Friday, 16 October 2009

Notes on Cincinnati vs USF

There were a number of prospects on view in last night's Cincinnati vs USF game, which the Bearcats won 34-17. The most high profile was of course Tony Pike (QB, Cincy) but it was also a good chance to take a look at George Selvie (DE, USF), Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, USF), Nate Allen (FS, USF) and Mardy Gilyard (WR, Cincinnati). However, my main focus of attention remained on Pike to see if he could continue the good form that has made him an outside bet for the Heisman Trophy and a potential high pick in the 2010 draft.

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For one half of football, Pike was very impressive. That was until a sprained left wrist before half time ended his evening early and forced the Bearcats to put in backup Zach Collaros. It raises a serious concern about Pike that just won't go away - he's a brittle guy. At 6'6" in height, Pike has the ideal frame for a NFL quarterback. But he has issues adding weight, "We did some protein shakes. Actually, there were 2,200 calories per shake, and we'd do one in the morning and one at night. Even with those, it was hard to put the weight on. I can eat a ton and not gain anything, miss a meal and lose some weight."

It shows, because Pike is stick thin with very little muscle tone or bulk. He's had injury problems in the past, including a left arm injury which forced him to play wearing a cast for some time. It seems the same area has been injured again and this could force him to miss time over the next few weeks, we'll have to wait and see. This has to spark red flags for NFL scouts. We've seen how injuries can affect a franchise first hand with all the problems Seattle have faced in 2008 and 2009. If Pike is deemed to be incapable of taking hits because of his slight build, it could harm his draft stock.

It was a shame too, because he was impressive in the first half. In two quarters, he was 11/19 for 128 yard and a pair of TD's - against a good defense. He continues to show nice touch on his throws and gets the ball out quickly especially when under pressure. He took some snaps from behind center - not something we always see from quarterbacks playing in a spread offense.

One complaint you often hear mentioned with Pike is his occasional bad decision making. That hasn't been totally eradicated yet but it seems to be improving. He nearly threw a pick six with 11:48 left in the half, trying to get a pass to the right touchline. The throw lacked zip and USF defensive back Jerome Murphy was able to make a play for the ball and probably should have caught it for an easy run-back score. In the tight coverage, Pike really needed to drive the pass to the sideline to avoid the coverage but the pass floated a bit which makes it easy for corner backs to make a play.

This is another concern regarding Pike. Our resident scout, Kyle Rota, testified this in his early report on Pike - that arm strength isn't his speciality. This could again be down to his inability to add weight and muscle, but at the moment a lot of passes float up into the air. On the plus side, he showed above average accuracy last night and a nice tight spiral. I think Pike would be perfectly suited to the Josh McDaniels system we've seen in Denver this year, with a lot of emphasis on short routes, screens and slants. A team wanting a nice deep threat might be put off.

Because of this arm strength issue I wanted to see Pike in the red zone, always a good test of a quarterback playing with a short field. Seattle struggled mightily in this area without Matt Hasselbeck against the Bears and Colts. After free safety Aaron Webster had returned an interception 82-yards, Pike had the ball on the USF three yard line. He took the snap under center, set up the defense with a look to Mardy Gilyard on the left before quickly switching to the right and throwing a very catchable pass to Armon Binns for a touchdown. A nice touch on the pass, but the ball in an area for the WR to make a play and showed a nice feel for the endzone.

Better was to come with 7:05 left in the first half. Pike took the snap in his own end zone on 3rd and 17, managed to avoid strong pressure from George Selvie and scrambled to his left hand side. You assumed at this point he was going to throw the ball away, especially with his team leading 10-7 and deep in their own half. However, he fires a beautiful pass down the left to DJ Woods for a 25 yard completion. It's one of the best passes I've seen for a while, considering he was on the run and had just avoided a potential safety. Put the pass in the only place Woods could get it in coverage, great spiral and super accurate. What could have been a safety or a three-and-out actually ended up being a drive down the entire field for Pike to score his second TD of the game, an 8-yard bullet to Binns once again.

It would have been nice to see Pike end the game and lead his team to victory and concerns from the injury aside it was an impressive performance last night. There's certainly something to work with in Pike and I still believe from the senior class of QB's, he's the most ready to start from day one. At this stage I think he's certainly a safe 2nd-3rd round prospect, but if he was able to add some weight and get more velocity into his throws, he could go higher.

His main target in the passing game is senior wide out Mardy Gilyard. The Florida-born receiver is listed at 6'1" in height but he looked smaller on the screen to me. He's not an obvious deep threat and looks to me like he could be a very good slot receiver in the NFL. The real positive to his game is when he gets the ball in space and can generate YAC. Gilyard is more than useful on screens and dump offs and showed nice, tight route running qualities on short-intermediate routes. He was used on an end around once for a 5 yard gain and could have some use on trick plays.

I also saw Gilyard giving a pre-game speech to his teammates and he appears to be a mature, responsible individual who commands respect. He's been productive this year (592 yard, 7 TD's) and I'd expect to see him go in rounds 2-3 based on last night's evidence.

Jason Pierre-Paul is a defensive end who dropped onto the scene this week when Mel Kiper touted him as a potential top ten pick. In his most recent big board published this week, Kiper has him at #12 having previously been unranked. He's a JUCO prospect who received interest from the Gators and Virginia Tech before choosing USF. The fact he could enter the draft off the back of one year's production may put off some teams (such as the Seahawks) but he's undoubtedly an athletic specimen who could further improve the already stocked class of defensive lineman in 2010.

He seems to have good footwork, often trying to beat his man with a speed rush off the edge rather than bull rush. He has a big frame (6'6", 285lbs) but could actually get a little bigger and probably not lose any speed. Pure pass rusher who regularly got into Tony Pike's face in the first half. He made an interesting play on Collaros in the second half, beating his blocker with flat out speed and making a point guard-esque leap to the QB to try and block the pass. He succeeded in deflecting the ball kindly into the hands of free safety Nate Allen for an interception.

His limited production due to one year makes me cautious of Pierre-Paul, but like Carlops Dunlap he has that size/speed combo that will attract a lot of teams. If he declares for the draft in 2010 and puts on a show at the combine, he could go very early indeed.

Pass rush partner George Selvie benefited more than most from Pierre-Paul's presence. He too showed an ability to get to the QB and looked threatening as a pass rusher. His production has taken a big hit since his sophomore year (14.5 sacks to 5.5 as a junior) and he only has two sacks this season. The presence of Pierre-Paul into the starting line-up should help Selvie avoid those double teams and put up better numbers over the next few weeks, a real boost as he heads into the NFL draft. Right now he's probably a third round pick.

It was difficult to get a read on playmaking free safety Nate Allen. He made an interception thanks to Pierre-Paul's athletic deflection, but with Cincy not throwing deep too often it was tough to get a read on his ability in coverage. I wasn't all that impressed in run support, there's no way a moderately fast QB should be taking a draw through the middle and making a 75-yard touchdown run. It's one thing coughing up a run like that to Frank Gore, it's quite another when it's a backup QB at college level.

Another safety did catch my eye, however. Aaron Webster made a nice 82-yard interception return, looked pretty sound in coverage with good deep speed. He's very stiff in his running style and doesn't change direction particularly well, but could be a good special teams player down the line or a situational coverage guy on passing downs. I'll keep an eye on him throughout the rest of the year as a potential UDFA target, or even a seventh round pick.


germpod said...

With Denver doing so well, and the Hawks likely on the rise over the rest of the season, it is not looking like we are going to get a chance to draft one of the first two QBs like I was hoping :-(

We could possibly trade our two first round picks for the first overall or in that area, but I am not sure there is a QB justifiying giving up so much. I hate having this need to draft a QB. Maybe a decent one will become available in free agency.

Senica Wallace is really not going to work once Matt is no longer playing.

Rob Staton said...

It's an issue that could define the franchise for the next decade. We've had a glimpse of the Seahawks post-Matt with his injuries the last couple of years, and with his contract expiring in 2010 clearly there needs to be a long term plan. Of course, Hasselbeck could complete the 09 season injury free, have a superb 2010 season and warrant an extension. However, given his age (34) and injury record over the last year, it's no disrespect to Hasselbeck (who is clearly a much loved Seahawk) to suggest the franchise needs to have a look at other options.

If the team did need to go into 2011 with a new QB, time is running out if they wish to 'groom' their own guy. Mike Teel is in that position now, but is two years enough? Will he even make the roster next year? We still know so little about the plans for Teel despite his reasonable displays in pre-season and as things stand he still has to be considered a 6th round flyer whom we expect little from.

Could they make a trade? They certainly have the fire power with three picks in the first 64 next year. If they wanted to trade for a QB on another roster, or trade up in the draft, they could probably do so. It's hard to pinpoint who they 'could' target in that sense.

Free agency is another option, Jason Campbell could well be released by Washington. He might struggle to find a starting job somewhere, and might find the security of a year behind Matt to learn another new playbook beneficial, especially a playbook that will be fairly similar to Jim Zorn's. However - is Jason Campbell really a long term option for Seattle at QB?

Finally there's the draft. From the prospective 2010 class there's nobody that really stands out and screams 'Seattle' to me. They'll no doubt know quite a lot about Jake Locker and there's a nice story there, but if he declares for this draft surely it'll be because he thinks he goes very early - perhaps too early for Seattle. The likes of Bradford, Tebow and Clausen all have mechanical issues for me, although clearly everything else about Tebow is the most 'Ruskell-esque'. I think the people of Jacksonville and the franchise itself have decided Tim Tebow is there guy, I'll be surprised if they a.) aren't in position to take him b.) don't follow through with it. That could mean Tebow goes early than expected.

There'll be lots of options for Seattle if they do wish to add a QB. We'll see how it unfolds, should be interesting anyway.

Anonymous said...

Another thing to remember is the draft boards are nowhere near set yet. Mark Sanchez wasn't even in the 1st round draft pick conversation at this time last year.

With 2 first round picks, we will have the ability to move up, like the Jets did for Sanchez, if we absolutely must have someone. As fans, we are starting to work on building our consensus QB wish list. Unfortunately, Tim Ruskell doesn't care about our wish lists - he has his own. It is possible that QB isn't even on that list.


Rob Staton said...

It's a very good point, TJ. Prospects will come forward over the next few weeks and move up the board. It wasn't just Mark Sanchez - nobody this time last year had Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson and Aaron Curry in the top five, whilst guys like Michael Oher were right at the top of the board.

I think we're already starting to see some changes. I've seen too many boards/mocks with Russell Okung going 1st or 2nd overall, which won't happen. I think we'll eventually start to see Eric Berry dropping down the boards/mocks because he isn't a top five pick for me. Others will move forward - I expect Derrick Morgan to make a jump eventually and possibly also Joe Haden.

I'm not sure there's any Sanchez-esque QB's who will make a jump, after all the only reason Sanchez was unexpected is that most people expected him to stay at USC. If he had done, I expect most people would be putting him at #1 overall right now and there's a good chance he'd go that early too.

Maybe someone like Jake Locker will see a similar thing happen, but people are already talking about him as a top five pick, even at this stage.

Patrick said...

I've mentioned the prospect of Jason Campbell before because it certainly intrigues me. The pros? Jason Campbell has shown an excellent amount of maturity. When Denver attempted to trade Cutler, he skipped town. Jason Campbell didn't even attempt that and instead did his best with the cards he was dealt. Another pro, is that he would fit firmly in our #2 QB spot, taking Wallace's place. If we had Campbell as our #2 and Teel as our #3 we put ourselves in a nice situation with two potential QBs to take Hasselbeck's spot. Also, when it comes to it I would much rather have Campbell than Wallace. Really, it's no contest. The negatives? Campbell more than likely isn't our QB of the future. By grabbing him, we may be putting too much faith in Teel, who like Rob said, is a 6th round choice.

Anonymous said...

Rob, I find the evolution of the draft, from early mocks to actual event to be very interesting. Take for example Kipers current top 25. Only 2 OT's on the list. With so many teams hurting for O-line talent, especially left tackle, in spite of so much more talent (according to Kiper) at linebacker, I'd expect teams to reach for OT's and that means the LB's will drop.

Regarding Pierre-Paul and Carlos Dunlap, they both remind me of Vernon Gholston. Physical attributes are there, but will they be busts at the next level? Gholston, who some said was starting to turn things around early this season, still only has 7 tackles and zero sacks. How patient should teams be when they are spending so much money on an early 1st round pick?

Rob Staton said...

Hi annonymous,

You would assume that at least one offensive tackle as you say will be taken perhaps earlier than they should because it's become a premium position in the NFL. However, I'm struggling to find who that guy could be. Bryan Bulaga received poor reviews from the Michigan game recently because he struggled against another pro-prospect, Brandon Graham. I expect Bulaga to stay with Iowa for his senior year.

Trent Williams' stock is sinkly rapidly and I don't think he'll recover. Russell Okung doesn't deserve to go in the top ten. I'll be surprised if he does, but maybe he's the guy a team reaches for? If Bruce Campbell satisfies scouts he can stay healthy, he may be one to keep an eye on - as is Anthony Davis at Rutgers (two prospects I know minimal about, but have heard fair reviews).

I think Gholston and Dunlap/Pierre-Paul are different in that Gholston was more of a work out warrior and the other two are more natural athletes. It wasn't until the combine that Gholston's stock sky rocketed. Dunlap clearly has the size/speed combo that teams drool over. He could have a great combine, but it'll only confirm what we knew. Gholston was more of a surprise and shot up the boards because of that. That's not to say Dunlap and Pierre-Paul won't experience similar problems in the pro's of course.

With regard to how patient you should be, I think that depends on the person you're talking about. You start off thinking... we've made this investment, we have to give it a chance. Eventually though, you need to see the same commitment back from the player. If not, you get into a position where things are never going to change and you cut your losses. I doubt the Jets for example will be ready to cut ties with Gholston and his trade value right now is zero. However, he has the right guy coaching that team (Rex Ryan) to help him progress. I expect he'll get another year or two to work out, but when he hits the bigger numbers on his contract - he needs to justify them. That's when the Jets will consider cutting him.

germpod said...

Jason Campbell is 28 years old. He could likley be a decent stop gap for a few years. Maybe he has been hindered by changing offensive systems every season. I would not be sad if he joined the team, but I would not be thrilled either.

I guess I just want to have a great QB who I know is going to be around for the next decade or so, not a mediocre one for a few years. I am fully aware that it is easier said then done finding that guy, but it is still my hope.

I do not think superbowls are often won with the stop gap QBs, and that is the goal for this team. I guess I really want to know that as long as we have some talent around him, that our next QB has the talent to win a superbowl.

If there are none who Ruskell sees as having great potential, then we have to pass. I just hope that is not the case this season.

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