The bowl season has come and gone, but the notes remain. So here's a look at the first half of the 24 bowl games watched with a TIVO remote in one hand and a mighty pen in the other. The notes are taken with the Pittsburgh Steelers' next draft in mind.
GMAC BOWL (UTEP vs. Toledo) – This was the first look at the next Joey Porter, UTEP outside linebacker Thomas Howard, but where was he? Howard's been raved up by the early draft publications because of his speed, but he appears small and doesn't take on blocks or make many plays. He looked like a second-day pick, if that. Toledo QB Bruce Gradkowski doesn't have a strong arm, nor did he take many, if any, snaps from under center, but this systems QB from Seton-La Salle H.S. in Pittsburgh is a leader who has always been accurate and has decent mobility. He could become a quality back-up in the league.
LAS VEGAS BOWL (BYU vs. California) – BYU QB John Beck is the best BYU QB since Steve Young, or maybe even Jim McMahon. But, he's just a junior. His top threat was Todd Watkins, a skinny 6-3 WR who made a fantastic catch of a fade pass for a touchdown. Looks like a third-rounder. Center Lance Reynolds was a disappointment. LB Justin Luettgerodt is an interesting prospect because he long-snaps, but his play on defense was uninspiring. A RB to keep an eye on is 260-pound Naufahu Tahi, a fan favorite who plays behind one of their prized recruits. But in short-yardage situations, Tahi showed the quick, chippy-chop running style that Jerome Bettis made famous. I'm told "he's Fu, but works out."
The right side of the Cal line opened big holes for stud sophomore Marshawn Lynch. Right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan (6-7, 340) is the first of several big and rugged right tackles we'll go through in this three-part notebook On one play, O'Callaghan blocked down and drove his man into the ground. Problem was, the buried player tripped up Lynch and caused a fumble. O'Callaghan's a second-rounder, but there will be so many RTs available that it would be best to find value later, like RG Aaron Merz. He's a nasty hustler; sixth-rounder.
FORT WORTH BOWL (Houston vs. Kansas) – If I could draft a coach, it would be KU's Mark Mangino. He should thank Ralph Friedgen for making fat guys in vogue again because Mangino's on his way up. The stud in this game was KU DE Charlton Keith, a 6-5, 225-pound future 3-4 OLB. Keith compares to Jason Taylor, only not as strong – yet. He is fast and has great hips and agility. This is a guy Steelers fans should keep an eye on, but the word could've popped out of the bag when Keith intercepted a pass in the flat and returned it 14 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. He looks like a late third-rounder, as long as he doesn't make any more plays in the upcoming all-star games. The more acclaimed Jayhawk LB is converted safety Nick Reid, who dropped into coverage much of the night.
MOTOR CITY BOWL (Akron vs. Memphis) – DeAngelo Williams (5-10, 217) was all decked out in blue, and in his No. 20 should've looked like Barry Sanders against soft Akron, but instead came off more like Julius Jones. That's not all bad, but we've been waiting for Williams so long the expectations are perhaps too high. He's not the type of back who would interest the Steelers at this point since they already have speed in Willie Parker. A power back in the first round would make more sense, if any.
CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL (Colorado vs. Clemson) – The Steelers still need help at tight end and Joel Klopfenstein (6-6, 245) was all the rage coming into this game, but he did little. Sorry to report I did not make one note on Klopfenstein and can't remember him. That means something in and of itself. Colorado FB Lawrence Vickers was more interesting. He blocked like an NFL lead fullback and showed he could play tailback in a pinch. The Steelers might be looking for that type of player if Verron Haynes leaves via free agency. Colorado punter John Torp consistently outkicked his coverage, so that powerful leg might be a better fit in the NFL. Clemson CB Tye Hill is supposed to be a first-round player, but I couldn't tell since Colorado avoided him all game. The interesting guy here was QB Charlie Whitehurst (6-4, 225). He has quick feet, a strong arm, nice touch and pocket presence. He'll be the sleeper pick at his position in April.
INSIGHT BOWL (Rutgers vs. Arizona State) – Rutgers FB Brian Leonard would fit that tailback/back-up fullback niche with the Steelers, but alas will not come out for the draft. ASU WR Derek Hagen is a big, strong, heady possession receiver, which is not a Steelers need.
COMPUTERS BOWL (Boston College vs. Boise State) – Boise LT Daryn Colledge is an athletic 6-5 left tackle who weighs in at 296 pounds. He pulls, gets out in front of screens and was even used as a decoy to throw off the BC linebackers. And when his punch lands, heads jerk back. He had some nice battles with flip-flopping DE Mathias Kiwanuka, but was overpowered at times. That will happen in the NFL if Colledge doesn't put on about 20, 30 pounds. I wonder what this guy would look like at center.
Kiwanuka (6-6, 260) is a classic 4-3 defensive end who is smart, strong, athletic and disciplined. He was double-teamed most of the game, even, at times, against Colledge. Kiwanuka is a top 15 player who will make some team happy. LT Jeremy Trueblood (6-8, 335) is a quality mid-rounder whose feet say right tackle. He did pull at times, and threw a fit when he got there, but you have to question the competition level here. Will Blackmon (6-0, 205) played WR and made some terrific catches. He's also a decent kick returner and, I'm told, a promising cornerback. As a WR, he leaped between three Boise defenders to grab a Hail Mary pass at the 7. He was tackled at the 1. Ray Henderson (6-3, 235) is an instinctive inside linebacker who looks like somebody's future captain. If this guy's there in the fifth round, I'm interested.
ALAMO BOWL (Nebraska vs. Michigan) – Defensive tackles Gabe Watson (6-4, 330) and Patrick Massey (6-7, 285) symbolize Michigan's fall to 7-5. To his credit, Watson drew double teams, but got little push. He tires easily. Since he lacks the speed and agility to play DE for the Steelers, he'd have to play NT and I doubt he has the energy to consistently hold the point. Massey is too long to play inside, if that makes any sense. Maybe end in a 3-4. A couple of interesting prospects are third-round WR Jason Avant (6-1, 210), who showed Hines Ward toughness; sixth-round OG Matt Lentz (6-6, 305) and of course WR/KR Steve Breaston, who looked fluid and fast for the first time all season. Maybe he just got over an injury. Breaston could've won the game for Michigan since he was trailing the final ball-carrier on that infamous lateral sequence.
Nebraska's best prospect is junior defensive end Adam Carriker (6-6, 280) who could become the next Aaron Smith. He's not agile enough to lose weight and become a 3-4 OLB, but is plenty athletic enough to grow into a 3-4 end. NT Le Kevin Smith (6-2, 305) showed explosiveness at times but didn't even rate double-team blocking in this game. Strong safety Daniel Bullocks (6-2, 210) plays high and is a bit stiff.
EMERALD BOWL (Georgia Tech vs. Utah) – The Tech defensive prospects were disappointing. Perhaps it had something to do with the slick field. RB P. J. Daniels is fifth- or sixth-round fodder. Utah NT Steve Fifita (6-0, 322) appears shorter than his listed height and probably won't be drafted.
HOLIDAY BOWL (Oregon vs. Oklahoma) – The term "bust" is often unfair, because it's the media that overhypes a prospect to begin with. But it appears that Oregon DT Haloti Ngata is overhyping himself. A confident player who's decided to come out early, Ngata had his big butt handed to him all night by Oklahoma's center and guards. Now, to be fair, Ngata (6-5, 340) was double-teamed most of the first half. But he used little of the strength and speed that will cause his stock to rise during workout season. Ngata gave little push and his long legs made him an easy target. He plays too high, even for a man of his reputed strength. He was a sitting Duck in the middle of that line. Draft experts often point out his injury history to explain why he hasn't been as productive as his athleticism says he should be. And they point out that he was injured again in this game. But it looks like he's injured because he plays too high. You think about Gabe Rivera when you watch Ngata but Rivera, for a big man, was built close to the ground. Ngata ran out of gas completely by the end of the first half. The prediction here is he will be the bust of the coming draft. Staying in school won't help. The more interesting Oregon defender is CB/PR Justin Phiniese (5-11, 200), who not only covers, but is strong. He gets people down. On offense, Terrence Whitehead doesn't look as thick as his listed 220 but is tough and can catch. Can he block? Hard to tell in this game, but the comparison that came to mind was Verron Haynes. WR Demetrius Williams (6-2, 190) is skinny, but so was John Stallworth. Williams is Oregon's best playmaker and showed surprising toughness running after the catch. TE Tim Day (6-4, 265) is a good blocker and showed good hands and athleticism in his brief appearances. Oregon played too many multiple WR sets to get a good read on Day.
Oklahoma LT Davin Joseph was difficult to guage. He's a good holder, for one thing. He has decent feet and technique, but plays high and is a little stiff. I can't see him playing center in the league, and that's supposed to be his best position. NT Dusty Dvoracek showed explosiveness and good instincts. He played with passion, but that same passion has caused him off-the-field problems. He's supposed to be sober now, but he might be a ticking time bomb if he were to sit the bench for a year or so as a Steelers defensive end.
MUSIC CITY BOWL (Virginia vs. Minnesota) – If Laurence Maroney thinks he won't have to block in the league, he has another thing coming. This guy is fast and glides with the ball, but I worry about his deep set in the I. Combine that with the fact he wasn't asked to block and I worry about his A. heart and B. ego. The bet here is he falls to the second round. Minny C Greg Eslinger makes you appreciate Jeff Hartings. Eslinger moves like Hartings ("like a fullback in space; he can adjust") and is a similar technician, but he, at 285 pounds, is not as strong. Eslinger and guard Mark Setterstrom (6-3, 305) looked like they were trying out for the Denver Broncos will all of their cut blocking. Setterstrom looked like a fifth-rounder because of his lack of athleticism. Minny DT Albert Montgomery (6-5, 310) pushes the pocket and doesn't take plays off. He might be a solid late-round choice.
Virginia LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson (6-6, 295) may not need to add weight; his technique is that sound. He's a stud pass blocker. Running back Wali Lundy will block and can catch and would be a solid 6th-round choice. Junior linebacker Kai Parham (6-3, 250) needs to stay in school. If he comes out, he may have to move outside since he plays too high for an inside backer. Parham is one of the more overrated draft prospects.
SUN BOWL (Northwestern vs. UCLA) – In an interesting match-up of late-round QB prospects, UCLA's Drew Olson disappointed. He's shorter than his listed 6-3 height and his balls sailed on him. He threw three first-quarter interceptions. TE Mercedes Lewis (6-6, 255) is thin and an adequate blocker, but as a receiver he opens up the field. Junior RB Maurice Drew (5-8, 200) left the game early after aggravating an old injury, but came back near halftime. He's a great return man, but might be too short to be a first-day RB. Would like to see more. The UCLA defensive prospects were disappointing, but then again, considering the amount of points UCLA has allowed this season, any expectations were too high.
Northwestern QB Brett Basanez (6-2, 210) was in the shotgun all game. He showed good mobility and heaved one ball 55 yards, although his release is far from fluid. He's crafty, a leader, and might make a good pro back-up. RT Zach Strief (6-7, 335) is a mauler, but against questionable competition. His feet are average at best. Tackles king Tim McGarigle (6-1, 230) is smart and showed some speed at MLB, but was easily blocked. NT Barry Cofield (6-4, 305) is a plugger with some explosion and smarts.
INDEPENDENCE BOWL (Missouri vs. South Carolina) – How in the world is Mizzou's Brad Smith (6-2, 210) not considered a QB prospect? He was the star of the game, as he has been the last four years when Missouri wins. He supposedly has a weak arm, but his release is so fluid that I have my doubts. He certainly can run. He even looks like Randall Cunningham in the face. Smith would be a great late-round project if the Steelers could be so lucky. And with the leadership he displayed in bringing Mizzou all the way back in this game, Smith should not have to move to another position. The only senior prospect on the USC side of the field was LT Jabari Levey (6-6, 312), who's big, strong, smart and plays with good instincts, but has questionable feet. He's a better run blocker than pass blocker.