North Practice Notes Day Two: Aaron Donald and Chris Borland Shine
This was my first look at the North Squad and I wanted to focus on the offensive and defensive lines, while trying to watch some other positions some as well. Here is my take away from the morning practice:
Aaron Donald, (Pittsburgh):
-Donald was the big winner today as he made big play after big play. He’s the smallest defensive tackle here and some of the guards that he’s facing out weigh him by almost 40 lbs. None of that mattered to Donald as he pushed them around with relative easy. He’s so quick off the snap and does such a great job of staying low, that he blows up OL before they can anchor down. On one snap when facing double-teams Donald really showed his talent. During most double team work, it was a win for the defensive lineman if he didn’t get pushed back more than a yard or two or could actually hold his ground. And the defensive linemen didn’t “win” at a high success rate, typically they were pushed back quite a bit. Donald did very well throughout all these reps and really never got pushed back. On one snap though he was facing Zack Martin at guard who was going to get help from Brandon Thomas at tackle. Those are two formidable linemen, and they should have easily won or at least fought Donald to a draw. Instead he shot out of his stance and drove into Martin quickly, before he could set his feet and before Thomas could get a good angle. The result is Donald drove Martin right back into the quarterback’s lap and Thomas couldn’t do anything to prevent it.
Ra’Shede Hageman, (Minnesota):
-Hageman had a really good practice and if not for Donald, probably would have had the best practice of any player. He showed good power and quickness off the snap and seemed to get better with each rep. By the end of practice he was living in the offensive backfield and absolutely impossible to block 1-on-1. On one play in the Pit drills, Hageman was going 1-on-1 with Linder from Miami, and Hageman fired off the snap, stayed low and absolutely blew up Linder. Linder was on his back and if it was a live play, the quarterback would have easily been sacked. One slight area of note is that Hageman had trouble beating double-teams. Obviously the OL is expected to win most of those battles, but even when you lose you want to give up as little ground as possible. Hageman got pushed around a little more than you’d like to see in those drills.
Justin Ellis (Louisiana Tech):
-Ellis continues to show well after his strong Shrine Game week last week. He’s not as dominant as some of the linemen here, but he shows good power and really good quickness for a guy who is almost nearly 350 lbs. He was really tough for guards and centers to win 1-on-1’s with and he even had some success versus double teams.
DaQuan Jones (Penn State):
-Not a great practice today for Jones (and reports were he didn’t have a good Monday session), as he really made little impact throughout the day. He did do a nice job on a couple running plays in 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 work, but otherwise he was pretty invisible. He wasn’t getting penetration on 1-on-1’s and was just slow off the snap. In 2-on-1 work, on more than one occasion the first offensive lineman was able to control Jones without any help from his double-team partner.
Trent Murphy (Stanford):
-Murphy was the best edge rusher today, and was probably the toughest all-around guy for opposing tackles to try to block (they didn’t succeed most of the time). Murphy spent a fair amount of time in the back-field and looks to be every bit the disruptor and impact player he was at Stanford.
James Gayle (Virginia Tech):
-Gayle was very smooth and fluid in drills and doesn’t take any unnecessary steps when he gets after the quarterback. This allows him to win on the edge a fair amount and cause a lot of problems in the backfield. Gayle perhaps isn’t the fastest defensive end here, but he plays smart and gets the most out of his skills. He definitely looks like he can develop into a starter at the next level. While his natural size and abilities make him a quality player, what really sets him apart is his effort level. He showed a non-stop motor and played every snap to the whistle, even if that meant trying to run down a player from the otherside of the field.
Tyler Larsen (Utah State):
-Aaron Donald dominated practice today, making every interior lineman (and multiple tackles who lined up inside) look foolish, everyone that is, but Tyler Larsen. Larsen was the first lineman who was able to stop Donald cold at the line of scrimmage and get the better of him. Their reps against one another were fun to watch throughout the day, and though Donald won his fair share of battles against Larsen, Larsen by comparison played him better than anyone else. Larsen also did a really good job on Ra’Shede Hageman, who struggled to get pressure when faced against Larsen.
Weston Richburg (Colorado State):
-Richburg is a tough center capable of winning one-on-one battles in the interior. He had a strong practice throughout with the only guys who gave him any real issues were Donald and Hageman.
Cyril Richardson (Baylor):
-I didn’t see him on Monday, but reports were that Richardson struggled mightily in practice. Early on it looked like it might be more of the same today as he got beat badly on his first couple of reps. Richardson was playing too soft at first and was trying to just catch the defender and was typically unsuccessful in his attempts. After some work with coaches, we began to see improvement in Richardson’s game. He did a better job later in practice using his hands to keep defenders to get into his body and he was able to offer some quality pass protection. Richardson also showed well in run blocking as well, getting a couple nice blocks that helped spring guys. It definitely wasn’t a great all-around practice, but it was good to see how he improved and seemed to take well to coaching.
Brandon Linder (Miami):
-Linder had some nice reps early in practice, but really didn’t do much after that. As practice wore on he got more and more exposed, and was just getting routinely beat by the top DT’s on the team.
Seantrel Henderson (Miami):
-Henderson looks the part, but there is no consistency there. His technique throughout practice was very sloppy and he lost the leverage game far too often. There were times where he stood straight up off the snap and was just owned by the defensive lineman. He was also slow getting to the edge on a number of pass rushes and would have gotten his quarterback hit quite a bit.
Zack Martin (Notre Dame):
-Martin was the most consistent and talented offensive lineman on the North Squad. He had some struggles early in practice, but after that he was pretty good and rarely lost a battle. He was used both at guard and left tackle. He showed nice footwork and a nice anchor.
Brandon Thomas (Clemson):
-Thomas had a good all-around practice, both at tackle (where he’s primarily lining up) and guard (probably the better position for him in the NFL). That versatility will be key for his draft stock going forward.
Jack Mewhort (Ohio State):
-It was an up-and-down practice for Mewhort. Early on he struggled in one-on-one and two-on-one drills (the latter of which should be an easy win) early on, showing inconsistent technique and poor footwork. Later in practice he improved in 9-on-7 andd 11-on-11 drills. He played with better leverage and didn’t stand straight up nearly as often. He also showed some nice ferocity in run blocking and did a nice job just overpowering some of the defensive ends and linebackers. Overall it would probably be an average day, but consistency, particularly in his pass blocking will be something to watch.
Michael Sam (Missouri):
-Sam showed a lot of explosion as an edge rusher, he was very quick off the ball and was able to get to the edge a number of times. While he didn’t always get the “sack” Sam’s relentless approach would have led to a number of quarterback pressures and hits. Sam showed a nice motor and was always playing 100% up until the whistle.
Marcus Smith (Louisville):
-Smith got a chance to rush the quarterback some as a defensive end and he showed some nice pass rush ability and that will likely be his position at the next level (or a rush linebacker).
Chris Borland (Wisconsin):
-Chris Borland had a really strong practice all-around. Watching him it is clear that he’s a true student of the game and he shows great instincts and reaction time in both run support and in coverage. Borland was very fluid in the drills and while he’s maybe a little undersized, it shouldn’t be an issue that keeps him from being a very productive starter at the next level. In addition to the instincts and athletic ability, Borland did a nice job getting off blocks and getting to the football. He really looks like the complete package at ILB/MLB and could make an early impact.
Jordan Zumwalt (UCLA):
-Zumwalt is a little tighter than you’d like to see in his drop backs and transition, and at times he plays too tall and stiff, but he plays with great intensity. He’s a physical player and was drawing a fair amount of praise from the coaches. While he wasn’t the most athletically gifted in drills, he showed good awareness and anticipation.
-Didn’t focus on North quarterbacks enough today, but from what I saw it was a poor day all-around. Tajh Boyd was probably the best of the bunch, but that is solely a relative term. Even Boyd missed on a number of throws. The wind seemed to bother him quite a bit on throws down the field. Even on some shorter routes though Boyd’s accuracy was off. Still Boyd was better than Logan Thomas and Stephen Morris who were both fairly erratic throughout the practice.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska):
-Jean-Baptiste is really opening some eyes down here. He’s got ridiculous size for a corner and is capable of matching up with any receiver. He’s incredibly long and has a very nice wingspan that gives him a wide range to defend the receiver. That really closes some of the tight windows that quarterbacks could exploit with smaller corners. Jean-Baptiste clearly isn’t as fluid as some smaller corners as he backpedals and flips his hips, but he’s good for a bigger corner. He’s definitely a better fit for Man press coverage, where he can use his size to completely disrupt a receiver off his route.
Dontae Johnson (NC State):
-Like many corners on the North Squad, Johnson has the length and speed you are looking for in a corner, but he’s not as technically sound as some of the other corners down here. He wasn’t able to transition quickly or smoothly in some drills and it allowed separation for some receivers. There is definitely potential there for him, but he’s more of a project at this standpoint.