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Saturday, January 31, 2015

ATD100: Ereck Flowers

100 days/prospects/crappy openings to a prospect page.  Only so many ways to say this over and over again, right?

Today shows Miami's junior left tackle Ereck Flowers.

6'5, 325.  If you're not much into writeups, you can see what I put in on La'el Collins and move past this guy.  Very similar physically, in that he's got fairly solid feet for a LT and great for a guy his size, he's a very fleet-footed run blocker who gets to the second level, and he cheats outside sometimes against speed rushers which allows him to be vulnerable in double moves like the hump.

The two prospects aren't exactly the same - and not quite the same things were asked of them.  Both are big guys you'd first glance push to RT because they're massive, exceptional run blockers.

But, Flowers is possibly a little more athletic, and yet he's not asked to do as much.

Since Al Golden runs a spread-option attack, absolutely Flowers can block the inside and outside zone runs. And, sure, he can pass protect.  But, in that type offense, you aren't asked to do as much.  A lot of packaged plays, play action plays.  More max-protect.

Now, I'm not going to rail on every spread tackle that declares for the draft.   But, you have to know that some of these players aren't as ready for the pro game.   Flowers will have to show that he is, so he can show he can start immediately.  Carolina will start you - they pushed Amini Silatolu into a starting role immediately, they pushed Trai Turner in, too.  You come ready, you will play.

LT can have some growing pains, but I give you Jake Matthews - everyone's favorite "ready" tackle, who came from a spread at Tx A&M.  Matthews had so much technique that you'd have figured he coached line, if you go back and read who he is (though, try to read who he is without finding out the name of every male at his Thanksgiving table - and then remember that his brother Kevin is here in Carolina and probably won't make the squad next year).    The concern with Matthews, a top 10 pick, wasn't whether he could play immediately or whether he'd struggle, it was whether he was as elite an athlete as Greg Robinson, who also came from a spread.

Matthews played RT until Sam Baker got hurt in Atlanta.  He moved to LT and got even worse.  Matthews was awful last year (though some of that might be that Mike Tice magic every commentator can't get enough of).  So, naturally, this parable reflects on why Robinson was better and all that, but they couldn't find him a spot, then pushed him in at guard until Jake Long got hurt.   He was better than Matthews because Matthews was the worst in the league (PFF's measure, I think).  Robinson did improve greatly but he still couldn't see the field right away.

Not being first in line for snaps means a bigger learning curve.   Carolina probably won't have time for a guy to wait a year to look ready.  

On the other hand, Dave Gettleman says that his draft picks are for 2016.  That's giving me pause for numerous reasons - he's gone ahead and knocked it out when dealing with needs and BPA - but it also makes me wonder when the pick comes, if the player might not fit better to replace an existing, high paid player.  Naturally, Carolina has no high paid OT talent.

The need is clear, and I think Flowers could fill it in the first round.  He's a solid prospect.  The above speculation about the fit and what happens in a global sense with the team, that's a whole other thing that you can't control.

Friday, January 30, 2015

ATD100: Terry Poole

100 prospects in 100 days.  Trying to hustle this thing out.  

Next up, second (or depending on how you view him, third) tier tackle Terry Poole, San Diego State.
6'5, 310 Poole comes from the same conference (and all-star bowl) that gave Carolina CB Bene Benwikere.

Poole has two years experience at a major school, transferring from JuCo and then redshirting.  As a first year starter at RT in 2013 at SDSU, he gave up two sacks all year.  He moved to LT for 2014, where he also fared well.   He's not an elite player, but he's got a lot going for him.  He's got NFL size, including a good wingspan.   He's 23, and while that hurts some prospects in some eyes, it also suggests maturity and understanding.  Unlike a top 20 pick, I don't think you're as worried of Poole playing until he's 35.   But that sort of thing is silly in the first place - the idea that a guy's going to play for you for 12 years.   What happened with Jordan Gross is increasingly rare. 

He cleaned up a significant amount of issues during the week and was the most improved OL from that bowl.  There he received pro coaching - Jim Zorn was the head coach, and legendary OL coach Howard Mudd was his position coach.   Mudd didn't speak specifically of Poole, but notes from the practices in general:
Mudd said that while college linemen now are well-versed in zone blocking, there are three big issues. The first: "They don't learn how to pass-protect." He said all the play-action passes used in college ball means most linemen have no idea how to truly pass-protect. The second: "They're always in a two-point stance." When it comes to getting into a three-point stance, "they don't have a clue. Seriously, they don't have a clue." The third: "They never play with a snap count." Mudd noted that college offensive coordinators frequently either signal in plays or use placards, and those come with a built-in snap count.

I've seen Poole as a 3rd rounder, down to a 6th-7th rounder.  I don't know yet.  I know that his stock is going up thanks to the E-W Shrine, and for smaller school guys, that might be the biggest exposure they get.  They might not be as prepared for combine as big school guys, they're not going to have an elaborate pro day sponsored by hush-money boosters.   A guy like Poole also doesn't get called in to workout at the stadium. 

So, while that's no tradeoff for game film or real performance, that could help his stock to have real coaching, against real players. 

At any rate - Poole as a prospect, instead of a concept as I've gone on above, is solid.  Technique isn't great, and he's not used to a 3 point stance, but he's a decent zone blocker, good wall off guy, and good at pass protection.  He's got long arms and does well using them, but like most guys, he gets in trouble when he overextends or he lets DEs get into his body (phrasing!).  Common mistakes that should be correctable. 

Now, naturally, throwing Poole at LT and plugging him in, not so much right now.  This is a pick for later - a pick to become the Garry Williams that you fit into the need, as you need.  The swing tackle who might play guard (I don't have a feel for him at guard, and you don't see him play it since he hasn't).   That's certainly worth a 4th or 5th, and starters have been made of less.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

ATD100: Ellis McCarthy

100 draftable prospects in 100 days.

A little late tonight, but still filing.  Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA.  6'5, 325. Junior.

He plays as a two-gap player in the 3-4 at UCLA, in a fairly pro-style defense (under Jim Mora and young, but experienced former NFL LB Jeff Ulbrich, who's the DC).  He's got tremendous quickness off the ball for a 325 lb two gap 3-4 guy, and so I'm projecting him in this defense as somewhat of a fit.  

He was a very highly touted prospect, who struggled with injury, and to a point weight because of injury, so he's the type player whose stock might go up or down significantly in workouts.

He has a good bull rush, and good run/pass recognition, but that's all you'll get of him - a bullrush.  The athleticism and all that, it's not there.  He's going to beat you off the snap, get into your body, and push you back if he's going to be successful.   But you'll probably not see him used a lot against the pass anyway.

His strength is run stopping, and he uses his size well.   That height doesn't stop him from getting leverage, and Carolina could use a bit of that as the quartet Carolina used last year averaged 6'2.5.   He may still fit better in a two-gap scheme, but Carolina DTs are good at getting upfield and still demanding a lot of doubleteams at the point of attack.  McCarthy's hardest task would be to equal some of the guys that would be around him - which is to redefine the line of scrimmage so those doubleteams come at the expense of movement in the offensive backfield.


Carolina's had success with a four-man squad at DT - NT/UT swing player Star Lotulelei, under tackle Kawann Short, and then vets Colin Cole and Dwan Edwards.  Edwards, a pickup in camp in 2012, is a rush guy.  He's always been bad at the run.  Cole's an aging NT, who's started a lot of the last two years, but has been the least-used and most poorly graded player of the group.    Edwards is better - and has 13 sacks over his three years here (possibly putting him 2nd all time in Panther DT sacks, Sean Gilbert had 15.5 in five years and I can't find anyone else that really registers in that range) - but you can always put an end inside if that's what you're after.

Both Cole and Edwards are free agents.  Either could find themselves signed to cheap deals, but it could also be time to upgrade with another young guy or two.  The team does have Kyle Love, a late-season addition at NT, and I guess practice squadder Micanor Regis.   Love can compete for a job, at the least.

With Short and Lotulelei as the building blocks, they can use roleplayers as backups.  The question becomes, do you pick up two NTs, and stop the run there, or mix so that you can be more interchangeable?

A run guy like McCarthy lets you put both Short and Lotulelei in on passing downs, which is how I'd see this working out if McCarthy was around.  It also fits a weakness of McCarthy's (essentially, stamina, or if you prefer, inconsistency when stamina is lost), to not have to play tons on tons of snaps.   Both Short and Lotulelei improved in the pros by being expected to play 60% of snaps, instead of 90%+.

If that's the case, a 4th rounder on McCarthy provides you the size you need, with a little of that growth potential to really exceed the expectations of a third day pick.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

ATD100: Lynden Trail

Possibly the smallest school prospect I can throw out there, Lynden Trial comes from Norfolk St. As with a few past Panther picks, Trail was a major college guy whose life passed him in another direction (consider that small-school guys at G, Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila were both sought in D1 and for various reasons, ended up at Directional State University). I’ve done a couple days in a row of Stanford/Stanford/Yale/Duke, so let’s arbitrarily head in another direction.

Trail went to Florida. If he’d stayed, he’d probably be a first round pick, but competition is an issue when you talk of potentially lower opponents and coaching. The 6’7, 260 lb Trail passes the eye test, and he’s very likely to be well known after his combine, where he’s working heavily on a good 40 time that will give him options to be looked at as a pro LB as well as the obvious DE (though, for the last decade with the Wade Phillips style 3-4, what’s the true difference anymore?).
 
To go with that frame - length, wingspan - that scouts love to see in shorts, Trail doesn't disappoint in how he uses it.  He has enough bulk to play the run but enough flexibility to bend the OT laterally.  He has that first step that you want to see, to get off the ball.   He has run/pass awareness.   He does lack some leverage in the run game with his height, but he can extend and make up some of the difference.  He's good dropping and pursuing.
 
So, he can be a rush specialist and turn that into possibly a starting role.  He's not limited to that concept, and though he was a 3-4 OLB, he can rush with his hand in the ground and take on OTs.  

His reasons for leaving Florida don’t seem to be a matter of grades or conflict with coaches, or general laziness. An Urban Meyer recruit, he redshirted as a freshman and then just didn’t play as a sophomore, while sitting behind other players. Will Muschamp, the now-deposed coach there, saw Trail along with ten other players abandon ship from the same recruiting class (so, roughly half the class). Trail landed at Troy, where he built good game tape and waited for his chance.

At the Senior Bowl, he got that chance, where he could match up with pro style players in a pro scheme. He excelled, as you might expect.

While Dave Gettleman was a pro personnel guy during the exchange, consider that while he was there, the Giants tabbed Troy DE Osi Umenyiora in the 2nd round in 2003. I remember seeing the pick and laughing – what a reach, I’ve never heard of this guy, it’s the second round. Good - a real player will fall to Carolina (who had just taken Bruce Nelson, who was quite obviously a waste of space, and who should’ve clearly taken Jason Witten instead – so they naturally took the almost-as-good Mike Seidman right after Witten went 7 picks ahead of Carolina’s 76 pick). Umenyiora was an ace for years.

That’s not to say that Umenyiora and Trail are the same guy. That’s far from the point. And Carolina trended toward taking only major college guys last year (ACC, SEC, SEC, ACC before Mtn West, Pac12) after a few

End for Carolina is a unique situation. Charles Johnson is still the big piece on the board, and while contract situations might resolve itself there (Johnson is still 28, and the biggest chunk of guarantee comes off the board this year in 2015), you never know. I would expect Greg Hardy to not be back. Carolina used a platoon of Wes Horton against the run and Mario Addison (of Troy, if that’s useful) against the pass to decent results. They also had Kony Ealy as a reserve, but they were interested in using the speed of Addison without worrying about the rush as much. They do have Frank Alexander, too, as another bigger end who’s good at the run but has to step up the rush.

As well, Addison could be considered one of those special teamers that had to be pulled away for snaps (see also: defense of the special teams coach by noting injuries, additional roles by special teams players). Addison wasn’t singled out, but he and Colin Jones both took on a greater defensive role after being primarily special teamers prior.

To that end, Carolina could add Trail or a similar small end as a speed rusher, under the concept of the current platoon system or as a hedge against a larger rusher like Ealy not becoming above average. A player like that can also play inside more – as bigger ends Johnson and Hardy both did early in their careers, and that Ealy was singled out for the ability to do. For those players, it got them time on the field, and for Umenyiora it kept him on the field while the team had bigger ends on the team like Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul.

And for every time that Carolina had a good rusher, they had another one waiting. It’s never a bad position to be in. The Giants didn’t care where they could stuff more ends, even at OLB in a 4-3 (Matthias Kiwanuka), and Gettleman has stated his affinity for rushers as much as hog mollies. Is Trail a blue goose? Hard to say. His value could be 4th, it could be 2nd. In the 2nd is he too good to pass up for Carolina? Maybe, maybe not, but in the 3rd, possibly. I have no clue, and if he runs a 4.45 at combine, he probably rockets up the boards.

For now, I see him as a 3rd or 4th.  For that level pick, a 20-snap specialist upgrading a spot in the rush, maybe two spots in the rush, is as valuable as a starter.

Coaching Change - Ramsdell

Carolina's fans have been clamoring for coaching change, and I guess now
they'll get it.

While the frothing masses have expected an immediate, unceremonial
firing of Mike Shula and/or Richard Rodgers, it's not going to be to
that end. While it often happens as such that a groupthink forms itself
into a specific opinion and expects the team to wholeheartedly agree, I
don't think Shula was all bad, and I can see some level of acceptance
for Rodgers even if I don't necessarily agree myself.

I get it - and the heart's in the right place. Everyone wants the best
for the team, but the team won't always agree with how we want it or how
various people might disagree on what's best. Luckily that happens
sometimes - you can read back to pre-draft opinions where I didn't want
Cam Newton or Luke Kuechly as prospects when Carolina was on the clock
for both of them, and maybe I had some valid reasons for both (I didn't
think Newton was quite ready to play, I liked Kuechly but didn't see the
need at MLB at the time and questioned the value), but I was on the
wrong side of history.



But, that specific bit of nonsense aside, there's some coaching change
coming. The long career of John Ramsdell has ended.

The former QBs coach with the Chargers and Rams was a Senior Offensive
Assistant for Carolina last year. What that entailed, in the end, was
hard to say. Reporters glossed over his role, when they did finally
notice he was there (after my nonsense on him went viral). Was he
involved in the gameplan? Hard to say. He was, reportedly, not at
practice at any point. He attended games and sat in the press box, and
he helped Mike Shula, but it's hard to say how much.

The press lets you down with that anyway. The Rob Chudzinski - Scott
Turner relationship was well known, and Turner was a full-on right hand
to Chudzinski - and Turner wants to be an OC someday himself. Lance
Taylor, who replaced Turner, was a less defined relationship. Ramsdell
clearly wasn't going to fill a direct "assistant WR coach" role, but his
duties definitely weren't of a full-time, 15 hour a day position coach
and he definitely wasn't going to just do a bunch of tape-monkey,
quality control type busy work.

But past that, it's hard to say.

Carolina should, hopefully, pick up another coach to replace Ramsdell,
but it's hard to say where they'll head with that. It might be almost
more an intern type role.

I'm definitely in favor of a full-time assistant who helps out the OC,
and preferably a guy with some spread experience. I look at the
oddly-defined roles of Brad Childress ("spread game analyst") and
Chudzinski (now assistant head coach, but last year "special
assistant"), or the role of Jim Tressel with the Colts a few years ago,
and I see opportunity. A guy who can help with gameplanning, add a
voice and a pair of experienced eyes, and, if that role is properly
expanded, a guy who can help with metrics, percentages, and so on in
critical downs and situations (4th down, 2 minute, etc).

Rivera himself has noted that he wants to be more "analytical Ron"
instead of being typified as "Riverboat Ron" - that any gambles need to
be calculated. So why not have someone in charge of thinking on whether
something is a good gamble?

As of yet I don't have a ton of choices to offer - not that hitting the
broad side of a barn is likely in this situation. I didn't see Ramsdell
coming at that point - out of work a year - even though I'd wanted him
as OC in 2011 and hoped for him as QBs coach in 2013 when available.

One I'd suggest, if possible, would be former Panthers and 9ers
assistant Geep Chryst. I've always liked Geep, who has QB and OC
experience, who all but invented the concept of the quality coach (while
he was with the Bears) and the original draft trade chart (also
sometimes attributed to the Cowboys' Jimmy Johnson). He seems to be in
the running to stay with the 9ers (whose hire of Jim Tomsula was a
disaster, and they pushed for him as a 'continuity' hire, but let most
of the assistants go, settling on one out of loyalty - Tom Rathman - and
another, Eric Mangini, switches back to defense to coordinate) as OC, so
it's almost a 'wish' ideal. It seems like John Fox might want him if
the 9ers don't hire him as OC, but like Carolina they don't have a
position coach job open. Rivera was a Bear when Chryst started his pro
career there, so at least there's a connection.

Most college assistants are already locked into next year and have
limits on coaching staff size. So that's probably a no-go, but again,
maybe a wish more than expectation. If I can think of other
experienced coaches that are out of work, maybe I'll note them.

SS Now In Vogue?

Just a little schematic thought on this - while watching Kam Chancellor
get his notoriety after a few years of it being all about Richard
Sherman/Brandon Browning/Earl Thomas.

For the greater portion of the last few years, the NFL has chosen
flavors for its strong safeties. Do you want to stop the run, or stop
the pass? Allright, now you have your guy. Your in the box guy or the
other deep safety. Some teams went to the cover 1 Robber coverage (one
deep safety, one short zone safety with man around it), just to shield a
guy whose best work is in the box but not in man coverage.

But teams are starting to expect more of the SS, because offenses are
pressing the SS more.

More and more TEs are spending time split now - Rob Gronkowski spent
more than 60% of the time in the slot, for instance. I haven't seen
this year's numbers on Greg Olsen, but he spent just over 50% of his
time split wide in 2013 - in what was a very run-based, conservative
offense compared to the Saints.

And in base, that probably falls to the SS. Size to chuck that TE, get
him off his rhythm; size to stay physical at five yards. Speed to stay
with that TE. Consider that the in the box SS might also have to cover
down the seam on that same TE, or slot WR.

Easy enough, right? Might have to just find a bigger SS that covers
well, and maybe skimp on the run, right?

Well, no. Not only do teams still run from spread looks, a large amount
of teams are using packaged plays to read whether that safety's in the
box or dropping - and then that S might have to fill for the run. That
especially comes into play for the read option/veer option, where the
defense technically has to cover an additional gap since one box
defender goes unblocked. Teams like the Eagles use that run/pass
option based on where the SS is (or the FS, if that player's in the
box), to determine where the ball is going.

Some of those packaged plays key on the SS' run defense, too, to pop a
quick hit to the TE.

And, of course, you can't be a prototypically 'strong' strong safety, in
as much as they don't like you to launch yourself at a player or hit a
'defenseless' receiver. So more and more is being asked of that
particular player.

More and more is asked of that position and that player, to the point
where an instinctive SS with both size and speed may even be more
valuable than a centerfield FS.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ATD100: Laken Thompson

We roll on through a hundred prospects with another Hog Molly today.   

I threw out La’el Collins as a pro-ready OL a few days ago, and have another quick one in Duke G Laken Thompson. I follow a Duke prospect from a string of having done Stanford twice and Yale. Does that matter? Truly, I can’t say for certain. But I like the prospect of smart prospects. I like the guys who could make a good coach. I like the guys who can teach you. I was that guy to a point, a guy who understood the big picture, but wasn’t talented, but I see a value. Last year, a number of prospects were spoken highly of, afterward, for having been able to immediately grasp the big picture. Trai Turner was already familiar with scheme, Bene Benwikere and Tre Boston were able to cerebrally work out with Steve Wilks. I’m sure it was the same for Tyler Gaffney, who had some scheme similarity and smarts. Prospects who can get concepts aren’t going to struggle for years trying to get up to speed – prospects who get up to game speed fast are able to contribute.

So, I guess that’s my purpose for highlighting some prospects who had to meet more than a very basic minimum standard to get into school. At Duke, like the other schools above, you have to be more than remedial. You’re probably not dealing with a guy who had to get a certain ACT score to sneak into eligiblity. 

Thompson is all of that, and he’s got an almost fabled background, too. He’s not like Duke grads normally are. People made a lot of the Michael Oher situation as he came up, and there’s something to that. If you want to read more on that, search him out. It’s an interesting story of a Jamaican kid who bounced around a bit, had some health issues as a kid, and had to endure some things to get to Duke. I won’t get to it here.

All of that’s background. No one cares when you’re going through that situation, when you’re lined up across from Ndamukong Suh and you have to block him. No one cares where you came from. So here’s the player himself.

6’3, 330, built squat and powerful. He’s more RG in this system than LG, where he’d have to pull more (he’s OK, but not exceptionally athletic). He has good technique, great hands, takes on defenders well one on one and does well in zone doubles to take on a guy if the OT or C transitions, and transitions off a double himself well. He’s very similar to Turner, and while Turner had some pass pro questions as a prospect, not as much in application.

Occasionally, he’s struggled in balance, he can be knocked off his base. That’s the only real negative. He’s always going to be a guy who will control with hands and drive, not as much a get-in-your-shoulder drive blocker, though I really don’t recall seeing that much in the pros anymore anyway (too easy to slip it if you’re not 100% on it).

Carolina’s currently pretty good at guard. They have returning later-season starters with Andrew Norwell and Turner, who were both rookies. They have Amini Silatolu, who started each of the last 3 seasons at LG. They have Ed Kugbila, if he ever sees the field.

But here’s the thing. Kugbila hasn’t ever really put on a uniform. Silatolu finished last year as a reserve OT, his college position. So there’s zero depth. Turner, you could argue, has center ability and while it’s hard to ever see Ryan Kalil being not in Carolina, I don’t know if they can afford a $10 million center in a world where they’ll have to pay a number of other guys – I don’t know if I see Turner as a C, but I’ve seen it argued.

So if you have that all happen, you really don’t have much at guard. All of that’s a stretch, and it takes a lot to make that argument. But, you make one move – like Silatolu at T – and you’re thin. Add one ill timed injury, and you’re scraping again. To add to that, Carolina’s drafted a guard in each of the last three years.

Absolutely tackle takes precedent. That goes without saying. But, best player is best player. Carolina probably attempts to go into the draft with "good enough" talent at every position. Last year, it fell to where WR was a need and yet they probably had guys they felt they could roster. They did the same at OT and ended up having to forego one.   This team also showed, while it was making do, that while LT itself was the biggest weakness (which included having to do its best to shift around Byron Bell), that good G-C-G play could bring back a run game, and strategically stop a rush at times, too.    The OL is an active, breathing unit, not a LT singing lead with some backup singers.   

So while a LT is crucial, if Carolina has to brace for the worst, a better line can come from anywhere.   Carolina won't just scout OTs this year or any year.  And when they find an elite LT, they'll still scout LTs.  Just like they'll still scout guards when they have guards.   To that end, Thompson is one of the best.