Sunday, January 28, 2007

Senior Bowl Game Recap

Numerous and profuse apologia to any visitors hoping for Senior Bowl practices. When work and life interfere, blogging lags behind. I did, however, watch the senior bowl, and here's what I saw happen.

North got the ball first, and took the ball downfield, mostly passing. Troy Smith started out at QB and made a good throw on 3&10 on a comeback route to Aundrae Allison where Jonathan Wade had good coverage. Of course, they were at 3&10 because Smith had made two unimpressive throws. The big play to get downfield was a reverse on which Smith made a decent enough block. Brian Leonard converted a 4&1 from inside the 15 as an I-back. Tony Hunt showed good patience in waiting for pulling G Josh Beekman to hit the end zone.

South didn't start out great. Leak's first throw was late and Josh Wilson made a good play to break up the ball. TE Scott Chandler dropped one. Amobi Okoye had a sack on 3rd down after beating G Tim Duckworth. David Harris sniffed out a screen to Kenneth Darby and dropped him for a loss to set up the 3rd and long where Okoye had the sack. Daniel Sepulveda was a great punter at Baylor, but he gives North good field position after an awful punt.

North cashes in with a FG the next drive to go up 10-0. Not much thanks to Troy Smith, though, as he's 4 of 13 for 45 yards. Tony Hunt still looked pretty good-not an elite back, but a very reliable one. North converted about a 4&7 from the 38 on a pass to Brian Leonard. Smith scrambled out of the pocket and dumped it to Leonard. Leonard then made a good move to freeze LB Tony Taylor out of Georgia and picked up the necessary yardage.

South goes 3&out on their second drive. Meh all-around.

Drew Stanton came in at QB for North on the third drive. Chase Pittman did a good job staying at home on a counter-pitch to Michael Clayton. Stanton look ok throwing short, less great throwing long. Fresno WR Paul Williams did a good job of picking up one 3rd down, then dropped one on 3rd down. P Podlesh's kick just rolled into the end zone after the coverage team couldn't quite stop it, which they should have.

Leak's still in at QB. Nebraska DE Jay Mohr comes in unblocked(!) and forces a fumble, which North recovers.

Stanton makes an easy throw to Clayton on a rollout to pick up most of the yardage and then hits Aundrae Allison on a fade to pick up the TD. North leads 17-0.

Jordan Palmer comes in at QB for the South. 3&out again, with David Patterson getting the sack on 3rd down. North's defensive line is really dominating the South's offensive line.

Tyler Palko comes in at QB for the North. When Jon Gruden calls you a "system quarterback," that's really damning with faint praise. He does make a nice throw to pick up 3&7 on a comeback, though. Palko converted another 3&7 on a scramble. North's drive bogged down close, though, as Michael Griffin and Brandon Meriweather made nice breakups on pass plays in the end zone. Crosby hits another FG, and North leads 20-0.

South had about 20 seconds to do something, and Jordan Palmer almost throws a pick to ex-Hokie LB Boo McLee. Sure, a pass to the TE picks up some yards, then Johnnie Lee Higgins, Palmer's teammate at UTEP, gets the ball down to the 20 on the last play of the half.

In thank goodness for small mercies, South gets the ball to start the second half. Lorenzo Booker, who looks like a 3rd down back to me, had his best KO return, out near the 35. Houston's Kevin Kolb came in at QB. Kolb did manage to convert a 3rd down on a short pass to FSU's Chris Davis, then Quinn Pitcock and company take him down on the next 3rd down.

Tyler Palko gets a second drive at QB for the North, and sees his second fumbled center snap exchange on the first play. He has some success with short passing, so maybe Gruden will draft him to replace Gradkowski as his designated young QB to get frustrated with. Doug Datish gets a nice hold of DT Ryan McBean on a 3rd down play as Palko's scrambling outside the pocket, a play that ends with Palko rifling one past Tony Hunt on a checkdown-positively Vick-ian, and that's not a compliment.

South has another great drive-fumble on Kolb's exchange to Kenneth Darby on the first play, and North recovers. Troy Smith is at QB for North again. Hunt with a good run on first down for first and goal, and Smith directs, and then hits, Jason Hill in the end zone. North 27, South 0.

South's fun continues, as Kevin Kolb gets sacked by Cal DT Brandon Mebane. They tried to run a screen on 3rd and long, but that didn't happen. 3 and out, again. Still just a single 3rd down conversion by the SEC-dominated South team.

Troy Smith still at QB. A muffed double-reverse sets up 3&21 and a basic Hunt run doesn't pick that up. Jordan Palmer for the South. Another fumbled center snap exchange gives the ball to North. Drew Stanton almost returns the favor, but gets the ball back. Yes, it's been raining all game. Stanton makes North's first real big error of the game, getting picked by Michael Coe of Alabama State, who joined the South squad as an injury replacement, in the end zone. Good play by Coe, with excellent positioning to beat Fresno WR Paul Williams to the spot.

Jordan Palmer in at QB again. I'm starting to think South should do what one of the teams in the Shrine Game did, shuttle the 3 QBs in and out on alternating plays. Courtney Taylor makes a good play, snagging a short pass and not quite getting tackled by Tanard Jackson and running for 25 more yards. Jay Moore gets his second unblocked sack, as LT Joe Staley down-blocks again. No fumble this time, but they make up for it on the center exchange. 3&16 is a fun down to convert. Down 27 you go for it on 4&6, and David Patterson gets a sack.

Enough of the individual drive-blogging. South WR Jason Hill drops a slant on 3rd down. Jay Moore gets credit for another sack, as he beat Joe Staley with an inside move and whacked the ball out of Jordan Palmer's hand.

Mike Mayock immediately points out Jay Moore as being impressive in the game; that's easy when they don't block you. Mayock notes he'd probably be asked to stand up at the Combine, as a 3-4 OLB. Dick Vermeil declined to point out anybody who particularly impressed him, just Gruden. Gruden actually did look pretty good to me, simplifying his normal over-complicated scheme.

Tony Hunt was named game MVP. Given this is a QB-dominated award and no QB looked very impressive, I'm fine with that. The real MVP was probably North's defensive line, but Hunt was a worthy choice. Hopefully I'll be able to watch the rest of the practices Sunday or early this coming week and get up reports on those, then give some sort of overall thoughts.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Senior Bowl Practices, Day Three

This will be Part One of Two for Day Three, as other commitments prevented me from watching more than the 2 hours of South practice today. When I watch the North practice

We got to see some good individual LB drills today. I repeat my comments yesterday about Quentin Moses: how the heck this guy was considered a potential Top 5-overall caliber pick entering this season is now beyond me. Yes, he's working out at OLB as well as the DE position he played at Georgia. FSU LB Buster Davis looks like a 2-down NFL LB-very productive in Tallahassee, but I don't think he'll look that great against NFL-speed. Georgia LB Tony Taylor and Ole Miss LB Patrick Willis looked best among the LBs. Mike Singletary got a lot of face time doing the LB drills, but this was much better than the face time Gruden got, since what Singletary was saying helped you evaluate what the LBs were doing.

The DBs looked mostly eh again in mostly off coverage. FSU WR Chris Davis ran right by Kevin Payne of Louisiana-Monroe. Texas DB Aaron Ross got a good bump on Florida WR Dallas Baker, then totally lost contain. Clemson WR Chansi Stuckey had a couple nice grabs. LSU WR Dwyane Bowe looked pretty impressive, using his size to get inside and run a couple nice comeback routes.

Arkansas T Tony Ugoh has nice athleticism, but he's still really raw and didn't look very good. Pat Kirwan on the draft recap show said Ugoh has been his most disappointing player. Texas DE Tim Crowder has looked pretty good-not elite, but a solid 2nd or 3rd round pick.

Mike Mayock was hyping Houston QB Kevin Kolb as the guy who could make a move up draft boards this week, up to and including into the first round. Uhuh, not the guy I've seen. UTEP's Jordan Palmer, younger brother of Carson, was a guy who may have had that same possibility at one up. Uhuh, not now. And Chris Leak, meh, Brooks Bollinger once was enough. Dinky-dunky in the red zone. With the job Norv Turner did on Alex Smith, I would've expected his charges to look a little better than they did.

I still don't have much to say on 11v11's.

Same schedule as the past two days for practices, North 9:30-11 CT and South 4-6, with the 30 minute recap show at 7 CT, with a re-air of same at 12:30 AM CT.

Senior Bowl Practices, Day Two

Just for the record, here is the roster for the North Team, and here is the roster for the South Team, coached by Mike Nolan and the rest of the San Francisco 49er coaching staff.

There's something vaguely disturbing about the weigh-in, 500 scouts and NFL people watching young men with their shirts off getting measured and weighed.

NORTH
The North practice featured some more solo drills, which didn't seem as enlightening as the solo drills at the Combine. WR v DB drills were much better. Eric Weddle, Utah's do-everything guy, looked more like a safety-noticeably bigger, not as quick as the other guys, and Rhema McKnight ran past him in what was supposed to be press coverage. Leon Hall, Michigan CB, looks a good deal more comfortable playing outside technique, with help inside; maybe it's just the way he was supposed to line up, but that's how he looked. Fresno WR Paul Williams smoked Syracuse DB Tanard Jackson at the line and poped him outside. Notre Dame WR Rhema McKnight had trouble catching the ball. East Carolina WR Aundrae Allison looked pretty good. Maryland DB Josh Wilson looked pretty good. Of the North team DBs, NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock had Leon Hall the top CB and #2 behind LSU S LaRon Landry and Fresno CB Marcus McCauley behind Hall, with Cal DB Daymeion Hughes #11 and Weddle 12th among DBs as a SS. McCauley reminds me a little of Marlin Jackson, kind of a tweener between CB and Safety+ in the NFL, though I seem to recall Jackson playing both at Michigan, while McCauley was just a CB. Hughes was mostly eh to me. Interestingly, Mayock has Florida S Reggie Nelson, who's not in Mobile because he came out as a junior, 10th among DBs.

Nebraska DE Adam Carriker looked good again. I wasn't a big fan of tOSU lineman Doug Datish when he was a Buckeye, and he didn't look any better here-his ability to play all 3 OL spots should at least get him a practice squad spot, but eh. Purdue DE Charles Spencer looks like at least a decent situational pass rusher in the NFL-fast enough to get some rush outside, but not without inside rush skills. In these 1v1 OL v DL drills, you can't see rush D, though, and Spencer's not real big at 262.

I don't get Tyler Palko love. He's Bruce Gradkowski, slightly taller, and with less of a track record of success. Troy Smith looked pretty good in 7v7 passing drills, but the question on him is ability to throw inside the pocket.

As a Big Ten fan, living in Big Ten Country, it's a little meh to watch 1v1s featuring guys like Spencer, Levi Brown, Ryan Harris of Notre Dame, Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley, Notre Dame DE Victor Abiamiri, and other people I've seen a lot.

West Virginia C Dan Mozes, SMQ's "Symbol of Unselfish Dominance," looks like a 4A guy, great college player who doesn't have the physical ability to be a good player at the top level. Ok, Titans C Justin Hartwig was a 6th who started for a couple years and got a decent FA contract, and maybe Mozes could do that, but I didn't like him.

SOUTH
A lot of blather from the Mayock, Charles Davis, and Paul Burmeister. QBs of the South team are Houston's Kevin Kolb, whom Mayock is real high on, Chris Leak, and UTEP's Jordan Palmer. FSU's Lorenzo Booker is an intriguing RB guy-pretty good in space, but man alive the Seminoles were awful on offense; Leon Washington looked fine with the Jets as a rookie this year, so the Jeff Bowden Theory is active.

49ers coach Mike Nolan looks much older than he did late in the regular season. Maybe it's the facial hair and the hair covering up all but the greying sideburns.

David Irons of Auburn looked inconsistent in 1v1 WR-DB drills-very good plays alternating with some pretty bad ones. Dwyane Bowe of LSU went to the same pass-catching school Rhema McKnight did.

The South team seems to be more guards, or at least quality guards, than the North's tackles. Or maybe that's just who stood out more to me. From 1v1's, you really wonder why Georgia DE Quentin Moses was regarded as a potential Top 5 overall pick. Tony Ugoh out of Arkansas was the best South OT. Oklahoma State DL Ryan McBean is apparently a guy whose stock is rising, but he strikes me as more of a workout guy than a good player. Not Gabe Watson-inconsistency, but a body that doesn't match his play.

I have a hard time reading LB play in a situation like this-DeMeco Ryans really stood out as a not a first round guy based on the drills here last year, but there hasn't been a real situation for them to stand out in 1v1s yet. I think they get to match up against the RBs tomorrow.

There was a lot more South coverage, more than the North coverage today, but eh. Maybe I'll watch South first tomorrow and I might be more attentive. Tomorrow's schedule is the same as today-North from 9:30-11 AM CT, South from 4-6 CT, and a half-hour recap show at 8:30 PM CT.

I should be back with more of the same tomorrow night.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Senior Bowl Practices, Day One

For Colts and Bears fans, two of the longest weeks of their football fan lives have just begun. For fans of the other 30 teams, it's time to look ahead to next season. Until free agency begins at the beginning of March, there's the pre-draft workouts. The East-West Shrine game was this past Saturday, but the real highlight is the Senior Bowl, coming up this Saturday. Down in Mobile, though, it's not just about the game, but also the practices. And, the NFL Network is bringing to us practice coverage, like they did last year. I'll be watching that coverage (well, taping it and watching it when I get home, to be technical), and reporting on some of my thoughts.

Today was solely the North team's practice, coached by the Bucs coaching staff and Jon Gruden.

Ohio State QB Troy Smith graded in at 6' even. Given he'd been rumored to be as short as 5'10", this is good news. This makes the Drew Brees comparable, popularized most notably by Kirk Herbstreit during the tOSU-UM game, look better.

There must have been some real luggage issues, as both Smith and Penn State RB Tony Hunt were both wearing Northern Illinois helmets. Ditto Iowa lineman Marshall Yanda and Ohio State DT David Patterson.

1-on-1 WR-CB drills are tough for the DBs, starting 7-10 off and facing a QB with no pass rush. None of Marcus McCauley, Wilson out of MD, Leon Hall, or Daymeion Hughes of Cal stood out. Notre Dame WR Rhema McKnight pushed off on Hughes on play to set up a comeback, a common route, and Stanton missed him on the sidelines. Clemson DB Tye Hill really stood out in this drill last year and ended up going in the middle of the first round to the Rams. Nobody I saw stood out quite so much.

The difficulty in finding quality tackles is emphasized by Notre Dame LT Ryan Harris reportedly being considered as the second LT in the draft, behind Wisconsin's Joe Thomas. Ohio State DT Patterson weighed in at 274, really too light for a 4-3 DT without exceptional quickness, which he doesn't have. Amobi Akoye, the 19 year old Louisville DT, had a nice inside spin on Texas Tech's Ramirez, though Ramirez got him when he tried the same move the next play. Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley couldn't beat Penn State OT Levi Brown on the outside speed rush; he looks more like a 3-4 OLB to move, if he can play in space, so that result didn't really surprise me.

Michigan State QB Drew Stanton is a guy whose stock has really dropped from where it was before the '06 season. He needed to have a strong Senior Bowl week to move back into the first round. Two passes I saw in 11v11's, one a bad overthrow on a short route and the other a dumpoff to Penn State RB Tony Hunt which Hunt dropped. Nebraska DE Adam Carriker impressed me; he really beat Ohio State lineman Doug Datish inside to bust a run by Louisville RB Kolby Smith.

Colorado K Mason Crosby has a hell of a leg. The Pats were criticized for taking Steven Gostkowski with a 5th round pick last year, but he ended up being pretty good, particularly on kickoffs. I'd expect Crosby to be taken at least as high and be just as good.

On an off-field-ish note, I wasn't thrilled with NFL Network's production values here. The 11v11 camera work showed too much of Coach Chucky, and not enough of the play. Also, the camera work featured too much QB myopia, showing us just the pocket, even when the QB threw the ball downfield.

Tomorrow's coverage features 90 minutes of North practice, running 9:30-11 AM CT, and 2 hours of South practice, from 4-6 CT. There's also a half-hour recap show at 8:30 PM CT. I'm hoping today's work as more introductory coverage and tomorrow we'll get into more of a drills-based focus, particularly with the North team.

Friday, January 12, 2007

College Football

Since I've started this blog, I've posted less college football content than I expected. One of the recent issues is a playoff. College Football Resource wrote the article I wanted to, pretty much, as to why a playoff is a bad idea. See also MGoBlog's latest. And this post backing up CFR's argument from The Baseball Savant. And this article on Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany (JD, UNC '73), one of the people blocking a playoff.

Also college football related, see EDSBS's interview podcast with Phil Steele. I finally got around to listening to it a couple weeks ago. The prediction of Arkansas winning a lot of games looks a lot better now than it did five months ago, I'll have to say.

Last but certainly not least, stat geekery. First, here's an old, good post from MGoBlog, Zen and the Science of Third Down Conversion, showing third down conversion success of a number of teams from the 2005 season. That tOSU graph is really something. And check out Smart Football's post on the Insight Bowl, Texas Tech's 31-point Comeback and the Hot Hand Theory.

Those of you looking for NFL content, UFR of Buffalo and New England are really coming. Buffalo I hope to have up on Sunday. Yes, really.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Vince Young: ORoY

Congratulations to Vince Young, who handily won the Offensive Rookie of the Year, with 23 out of the 50 votes cast. JAX RB Maurice Jones-Drew and NO WR Marques Colston tied for first runner-up with 9 tallies each.

I'm glad to see VY's success recognized. VY went 8-5 as a starter, and the Titans went 7-2 in games decided by 7 or fewer points. And in 6 of those 7 wins, VY can truly be said to have made the difference (notable exception: 2nd JAX game). At the same time, though, I think the award should probably have gone to SD LT Marcus McNeill, who played at All-Pro level, something no clear-eyed observer could claim VY did. McNeill did at least finish 4th in the voting. I'm not sure if I'd rank him over VY or not, but IND RB Joseph Addai was snubbed badly when he didn't receive any votes after finished with over 1000 yards and a gaudy 4.75 ypc average. Using Football Outsiders' advanced stats for RBs, Addai was the fifth most valuable running back in the league both rushing and receiving, and badly outplayed Dominic Rhodes.

And now the real reason you get this post: Merrill Hoge. Hoge's latest brilliant career move, one that has earned him the love and affection of many Titans fans, has been to decry any possibility that Vince Young will ever become a good NFL QB. The latest idiocy is this: in an interview with The Tennesseean, Hoge listed his top 4 ORoY candidates thusly:
1. Reggie Bush, RB, NO
2. Devin Hester, DB, CHI
3. Marques Colston, WR, NO
4. VY
Reggie Bush is an interesting argument. In NO's early MNF game against the Falcons, he wasn't very productive. But, when you did the breakdown, ATL did a lot of scheming designed to stop him. Bush eventually improved his on-field performance as the year went on, but was he enough of a pure threat, scheme-wise, to merit such a lofty ranking? I don't really think so, particularly given Deuce McAllister came back from injury a better player. Marques Colston as a very good WR, another big exception to rookie WRs not being very good. But, if you watched the Saints, Joe Horn was the WR who made the passing game go. Note none of Addai, McNeill, or JAX RB Maurice Jones-Drew (10th most valuable RB rusher, 7th most valuable RB receiver) makes Hoge's Top 4. Instead, the #2 man is none other than Chicago Bear Devin Hester, a defensive back. And, as many Bears fans will tell you, a defensive back who isn't very good. Ah, but Hester's main value isn't as a DB, you say? Yes, he was a returner. And a sterling one: he averaged 26.4 yards per kickoff return and 12.8 yards per punt return, with 3 PR TDs and 2 KOR TDs, despite returning kicks only half the year. And in just one year he had almost as many fumbles as Pacman Jones has had in two seasons! But, when you're Merrill Hoge, picky details like an inability to hold onto the ball and playing on the wrong side of the ball on plays from scrimmage aren't a real deterrent.

2007 Draft Order

With the 2006 NFL regular season concluded, it's time for fans of teams that didn't make the playoffs to turn their attention to what happens next year. One of the key aspects of that is the 2007 NFL draft, and with the end of the regular season, the NFL has released the current draft order. Unless I've missed something, the Titans hold all 7 of their base selections, and also hold the Ravens' 4th round pick, acquired in the Steve McNair trade; the Colts' 6th round pick, acquired at the 2006 draft for the Titans' second 7th round selection (originally the property of the Colts and acquired by the Titans for Rocky Calmus, IIRC); and the Chargers' 6th round selection, acquired for Billy Volek. Here's when the Titans would draft with the picks they have right now:

1st round-19th overall (TEN original selection)
2nd round-50th overall (TEN original selection)
3rd round-80th overall (TEN original selection)
4th round-115th overall (TEN original selection)
4th round-128th overall (acquired from BAL via trade)
5th round-152nd overall (TEN original selection)
6th round-188th overall (TEN original selection)
6th round-204th overall (acquired from SD via trade)
6th round-206th overall (acquired from IND via trade)
7th round-223rd overall (TEN original selection)

I will update this post over the coming weeks to reflect any trades.

UPDATE (Jan. 12, 2324 CT): Added the BAL and SD picks.
UPDATE #2 (Feb. 1, 2258 CT): Updated 4th round pick acquired from BAL to reflect IND moved behind BAL in draft order and BAL no longer tied with CHI. Updated 6th round SD pick to reflect IND moved behind SD in draft order. Updated 6th round IND pick to reflect IND made Super Bowl.
UPDATE #3 (Feb. 3, 2231 CT): Corrected number of all TEN original selection picks in rounds 3-7 due to silly math error made in initial post calculation.
UPDATE #4 (Feb. 5, 1925 CT): Colts won Super Bowl, draft order updated.
UPDATE #5 (Feb. 18, 2158 CT): Uh, Baltimore's 4th round pick is not 147th overall. Corrected.
UPDATE #6 (Apr. 9, 2241 CT): Compensatory picks have been announced, so the spot rankings are final, barring any trades.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Playoffs Finis

Happy New Year to everybody.

Everything broke right for the Titans on Sunday: Kansas City upset the Jaguars in Jacksonville, Pittsburgh got a long pass to Santonio Holmes in OT to beat the Bengals, and Joe Nedney booted San Francisco over Denver in overtime. Only problem was, the Titans forgot to win their own game, losing to New England by a final tally of 40-23. Intellectually, I know 8-8 and the great winning streak makes 2006 a good year after an 0-5 start, but right now I just feel incredibly disappointed. Everything broke right, and the Titans couldn't take care of their own business.

Monday will be largely devoted to college football bowl games, and I may have a summary post of impressions of the various games up here. The next Titans coverage will hopefully be some UFR of Buffalo late Tuesday evening, though precisely how much will depend on the Orange Bowl between Louisville and Wake Forest is. Since the Titans didn't make the playoffs, I feel no time pressure to get everything up, but I hope to finish UFR for both BUF and NE by next Sunday evening. After that, I'll probably go through the roster in some fashion and comment on the various players: how well they played and lived up to expectations, and their potential Titans future. Schedule permitting, I'll also comment on the NFL playoffs, the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, and whatever other football matters I care to opine about.