Scouts were treated to a physical practice session Tuesday afternoon with the West team at the East-West Shrine Game. Earlier, the East team had practiced in only shoulder pads and helmets. While the practice was physical and aggressive, scouts were happy to see that the West team stepped off the bus in full pads.
Again, we focus on the offensive skill players and the defensive backs attempting to cover them.
The 2007 West team features as strong a trio of quarterbacks as any I've seen in the past six years of scouting the East-West Shrine Game. While John Beck (BYU), Jeff Rowe (Nevada) and Zac Taylor (Nebraska) are hardly considerations for the first round, each is certainly a draftable prospect.
No one among the trio was able to separate himself from the pack during Tuesday afternoon's practice. Rowe throws a pretty ball. He was the most consistently accurate of the bunch, spraying the ball all over the field. He has enough of an arm to make all of the throws and showed nice touch in lofting passes between the linebackers and safeties. Also, at 6-feet-5, 225 pounds, he certainly has the size teams are looking for.
Beck also showed great touch and surprising zip with his throws. Beck was the unfortunate recipient of some terrible pass protection, at times, and had to show off some of his mobility. He made one terrible decision of throwing into coverage and had his pass tipped and intercepted. Otherwise, his mobility and quick release were an impressive combination.
Taylor had some nice throws as well. He throws a very catchable ball and has developed a great deal as a passer over the past few years in the West Coast Offense under Huskers coach Bill Callahan. The concern with Taylor is that his passes lack great zip and allowed pass defenders to break on the ball successfully.
Unlike the East team's practice Tuesday morning, there wasn't any one receiver who consistently stood out for the West. Fresno State's Paul Williams certainly looks the part. He has impressive natural athleticism, especially for a player of his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame. Williams caught the ball well and showed the explosive downfield speed that had earned him favorable comparisons to former Fresno State star Bernard Berrian throughout his career. Williams came into this season very highly touted, but after a poor senior campaign, he needs a strong showing here. He seems focused on recapturing his ranking.
Texas Tech wideouts Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani each flashed ability, but also struggled a bit with consistency. Hicks caught the ball well, but was a little sloppy in his route-running and didn't always play with the required physicality when blocking. Considering he is listed at 6-3, 208 pounds, that is an obvious concern. Filani dropped a few passes early, but improved as the day went on. He also showed surprising burst coming out of his breaks, gaining separation against the best corners the West defense could throw his way.
While he lacks the explosive athleticism and size of some of the better known West receivers, Iowa State's Austin Flynn helped his stock. Not only did he catch every pass I saw thrown to him, he caught them with his hands. Flynn lacks the burst out of his breaks, but effectively used head and hand fakes to gain separation and showed great toughness and concentration when he was hung out to dry with a weak pass that allowed Washington defensive back Dashon Goldson time to break on the ball and explode into Flynn. It might have been the hit of the day — which is saying something because the West team was laying some hits this afternoon — but Flynn caught the ball, dusted himself off and trotted back to the huddle.
The West team features two of the more intriguing prospects at the position this year. Nebraska's Matt Herian is continuing his quest to regain his once prominent draft status after a terrible leg injury robbed him of the past two seasons. Herian doesn't appear to have the same athleticism he once had and struggled some Tuesday with a few untimely drops. Herian did have one big play late in the scrimmage when he snuck behind the safety and hauled in a long pass along the sideline.
Whitworth's Michael Allan helped his draft stock with a strong showing Tuesday. He did have one drop late in the practice that hurt — he was wide open and it was an easy pass. While the lack of concentration was a disappointment, it was in stark contrast to the several nice grabs Allan had made earlier in the day. At 6-7, 264 pounds, Allan has great size for the position and is a surprisingly fluid athlete. He was most effectively used by the West quarterbacks as a close check-down option, where he could use his bulk to shield the defender from the ball, but also showed some downfield ability with a long seam route over Oregon State's Sabby Piscitelli. The ball was thrown perfectly by Beck and Piscatelli had great coverage, but Allan's height and long arms allowed him just enough separation to make the over-the-shoulder grab. It was among the best all-around plays of the day.
Whether due to his smack-talking or consistently impressive break on the ball, it was difficult to ignore the cover skills shown by Weber State's Bo Smith. Smith, generously listed at 6-2, 205, showed good footwork coming out of his stance and uses his hands well when allowed to play press coverage. He was beaten at times, but also made some of the more impressive plays on the ball.
Baylor's C.J. Wilson is among the better looking prospects at cornerback in this group. Wilson looks all of 6-1, 196 pounds, and is a fluid athlete. At times, he appeared to be a little too willing to allow the underneath routes, but as the practice went on he showed more tenacity. As the player groupings broke out of drills and went into full scrimmage, Wilson made one of the better defensive plays of the day, diving back towards the sideline to deflect a nicely thrown out route (Rowe).
Goldson looks like a safety at 6-2, 205 pounds, and certainly hits like one (ask Flynn). He has good speed for the position and is more fluid than you'd expect for a player his size. Goldson wasn't asked to play safety here, but has played the position while at Washington. This versatility will serve him well come April.
The one cornerback who struggled a bit Tuesday was Washington State's Tyron Brackenridge. He had trouble with his footwork at times, and gave up a few big plays early by biting on double moves.
Of the safeties, Piscitelli and TCU's Marvin White stood out. Each has the prototypical size for the safety position and flashed aggression and athleticism. Piscitelli was particularly active, getting his hands on several passes because of his burst and recognition. As mentioned in the tight end review of Allan, Piscitelli was beaten on one long seam route of note, though his coverage hardly could have been better. In one of the last plays during the scrimmage, Piscitelli was burned badly when he bought the pump fake on an underneath route and allowed Herian to get behind him. Herian caught the ball running out of bounds for what would have been at least a 30-yard gain.
White and Wyoming safety John Wendling will be reviewed more on Wednesday. Each showed enough flashes to warrant a closer look, but I chose to spend more time watching the quarterbacks and receivers as no one seemed to be separating themselves from their peers as quickly as had happened on the East squad.
The biggest day for scouts is Wednesday when the players from both squads are pitted together in an extended scrimmage for what is commonly referred to as "The NFL Day." Many scouts, in fact, fly out Wednesday night after this extended audition.
West Team Produces Several Good Performers
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