January 25, 2011
MOBILE, Ala. -- The South team's afternoon practice was marked by some outstanding line play and one exciting quarterback. But as there are question marks surrounding every position if you look hard enough, there are other quarterbacks who tend to stand out for the wrong reasons in the harsh spotlight of the pre-draft process. We saw some very different performances at the position both in warm-ups, and under center.
Of all three South quarterbacks, Florida State's Christian Ponder looked to be by far the most polished and NFL-ready. The medical questions surrounding his shoulder and elbow will be major concerns over the next few months and beyond, but he told me today that he's experienced no red flags in pre-Senior Bowl tests, and he threw in a way that would indicate good health. Ponder has great fundamentals - he gets the ball out very quickly from a high carriage, he has the arm to make all the short-to-intermediate throws, and he can put a little zip on the ball as well - he threw a beautiful right sideline rainbow to Courtney Smith(notes) of South Alabama, and Smith unfortunately couldn't come up with the catch. But it was thrown right to him, over the defender.
Ponder reminds me a bit of Mark Sanchez(notes) in that his deep arm is a bit undersold. He'd be a good fit in a West Coast offense - perhaps the best in this draft class - because he does have an understanding of all the underneath stuff. At times, he'll get a bit precious and try to take a little bit off a throw, and he can lose accuracy in these situations. But the Ponder I've seen at the Senior Bowl meets the expectations I had from the better aspects of his game tape.
I had concerns about TCU's Andy Dalton coming into this week - primarily his arm strength. While I've seen him zip the ball downfield at times, I hadn't seen him get the ball in quickly in tight windows. And in the afternoon wind at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Dalton tended to throw higher with less velocity than Ponder. At times, the wind would catch his throws and they'd start to flutter. That lack of velocity is also a problem in quick crossing routes and other timing plays. Because he threw so many quick passes at TCU, Dalton appears to be more comfortable with routes in which he's throwing to a stationary target.
Alabama's Greg McElroy did not have a great start to his day - on his first throw, he brought Tennessee tight end Luke Stockerinto an enormous hit in the secondary. You'll hear scouts talk about quarterbacks who "throw their receivers open", which basically means that certain quarterbacks have the awareness of coverage and routes to understand how to zing the ball to the open space. More than once on Tuesday afternoon, McElroy did the opposite; actually throwing his receivers into situations that gave them tighter areas than there needed to be. Like Dalton, he seems to lack velocity on shorter to intermediate passes.
As for the offensive linemen - my other point of focus on Tuesday - I thought that Georgia's Clint Boling showed a good nasty streak in the double-team drills. He seemed adept at pinning his blocker down. Former Baylor tacke Danny Watkins, who's playing a lot of guard this week, impressed with his ability to not only fire off on the initial defender, but also get to the second level with a good hit. Watkins also engages well after initial contact, and I think he's going to impress people with his technique this week.
Mississippi State tackle Derrek Sherrod, who is at the top of some position lists in this year's O-line draft class, played a lot of right tackle today. No matter where he's lining up, Sherrod comes off the snap very well and shows all the right fundamentals - he engages right away, steps back fluidly when he's pass-protecting, fans out well against edge rushers, and keeps defenders out of the pocket all the way back through the rush.
Florida State guard Rodney Hudson, who went to high school in Mobile, impressed as well with adept technique that allows him to play with more power than you'd expect from his 6-2, 290-pound frame. He plays low pre-snap and explodes into defenders, getting under pads and locking on very well. Hudson may transition to center at the NFL level unless he finds a team that has no issue with lighter guards. Then again, he might add 10 pounds and become a real problem for opposing linemen.
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