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.”
DraftInsider.net 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.”
Scouts and a few general managers traveled to San Antonio this weekend for the Texas vs. The Nation contest. While we were not on hand we’ve received reports from many of the scouts and people who were on hand. Here’s our initial account, which will be updated later on Friday/Saturday. Update 11PM: More Player Additions & the Dixie Grid Iron in shambles
The conditions by all accounts were miserable, as anyone that’s watched the weather in Texas would know. Practices were held outdoors and on Tuesday it was 16-degrees. The conditions hampered the ability to practice as players were unprepared. Few had gloves or warm weather clothes. The second practice on Tuesday was called off after just 48-minutes. The teams were able to move into the Alamo Dome on Wednesday for practice. A boating convention in the facility made it impossible for practice to be held in the dome early in the week. Several told us the greatest value this week was not the play on the field but the interviews several players completed with the teams on hand.
Here’s the lowdown:
Kenrick Ellis/DT/Hampton: Ellis flashed dominance throughout the week, displaying great quickness, use of hands and playing with good pad level. Most we spoke with said that while he looked terrific Ellis is anywhere from 10-to-15 pounds overweight.
Christian Anthony/DE/Grambling: To a man everyone told us Anthony looked impressive all week. He was explosive, athletic and made his presence felt each day. His pass rushing skills were some of the best of anyone in attendance. He does get a little tall but overall it was a successful outing for Anthony.
Derek Newton/OT/Arkansas State: Looked like one of the best offensive linemen in attendance. Lined up on both the left and right side. He was athletic, moved well and used his long arms to dominate opponents.
Spencer Paysinger/OLB/Oregon: Looked explosive and agile. Showed terrific vision and instincts in practice. Fluid moving sideline-to-sideline and looked very athletic.
Jamari Lattimore/OLB/Middle Tennessee St: The pass rush extraordinaire moved from the defensive end position he played at MTSU and was used solely at linebacker. According to all the transition was smooth as Lattimore was fast getting to the flanks and showed ability making plays in space.
Chris Prosinksi/S/Wyoming: Prosinski impressed everyone with his hard-hitting and intimidating style. Most commented he plays the safety position like a linebacker yet he is undersized and showed marginal ball skills.
Craig Marshall/DL/South Florida: Marshall lined up at both tackle and end, looking fluid and athletic. He showed quickness up the field as well as the movement skills to get to the sidelines in pursuit.
Vance Cuff/CB/Georgia: One of the better corners in attendance. Showed well in coverage and displayed next level ball skills.
Taylor Potts/QB/Texas Tech: Was one of the better signal callers in attendance. Showed a decent arm and accurate with passes.
Nathan Enderle/QB/Idaho: Enderle had a rough start but finished strong. Part of the problem was implementing the spread offense the Nation team will use in the game. Enderle had a lot of his passes dropped, in part because of the weather and in part because he does not put touch on throws.
Jarriel King/OL/South Carolina: For the most part did a good job displaying quickness, athleticism and good footwork in pass protection drills.
Daniel Kilgore/OL/Appalachian State: Was a favorite of many. Described as a tough, nasty blocker- something evident on film. Looked a bit stiff, also obvious on film, but showed the tools to work with.
Anthony Gaitor/CB/Florida International: For the most part really struggled. He was small in comparison to most, looked stiff and consistently got turned by opponents.
Kris Durham/WR/Georgia: Two separate sources told us that despite the poor conditions, Durham was one of the few receivers that stood out. One scouts referred to him as a “beast” displaying the best hands of anyone and catching everything in sight.
Ryan Taylor/TE/North Carolina: Taylor, the Tar Heels back up tight end that did a good job filling in when Zack Pianalto went down, was also effective catching the ball. He displayed strong hands and the ability to pull the ball from the air.
Jeff Van Camp/QB/Florida Atlantic: By all accounts Van Camp struggled as the poor conditions which included strong winds the first two days exploited his weaknesses.
– Scouts on hand said they were surprised that Christian Anthony decided to opt for the draft, something we stated when we received confirmation at the Senior Bowl he was playing in this game. Anthony decided to return to Gambling in 2010 after a dominant ’09 campaign. You may remember we reported in August that Anthony was taken by ambulance from the practice field to the hospital for heart attack like symptoms as Grambling was preparing for the season. He never played a down in 2010. During a television interview during the Bayou Classic against Southern, Anthony said he planned to return to Grambling in 2011.
– One scout told us besides Vance Cuff of Georgia and Josh Gatlin of North Dakota State, the defensive backs have looked like “junk”.
– Another All Star game, the Dixie GridIron Classic, is also scheduled to kick-off tomorrow, though this game takes place in St George, Utah. Several sources told us today the game is in shambles. Evidently when players arrived on Monday there were no NFL scouts in attendance and a shortage of footballs. Footballs had to be borrowed from a local high school yet the situation never improved. Several players who traveled to the game left to return home or to training facilities, including some that had driven upwards of eight hours in the hopes of showcasing their skills for NFL scouts. The game was originally slated to be played at Dixie State College but was moved to Desert Hills High School. One source from the Dixie State athletic department confirmed the stories of the practice and game falling into shambles. A secretary from Desert Hills HS confirmed the game was stll scheduled to kick-off tomorrow. Some of the better known names listed on the roster include Kodi Burns/Auburn, Karl Moore/Florida, Joe Collins/Weber State, Marc Schiechl/Colorado School of Mines, Ronnie Paulo/UNLV, Culmer St.Jean/Wisconsin, Mistral Raymond/South Florida.
Bowl games are complete. Underclassmen have declared. The Senior Bowl is kaput. All that remains is the Super Bowl before the NFL evolves into draft overtime.
Head scout Brent Sobleski has kept a close eye on all of these occurrences and pieced together his latest mock draft puzzle.
Only time will tell regarding its veracity, but for now all one can do is peer at the mock which has been deemed uncanny…
|(+1)||Analysis: Although Panther fans may curse the name of Andrew Luck, the team can now concentrate on the defensive side of the football where Auburn’s Nick Fairley was as good as any player in the nation. His first step explosiveness as a three technique makes him a handful for any offensive lineman.|
|(+2)||Analysis: The team’s secondary is officially one of the city’s oldest attractions. Plus Champ Bailey is not happy and likely won’t return. What was new coach Joh Fox’s calling as a position coach? The secondary. Peterson is expected to wow scouts with a phenomenal workout. Plus, he adds special teams explosiveness.|
|(+3)||Analysis: The Bills seem content with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, at least enough not to spend a top three pick on the position. Their front seven was absolutely abysmal this past season. Dareus is a perfect fit in the team’s 34 and can be the playmaker they desperately lack along the defensive line.|
|(N/A)||Analysis: Carson Palmer seems sincere in his intentions to be traded or retire. Cincinnati needs to move in a new direction. If they do plan on moving away from Palmer, then what better time to draft their franchise quarterback of the future? Gabbert entered this season as a top prospect for the 2012 draft. Instead, he becomes the favorite to be the first selected at his position in 2011.|
|(+6)||Analysis: Arizona would be disappointed to see the draft’s top quarterback being selected one slot ahead of its choice. Outside of Gabbert, the team will likely be forced to look toward a veteran at the position. Bowers is the top talent remaining to help the Cardinals’ sub-par pass rush. Arizona runs enough four man fronts, and Bowers is just athletic enough to make this choice work.|
|(+11)||Analysis: A complete overhaul is taking place in Cleveland, and the team’s most glaring concern is a pass rusher. They will transition back to a 43 under Dick Jauron while still lacking legitimate defensive ends. If not for injury, the conversation of Smith as a top ten pick would be a foregone conclusion. He is still one of the most physically talented edge rushers in the nation.|
|7||San Francisco||Prince Amukamara||CB/Nebraska|
|(-2)||Analysis: Coach Harbaugh has nearly everything in place to play his brand of football in San Francisco, outside of a legit quarterback. Unfortunately like other teams in front of the Niners, the position is not deep depending on the style of passer required. Instead, the ability to add a top notch cover man to an already tough defensive front is an intriguing possibility.|
|(-5)||Analysis: Tennessee is a team in transition after deciding to go in a different direction at head coach for the first time in 17 years. The team tried to make a low risk investment in Randy Moss this season. The experiment failed. But the intention were well placed. Green can provide similar explosive capabilities in the offense while garnering good value at no.8 overall.|
|(+10)||Analysis: Big D has already set its sights on a cornerback. They would love to land Patrick Peterson. Prince Amukamara is off the board (in this scenario). And Brandon Harris isn’t a consolation prize. In fact, the team is very high on the Miami product and would like nothing better to land this caliber of athlete at the position.|
|(+4)||Analysis: It’s hard to slot a quarterback with this much raw athletic potential to any team. His passing ability may lack the precision needed for a west coast attack, but the same could have been said about Jay Cutler under Mike Shanahan. And owner Daniel Snyder is appeased by acquiring another big ticket attraction.|
|11||Houston||Von Miller||LB/Texas A&M|
|(+12)||Analysis: Wade Phillips has been announced as the team’s newest defensive coordinator. The acquisition also brings the 34 base defense. Brian Cushing will be fine on one side, while Miller can play inside or outside linebacker. Phillips’ one-gap playcalling will make Miller’s athleticism and ability to get to the quarterback even more beneficial.|
|(-5)||Analysis: Potential attitude issues and lapses in concentration aside, some team will take a chance on Mallett’s pure passing ability sooner rather than later. Minnesota may be best served to acquire a veteran, but that is easier said than done. This may be the last chance the Vikings get to acquire a thrower of this caliber.|
|(-5)||Analysis: The Lions should be ecstatic to land this dancing bear outside of the top ten. Smith may not possess ideal size, but his athleticism and attitude are second to none at the position. Detroit needed to upgrade at left tackle ages ago, despite Jeff Backus’ steady play. Matt Stafford needs to be protected.|
|14||St. Louis||Cameron Jordan||DE/California|
|(+11)||Analysis: Jordan’s performance at the Senior Bowl was second to none. St. Louis can slide the collegiate five technique inside along its four man front to improve poor defensive tackle play. Jordan can also be a strong base end and present versatility to a head coach in Steve Spanuolo once known for being creative along his defensive line.|
|(+1)||Analysis: New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll isn’t known for his creativity. He wants to run the ball first and foremost. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are not as dynamic a duo as they once were. Now it is time to add the shot in the arm needed to improve the team’s all around offense.|
|(+2)||Analysis: The middle of the defense is now firmly entrenched with Knighton and Alualu prowling the interior for Jacksonville, but the team’s pass rush has been anemic for years. Kerrigan is a very different player than Derrick Harvey, when the Gator was chosen ninth overall. The Purdue product may not possess elite edge skills, but his motor is absolutely relentless.|
|17||New England (from Oakland)||J.J. Watt||DE Wisconsin|
|(+4)||Analysis: The strength of the Patriot defense is situated along its back line with McCourty and Meriweather. It was once the team’s front line which dominated for New England. After Richard Seymour was traded away, the front three haven’t been the same. J.J. Watt has the length, size, and work ethic to be a wonderful addition as a five technique.|
|18||San Diego||Cameron Heyward||DE/Ohio State|
|(+11)||Analysis: Heyward may be battling an elbow injury, but indications lean toward him being healthy and able to work out prior to the draft. The Chargers are desperate to upgrade their front three. Luis Castillo is consistent. Antonio Garay was a great find. The rest of the group is nondescript at best.|
|19||NY Giants||Akeem Ayers||LB/UCLA|
|(+1)||Analysis: The defensive line has been the calling card for the Giants in recent years. Its linebackers have been suspect at best. Ayers brings a lot to the table for whatever team he is chosen. He is arguably the most fluid and athletic linebacker in the draft. He can also put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer.|
|20||Tampa Bay||Robert Quinn||DE/North Carolina|
|(-7)||Analysis: Talent trumps trepidation in Tampa Bay. Quinn would have been considered the top overall selection if his nonchalant attitude didn’t overrule common sense. It did. He was suspended. But his talent didn’t disappear, and Tampa Bay is now building one of the best young defensive lines in football.|
|21||Kansas City||Justin Houston||LB/Georgia|
|(N/A)||Analysis: Todd Grantham was Georgia’s defensive coordinator this season. Houston responded to Grantham’s 34 scheme playing well at linebacker. Previously, Grantham had the same responsibilities under Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. Crennel is now the defensive coordinator in KC with a unit that may be scrambling for a pass rusher if Tamba Hali is not franchised and signs elsewhere.|
|Analysis: Peyton Manning will be another year older, and the team’s rushing attack cannot continue to sputter next season (injuries aside). Solder has plenty of work to do from a technique perspective, but his talent alone makes the Colorado product an upgrade over Charlie Johnson at left tackle. His length and athleticism make him a great fit in the Colts’ scheme.|
|23||Philadelphia||Anthony Castonzo||OT/Boston College|
|(+10)||Analysis: Philadelphia struggled mightily along its offensive line this past season. Winston Justice has disappointed. Right guard has been a revolving door. And the team’s center never snapped a football prior to this preseason. The Eagles need to add consistency up front. Castonzo could slide easily into the right tackle position and protect Michael Vick’s backside.|
|24||New Orleans||Adrian Clayborn||DE/Iowa|
|(+7)||Analysis: Clayborn appears entrenched as a late first round selection, and he seems okay with the thought. Despite a disappointing senior season, a team still requiring a pass rush, like the Saints, should be willing to role the dice. Clayborn should prove to be a nice base end to pair with Will Smith, who struggled after the teams Super Bowl campaign.|
|(+3)||Analysis: It would be an intriguing scenario to see Seattle pass on a homegrown talent like Jake Locker at this slot. But the team needs more than a long term project at the quarterback position and must upgrade its pitiful pass defense.|
|(-11)||Analysis: All Baltimore does is acquire talent. If a player this caliber falls to the Ozzie Newsome-led squad, it would be hard to see one of the league’s best general managers pass. Jones has some issues, but he would be wonderful paired with Anquan Boldin. And he’s an instant upgrade over the rest of an older unit.|
|(N/A)||Analysis: The Falcons are one of the most complete teams in the league, but they lack a true second receiver. Trotting out Brian Finneran and Michael Jenkins week in and week out is a travesty when Roddie White is opposite. Smith would be another explosive playmaker to give opposing defenses even more fits.|
|28||New England||Derek Sherrod||OT/Mississippi State|
|(-2)||Analysis: Incumbent left tackle Matt Light will be 33 years old in June. He was already limited as a blindside protector. It’s only time before age catches up. Sebastian Vollmer has been a wonderful addition up front, but the Patriots must prepare to evolve along the offensive line and a technically sound prospect like Sherrod fits the bill.|
|(-5)||Analysis: The team’s front line improved dramatically once Frank Omiyale was placed at left tackle, Chris Williams bumped inside to guard, and J’Marcus Webb was placed at right tackle. None possess the natural talent of Carimi who could find a slot on the blindside, strongside, or even guard.|
|30||NY Jets||Muhammad Wilkerson||DT/Temple|
|(N/A)||Analysis: When a team is relying as heavily on two ends averaging 34 years of age, a massive talent overhaul is required. Wilkerson is a tailor-made five technique to help sweep out the likes of Trevor Pryce and Shaun Ellis at the position.|
|(-1)||Analysis: As successful as Pittsburgh has been in recent years, they still lack two key components. Sub-par offensive line and cornerback play has presented issues for the Steelers from time to time. Smith has the type of natural ability the team hasn’t seen since Rod Woodson left town. He’s not nearly on that level, but it simply proves the point.|
|32||Green Bay||Corey Luiget||DT/Illinois|
|(N/A)||Analysis: A surprise entry to the draft, Luiget is blessed with a ton of raw natural ability. His feet and athleticism in tight are tremendous. Green Bay rolls the dice on a talent to develop as a future five technique along an already talented defensive front.|
|33||New England (from Carolina)||Jeremy Beal||DE/Oklahoma|
|38||Cleveland||Titus Young||WR/Boise State|
|39||San Francisco||Stephen Paea||DT/Oregon State|
|43||Houston||Davon House||CB/New Mexico State|
|46||St. Louis||Kyle Rudolph||TE/Notre Dame|
|47||Denver (from Miami)||Drake Nevis||DT/LSU|
|49||Oakland||Stefen Wisniewski||OG/Penn State|
|50||San Diego||Martez Wilson||LB/Illinois|
|51||NY Giants||Ben Ijalana||OT/Villanova|
|52||Tampa Bay||Curtis Brown||CB/Texas|
|53||Kansas City||Michael Pouncey||OG/Florida|
|55||Philadelphia||Marvin Austin||DT/North Carolina|
|56||New Orleans||Bruce Carter||LB/North Carolina|
|60||New England||Kendall Hunter||RB/Oklahoma State|
|62||San Diego (from NY Jets)
||Vincent Brown||WR/San Diego State|
|64||Green Bay||Kelvin Sheppard||LB/LSU|