The weather on Tuesday and Wednesday in Orlando, Florida was perfect for standing outside and watching football practice. Monday, practice was held in the Grand Ball Room of the hotel, which was rather hilarious. There were kids taking falls on the carpet and getting blocked into potted plants. Tuesday and Wednesday however, the weather was perfect. The East, coached by former NFL head coach Dan Reeves has a one up on it's West counterpart at a couple of positions.
On the offensive side of the football, the star the days I was present at practice was Delaware's quarterback Pat Devlin. Devlin couldn't really find his rhythm on the first day of practice, often missing his receivers deep down the field on over throws. That's to be expected however, learning to gauge the speed of your new receivers. Devlin came back on day two and looked much more crisp and was hitting his guys in stride. Devlin is far and away the best quarterback on the East team, well ahead of Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor and Navy's Ricky Dobbs.
Tyrod Taylor was a little better than I expected, but he's still erratic. Ricky Dobbs was just downright awful. I was curious to see how he performed in a pro-set system, being he ran the triple option at Navy, but he was just bad. He's short and small and just doesn't throw the football well at all.
For the wide receivers, the stars of the East team were LSU's Terrance Tolliver and FAU's Lester Jean. Tolliver is the most polished receiver there and become the favorite of the quarterbacks. He's got good size and speed and rarely dropped a pass. Lester Jean on the other hand is a big powerful receiver who almost looks like a tight end. He's very raw, but he knows how to get open and use his body to shield defenders. He also primarily catches with his hands, which usually isn't a trait of big wide receivers.
Nebraska's Michael Smith and Illinois Randall Huntwere the stars of the East offensive line. Smith routinely stuffed pass rushers in drills and was rarely beaten. He showed pretty good footwork and didn't allow himself to get into bad positions when defensive ends tried to set him up in pass rush moves. Hunt at the guard position was the only person who was able to even look respectable against North Carolina's Marvin Austin. Hunt shows good power and once he gets his hands on a defender can usually lock them down.
On the defensive side of the football, Marvin Austin put on a show and showed why he'll be picked in the first round despite being suspended for the entire 2010 season for dealings with an agent. He came into the game in shape and was dominant in the practices I attended. At the defensive end position the best player in the two days I attended was Oregon's end Kenny Rowe. Outside of Rowe, the end position on the East Team is kind of lackluster. UCF's Bruce Miller, who most think will have to transition to linebacker at the next level, was swallowed up easily and blocked out of most plays. It's rather curious that the team hasn't at least let him attempt to play linebacker in practice, like they did with a few players in past games.
Georgia's Akeem Dent stood out as a physical linebacker who will put a hit on players. Dent put some big hits in practice, which didn't sit well with the coaching staff, but that's just how Dent plays. He's a big and powerful linebacker who brings the wood. Connecticut's Gregg Lloyd II also showed up well in practice. Though he's likely a 3-4 inside linebacker, he's a big kid who played well in space.
In the defensive backfield two small school corners really stood out from the rest. Richmond's Justin Rogers and Buffalo's Josh Thomas were the two best corners I saw on either team. Both show a good back pedal and stick to their receivers. Thomas showed an ability to be physical with receivers while not drawing enough to get flagged. The undersized Rogers was all over every receiver he covered despite his lack of size and had a knack for finding the football, as he had two interceptions at Wednesday's practice. At the safety position no one really stood out, but Iowa State's David Sims showed good range and recognition skills in the passing skeleton, often getting to the receiver in time to force a play on the football.