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NFL Draft: Safeties standing out at Shrine Game

The SportsXchange

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Depending who you talk to, safety is either the easiest or most difficult position to play on defense. Yes, they get to face the action most of the time to see the play unfold, but they also have the most ground to cover and a small margin of error in their movements. Most coaches put a lot of responsibility on their safeties, making the position a premium for smart, athletic prospects. And during practice this week, three safeties have impressed on the East squad.

Maybe the top "small school" prospect on the East team, Richmond safety Cooper Taylor has impressed each day with his effort and execution on the practice field. At 6-feet-4 and 230 pounds, he has the size and range to be an enforcer against both the run and the pass, but Taylor has also impressed with his instincts and football awareness. He has been great all week digesting the coaches' instructions and applying them immediately, always appearing focused and zoned in on what is going on around him.

Widely considered the Gators' "other" safety next to Matt Elam, Florida safety Josh Evans has been very aggressive this week, showing the attacking mentality that made him stand out on film. He isn't afraid to get physical and competes when the ball is in the air and after the catch, always attempting to rip it out of the ballcarrier's grasp - and did so on more than one occasion during Wednesday's practice. Evans has the athleticism needed for the position, but he does need some work with his reaction quickness to trust what he sees.

During Wednesday's morning practice, the word "Wolf" seemed to echo during the defensive back drills, and for the most part it was all positive as the coaching staff praised NC State safety Earl Wolff for his performance. He displayed good plant-and-drive quickness to attack the play in front of him and also gaining correct body position when asked to line up in the slot and make plays in coverage. Wolff is a better athlete than expected, not just speed-wise, but also with respect to his fluidity and footwork to stick with the tight end or wide receiver down the seam.

All three have helped themselves this week, which is important in a somewhat deep class of safety prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft.

OTHER EAST NOTES:

-- Georgia cornerback Branden Smith doesn't look imposing, measuring in at just 5-10 and 168 pounds, but he might be the best athlete on the defensive squad for the East. He has the speed to stay with receivers downfield and the explosive quickness to burst in any direction. Smith does need technique work, and you wonder what he's thinking at times, but from an athleticism standpoint, it's clear Smith has NFL ability.

-- New Mexico tight end Lucas Reed definitely looks the part (6-6, 250) with long arms (35 1/4 inches) and big hands (10 1/2 inches) and has some athleticism to run and get open. However, he has a tendency to play too upright and stiff in his patterns, and the coaching staff had to correct him several times on his route-running. Reed, the younger brother of Texans pass rusher Brooks Reed, has intriguing tools, but it's clear he's lacking in polish right now.

Dane Brugler is a Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.
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