From the underclassmen watch, through a week of practice at the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl respectively and onwards to the NFL combine we go.  We will be keeping you up-to-date with our ever expanding Insider Report from now until February 24th, when the fun starts in Indianapolis. Update 2/22: Cannon slimming down…Smith looks like a beast….Casey doesn’t…


Our 2011 combine coverage starts live from Indianapolis in two days.  Yet before the event officially kicks off here is the latest buzz around the training facilities.

– Several league insiders said despite the pending lockout it will be business as usual at the combine for teams and agents.  We have been alerted to dozens of meetings taking place in which teams hope to lock up both restricted and unrestricted free agents presently on their roster.

Jimmy Smith/CB/Colorado continues to look impressive in his combine training.  It was reported to us he looks like a linebacker but runs like a fast cornerback.

– On the other hand we hear Jurrell Casey/DT/USC, whose at the same training facility in Carson, California with Smith, has been unimpressive.  People have described him as having a squat/low to the ground built with thin legs.  He’s looked unathletic in training.

– We were surprised like many that cornerback Vance Cuff/CB/Georgia, who was not a regular starter for the Bulldogs, received a combine invitation.  Its based on sheer athleticism and as one source told us Cuff could, “roll out of bed and run the forty in the 4.3’s.”

–  Brandon Saine/RB/Ohio State is someone we liked coming into the season but scouts are unimpressed with his running instincts.  As one told us, “if there was a part in the Red Sea, Saine would not find it.”….ouch!

– We hear it will be touch and go as to whether or not Daniel Thomas/RB/Kansas State runs at the combine.  While he’s evidently looked good in training we were told the hamstring issue, which kept him out of the Senior Bowl, continues to be a bit of a problem.  As of last week Thomas was still having issues with tightness in the muscle.

– Last we reported the high expectations of Nevada tight end Virgil Green at the combine.  Sources have also told us the Arkansas tight end, D.J. Williams is also expected to run well.  We were told to expect times in the low 4.5’s.

– As we tweeted, or twittered on Monday, Adrian Clayborn/DE/Iowa will perform at the combine.  We hear he’s been tipping the scales in the mid 280’s and has been running in the high 4.6’s recently in training.

Marcus Cannon of TCU will be one to keep an eye on.  We were told his playing weight last season was almost 375-pounds, but he’ll be well below that when he weighs in this week.

– We raved about North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin during our coverage of Shrine practices.  In similar fashion we wrote glowingly about the skills of his former teammate, cornerback Kendric Burney from the Senior Bowl.  Yet sources have told us scouts were unimpressed to the point of being turned off by the interviews each turned in at those respective games.  Something to keep an eye on as both will be grilled on the issues which caused each to receive suspensions last season.


– Sources told us this evening that Pittsburgh defensive end Greg Romeus continues to rehab his surgically repaired knee and the signs are looking positive.  While Romeus hopes to get some sort of workout in for scouts prior to the draft its’ unlikely as his surgery, which was completed in late November, is a six month rehabilitation process.  Romeus was recently examined by Dr James Bradley of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the report was a good one.  Romeus will be at the combine undergoing medicals.

– Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph is another rehabbing at a fine pace from his surgery, this one to a hamstring.  While Rudolph won’t workout at the combine we are told he’s likely to be 100% when he takes part in the Notre Dame pro-day.

– Another walking wounded, Stephen Paea of Oregon State, is also improving at a rapid pace.  Paea, who underwent knee surgery for his injured meniscus three weeks ago, is walking around without crutches.  He is likely to bench press at the combine then hopes to get an individual workout in for scouts immediately before the draft.

– We were critical towards Greg Little of North Carolina for not competing in any post season All Star game as his former teammate Marvin Austin did but sources told us yesterday the Shrine Game did not extend an invitation to Little and the Senior Bowl refused to invite any of the permanently ineligible Tar Heels.

– Quarterback Jake Locker of Washington, whose Senior Bowl performance we ripped, has been working with former All Pro quarterback Ken O’Brien with the hopes of improving his techniques.  Carson Palmer and Matt Cassel are a few former prize students of O’Brien.  The former New York Jets signal caller has described Locker’s recent workouts as “lights out”.

– Several defensive linemen have looked real good in training recently, starting with Markus White of Florida State.  A late invitee to the combine, White has been running in the high 4.5’s at 265-pounds recently.  The hope is to break the 4.60-second barrier at the combine, where the expectations are White will have a vertical jump over 36-inches and a bench press over 25-reps.  One team we know of has a 2nd/3rd round grade on the Florida State prospect, who’s getting consideration at defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker.

Lawrence Guy of Arizona State is another looking athletic in recent weeks.  The junior has been running 4.8’s in the forty while tipping the scales over 300-pounds.

– Receiver Armon Binns has also run some surprisingly fast times.  According to one close source Binns went under 4.5-seconds in training recently.


– We have confirmed that Clemson junior defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, rated as the number two available prospect on our board, underwent minor knee surgery after the team’s bowl game to repair an injured meniscus in his knee.  Bowers initially suffered the injury midway through the 2010 campaign yet played the entire season.  No ill effects are foreseen and Bowers has been training full bore in preparation for the combine.

– While he may not match the amazing combine performance turned in by Vernon Davis in 2006, sources have told us Virgil Green of Nevada may come real close to the marks turned in by the former first rounder.  Training for the combine in Florida since his solid performance during Shrine week, Green is up to 252-pounds, slightly more than he tipped the scales in Orlando.  Those around the pass catching tight end expect him to run his forty in the very low 4.5’s and have not discounted the possibility of Green breaking below the 4.50 mark. His vertical jump could exceed 40-inches and Green is likely to top the 25-rep mark on the bench.  Sources have told us while Green is expected to turn in the top marks of any tight end at the combine, his pass catching workout will also impress scouts as he’s looked sharp in training- something not unexpected.


– USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith, who played most of the 2010 campaign weighing 285-pounds, is up to 304lbs and hopes to tip the scales between 307-to-310lbs by the time he weighs in at the combine.  Right now he’s projecting to complete 26-to30 reps on the bench, a solid number for a lineman with a 35-inch arm reach.  The expectations are Smith will run a fast time in the forty at the combine and could breach the 4.80-second mark.  This assumes he runs in Indianapolis.  We can confirm that Smith hurt his knee late in the ’10 season then had it scoped once the campaign ended.  He then spent most of the month of January rehabbing the knee.  Its’ not deemed serious but Smith may decide to wait for the USC pro-day, which is a month after the offensive lineman workout at the combine, to take part in the running and shuttles.

– We understand Adrian Clayborn of Iowa is also deciding whether or not he will run at the combine.  Clayborn expects to tip the scales around 285-pounds, not much of a difference  from the 280-to-289lbs which he fluctuated to and from during the season.  We understand teams are likely to question a shoulder issue which is not deemed serious yet has plagued Clayborn since he was a kid.

– Back on January 5th, during our breakdown of the players from the offensive side of the ball that were invited to the combine, we mentioned on the low total of centers asked to participate in Indianapolis.  It’s ironic then that two who were not invited, Colin Baxter of Arizona and Tim Barnes from Missouri, are at the top of the center list on a number of teams boards around the league.


– Last week in San Antonio at least six different teams said they rank Auburn quarterback Cam Newton as the number one prospect in the draft.  The opinions were comprised from scouts, personnel directors and a few coaches.  All had Newton rated clearly higher than Da’Quan Bowers, Nick Fairley, Marcel Dareus and competing signal caller Blaine Gabbert.  We hear the Miami Dolphins have been inquiring heavily into Newton at this stage of the game.

Even with that we hear all is not peaceful in the Newton camp.

Last year Tim Tebow released a video prior to the combine, revealing his improved throwing mechanics.  Newton will take it one step further with his “media day” which is scheduled for tomorrow.  Many in the Newton camp are against the show tomorrow and most of the scouts we spoke with think its’ foolish.    They will frown upon it more if Newton does not throw at the combine, and according to sources familiar with the situation as of now the game plan is to hold him out of the throwing workout at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27th.  Obviously that’s subject to change.

– At this early stage is seems the player that most enamors the Denver Broncos, who own the second pick of the draft, is LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

– Sources have told us Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, who received the scorn of scouts after he did not travel to the Senior Bowl, has looked sensational in workouts as he prepares for the combine.

– Looking for a sleeper at the cornerback position in the draft?  Keep close tabs on Miami Hurricane senior Ryan Hill, who started over Marcus Van Dyke for most of the season.  Scouts give Hill a higher grade than the one handed to Sam Shields, a former cornerback sleeper from the Hurricane program.

– We are working on a few important stories which surround the North Carolina prospects we hope to have up in a few days.  As of now we can tell you cornerback Charles Brown and Ryan Houston are both returning to Chapel Hill for the 2011 season.  Sources from the school have also told us safety Deunta Williams has been on campus, walking around with a boot on the ankle he severely broke during the Tar Heels bowl game.  Though no confirmation, it looks as though it will be a while before Williams is 100%.   Sources did say tight end Zach Pianalto, who’s season ended in October after he fractured his right fibula, has completely healed.

–  We hear scouts were so turned off by the performance of Arkansas offensive lineman DeMarcus Love at the Senior Bowl that a number of teams now have his teammate, Ray Dominguez, rated higher on draft boards.

– No doubt one of the biggest winners coming out of the Texas vs The Nation game was IUP defensive end/outside linebacker Mike Gee.  The undersized college defensive end showed tremendous skill rushing the passer in the game and did enough during linebacker drills in the adverse weather conditions to make scouts think he can make a smooth transition at the next level to a variety of schemes.  Gee was not rated by scouting services coming into the season and did not receive a combine invitation yet looks like a solid late round pick.  We hear a number of 3-4 teams have shown an interest in him.

The best of the bunch?

The best of the bunch?

As the Combine draws ever near, head scout Brent Sobleski steps up to the plate and reveals his version of the NFL draft’s top 30 prospects for 2010.

Take a quick journey through the inner recesses of his addled mind. One which may or may not adhere to the masses.

As always rankings are subject to change, particularly when everyone is required to watch prospects run around in shorts and tshirts in Indianapolis.

1. Marcell Dareus, DE Alabama – A bull along the defensive line who is a handful for any opponent. His talents suggest scheme versatility.  Dareus has been productive for three years, plus he has the best technique among his defensive line mates.

2. Nick Fairley, DT Auburn – A tailor-made 3-technique with the most explosive first step among his contemporaries. His one year of production for the Tigers is hard to top.

3. A.J. Green, WR Alabama – The top receiving prospect to enter the professional ranks since Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.

4. Tyron Smith, OT USC – Smith is a dancing bear at right tackle with a nasty attitude. His recent weight gain, putting him over 300 pounds, makes the USC product a legit top prospect.

5. Aldon Smith, DE  Missouri – If not for injury, Smith would not even be questioned as  a top ten prospect due to his length and athleticism.

6. Prince Amukamara, CB Nebraska – Hip flexibility is the top indicator of an exceptional cover corner. Amukamara has the best hips of the bunch.

7. Patrick Peterson, CB LSU – A world-class athlete who will ‘wow’ with workouts and has top playmaking ability, whether he stays at cornerback or moves to safety.

8. Ryan Kerrigan, DE Purdue – Kerrigan is absolutely relentless as a pass rusher and provides top production (57 tackles for loss, 33.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in his career) and better technique off the edge.

9. J.J. Watt, DE Wisconsin – Watt possesses a rare size/production combination leaving Madison at 6-6 292 pounds and 21 tackles for loss in 2010.

10. Mark Ingram, RB Alabama – Great feet in and out of the hole makes Ingram the draft’s only top notch workhorse.

11. Da’Quan Bowers, DE Clemson – Elite talent does not trump the disappearing acts seen on film while watching Bowers.

12. Blaine Gabbert, QB Missouri – A former top high school prospect who has posted an impressive career for Mizzou, although his pocket presence is somewhat suspect.

13. Akeem Ayers, LB UCLA – The best sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the nation, who doubles his value by being able to put his hand in the dirt to rush the passer.

14. Brandon Harris, CB Miami – Somewhat of a rocky junior campaign does not overlook the natural ability Harris possesses covering on the island and in the slot.

15. Drake Nevis, DT LSU – Despite being listed at a mere 6-2 and 285 pounds, Nevis was one of the most disruptive defensive forces in the nation during the 2010 campaign.

16. Robert Quinn, DE North Carolina – Number one overall ability succumbs to a year away from the gridiron due to a lackadaisical attitude.

17. Cameron Heyward, DE Ohio State – A recent elbow injury has Heyward plummeting, but his strength and versatility on the field make him a top 20 talent after he heals and works out just prior to the draft.

18. Gabe Carimi, OT Wisconsin – His junior tape indicates he is a pro-ready pass protector at the left tackle position. His senior season showed he was much stronger as a run blocker after adding weight.

19. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE Temple – The MAC’s best player the last two years is an ideal two-gap end.

20. Nate Solder, OT Colorado – A mess from a technical standpoint, Solder has the ideal size required of the left tackle position while showing enough improvement  as  a senior to warrant a first round selection.

21. Cam Newton, QB Auburn – Unbelievable athletic talent and an once-in-a-lifetime junior season does not overlook Newton’s lack of consistency throwing with accuracy and anticipation.

22. Cameron Jordan, DE California – After a fantastic Senior Bowl week, Jordan began to fly up boards. He is quick off the snap but can be found on the ground too often during Cal’s games.

23. Justin Houston, LB Georgia – A 34 outside linebacker who displayed ideal rush skills, was better against the run than indicated, and experienced in the system.

24. Aaron Williams, CB Texas – Among a triumvirate of talented corners at Texas, Williams was the most well-rounded and the best pure cover man of the lot.

25. Julio Jones, WR Alabama – Physical ability and work ethic go a long way, unless that is accompanied by a tendency to drop the football.

26. Corey Luiget, DT Illinois – Fantastic feet for a legitimate 300-pounder, but he does need to work on his hand play.

27. Christian Ballard, DE Iowa – Scheme diverse defender who did plenty of the dirty work among Iowa’s vaunted defensive line.

28. Torrey Smith, WR Maryland – An explosive straight line target who can blow the top off defenses.

29. Von Miller, LB Texas A&M – Impressive pass rusher who lacks versatility in his repertoire, plus struggles at the point of attack.

30. Ryan Mallett, QB Arkansas – Mallett possesses wonderful natural ability but was plagued by poor decision making throughout his Razorback career.

Slippery Rock's Brandon Fusco

Senior Bowl spring cleaning commences as head scout Brent Sobleski takes time to revisit his conversations with Slippery Rock’s center, Brandon Fusco, and the team’s head coach, George Mihalik, during their visit to Mobile.

Jahri Evans, Reggie Wells, John Kuhn, and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah all played their collegiate careers in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Slippery Rock’s Fusco is next in line as the National Football League beckons. Half of the league’s scouts already made multiple trips to the university nestled an hour north of Pittsburgh.

The achievement of a Division II athlete to make his way to Mobile is extraordinary. Northwestern Missouri State’s Seth Wand was the last to do so in 2003.  Wand became a third round selection by the Houston Texans.

Fusco realized and relished the opportunity.

“It means a lot,” he exclaimed. “I’m the first player to be here in Mobile, Alabama. I come from a great program and tradition. It’s hardnosed football. I hope I’m making everyone proud back home. I get a ton of text messages and calls. Everyone says they’re proud and tell me good luck. I’m proud of myself and so is my family.

“My agent called me over the phone as I was sitting with my friends eating lunch. He said I was in the Senior Bowl. I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic. I had to call my family. I never really pictured myself being down here. I’m just taking it all in right now. I can’t believe I’m on the same field as all of these guys who were on tv all of the time. It’s a blessing and a honor.”

Mihalik reiterated his player’s response.

“Total excitement,” the veteran coach of 25 years stated. “We were ecstatic. The first guy in the history of our university to be invited to the Senior Bowl. All the scouts when they came through in the fall, they said he would be probably be invited to the other all-star games, and maybe the Senior Bowl. ‘But if he gets to the Senior Bowl, coach, that’s big time.’ When it came through, I realized some people see things in Brandon and feel he belongs here.”

The highly rated pivot discussed the process he endured throughout the week under the tight scrutiny of scouts and NFL evaluators while admitting to being apprehensive.

“I came in Sunday and met some of the scouts,” Fusco explained. “I started meeting a lot of the guys. It was a great experience meeting all of these guys. You start to form friendships and hope to communicate with them for the rest of my career. Monday was the first practice. I was a little nervous and anxious at the same time. Once I got that first hit out of the way, the butterflies were gone. I was then ready to go. I knew I belonged here. Days two and three were all about getting better and better.

“The butterflies were normal. I played at a smaller school. These guys are big, strong and fast. It will get you a little nervous, but I held my own. I feel I’m right there with all of them.

“The first day of practice was a little rough. It took me a couple plays to get used to it. Now, I think I fit right in with all of these guys. I’m more fluid in my punches and technique. I’ve gotten used to the speed of the game and the strength. I just wanted to get better and better every day.” noted his improving performance throughout the week.

Brandon Fusco OL Slippery Rock 6041 302 33 ¾ 9 7/8
Monday Practice Notes: Fundamentally very sound yet really needs to improve his strength.  Stays square and controls opponents but lacks the dominant base and at times was push back into the pocket.
Tuesday Practice Notes: A tough day was had by the small school prospect. Fusco was getting some stalemates against strong interior defenders, but he was not prepared for quicker opponents. He tried to overcompensate and was caught playing over his toes and reaching far too often.
Wednesday Practice Notes: Fusco has improved each day. While he was coached up about pad level once again, his timing off the snap was much better against higher rated defensive linemen. He was very strong in small areas and really bowed up against powerful interior defenders.
Analysis: Scouts were impressed with Fusco both on and off the field as they got a closer look at the Slippery Rock product. Coming from the Div.II level, the center admitted to being surprised by the quickness of his competition early in the week. He adjusted, continued to work very hard, and got better each practice. All good signs. His athleticism and ability to step off the snap also made him the best pure center prospect during the week (although the pivot class in Mobile was generally considered weak)

“I think I’ve done a lot better,” he commented. “The techniques with my hand placement, punches, and knee bend are getting a lot better. I’m still getting used to the speed and the strength. I’m happy with the progression I’ve shown.

“It (Fusco’s knee bend) was questioned coming in. Coach (Cincinnati’s Paul Alexander) saw that right off the bat. It’s something I work on every day, and believe I’m getting a lot better. Bending and hand placement were important factors to work on for me.”

NFL personnel took notice of Fusco’s work ethic one night when he was quietly sitting with his former head coach breaking down film late in the evening.

Mihalik raves about the player his center is, but more importantly the person he is off the field. He made sure to endure the trip in support and experience everything.

“I’m on cloud nine,” the coach beamed. “Personally, I’ve seen a young guy who came into our program and grew up as a man first and foremost. Then, he grew up as a great football player. He’s worked hard for this opportunity. I really believe he is proving that he does belong.

“We’ve been here every minute we could at practice. It’s just a rewarding experience to watch that Slippery Rock helmet line up by the Wisconsin’s and against the Notre Dame’s. That is something you just don’t expect. I tried to talk to a lot of the scouts, many of whom I saw when they came through in the fall. They like what they see. They make comments about him. I’m just trying to be that fly on the wall in the shadows absorbing everything I can. More so, my chest is puffed out being so proud.”

In a draft class which lacks pure center prospects, Fusco finds himself atop the heap. The product from the Rock discussed his relative strengths and weaknesses.

“I think my speed and the fact I’m a little taller than most centers, that makes me a little unique,” he described. “I’m a little over 6-4, and you see centers in the league that are closer to 6-2 or 6-3. That’s an advantage to me. I’m a real aggressive player. I love getting after it on the field. I don’t think about anything else on the field. I focus purely on football. Anything outside, I just forget about until practice is over.

In fact NFL decision makers are moving towards larger centers to counteract the league’s massive nose tackles. Alex Mack, Eric Wood, and Maurkice Pouncey were first round selections during the last two drafts. Each is listed at 6-4. The position’s perceived body type is shifting.

As the two reflected on the entire week in Alabama, the draft is not too far off as the Combine quickly nears. Both are taking everything in stride and have come to the realization exactly what everything entails.

“It became more of a reality instead of just a dream,” Fusco mentioned. “Of course it’s been a dream to play in the NFL since I was a little kid. With all those scouts coming in every day and coach calling me to come down to the office, it was great and I made sure to enjoy it.

Mihalik built on Fusco’s interpretation.

“Your dreams can come true even in Division II football,” he expressed. “You dont’ have to be a DI player to get this opportunity. You do have to dominate at that level of program, which Brandon did.”

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