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 West, coached by former NFL head coach and current Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips are weak at some critical positions.
First of all, Wade Phillips ran special teams practice for about a half hour on Tuesday afternoon, which was rather obnoxious. You could see most of the NFL scouts, etc. with an annoyed look on their face, especially because the West's kicker, Dan Bailey of Oklahoma State, kept booting the kickoff out of the endzone.
Once real practice rolled around, it was a little easier to evaluate the players. At the quarterback position, the West team falls short compared to the East team. The best quarterback on the West roster is Idaho's Nathan Enderle, and he's often erratic. He's got great size and an arm to make all of the throws, but he's wildly inconsistent. The other quarterbacks are Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien and Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson, both of which have been underwhelming. Tolzien simply doesn't have an NFL arm and you can tell he muscles every one of his throws no matter the distance. Johnson is impressive with his size and his arm strength, but he's simply just not any good at the quarterback position. His 35 inch wingspan effects his throwing motion and he's not accurate. Not to mention he's just poor at reading the field even in skeleton drills. He should be running routes and catching passes to utilize his athleticism and size, but he's not.
At the running back position, Hawaii's Alex Green has been impressive. He's quick with good size and catches the football really well. South Carolina fullback Patrick DiMarco shows good skills in the passing game catching the ball out of the backfield, but he's playing a dying position in today's NFL. By showing he can catch out of the backfield however, he'll prove valuable enough to potentially stick to a roster.
Everyone was curious to see Ontario offensive lineman Matthew O'Donnell because of his size, he's 6'10". While he's an imposing figure on the football field, it just doesn't translate well. Once he gets his hands on someone he can go to work, but his problem is actually getting his hands on them. O'Donnell is almost too tall, as he struggled mightely with edge rushers who would simply bend wide and use their speed to just run past him. O'Donnell was also bull rushed by Fresno State linebacker Chris Carter in one on one pass rushing drills.
The other Canadian player at the game was wide receiver Anthony Parker from Calgary. Unlike his Canadian counterpart, Parker looked very good in the two days of practice I attended. He's rather thick for a wide receiver, looking more like a running back, but he shows nice strong hands and runs good routes. Oregon wide receiver Jeff Maehl was rather disappointing in the two days I attended. In college, he had a knack for just making plays. He looked small and frail, but that was expected. Maehl struggled getting open, didn't draw many looks from the quarterbacks, and just didn't look very good. Maehl has a tendency to show up in games however, so it's possible he's just a poor practice player. Stanford's Ryan Whalen wasn't overly impressive, but he simply caught everything thrown to him. Whalen runs excellent routes and showed great concentration on a deep ball down the seam that was tipped and still was able to pull in the catch. Whalen also stayed after every practice and ran routes for Scott Tolzien.
Southern Cal tight end Jordan Cameron looks like a natural all around tight end. He did a nice job blocking on the edge in 11 on 11 drills and showed a knack to find open holes in the zone on passing routes. He showed nice hands and an ability to box out defenders and go up for the football. The other interesting tight end at the game is Portland State's Julius Williams. Williams, who also played basketball at Portland State, is a great athlete playing tight end. He's primarily of the pass catching variety, but he knows how to get open, has soft hands, and is very quick and fast for his size.
UCLA defensive tackle David Carter was the most dominant defensive tackle on the West squad. Carter wasn't as dominant as UNC's Marvin Austin, but it was close. Carter gave the interior lineman fits, showing a good array of pass rushing moves. He set up the lineman nicely for spin moves to get to the quarterback. Iowa defensive lineman Karl Klugwas unimpressive his first day of practice, but showed much better on day two. Rice defensive end Cheta Ozougwuwas unblockable as a pass rusher. He's smallish with shorter than ideal arms and will likely have to transition to linebacker at the next level, but he knows how to get to the quarterback.
The linebacker everyone came to see was Nevada's Dontay Moch who claims to run in the 4.1-4.2 40-yard dash range. While Moch is unbelievably fast, I highly doubt he runs in that range. Moch was all over the field however, and even showed an ability to rush the passer off the edge. California linebacker Michael Mohammed wasn't flashy, but was always around the play. Aside from Moch, Fresno State's Chris Carter was the best linebacker on the West team. Carter seems like an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker. He played stand up in 11 on 11 drills and would work with the defensive ends in pass rushing drills.
In the defensive backfield, Idaho's Shiloh Keo and Boise State's Jeron Johnson were the cream of the crop at the safety position. Keo is a thick safety who can come up and lay a hit, but also shows excellent play recognition skills. Johnson is the classic free safety who patrols the middle of the field. At the corner position, Boise State's Brandyn Thompsonoften blanketed his receivers and picked off multiple bad throws by the West team quarterbacks. Notre Dame's Darrin Walls was good and bad in his practices. Walls would often stay on the hip of his receiver, but he'd allow the receiver to make the catch and not make a play on the ball.
Jaguars Interest West Team:
Nathan Enderle, QB, Idaho
Julius Williams, TE, Portland State
Dontay Moch, LB, Nevada
Chris Carter, LB, Fresno State
Shiloh Keo, S, Idaho
Brandyn Thompson, CB, Boise State
Nicholas Bellore, LB, Central Michigan
Ricky Elmore, DE/LB, Arizona
David Carter, DL, UCLA
Cheta Ozougwu, DE/LB, Rice