By Brock Murphy, Lindy’s contributor
The South squad’s first practice was in Fairhope yesterday so today marked the first time that team practiced in Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The crowd was quite a bit larger to see the South team, which included 22 players from the SEC (Georgia and Alabama led the way six and five representatives respectively).
The quarterbacks for the South include Florida State’s E.J. Manuel (6-foot-4, 237 pounds), Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson (6-2, 218) and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones (6-3, 221). They are listed in that order because it also happens to be the order in which they took their snaps in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
Each had their share of good throws and mishaps but no snaps were dropped (unlike the North’s practice). However, the buzz seemed to be that Wilson’s snaps were the most productive.
Bulldogs Defensive Backs Everywhere
Georgia players occupy no fewer than three of the spots on the South’s defensive back group. Sanders Commings (5-11, 223) was a very stoutly-sized cornerback in Athens this year, while teammates Bacarri Rambo (6-1, 215) and Shawn Williams (5-11, 211) manned the free safety and strong safety spots, respectively. They find themselves together one last time in this week-long job interview for the NFL.
Commings found himself opposite of another Bulldog, wide receiver Tavarres King (6’ 0 ¼”, 192), on a few occasions today. Twice, King bested Commings in the 7-on-7 drills. The first time, King completely broke coverage. The second time, he simply made a good play in coverage.
Small School Cornerbacks
Two of the small-school players in this year’s game are competing for an NFL spot from the same unit occupied by all of those Georgia players.
Cornerbacks Robert Alford of Southeastern Louisiana (5-9, 186) and B.W. Webb of William & Mary (5-10, 183) are both out to prove that they can produce in the NFL and are not the simple benefactors of non-BCS competition during their careers.
Wisely, Alford and Webb have chosen to add value to their packages by including themselves as return specialists (as a side note, the third specialist was taken up – and quite effectively – by safety J.J. Wilcox (5-11, 214) from Georgia Southern). With limited roster spots, NFL teams have a much more open mind towards a player who can fill multiple roles.
Alford and Webb both showed sticky cover skills in drills. They did not back down from any of the South’s receivers.
Alford’s hustle during 11-on-11 drills was evident as he routinely sprinted to the other side of the field on runs. Each player is their own person, but Alford’s hustle reminded me of seeing the same thing out of former small school candidate, Louis Delmas (Western Michigan), who proved his mettle against the big boys four years ago.
The Lions drafted Delmas a few years back and could be interested in a player like Alford this April. If anything, Detroit coaches will get to see Alford and others first hand considering they are coaching the South squad.
Stout Running Backs for the South
The North’s running backs are dangerous and fleet of foot, but they are not big. Oregon’s Kenjon Barner routinely sliced through small cracks to score on long runs in practice yesterday. UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin was also an effective running with the football. Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse is a human bowling ball whose low center of gravity and ability to change of direction led to a big season with the Bulldogs. All three have looked good, but, again, they are not big, powerful tailbacks.
By contrast, the two running backs who suited up today for the South, Florida’s Mike Gillislee and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor, weighed in at 207 and 216 pounds, respectively. Each player showed flashes of power that are not the nature of the threat provided by the North’s players.
Interestingly, the smallest running back in Mobile (and smallest player on each roster) is former Auburn tailback Onterio McCalebb (164 pounds). However, a hamstring condition kept him from suiting up for Tuesday’s practice.
It will be interesting to see whether the size difference on the South pays any dividends in the actual game. Stay tuned.