The second day of practice at the East-West Shrine Game (Saturday on NFL Network, 4 p.m. ET) provided scouts with the opportunity to see top prospects workout in pads.
The change in practice attire doesn't appear significant on the surface, but the tempo and energy of practices picks up when you add the physicality and aggressiveness that comes with donning pads. More importantly, evaluators are able to assess a player's potential in simulated drills like nine-on-seven (inside running drill) and team run, conducted with game-like speed and intensity.
Here are my thoughts after watching the players perform in a practice environment that certainly had more of a pro feel than the first day:
» Pitt's Brandon Lindsey is making a strong showing at SAM linebacker for the East squad. He has shown sound instincts and awareness, and doesn't look out of place playing from an upright position. He has displayed better athleticism than anticipated in zone drops, which is important considering several 3-4 teams view him as a possible rush linebacker. As a pass rusher, he received solid marks from scouts during the fall for his ability to get to the passer using his hands and movement skills. Although he hasn't been given many opportunities during practice this week, his ability to develop into an effective edge player could enhance his value on draft day.
» Mississippi State's Quentin Saulsberry is regarded as one of the top offensive line prospects in attendance, but questions about his size and strength persist after watching him struggle in one-on-one drills. He lacks the frame to handle big, power rushers at the point and could struggle against some of the massive nose tackles that are commonplace in the NFL. However, a high ranking scout from an AFC South team countered that opinion by pointing out the fact that he has been a four-year starter in the SEC and played at a consistently high level for most of his career. Given the SEC's penchant for putting talent in the pros, Saulsberry shouldn't have any trouble adjusting to the size, strength and talent of NFL defenders.
» Rishaw Johnson from California University of Pennsylvania has caught the eye of scouts. He is a stout player at the point of attack, but also shows the athleticism to block on the move. He stones defenders in their tracks and flashes enough power to move them off their spots. Johnson was effective on short sets in pass protection, but occasionally drops his head and is susceptible to quick arm overs from athletic pass rushers. However, he quickly corrected the problem after taking instruction from his position coaches and showed gradual improvement from that point on.
Top 50 prospects
» Tennessee-Chattanooga's B.J. Coleman has created quite a buzz among scouts with his natural arm talent. He is capable of making all of the throws from the pocket with zip and velocity. His accuracy has been a little off, but he has shown signs of being able to fit balls into tight windows. Coleman has also shown an excellent grasp of the offense by working through his progressions to get to the second and third options in the route tree. In speaking with one of the coaches from the East squad, he raved about Coleman's football IQ and ability to take the information from board to field. That's pretty impressive for a small-school prospect with limited exposure to pro concepts.
» Fresno State's Devon Wylie is quietly garnering comparisons to Wes Welker for his versatile skill set as a returner/slot receiver. Not that he will have that kind of impact as a pro, but it is easy to envision him making contributions as a two-phase playmaker next season. He is quick as a hiccup in space and his short-area quickness makes him difficult to guard over the middle of the field. According to a NFC South scout who has extensively studied Wylie since the fall, he believes he will be a workout warrior who makes a sudden rise up the charts after his pro day.
» TCU's Tank Carder has been underwhelming during the first two days of practice. He lacks great instincts between the tackles and his late reactions routinely place him a step behind the runner hitting the hole. In addition, he lacks the size and strength to take on blockers squarely. He seeks to avoid contact rather than fill in the hole, and the huge creases created by his finesse approach leads to big gains from instinctive runners. Carder has been regarded as a mid-round talent, but it is hard to get fired up about his potential after watching his struggles this week.
» OL Brandon Brooks of Miami (Ohio) has opened eyes with his explosive power in the running game. He has mauled defenders at the point of attack in drills and looks perfect for a team running a power-based offense (much like Pittsburgh and Baltimore). Although he has struggled against quickness in pass protection, his size, toughness and tenacity makes him an intriguing prospect for a team searching for undervalued interior blockers in the mid-to-late rounds.