Day three of the East-West Shrine Game is the final chance for scouts to really see these guys before the big game. Thursday will feature less one-on-one work and is essentially a walk-through to learn an offense these kids can soon forget.
Day three was also punctuated by an afternoon rain storm that dampened spirits at the final West practice. Kudos to the prospects who suffered through and the many who still looked good in the sloppy conditions.
Five On The Rise
Josh Norman (CB Coastal Carolina) started the week as an unknown, small-school corner who couldn't even manage to wear the right helmet (shipping problems delayed the helmet's arrival, and Norman wore a Pitt helmet the first day). By the end of the week, he was being talked about by every scout and tweeted about by every media member.
Norman is a plus-run defender and a superb ball hawk. I got a chance to talk to Norman, and he said he prefers to play the quarterback's eyes before he plays his man. Sounds like a perfect zone defender to me.
The fastest learner this week shouldn't be any surprise—Jeff Adams (OT Columbia) received an Ivy League education but arrived to practices no more than an average Ivy League football player.
On Monday, nearly everything I wrote about Adams was negative. He looked awkward in his stance, had no punch in pass protection and bent at the waste.
However, it's important to remember this is the best coaching Adams has ever gotten, and apparently he soaked it up like a sponge. He was stoning defenders in the Wednesday practice and looked like a solid mid-round developmental prospect.
One of the more surprising players this week was Nick Jean-Baptiste (DT Baylor). NJB has a really high motor, which belies his short, round body type. Most effective at the 1-technique out of a 4-point stance, the Baylor prospect scrapes the line well against the run and consistently draws two blockers at the point of attack.
He plays a little high for such a short player, but he finds leverage more often than not and can be a solid run-down defender in the NFL.
I was also surprised by Travian Robertson (DT S. Carolina). I had watched plenty of the Gamecocks in 2011 but was primarily focused on the offensive side of the ball. At the Shrine Game practices, Robertson lived in the backfield and constantly found himself ready to make big hits on a quarterback or running back he had to lay off of.
He had a few errors in one-on-one drills this week but always fixed them on the next rep. He also asked for more reps, which is always a good sign at these events.
When the coaches asked the defense to step up, Joshua Linam (LB Central Florida) answered the bell. On a theoretical "3rd-and-1," Linam forced the point of attack and peeled off a blocker to tackle the ball-carrier in the backfield.
On the next play, a "4th-and-1," he helped stack up the L.O.S. and allowed another defender to stop the first down. With a good pro day, Linam could solidify his draft stock and earn a spot on an NFL roster as a core special teamer and chase linebacker.
Five Who Need to Step Up
Let me be clear, I think Akiem Hicks (DT Regina) is a fine prospect and should be drafted in the late rounds this April. However, after watching him today, I wouldn't want him on my team unless it were on the practice squad. Hicks is very raw and seems overconfident in his average physical abilities.
While Hicks looks like a big and lean defensive tackle, he has poor technique (even for a Canadian prospect) and didn't seem to get any better. Worse yet, he repeatedly looked like he was going 50 percent in reps which made the name "Haynesworth" go through my head over and over.
Micanor Regis (DT Miami) has been in the backfield all week during team work, but sometimes looks can be deceiving. While Regis was able to penetrate, he was often pushed away from the point of attack, effectively over-penetrating himself out of the play.
In one-on-one drills, Regis spent more time on the ground than any player should and was pushed around by less-talented athletes.
If Regis ever gets his game under control, he could be a solid rotational player, but he looks a long way off.
Essentially on his "home turf," John Brantley (QB Florida) looked like he had jitters all week, and he clearly needed John Elway to tell him to "pull the trigger." Brantley had a number of fine receivers and tight ends on his squad but constantly waited to throw until coverage had already converged on their target.
Brantley needs all the help he can get with average arm strength and a hitch in his delivery, and poor decision-making and slow reaction won't help his cause one bit.
Speaking of "pull the trigger," Chandler Harnish (QB Northern Illinois) pulled down the ball to run in several seven-on-seven skeleton drills. While he was effective as a mobile QB in the MAC, skeleton drills are the last place scouts want to see you take off and run.
I really wanted to like Harnish this week, but he made it difficult. He's a subpar passer who needs a lot of work at the next level. The last thing he can afford is to look scared.
My last "down" goes to the West coaching staff—Brad Childress, Greg Robinson, Mark Mangino and others—who ran very lazy practices down in St. Petersburg. It was a common occurrence to look around and see no drills going around and every player just milling around as coaches talked.
Over on the East side, Bobby Ross got more out of his players by running more reps and keeping players moving almost constantly.
Regardless of the game's outcome on Saturday, Childress and his staff did their players a disservice this week.
Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl. Follow him on Twitter.
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