The South team hit the field at Ladd Peebles stadium for a Wednesday afternoon practice under cloudy skies and windy conditions with a temperature of 73 degrees. The South followed their usual routine, stretching for ten minutes and then going right into a couple of individual group periods.
The offensive coaching staff changed up their unit’s normal midfield warm-ups and instead had the quarterbacks and receivers working in the redzone. The QBs threw passes from inside the five yard line and mainly worked on their timing, gunning in passes to receivers on quick slant routes. All of the other positions worked on similar drills as the previous day, with the defensive backs running agility drills with secondary coach Raheem Morris, the linebackers running cone drills, and the linemen running drills that showed off their strength and quickness.
The next period of practice featured one-on-ones and the big focus was at midfield, where the linebackers and running backs took part in pass-protection drills for the first time this week instead of running coverage drills.
Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette warmed up and practiced as an outside linebacker, where he showcased some impressive short-area quickness. Bequette looked fluid and played well in pass coverage. The Arkansas product really excelled in the one-one-ones against the backs and was simply too big and powerful for the backs to handle. Bequette performed swim moves easily against Louisiana Tech’s Lennon Creer and Mississippi State’s Vick Ballard. The Razorback also looked the most natural in the blitzing drill.
Baylor running back Terrance Ganaway was horrible as a blocker on Wednesday. He was beat like a drum by almost every linebacker on the South squad. North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown performed a nasty spin move that left Ganaway in the dust, and the Baylor back was beat badly again by Brown later on in the drill.
Texas linebacker Keenan Robinson excelled in this portion of practice and looked very aggressive as a blitzer. He shoved Ganaway into the ground on a rep early in the drill that drew a “wow” from the crowd. Robinson had a solid day of practice, in which he was effective against the run and pass. He covered a lot of ground in pass coverage and moved very well laterally.
A player that impressed scouts in pass protection was Mississipi State’s Vick Ballard. He was very feisty and aggressive in blitz pick-up. Ballard stopped the likes of Jake Bequette, Zach Brown, and Nigel Bradham. His ability to block in addition to his running skills will make him a highly sought-after commodity.
The next one-on-one drill featured receivers going up against secondary men. The defensive backs won this drill for the most part and made a big improvement from their effort in Tuesday’s practice, dominating at times. The South quarterbacks also played a role in making the secondary look good on Wednesday, as they put together another below average practice for the most part and struggled with their accuracy on intermediate to deep passes.
North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins put together another solid practice for the second day in a row. The former Florida star stayed in tight coverage with his receivers and especially excelled in coverage deep down field, blanketing his opponents.
Georgia corner Brandon Boykin also stood out on Wednesday. The undersized Boykin (5-foot-9, 183 pounds) went up against the 6-foot-4, 217 pound Jeff Fuller in what was the matchup of the day and shut Fuller down. Boykin forced Fuller to the outside on their first go around and had good coverage on him, causing the incompletion. During their second matchup up, Boykin broke up the pass intended for Fuller as Morris yelled for him to “look and lean” when the ball was in the air.
Boykin also excelled in his other matchups and shut down the rest of his competition for the most part. On one play, Boykin had a great jump on the ball when covering North Carolina receiver Dwight Jones and batted down the ball. Jones was also jammed at the line a few times and had a poor practice overall. Boykin consistently displayed good press coverage and only had on misread during this drill, allowing just one touchdown.
The corner that struggled the most during one-on-ones was Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward. Hayward had a hard time staying with fast receivers and got destroyed by Patrick Edwards on a comeback route. Arkansas receiver Joe Adams ran an inside slant on Hayward and the Commodore just didn’t have enough speed to keep up with him.
Wide receiver Juron Criner once again had an impressive practice on Wednesday and has proven to be the star receiver on the South team. Criner destroyed Furman’s Ryan Steed with an inside juke on a post route, scoring a touchdown from his Arizona teammate Nick Foles. Criner also beat Alabama corner DeQuan Menzie to the inside on a post and made a beautiful diving catch 30 yards down the field.
The tight end that also impressed once again as a receiver was Alabama’s Brad Smelley. Smelley ran great routes and caught everything thrown his way. Smelley’s most impressive play was a great diving catch in which he positioned his body in front of the ball, drawing cheers from the Alabama fans in the crowd.
The next period of practice featured seven-on-sevens with offensive and defensive linemen at midfield. During the seven-on-seven’s, several South players had standout practices.
South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram really held strong at the point of attack as an outside linebacker in the Redskins’ 3-4 scheme. He displayed good lower body strength and did a great job of staying low. Ingram made a nice stop on Baylor running back Terrance Ganaway as a five-technique defensive lineman. He got a nice push on guard Will Blackwell, which forced Ganaway to cut back inside to another defender. Ingram is a versatile player that could fit into a number of defenses.
Baylor center Phillip Blake really struggled during this drill. He had two bad snaps that resulted in fumbles. Not only that, he got destroyed by North Carolina Tydreke Powell on a passing play during the seven-on-seven period.
The linemen then moved to the 10-yard line to take part in one-on-ones while the skill position players took part in seven-on-seven’s at midfield.
The best lineman in the one-on-ones, and possibility the entire practice, was Illinois’ Jeff Allen. The Fighting Illini senior turned in a terrific practice, in which he shut down stud pass-rushers Courtney Upshaw, Quinton Coples, and Mevin Ingram. He showed off his versatility by excelling at both the left and right tackle positions, along with impressing at left guard. Allen crushed Melvin Ingram on an inside rush, which forced Ingram into the turf. At the left guard position, Allen stoned Clemson’s Brandon Thompson by using good technique and strength. The Illinois senior put together a phenomenal performance on Wednesday.
Someone that disappointed scouts during the one-on-one session was Texas defensive tackle Kheeston Randall. The former Longhorn was dominated during this drill, and failed to make a solid impression on talent evaluators. He was handled easily by Georgia center Ben Jones, and was later pancaked by LSU guard Will Blackwell. Randall really struggled to disengage from offensive lineman, and when he did he failed to explode into the backfield.
Quinton Coples from North Carolina continued to show why he is the draft’s top defensive end prospect. He beat Florida State tackle Zebrie Sanders on bull rushes three times during the one-on-one period. Coples also had his way with Georgia’s Cordy Glenn, who spent the majority of the day positioned at left tackle. The North Carolina stud beat Glenn early on in the drill by using a nasty rip move. Later, he bull rushed the Georgia tackle all the way into the backfield where the quarterback would have been. Coples isn’t really explosive, but he wins battles by using his strength and technique.
Cordy Glenn does not look like he can play the left tackle position at a high level in the NFL. He struggles to keep with faster pass-rushers, and doesn’t have great footwork. The former Bulldog should really be used as a guard, which fits his skill set much better than at the tackle position.
During the skill position portion of seven-on-seven’s, the quarterbacks again struggled with their accuracy and when Foles made a great deep pass to a wide open Joe Adams it was dropped, which prompted the scouts in the crowd to let out their disappointment. Criner did however remain his consistent self and made a few good catches, including an impressive back shoulder grab with Boykin draped on him.
The defense once again dominated their opponents and Boykin made an impressive play, jumping a route and knocking down a pass intended for Jones. Jenkins also made a play on a ball intended for Jones, jarring the ball loose after Jones caught it on a quick slant.
Following the conclusion of the one-on-one and seven-on-seven sessions, the team then began the scrimmage period of practice.
Once again, Illinois offensive lineman Jeff Allen was dominant at multiple positions along the offensive line. He opened up an enormous hole for Lousiana Tech running back Lennon Creer on a stretch run play to the left side. Allen made contact with Kheeston Randall and used great technique to open up a nice hole for the back to run through. On a play later in the session, the Illinois senior drove Texas A&M defensive tackle Tony Jerrod-Eddie backwards and into linebacker Sean Spence. Allen eliminated both from having a chance to wrap up running back Vick Ballard, who ran for a nice gain.
Defensive end Quinton Coples also flashed in during the team scrimmage. On a handoff to the right side, Vick Ballard attempted to bounce outside but was stopped the long arm of Coples. The Tar Heel overpowered tackle Zebrie Sanders, disengaged his hands from the lineman, grabbed Ballard by the jersey, and threw him to the ground.
Later in the scrimmage, the Tar Heel pass-rusher again beat Zebrie Sanders, who was positioned at right tackle. Coples beat Sanders off the ball and sacked quarterback Nick Foles as he tried to roll out to his right.
The last period of practice featured special teams and the South team worked on kick returns and their kick return formations on Wednesday. The South squad will return to the practice field again on Thursday afternoon.
- Andrew Scavelli and Eric Dellaratta compiled this report