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Monday North team practice observations

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Updated Oct. 06, 2010 @ 7:27 p.m.
By Eric Edholm

MOBILE, Ala. — The North team got off to a sloppy start in practice but finished stronger, according to North coach Jim Schwartz.

I got there right as practice was getting underway, and because I was getting familiar with a lot of these players, having not seen much of some of them, I worked my way around to the different position groupings, wanting to get a taste of each of them.

Here are a few general observations:

I started out watching the wide receivers, parked next to Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, who appeared to be checking these guys out with keen attention. They were just getting warmed up, nothing too shocking, so I made my way to the offensive linemen.

These are my favorite guys to watch. As a scout once told me: "Offensive linemen are the easiest players to scout. You just ask yourself, 'Did they block the guy in front of them?'" As they warmed up during foot-bag drills, I thought a few guys stood out. Idaho OG Mike Iupati, who was the star of the weigh-in (according to one scout I spoke with) because of his chiseled physique, looked very light on his feet with very good balance. So did Notre Dame's Eric Olsen and Utah's Zane Beadles. Good for both of those guys, but they each were beaten later in practice. More on that below.

Iupati, though, stood out. He might be the best North offensive lineman from first glance, stonewalling Penn State DT Jared Odrick on a pass-rushing drill that typically gives the advantage to the defender.

The guys who looked sluggish in footwork drills: Arizona State's Shawn Lauvao, Boston College's Matt Tenant and Notre Dame's Sam Young. It was a tough first day for Young, who got chewed on by Lions OL coach George Yarno, once for not getting low enough and another time for dipping his shoulder against and giving up major ground to Arkansas State DE Alex Carrington.

The saddest news of the day was watching Wisconsin DE O'Brien Schofield, who appears to be a talented pass rusher, go down in a heap after a battle with Massachusetts OT Vladimir Ducasse. Schofield gave Ducasse some trouble on one snap, but on the next Schofield fell awkwardly and appeared to seriously hurt his left knee. When asked if he was OK, Schofield shook his head "no" and was in obvious pain. Schwartz said it looked bad and that they were running tests on him tonight.

Ducasse, meanwhile, looked raw. He clearly must be taught some technique. He has the requisite size and skills to play, it appears, but he definitely requires polish. I have talked to him a few times leading up to this week, and he's a good-natured kid, I believe. And for those who are interested, yes, he has family from Haiti, and thankfully he and his brother have accounted for all of them in the wake of the tragic earthquakes and aftershocks there. Ducasse said he's trying his best put his concerns for them aside now and go to work as best he can.

Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard had a miserable start to his practice, dropping several passes and double-catching one more. But he really turned it on by the end, making a great catch in traffic, catching a poorly thrown ball on his knees and later beating Boise State CB Kyle Wilson — a battle of No. 1 jerseys — on a deep post.

A player who really caught my eye today (one I knew almost nothing about coming in) was Cal DT-DE Tyson Alualu. He consistently flashed in the pass-rushing drills, both from end and tackle. He buzzsawed through the aforementioned Beadles, who never had a chance to block him, also whipped Olsen, and later, in team drills, he put a healthy hit on Oregon RB LaGarrette Blount. (Insert joke here about retaliation.)

Other brief observations:

  • Illinois TE Michael Hoomanawanui didn't look like the fastest or most fluid receiver out there, but he caught a difficult pass that he had to adjust to, using great hand strength to wrestle the ball away from Utah LB Koa Misi.
  • The quarterbacks had a rough first day. Oregon State's Sean Canfield lacked zip on some throws, especially into the wind. Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour threw some real wobblers out there. And Cincy's Tony Pike was hot and cold, throwing some inaccurate passes and hesitating on some throws.
  • Notre Dame S Kyle McCarthy struggled in coverage. Several receivers caught passes on his watch.
  • I always feel sort of bad for punters and kickers at this type of event. They pretty much do their own thing off on the side while the other players get most of the attention. But it was hard not to notice Michigan P Zoltan Mesko crushing kicks from one egde of the sideline into the opposite side stands. In case you are wondering, the width of a football field is 53.3 yards wide, and the stands were at least five yards past the edge of the field. Do the math. This guy looks dangerous.
  • Missouri WR Danario Alexander is out to prove he can play in this league. Not only did he have a few nice catches along the sideline, but he also made sure to hustle downfield on throws made away from him and block. Those little things get noticed. He told me at the dinner tonight that he hopes to run a 4.4-second 40 at the Combine. He has done it before, he said, at 221 pounds, which is what he weighed today. Watch the last seven games of Missouri's season, and you'll say he looked like a first-rounder even if his past knee injuries could hurt him.
  • Wayne State RB Joique Hill is a small-school talent with a big-school attitude, speaking with some serious confidence after practice. And he looks the part so far. Despite a drop in a passing drill, Hill showed up the first day with a nice run through the hole, showing good quickness.
  • Blount might not be a full-time back in the NFL, but he has some spring in his step for a big man. He was involved in a few negative plays, but the offensive line was blown up each of those times.
  • Ohio State FS Kurt Coleman, who looked more like a small corner to me size-wise, made a nice pass defense against Pitt WR Dorin Dickerson. Coleman doesn't look terribly fast, but he prevented what would have been a great catch on the sideline by getting his hand on the ball at the last second.
  • Ohio WR Taylor Price made several nice catches early in practice, showing great adjustment to a bad pass in mid-air. Price must be used to adjusting on the fly because he did not play with anything close to NFL-caliber quarterbacks in college. He looked like a smooth, fluid flanker with decent speed.
  • TCU LB Daryl Washington is a player I will be keeping an eye on all week. He is a hustler and a fighter, leading the defensive group along with Mizzou's Sean Weatherspoon. Both of those guys tried to get other players lined up correctly and cheer on teammates when they made nice plays. Besides that, Washington knifed through the backfield more than once to lay his hands on running backs.

OK, that's plenty to chew on for tonight. Enjoy and we'll see you back here tomorrow.

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