Today was more of a walkthrough with mostly seven on seven and some special teams drills, but below are some observations from Thursday’s East-West Shrine practices.
The MVP for the East team today was Virginia cornerback Tim Harris. Harris registered two pass break ups on an out and a comeback route early in practice and capped it off with an interception in the red zone towards the end. Harris boasts good size at 6’1” 205 pounds and could be a day three possibility for the Jaguars based on his length and play recognition.
Physically, the two most impressive specimens on the field were Syracuse wide receiver Jamal Custis on offense and Akron inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III on defense.
Custis looks like an avatar amongst the other wide receivers at 6’4’+ and 220 pounds and could certainly be an option for a red zone target for the Jaguars on day three. Custis flipped a switch this year at Syracuse and started to learn how to use his strength and length to win and boost his production. His run blocking ability, red zone prowess and willingness to contribute on special teams are all attributes that are generally high on the Jaguars’ priority list in a wide receiver.
Gilbert looked like he lives in the weight room and tucked his trousers up to show off his ripped quads. Gilbert also tucked his jersey sleeves in to show sculpted arms and has the look of a Leon Jacobs-type bodybuilding linebacker. Gilbert looked quick and stood out in 7v7s and I’ll need to go back and watch the tape on him since I didn’t get a chance to watch Akron this season.
Another wide receiver prospect that I would imagine the Jaguars would have high on their board due to his size and dominant run blocking ability is Ole Miss receiver Damarkus Lodge. Lodge measured in a notch under 6’2”, but doesn’t look three inches shorter when standing side by side next to Custis. Under the watch of his college head coach Matt Luke, who was in attendance, Lodge worked some out of the slot and had a very impressive red zone touchdown on a fade pass from Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius.
From the quarterbacks, Cornelius looked the most inconsistent of the bunch, often late with his timing and low on his placement. Cornelius even missed an easy pass in footwork drills against air and also had a screen pass intercepted for what would have been six points by North Carolina edge rusher Malik Carney early in 7v7s.
David Blough looked crisp outside of one pass that should have been intercepted by James Madison cornerback Jimmy Moreland on a slant to Auburn wide receiver Ryan Davis. Blough appears to be a quick mental processor and has a chance of sticking around as an NFL back up.
The best of the East bunch was Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who had two gorgeous tear drops on two different corner routes to Georgia wide receiver Terry Godwin. Ta’amu also had a Hail Mary moon ball that was brought down in the end zone for a touchdown at the conclusion of practice. Ta’amu was feasting outside the numbers and showed some really good zip and anticipation in his passes, and he physically looks the part of an NFL quarterback with a strong, compact build.
Other players that jumped out include Massachusetts running back Marquis Young, who had some nice juice to him when accelerating into the second level. Laval edge rusher Mathieu Betts was consistently the quickest off the snap, but may be the most unassuming athlete I’ve ever seen. A late add to the roster, Oklahoma fullback/tight end hybrid Carson Meier looked the part, beating Jimmy Moreland for a touchdown on a TE flat route in the red zone and showed off natural hands.
Similar to the East, the West team has some physical specimens at wide receiver and tight end, but lacked the overall polish of the morning group. Towering over defensive backs at 6’5” 215 pounds, Arizona wide receiver Shawn Poindexter has a werewolf composition and plays the position like a basketball player. Poindexter was solid outside of a bad drop on a perfectly placed go route by Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion and also dropped a rope from Brett Rypien in the beginning of practice, but there is talent and length there to work with.
The other receiver who stole the show today was 6’3” 215 pound Ron’quavion Tarver from Utah State. Tarver seemed to be open time and time again creating separation on a variety of routes, including a nice contested catch touchdown over UCLA safety Adarius Pickett in red zone period. Tarver did enough today to make me go back and find some Utah State film to watch back.
With the Jaguars looking to rebuild their tight end depth, the West group did not disappoint today. Kendall Blanton looks like Marcedes Lewis and is physically very impressive, but had an up-and-down day catching the football, struggling to adjust to balls thrown behind or above him. One rep Blanton would make a nice extension catch over a defender in traffic over Michigan safety Tyree Kinnel, and the next rep Kinnel would cause him to drop a routine out route. At 6’6” 265 pounds, Blanton is more of a blocking tight end but showed more athleticism today than I originally gave him credit for.
The other tight end who shined today was Andrew Beck. Beck was rarely used as a receiver at Texas until this past season when he jumped out to me on tape, but his athleticism and soft hands were evident, working a variety of routes on the tree out of both tight end and fullback. In addition to making plays in the pass game, Beck turned some heads as a blocker going full steam ahead to make contact with anyone he saw lined up across from him. Along with Carson Meier (mentioned above), Tyre McCants, and Trevon Wesco in this class, Beck is one of those intriguing hybrids who could be a target for the Jaguars if they choose to move on from the dedicated fullback under John DeFilippo.
Out of the West quarterbacks, Boise State’s Brett Rypien was the most talented passer by far. Rypien’s arm is much livelier than anyone else at Shrine practices and his balls make an audible noise when they make contact with receiver’s hands. After Rypien, Fresno State’s Marcus McMaryion was the most efficient and comfortable of the group, doing well to process with his eyes and make good decisions as a distributor. McMaryion was a machine in red zone periods, finishing off each drive with a touchdown. North Dakota State’s Easton Stick has the most concise footwork out of the trio, but is far behind Rypien and McMaryion as a passer. Stick’s passes seem to take a while to get to his target and his arm talent doesn’t seem adequate for an NFL starter. Stick looks noticeably smaller than the other quarterbacks and had some passes batted down.
One important thing to note is that the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff was running West practice and they seemed to really take a liking to Rypien. Rypien also mentioned in a post practice interview that he spoke at length with some members of the Dolphins organization earlier in the week. Speaking of meetings, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman hung around after practice to chat with Nebraska running back Ozigbo on the field, who had a nice day catching the ball out of the backfield.
Defensively, things got very chippy and the defensive linemen put on a show, led by Texas A&M nose tackle Daylon Mack and Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise. Mack routinely bull rushed interior lineman to blow up run plays in the backfield along with Texas defensive tackle Chris Nelson. Wise got in a heated exchange with Indiana center Nick Linder, brother of Jaguars center Brandon Linder. Following a rep, Wise smothered Linder into the ground and Linder knocked Wise’s helmet off, which was followed up by Wise yelling “I’m whooping your ass, boy!” as he was asked to take a breather.