Joining Johnson as Utah’s top defenders are seniors Koa Misi and Stevenson Sylvester. Misi is listed as a defensive end on Utah’s depth chart, but he played much of the game standing up rather than with his hand on the ground. While he looks comfortable doing both, at the next level Misi is best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. At times he had trouble getting off blocks when he engages his opponents, so playing in space would suit him well. He has enough speed and quickness to get into the backfield even when he’s lined up at the second level. Misi also dropped back in coverage; a skill scouts will want to see more of. He plays with good effort and if he can’t get to the quarterback, the senior will get his hands up and look to close off the quarterback’s passing lane; he’s always looking to make something happen. Misi finished the game with six tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and a half a sack. Bottom line—he is a good outside pass rusher, who can play with his hand on the ground or in a two-point stance. The California native possesses good athleticism and size (6’3”/263 pounds), but he needs to improve his technique if he is going to fulfill his potential at the next level. He could provide great value in the mid-rounds.

A more traditional outside linebacker, Sylvester, also hopes to play on Sundays next year. Recording a game-high eight tackles (0.5 TFLs, 1 INT, 1 Pass Breakup), the senior may have played his best game of the season, which also might be the healthiest he’s been all year. Sylvester showed good recognition of screen passes, either blowing them up before the play developed or making the tackle immediately after the catch. When he’s allowed to run free, Sylvester is a playmaker who can cover ground, and a sure tackler to boot. In space, it’s important he avoid blockers using his quickness, because he is going to have trouble when engaging with offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage. Sylvester is good with the ball in his hands, retuning his interception for a touchdown off of a deflected pass by Johnson. This was only his second career interception, but he also returned his first to paydirt (2006 versus Utah State). Some people believe Sylvester may go undrafted, but he is worth a late round selection. The Las Vegas native is an instinctive and passionate player, who could be effective with a strong defensive line to protect him.

* Stars of Tomorrow: Utah has several young players emerging on the defensive side of the ball, beginning with defensive linemen Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger. Siliga made his presence felt from his defensive tackle position—you have to double-team him, otherwise he’s going to wreck havoc. The sophomore blew passed Cal’s center on his way to the quarterback, proving that he can really move for a big man (6’3”/300 pounds). Even when he doesn’t make the play himself, he can blow things up by getting into the offensive backfield, allowing his linebackers to come in unmolested and clean up. We really like what we saw from the Utah native. He is powerful and quick, allowing him to play both tackle and nose guard over the center. Siliga registered six tackles, including his sack. Not as active, but providing some potential for the future is Kruger, who is also versatile, able to play at the nose or defensive end. If the name is familiar it should be, Dave is the younger brother of former Ute Paul Kruger, who was a second round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2009 NFL Draft. The younger Kruger only made one tackle, but it was for a loss. He also did an excellent job of reading and recognizing a screen pass, dropping back in the passing lane, preventing Cal from executing the play called.

Utah really trusts their defensive backs, as they often played eight and nine defenders near the line of scrimmage and blitzed on a regular basis. Much of that faith was bestowed upon coverman Brandon Burton. The sophomore blanketed Cal receivers throughout the contest. On one play, he ran a better route than the Golden Bears’ receiver and positioned himself in between the wide out and the spot he was running to (where the football was being thrown). He was excellent in coverage throughout, mostly in man-to-man. He also isn’t afraid to mix-it up against the run, a good open field tackler, making him a complete football player. Burton made four tackles, two for a loss and broke up a pass.

* Best Pro Prospect – Cal:
DE Tyson Alualu – 5 tackles, 1.5 TFLs

For the first 20 minutes of the game, Tyson Alualu was unblockable. He was all over the place, lining up as both the left defensive end and right defensive end, with his hand on ground on or in a two-point stance. The senior even dropped back into coverage on occasion. Early on he had has way with Beadles, Utah’s left tackle, even beating double teams. He displayed strength, explosiveness, quickness and speed. He has the ability to shed blocks and once he gets his hands on the ball carrier, the tackle is as good as made. Alualu also has the lateral quickness to make plays moving down the line of scrimmage and the closing speed to finish. At times, the defensive end went through and around linemen at will. He is an effort player as well, showing good hustle by making the tackle on Utah wide receiver Brooks down the field. When the Utes went to the quick passing game, it neutralized Alualu’s effectiveness. He also appeared to wear down some as the game went on, which makes one wonder about his stamina. To be fair, the tempo of the game and the fact Utah dominated the time of possession could have played a role as well. At 6’3” the Hawaii native possesses the measurables to play either 3-4 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle, which increases his value on draft day. His versatility should make a player of particular interest for teams that like to use both schemes. He will likely be a second round pick.

* More Cal Defense: If Alualu isn’t the Golden Bears’ top prospect, then Syd’Quan Thompson is the man. It’s close, as Thompson also projects to go sometime in the second round. The senior corner made two tackles and broke up two passes, but really wasn’t given many opportunities to make plays. Utah did not throw Thompson’s way much. On one pass thrown to Thompson’s area (to Reed), the corner got his hands on the football. Later in the game, despite playing with bad ankle, the Sacramento native used his make-up speed to knock away a pass down the field. The only criticism of Thompson’s game was his tackling technique against the run—we’d like to see him be more fundamental with his tackling. Too often he just propels himself at the ball carrier. That’s not going to work on Sundays.

On the other side, junior cornerback Bryant Nnabuife is not afraid to make mix it up. He didn’t allow many yards after the catch and also came to play against the run. Nnabuife had five tackles, including a half a tackle for a loss.

Safety Sean Cattouse made eight tackles (1 TFL), but had his share of missed tackles throughout the game both against the pass and run. He was also beat by Brooks for a touchdown. The sophomore appeared to have decent straight-line speed, but didn’t move as well laterally.

Alualu wasn’t the only Golden Bear linemen to show promise. Fellow defensive end, Cameron Jordan (6’4”/287 pounds) has the classic build of a 3-4 end and may have the frame to put on a few more pounds. Not as quick as Alualu, Jordan is strong at the point of attack, with a good bull rush. The junior also used a swim move to get around Utah’s Beadles.

Freshman nose guard Kendrick Payne is another active big man. The 300-pounder beat a solid lineman in Utah left guard Caleb Schlauderaff on his way to a sack of Wynn. Of his three tackles, Payne recorded two tackles for a loss. The freshman can move well and is a player to watch for years to come for the Golden Bears.

At linebacker, Mychal Kendricks was a force. Listed as a second teamer on Cal’s depth chart, Kendricks was their most effective player in the back eight. The sophomore made seven tackles, three for a loss, one sack and he broke up a pass. He was explosive and made several big hits, both against the run and in the passing game. Kendricks did a great job in the open field, using sound technique to make the play in one-on-one situations. Utah doesn’t have a real speedster coming out of the backfield, so it bears watching down the road how Kendrick fairs in open field situations against quicker players.

Mike Mohamed also made seven tackles, but didn’t make the same type of impact. He is an excellent tackler and runs to the ball well, able to navigate through the muck to get to the ball carrier. The junior OLB was solid, but we’ve seen him play better.

* Shane Vereen At His Best: Even without Jahvid Best, the Cal running game wasn’t the problem. Shane Vereen ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. While he may not have the speed or explosiveness of Best, Vereen is a big-play back in his own right, as evidenced by his 36-yard touchdown run. His ability to cut back on a play designed to go right opened things, given the fact that there wasn’t much room for him where the play was designed to go, Vereen saw the opening to the left and was gone. Nice burst. Vereen also showed strength on one particular play where he was caught in the backfield, but then broke away from a tackle to pick up five yards. It was as impressive as his long runs.

* Inconsistent Passing Game:
The ups and downs begin with quarterback Mike Riley. He is such a momentum player. When he gets in rhythm, he can look impressive, but then other times he looks very uncomfortable with all his movements. Riley has a good arm and can put some zip on his passes when need be. He’s also capable of putting the ball on the money with a small window to get it in, which he did on occasion, as well as showing perfect touch. But when he overthrows the fullback wide open in the flat it makes you ask: how can he miss by that much? At times, he doesn’t set his feet before making the throw. Ball security is also an issue. In fact, Riley needs to protect the ball better after bringing it back down, which led to a fumble against the Utes. Frustratingly inconsistent describes Riley well.

Of course, it’s not all on Riley. The junior signal caller threw a rope to senior Verran Tucker—a quick throw on the money—which was flat out dropped by the senior pass catcher. Sophomore wide out Marvin Jones wasn’t much of factor until late in the game.

Another sophomore, tight end Anthony Miller (five receptions, 55 yards) displayed glimpses of potential stardom down the road, but he too fell in line with the yo-yo that was Cal’s passing game. Miller made some tough catches, even after taking a big hit from Johnson. He also dropped a pass (footsteps) and saw another bounce right off his hands. He can stretch the field and is very dangerous running down the middle. Miller made the catch of the day with a full extension one-handed grab. He is an impressive athlete for a tight end, who is more developed as pass-catcher than blocker at this point.

Photos Courtesy of Dennis Hubbard & University of California

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

CFI Recap: Las Vegas Bowl – BYU 44, Oregon State 20

On the first series of the second half, down 23-7, Oregon State called a fake punt. Their two previous punts into the wind traveled a total of 12 yards, so why not? Punter Johnny Hekker connected with Lance Mitchell, who had room to run and pick up the first down. However, the safety slipped as he turned to run. Had he converted, the play would have been called back on illegal shift anyway; it was that kind of night for the Beavers. You can blame it on the wind, a defensive scheme adjustment by BYU (far more man-to-man coverage than was expected) or a letdown for Oregon State (the loss to rival Oregon in their final game cost them a Rose Bowl bid)—any way you slice it, the Cougars dominated the Beavers.

* The Quarterbacks: Max Hall outplayed Sean Canfield: The BYU quarterback completed 19-30 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns (no interceptions), while the left-handed Beaver was just 19-40 for 168 yards and an interception (no touchdowns).

The undersized Hall offers much more than meets the eye. Not only has no BYU quarterback won more games than the senior field general, but he’s also an accurate passer that can tuck it and run in the face of heavy pressure. It took some time for Hall to brave the howling Las Vegas winds, as a couple of early throws floated on him. Once the 6’1” Cougar adapted, however, he began throwing darts in those same windy conditions on rollout plays to elude the rush. Hall primarily lined up in the shotgun and put good touch on a few of his throws in the red zone by placing the ball to where only his receiver had a chance of coming down with it. The heady quarterback immediately recognized a wide-open Dennis Pitta running to the end zone on a well-timed post pattern, which put the Cougars up 30-7 in the third quarter. While Hall doesn’t quite have the arm to consistently fire the ball in tight windows over the middle, he displays a quick, compact delivery and impeccable accuracy in the short and intermediate passing game.

From the first possession it was evident Canfield was off his game. The senior did not make good decisions with the football and appeared confused at times, which caused him to be hesitant. He rushed his throws and sometimes flat-out missed his target, often by a wide margin. The wind could have played a role, but even with the wind at his back in the first quarter he only completed one pass. Moreover, when he was right, his passes cut through the wind. So to blame his performance on the conditions would be too simplistic.

When he is at his best, the southpaw signal caller displays touch, accuracy and anticipation, which he did from time to time against BYU…but not nearly often enough. The way this game went for OSU it’s not surprising that Canfield’s best pass of the night was an incompletion that fell harmlessly in the end zone. Just before the half he hit H-Back Joe Halahuni in the hands, but the sophomore dropped the ball. Halahuni took a big hit from a BYU defender but should have caught it. The throw showed Canfield’s great touch, and that’s what the scouts came to see.

Despite the lopsided performance, we still rate Canfield ahead of Hall on the list of senior quarterbacks for the 2010 Draft. Canfield has the better size and arm-strength, and was a consistent performer for the Beavers throughout the season. In his first campaign as a full-time starter, the California native was impressive enough to earn first team All-Pac-10 honors. One game shouldn’t wipe that all out, although it will make his performance in the Senior Bowl more important. As for Hall, he did the most he could with his last opportunity as a collegian to impress the scouts. Although the aspiring pro probably won’t follow in his uncle’s footsteps as an every-week starting NFL quarterback (see White, Danny), he has the physical and mental tools to be a fine backup at the next level.

* Best Pro Prospect OSU: DT Stephen Paea – 2 Tackles, 1 Tackle for a Loss

The game’s first series was an example of why stats can be deceiving when it comes to defensive tackles. Junior Stephen Paea recorded a tackle for a loss on the first play of the game, but came in virtually unblocked—he displayed great quickness to get into the backfield, but it didn’t take much effort for the man from the Tongan Islands. BYU learned quickly that it would be smart to double-team the All-Pac-10 performer, which they did on the very next play. The result? The other defensive tackle, Brennan Olander, made a tackle for a loss. That is what the top defensive tackles do…they make the players around them better.

OSU used wide splits on their defensive line and moved Paea around—he lined up on the right side and the left side. He also showed the ability to play on the inside shoulder of the guard, as well as the outside shoulder. When he was closer to the center (guard’s inside shoulder), Paea displayed the ability to bull rush and overpower the blocker. When he was closer to the tackle (guard’s outside shoulder) the junior used his speed and quickness, almost like a defensive end coming off the edge.

Paea is quick off the snap and is also able to power through to split double-teams. He is very tough to block one-on-one; he tossed the BYU left guard out of his way and nailed BYU’s Hall as he threw the football. That’s what happens when one man is asked to block him.

There is speculation that Paea could declare for the 2010 Draft and should he choose to do so, expect the Beaver to be a second-round selection. He is a bit undersized for a defensive tackle at 6’1” and 285 pounds, but should be an effective three-down player. He also could be an intriguing talent for teams searching for a 3-4 end, adding to his value come draft weekend (either in 2010 or 2011).

* More Oregon State Defense: Other than Paea, not many Beavers stood out. Senior linebacker Keaton Kristick had a solid game, recoding eight tackles. He was active, but the BYU offense lacks speedy playmakers so Kristick’s lack of speed was not an issue. The SAM had Hall in his sights on a third down draw, but missed the open field tackle on the BYU signal caller, who is not exactly a great running quarterback.

Junior cornerback James Dockery struggled. He was beaten more than once in one-on-one coverage and was also flagged for a pass interference penalty. On a BYU touchdown, Dockery gave ground to Luke Ashworth and was out of position, with no chance to make a play on the ball. Add a slip and he whiffed on the tackle as well, which allowed Ashworth to waltz into the end zone.

Young safeties Lance Mitchell and Cameron Collins, a pair of sophomores, appeared to be a step too slow for most of the game. On third and goal from the 17-yard line, Pitta spilt the two and neither was really that close to making a play.

But have no fear Beaver faithful—Kristick is the only senior starter on the defensive side of the ball and players like Dockery, Mitchell and Collins do have ability. Expect this unit to bounce back and be among the best in the Pac-10 conference, if not the nation in 2010.

* Best Pro Prospect BYU: TE Dennis Pitta – 5 receptions, 45 yards, 1 TD

The athletic tight end was every bit the showstopper everyone expected him to be versus Oregon State. The facility with which he extended to make a one-handed diving catch in the first quarter, while also keeping the ball away from his nearest defender, was truly a sight to behold. While Pitta did also drop a couple of easy throws, he also exhibited the ability to consistently beat man coverage by running precision routes. The senior playmaker was particularly at ease executing curl patterns. Pitta, moreover, has a little toughness in his game, as evidenced by a couple of second-half plays in which he pushed off smaller defenders to create space for himself downfield. In addition, the John Mackey Award finalist gained tough yards in traffic on underneath screen passes. In the running game, Pitta is a willing and sometimes effective blocker, but isn’t quite big or strong enough to be utilized as a lead man. The 6’5” weapon seems to have a good grasp of offensive schemes, which allows him to often be at the right place at the right time. His ability to play through pain will also endear him to NFL talent evaluators. Pitta definitely has the talent to be a starting tight end at the next level.

* More BYU Offense: Harvey Unga (24 carries, 71 yards, 1 TD) pounded Oregon State’s defense into submission by making deft moves in tight spaces, displaying great vision along with his overall shiftiness. The big 239-pound back set the tone early in the contest by spinning his way out of tackles, changing directions, and carrying a pile of players with him when necessary. The only blemish on the underclassman’s performance was his fourth-quarter fumble that came about as a result of him pumping his legs and twirling for extra yardage. Unga’s ability to run block allows BYU to line him up in tandem with fellow back Manase Tonga.

Pitt isn’t the only BYU tight end who might be playing on Sundays in 2010, as fellow senior Andrew George recorded four receptions for 46 yards. The unheralded second-team tight end is a big, mobile target that catches the ball in his hands and masterfully uses his body to shield defenders away from the football. Much like Pitta, George ran crisp routes all night.

Sophomore Matt Reynolds manhandled his adversaries all game long. In the pass protection, the gifted left tackle took good angles to neutralize pass rushers trying to get by him on the edge. The sophomore trenchman showed off his good mechanics by adjusting to the pass rusher’s moves and using his long arms to keep his opponent at bay. In the running game, Reynolds kept his feet moving to clear the path for Unga and Tonga.

* The Rodgers Boys: You hate to say it, but this was the worst performance we’ve seen from Jacquizz and James Rodgers. Neither brought their A-game to Las Vegas. They were not the playmakers we expected to see and for the most part, they were bottled up by the BYU defense. On the first two plays of the second half, Canfield connected with both James and Jacquizz on completions, yet the Beavers were still left facing a third down and 10; two completions for a net gain of zero yards…that tells you the whole story.

As did a backwards pass to Jacquizz Rodgers. He failed to pick it up, assuming it was an incomplete pass and the lateral was returned for a touchdown by BYU. He simply didn’t have the same sense of urgency as the BYU players did in going after the football. Quizz also needs to do a little less dancing; he’s at his best when making a quick decision with the football. You can understand the sophomore back was trying to make something happen, but there’s a little too much “Barry Sanders” at times and he ends up losing big yards—in the second half he turned a 3rd & 3 into a 4th & 10 in an obvious four-down situation.

That is not to say the 1,000-yard back didn’t have his moments. He always makes the first man miss in the open field and you have to love the way he runs between the tackles—quick cuts, moving up-field. His 29-yard third quarter run was a thing of beauty and displayed his speed, quickness, vision, balance and power—everything it takes to be a great back.

James Rodgers didn’t make plays on balls you’d expect him to catch and was a non-factor in the passing game—four receptions for 30 yards. His best play came on a fly sweep for 17 yards. The junior receiver is a very effective runner and like his little brother, is stronger than you might think.

* More OSU Offense: Senior wide receiver Damola Adeniji had a solid game, grabbing seven passes for 102 yards and a score. Many of his numbers came after BYU had jumped out to a big lead, but that’s not his fault. At 6’3” and 213 pounds, the Eugene native has an NFL frame and knows how to use it to shield off defenders. He doesn’t need much separation to make the catch and displayed the ability to make plays with defensive backs draped all over him. Adeniji was also very comfortable catching the football on the move. Due to his lack of separation and game-breaking speed, the senior may not get drafted come April, but should find himself in an NFL camp with a chance to make a roster.

Halahuni, the Beavers’ H-Back, made a nice grab near the sidelines as he went up and caught the football with his hands and got his foot down in bounds—impressive athleticism for a man of his size (6’2”/249 pounds). He also had the aforementioned drop in the end zone. The Washington native is just a sophomore and figures to play a bigger role in the Beavers’ passing game in the years to come. It is unclear where he will ultimately end up—H-Back, fullback or tight end—but he has two more seasons to polish his game.

Canfield, Adeniji and right guard Gregg Peat are the only senior starters on the offensive side of the ball. If they can replace Canfield—be on the look out for red-shirt freshman Ryan Katz—Oregon State could be even better on offense next season. The offensive line will return four starters and true freshman left tackle Michael Philipp could be ready to be one of the premier linemen in the Pac-10.

The BYU Defense: Defensive end Jan Jorgensen packed his lunch and came ready to rumble in this one, as the high-effort lineman used an assortment of spin moves to prevent blockers from moving him off the ball. He maintained good gap discipline throughout the night and helped keep Oregon’s running attack in check. The stay-at-home end doesn’t possess the quickness to get around tackles and consistently rush the passer, but he did do a phenomenal job of tracking down Jacquizz Rodgers on one running play in which the senior defender ran from one side of the line to the other in pursuit of his man.

From the outset it was pretty evident that SAM Jordan Pendleton was the fastest player in BYU’s front seven. Early in the first quarter, Pendleton made his presence felt by blitzing Canfield and forcing him to get rid of the ball. At the end of the quarter, he instinctively recognizes a screen play and alertly jumps all over Jacquizz Rodgers, and separates the player from the fumbled ball, allowing teammate Matt Bauman to scoop it up and run it in for a score. The promising sophomore is a sideline-to-sideline difference maker who can also cover backs and tight ends.

Scott Johnson is an intelligent defender that reads the quarterback eyes and anticipates passes, which allows him to constantly be around the ball. In the second quarter, the 6’2” free safety perfectly times his deflection when helping a teammate in breaking up a pass into the end zone. He’s also a headhunter when coming up to lay the wood on helpless backs in the running game. Johnson does occasionally get overaggressive by leading with his head (as he did one play, which resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty in the fourth quarter), but he’s always willing to put his body on the line to prevent his opponents from catching the ball.

Photos Courtesy of Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo, College Press Box, Dennis Wolverton/Oregon State, Dave Nishitani/Oregon State, Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo

Poinsettia Bowl: NFL Draft Prospect Watch

By Justin Van Fulpen

Here are the following players to keep your eye for the 2010 NFL Draft in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Utah Utes:

OT Zane Beadles
Beadles has played left tackle since his sophomore season after moving from guard and has only missed one game due to injury. He is a good overall athlete who just needs to get stronger at the point of attack. Right now he looks like a 4th round pick. He could be asked to move to guard at the next level.

DE Koa Misi – Misi plays defensive end but is a player who could be a outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and rush the passer in the NFL. Because he has good size at 6'2" and 263 pounds, and is a good overall athlete he should provide versatility to whatever team selects him. Right now Misi is likely a 5th round pick.

OLB Stevenson Sylvester – Sylvester has been some what of a disappointment this season. Many thought that he would have an outstanding season and increase his draft stock, but as of right now it has gone the other way. He has good size and is a good athlete, but the senior needs to make more plays. Currently, he holds a 7th round pick-to-undrafted rookie free-agent grade.

S Robert Johnson - Johnson has great size at 6-2 200 pounds and should run in the 4.5 rang at the NFL Combine. He has the ability to match up with tight ends and running backs and can even coverage wide receivers if he is asked to. He stock has been moving up, right now he has a 3rd-4th round grade for the 2010 NFL Draft, but that could change.

Other Players to Watch: WR David Reed, ILB Mike Wright

Stars of Tomorrow: OC Zane Taylor (JR), OG Caleb Schlauderaff (JR), CB Brandon Burton (SO)

California Golden Bears:

RB Jahvid Best
Best is a junior and will not play in this game because of a concussion and there are thoughts that he will still declare early for the NFL Draft. He could be a late first round pick if he does declare because of his speed and agility. We will keep you updated on his decision.

OT Mike Tepper Tepper has played both right tackle and left tackle in his college career, but should play right tackle in the NFL. Last season missed the entire season with a pectoral injury. Currently, he looks to be a 7th round pick.

DT Tyson Alualu Alualu is a very athletic defensive tackle who will fit in very nicely in a 4-3 defense in the NFL. He has very good quickness and uses that ability along with his pass rushing moves to get to the quarterback. He isn't just a pass rusher, capable of playing the run as well. Right now he has a 2nd round grade for the NFL Draft.

CB Syd'Quan Thompson Thompson doesn’t have great size as a cornerback, but uses his speed and quickness to make up for his lack of size. He shows a good ability to play man to man coverage, but needs to get better in zone coverage. He should be drafted in the 2nd round in the NFL Draft.

Other Players to Watch: WR Verran Tucker, WR Nyan Boateng

Stars of Tomorrow:
QB Kevin Riley (JR), ILB Mike Mohamed (JR), DE Cameron Jordan (JR), DT Derrick Hill (JR), CB Darian Hagan (JR), WR Marvin Jones (SO), RB Shane Vereen (SO), TE Anthony Miller (SO), OG Matt Summers-Gavin (FR), NG Kendrick Payne (FR)

For more NFL, NFL Draft news, you can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jvanfulpen

Photo Courtesy of Dennis Hubbard & University of California

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MAACO Bowl Prospect Watch

By Justin Van Fulpen

Here are the following players to keep your eye for the 2010 NFL Draft in the MAACO Bowl.

Oregon State Beavers:

QB Sean Canfield
Canfield has really turned it on this season with a great performance in his first full year of starting exclusively. He is a pocket passer who can move around, but won't beat you with his feet. The southpaw has improved his draft stock this season-coming into the season Canfield had a free-agent grade and has moved up to the 4th-5th round range.

WR Damola Adeniji – Adeniji has good size at 6'3" and 213 pounds, with good hands. He needs to improve his route running and we need to see how fast he really is. Right now he is likely an undrafted free-agent.

DT Stephen Paea - Paea is a junior and might declare early. He has a rugby background from his youth in Tonga. The Beaver is very strong and a disruptive force on the defensive line. At 6'1" and 285 pounds Paea is slightly undersized for a defensive tackle but uses his athletic ability and strength to make plays in the backfield. Right now the junior looks like a late 2nd round pick if he does declare for the 2010 NFL Draft.

Brigham Young Cougars:

QB Max Hall
Hall is a good college quarterback, but doesn't wow you in any specific aspect of his game. He doesn’t have great size or a big arm required to be a starter at the next level, but may possess enough ability to be a back-up quarterback in the NFL, because in part he a very smart player. Right now looks to be a 7th round pick or an undrafted rookie free-agent.

TE Dennis Pitta
Pitta has good size and great hands, he is a pass catching tight end with the ability to block. The Cougar has decent speed, but needs to improve in the blocking aspect of playing along the line of scrimmage to be an all around tight end at the next level. Right now he deserves a 4th round grade.

RB Harvey Unga Unga is only a junior but there is some thought that he will come out early. While, he is a big physical running back, the junior running back should probably go back to school. If he decides to declare, don't expect him to go higher than the 4th or 5th round pick.

For more NFL, NFL Draft news, you can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jvanfulpen

Photos Courtesy of Ethan Erickson & College Press Box

Monday, December 21, 2009

Games Notes: St. Petersburg Bowl

Rutgers closed out the 2009 campaign with their ninth win of the season. It was their fifth straight bowl appearance and fourth consecutive bowl win under Head Coach Greg Schiano—the best five-year run in the school’s history. If this performance is any indication, with standout freshmen like quarterback Tom Savage and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, the best may be yet to come for the New Jersey state school.

* Best Pro Prospect: OT Anthony Davis, Rutgers

Anthony Davis
was arguably Coach Greg Schiano’s biggest recruiting coup. When a jersey kid decides to stay home rather than go to sunny Southern California to play for Pete Carroll, it’s big news in the college football world. The junior has prototypical size (6’ 6”, 325 pounds) and is more athletic than your typical tackle…which is why he projects as a left tackle at the next level and is a likely first-round pick.

Davis used his size and lateral quickness to protect quarterback Tom Savage and displayed his athleticism with the ability to pull, even on plays designed to go right. He has not quite dominated or played with the consistency that some would like, but his talent is unquestioned. It appears the St. Petersburg Bowl was his final game as a Scarlet Knight, as Davis will hold a press conference on Tuesday, were it is expected he will announce his intention to declare for the 2010 NFL Draft.

* Youth Is Served – Offense: Freshman quarterback Tom Savage from Rutgers (294 yards, 2 TDs) was inconsistent and barely completed half of his passes (14-27). But when he was good, he was really good (21 yards per completion). The 6’ 5”, 230 pound Savage owns a major league fastball—his 65-yard touchdown pass to senior wide out Tim Brown was a frozen rope and hit Brown in stride. To open the second half, the Scarlet Knights came out throwing and Savage connected with fellow freshman Mohamed Sanu on 61-yard pass over the top of the UCF defense. The pass was a little underthrown—if Savage hit Sanu in stride it probably would have been six—but it was a safe pass that ensured a completion. They connected again later in the drive from 11 yards out for the score—Savage did a good job moving in the pocket.

Savage needs to work on his accuracy as too often his balls sail over the heads of his intended targets. One pass to an open Brown at the first down marker (on a third down) would have been uncatchable even if the wide receiver was a foot taller. On another attempt he simply overthrew Sanu, who was streaking open down the field for a would-be touchdown. On his interception, Savage’s effort was high again and landed in the hands of a Central Florida defender. We need to remember—Savage is a true freshman that wasn’t even an early enrollee. With more experience and some polishing of technique, the Pennsylvania native could be a first-round pick in two or three years. You can’t teach 6’ 5” or the type of arm strength Savage brings to the table.

Savage did a nice job getting away from the pass rush, for a pure pocket passer—not to run or to complete a pass, but just to throw it away—which is important.

Another offensive player oozing with potential is the aforementioned Sanu. The freshman is a wide receiver that is built like a running back, particularly from the waist down. That’s why the Scarlet Knights use him in their Wildcat formation; his lower body strength allows him to be effective running between the tackles, and his five-yard run from the formation gave Rutgers an early 7-0 lead. Sanu doesn’t mess around; he looks to his the hole hard and fast.

Even though he is still raw as a wide out, Sanu uses his hands well to catch the football and he had a heck of day as a receiver, snagging four passes for 97 yards and a touchdown—numbers which could have been better had Savage not left some big plays on the field. At 6’2”, 215 pounds the first year wide out is tough for one defensive back to bring down.

When the Rutgers coaches finally allowed him to throw out of the Wildcat, Sanu didn’t get much help from his receiver, or should we say tight end—freshman tight end D. C. Jefferson dropped the pass, running before he really had control of the ball. Jefferson checks in at 6’6”, 245 pounds and could be a big time player down the road.

Sanu’s biggest mistake of the night was a muffed punt inside the 10-yard line, which set UCF up for a game-tying touchdown in the first quarter. Some may blame it on the dome, but Sanu would have been better off letting the ball go.

* Youth Is Served – Defense: Freshman linebacker Steve Beauharnais may not be listed as as a first teamer on the Scarlet Knights’ depth chart, but he was all over the field making plays—seven tackles and two sacks to lead the team. He has good size (6’ 2”, 230 pounds), runs well and displayed impressive athleticism. Beauharnais can bring it, and delivered several hard hits throughout the contest. The outside linebacker can play the run and get after the quarterback. He was occasionally fooled on a play-action passes, but most freshman linebackers aren’t polished in coverage. That will come in time.

Junior defensive end Jonathan Freeny can really fly coming off the edge and has the speed to be an effective pass rusher. Sophomore defensive end Justin Francis displayed impressive athleticism, while fellow sophomore defensive tackle Eric LeGrand came off the bench to make a tackle for a loss. The undersized, but quick LeGrand is cut from the Eric Foster cloth. Don’t be surprised to see this quartet form the nucleus of the Scarlet Knights’ front seven in 2010, along with freshman defensive tackle Scott Vallone (two tackles for a loss) and sophomore linebacker Manny Abreu.

* Senior Watch: Rutgers had to play almost the entire game without their top defensive player, cornerback Devin McCourty. The standout suffered an eye injury, which was not deemed to be serious after he was taken to a Tampa hospital. In addition to his cover skills, McCourty is an absolute special teams dynamo who did not get the opportunity to display his skills in St. Pete.

Other Rutgers defenders who were looking to impress the NFL scouts were MIKE Ryan D’Imperio and defensive end George Johnson. The closer he is to the line of scrimmage, the better D’Imperio is. He made several plays along or near the line of scrimmage, including a tackle for a loss. He is great at attacking against the run and could be a late round steal in the upcoming draft. The New Jersey native lacks ideal size but has good bulk at 245 pounds and could be a fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Johnson brings a different skill set—he is fast and athletic coming off the edge, but a bit undersized for a down lineman. For that reason, he may shift to outside linebacker to play on Sundays, also in a 3-4 alignment. Johnson’s top skill is rushing the passer and while he did not record a sack, he didn’t go unnoticed.

Wide receiver Tim Brown’s touchdown catch and run was aided by the UCF safety, who took a poor angle. However, scouts couldn’t help but notice Brown’s breakaway speed. The Florida native was questionable at best heading into the contest with a hamstring injury, but is explosive in the open field—like he’s shot out of a cannon. The diminutive pass catcher caught four balls in all, for 99 yards. His 5’ 8”, 165-pound frame will work against him come draft weekend, but don’t be surprised if Brown works his way onto an NFL roster.

Right tackle Kevin Haslam doesn’t have the upside of Anthony Davis, but he more than held his own against the UCF pass rush. He has good length and frame, with the ability to bulk up a bit.

Central Florida: The UCF Knights came in with a big three on defense—junior end Bruce Miller, senior defensive tackle Torrell Troup and senior end Jarvis Geathers—and for the most part, they failed to impress. Miller recorded eight tackles, but other than his one sack, the majority of his tackles were down the field. On most passing plays Miller was handled by the Rutgers offensive tackles. He is undersized and should return for his senior campaign, but regardless of when he leaves school, Miller will likely have to play outside linebacker at the next level.

Troup made only three tackles, but probably had more impact than Miller. Interior linemen—other than Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh—don’t always get to stuff the stat sheet. Troup flashed some ability to get into the backfield and hold off blockers, but more was expected of the senior in this game if Central Florida was going to pull off the upset. Geathers was a non-factor in the game. He is even more undersized than Miller and will have to learn to play standing up if he wants a chance to stick with an NFL team.

Junior wide receiver Kamar Aiken had a solid game, including a pair of touchdown grabs among his four receptions (65 yards). His 35-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter to close the gap to 21-17 was UCF’s most impressive offensive play of the evening. Aiken has both length and size, making him a tough one-on-one cover. Freshman receiver Quincy McDuffie made only one reception, but that was enough to show his speed as he exploded after the catch for 22 yards. He is a speedster, an all-purpose type guy, who is dangerous when he gets his hands on the football. As a kick returner he totaled 171 yards on six returns for an average of 28.5 yards per return, bolstered by his game-opening 65-yard return.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Ciszak Rutgers Athletics