A rather uneventful college football weekend, relatively speaking, presents an abridged version of this edition of the Weekend Watcher.
Head Scout, Brent Sobleski, returns for his favorite weekly addition.
All eyes were on Fayetteville Saturday afternoon for the weekend’s marquee meeting between Alabama and Arkansas.
The top two prospects worthy of note, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and Alabama’s Marcell Dareus were both underwhelming for differing reasons.
Clearly, the three interceptions thrown by the Razorbacks’ signal caller were both inopportune and devastating to his team’s lack of success. But with Mallett in particular, his continued growth as a quarterback is becoming an interesting story.
Statistics can be manipulated but in attempts to compare like opponents (since ‘Bama’s defense is entirely different from last season); Mallett showed tremendous improvement against the Crimson Tide almost a year after he first faced their impregnable defense…
2009 – 12/35, 34.3%, 160 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
2010 – 25/38, 65.8%, 357 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT
How the Tide approached the titanic gunslinger is a testament to his ever evolving ability. Early in the contest, the nation’s best defense sat back in zone coverage waiting for Mallett to make an inevitable mistake, like he has been prone to do early in his career. While the mistake would eventually come, Mallett pried apart the Alabama defense when they made their own mistakes. He found wide open receivers who came unglued from their coverages. A very different approach by a quarterback with a history of forcing the ball downfield with less than pinpoint accuracy.
In the second half, Alabama became much more aggressive, forcing the tempo, sending multiple blitz packages which got to the 6-feet-6-inches tall quarterback causing more mistakes. Mallett still finished 10-16 in the half, but that did include the two terribly thrown interceptions which sealed his team’s fate.
It may not be much of a consolation prize, but Ryan Mallett has grown as quarterback since his third start in a Razorback uniform, despite certain lingering concerns within his skill set. Now the question will continue to linger, can he be considered an elite prospect despite those limitations?
Defensive lineman, Marcell Dareus, looked good early before having an ankle clipped near a pile thus rendering the top rated end ineffective throughout the second half. His initial play displayed the raw power which makes him unblockable at times to opposing teams.
Dareus already possesses an NFL build, plays with leverage, and muscles opponents. He is not as polished resulting in the same type of dominance as an Ndamukong Suh of last year, but physically is similar. Some issues do arise when the end does not make the correct hat read and was seen coming out the backdoor of blocks too often for scouts’ liking. His hustle often makes up for the mistakes, working down the line hard, and often making tackles on the opposite side of the field.
Wanting to watch heralded linebacker, Dont’a Hightower, closely, his play was often overshadowed by his running mate, Nico Johnson. Hightower entered ‘Bama’s program with high expectations. It was said he may have even been more talented than recent top ten overall selection, Rolando McClain. Much like McClain, Hightower presents and impressive combination of size and ability as a 6-feet-4-inches tall and 260 pound Mack backer. The interior linebacker has yet to show the athleticism and explosiveness once seen prior to his torn ACL last season.
Hightower was much more effective in a straight line, taking on lead blockers with reckless abandon, and timing his blitzes quite well. When asked to take on linebacker moving laterally or dropping coverage, Hightower labored.
Instead, Johnson popped off the film. The other sophomore inside linebacker was flying around the field. In the scheme of a 34 defense, the Buck linebacker is expected to make more plays because of design. He is asked to flow over the top, coming free from blockers, and making tackles. Still, Johnson was a terror sideline to sideline making tackles near the line of scrimmage from the opposite side of the field. He has no troubles in coverage against tight ends or backs. And his drops are much more fluid than the previously discussed ‘Bama backer.
Only a true sophomore, Nico Johnson is already developing into one of the finest linebackers in the nation.
So many prospects in this game, yet seemingly so little time to cover them all.
Names such as Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams should be brought up as he continues to develop into a complete prospect. Instead of doing his damage purely from a slot or wing alignment, Williams was getting clean releases off the line to prove a viable target for Mallett. The senior is average nearly five catches and 60 yards per game, which equate to an impressive 12 yards per reception from the position. His size, at a listed 6-feet-2-incehs tall, will be his biggest obstacle to overcome as the off season scrutiny eventually ensues.
Alabama junior Julio Jones is one of the biggest names in the entire upcoming draft class. Yet, he had his issues going up and retrieving the football in situations when his quarterback did not place the football well within his grasp. Three times Jones was asked to make a play on the football. Three times he failed. Going up and getting the football is a trait expected of a wide receiver of his caliber and eventual draft standing.
Last year’s Heisman trophy winner, Mark Ingram, continued to impress with his patient as a runner, toughness finishing runs, and immaculate footwork in and around the hole to find openings. He always plays his best against the best competition, and it was no different against Arkansas with 184 totals yards and two touchdowns.
Left tackle James Carpenter displayed issues which will give him fits if he does not correct his technique. The blindside protector played against his best competition to date and had his struggles. Most are derived from a perceived lack of playing strength. As a result, the 6-feet-5-inches tall and 300 pound senior rears into his punches to land them effectively. He also gets far too wide in his base in his pass set, almost slipping and loosing his footing twice as the game progressed. A very good collegiate football player, who may not have enough to be anything more than depth at the next level.
Thursday night, the “U’ traveled to Pittsburgh to face the underachieving Panthers.
Attention was placed on Pitt’s *other* defensive end, Jabaal Sheard, after All Big East performer Greg Romeus was lost to the team due to a back injury. Sheard’s presence was felt throughout the game versus Miami, despite facing a solid trio of tackle prospects. Veteran blockers Joel Figueroa and Orlando Franklin, as well as the man mountain known as Sentreal Henderson, each surrendered pressure or sacks to the Pittsburgh linemen.
His quickness of the edge proved to be his most effective weapon but rips, underneath moves, and spins were all on display within his repertoire.
Issues arose, and will continue to do so, when offenses decide to run directly at the 260 pound edge rusher. Sheard is active at all times, trying to work off blocks, and working his way down the line in pursuit, but does not have the girth
Opposite, left tackle Franklin is an intriguing prospect. His size at 6-feet-7-inches tall and 312 pounds make him an ideal target for teams looking for a prototype line prospects. Currently the team’s blindside protector, the Hurricane may be better served on the right side of the line. Far too often he is seen leading with his helmet, hands wide, and bent at the waist. His footwork is solid in his kick step, but his punch once again is far too wide leaving his chest open. As a result, Franklin was almost planted once in the first half was able to recover, barely.
Earlier, the play of an elite wide receiver prospect was discussed. Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Baldwin is in a similar situation. He needs to step up his play against top competition. Miami did a wonderful job getting pressure up front, then bracketing the talented receiver behind. But three catches in total, none in the first half, and 26 yards simply does not cut it. Pitt’s offense and Baldwin himself have to find ways to get open.
Since the Watcher is omnipotent, we shall go back in time. After listening to the rave reviews TFY’s own Tony Pauline has bequeathed upon Nevada’s quarterback prospect, Colin Kaepernick, during the sites last podcast it was time to travel backward and review some slightly older tape. This is definitely a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.
Two issues presented themselves.
First is Kaepernick’s release. Not one looking to change a quarterback’s throwing motion, much like a baseball pitcher; Kaepernick’s side arm release at 6-feet-6-inches tall is of little concern. The problem is how the ball is released from his grip. Rarely does the Nevada signal caller spin the ball with a tight release, far from it. Only once in the entire game against California did a tight spiral emerge from his grasp. Balls will have issues getting to their targets if not thrown with more consistent spin.
Second is his running style. Kaepernick, a long and lean prospect, is completely upright when he takes off from the pistol. He is not built like Tim Tebow and will receive plenty of vicious blows from defenders in the National Football League transitioning behind center. It is a concern despite the amount of rushing attempts seen in college without harm.
Remember…the eye in the sky does not like, and the Watcher sees all.