On the full day of practice in pads, we saw the Buffalo Bills coaching staff cut the South team’s practice short by thirty minutes. They worked primarily on red zone offense/defense and a little bit on punt returning. There was nothing really to report on the special teams portion of the practice as it was very brief. The red zone drills, however, brought about a couple of interesting observations.
None of the quarterbacks looked great today. Then again, they didn’t look poor either. Florida State’s Christian Ponder looked sharp be threading a perfect pass between two defenders to Hawaii wide receiver Greg Salas for a score. The very next play, Ponder threw a near-interception to the safety due to making a poor read. TCU’s Andy Dalton did the same thing. He threw a couple of short passes to USC’s Ronald Johnson to get the team near the goal line, but then almost threw an interception on a fade route in the back right corner. Primarily working in a shotgun based offense, I noticed that Dalton dropped the handoff under center a couple of times. This reminded me of last year’s Tim Tebow issues. If Dalton is drafted, his ball handling skills will be a focus for his coaches. Alabama’s Greg McElroy used several check downs in his session and when he had his shot for the score, Ronald Johnson and Salas collided with each other in the end zone leaving McElroy with no one to throw to, so he just ran up the middle for the score. McElroy never tried a pass over 5 yards, so he kept it short and accurate.
The running backs got about half of the goal line work as the coaches tried to see who could work a power back for short yards. Kentucky’s Derrick Locke showed excellent shiftiness by cutting several handoffs to the outside which allowed him to pick up good chunks of yardage. Louisville’s Bilal Powell showed some excellent acceleration by being able to burst through a few holes for some good yards. Shortly after, however, he made a couple of bad reads and was stonewalled at the line of scrimmage in several plays. Georgia Tech’s Anthony Allen looked good as a third down back when he caught several balls out of the backfield as a check down and on a couple on designed screens. He could be fun to watch on Saturday. And fun to listen to now via our audio interview with him.
Much like the quarterback play, the wide receivers were very up and down. Greg Salas made an eye-popping play to catch Ponder’s perfectly threaded pass between the safety and cornerback. His next two passes in the end zone, one a crossing pattern in the back where he was wide open and a sideline fade, were both dropped. He’s better than that, but just seemed to be having an off day. The same is said for Miami’s Leonard Hankerson who looked amazing yesterday. He was thrown to twice in the end zone and Hankerson made amazing moves around the defender to put himself in position to catch the ball, but he just simply dropped them. On the other hand, the small hometown prospect, Southern Alabama’s Courtney Smith, who looked horrendous yesterday dropping 6 out of 7 balls thrown his way, made up for that by catching all of the passes thrown his way. He even caught a difficult catch in the back right of the end zone that was high. He could be a dark horse in the game Saturday if he can play like he practiced today and not like he did yesterday.
All in all, it was a short practice with an emphasis on scoring. The south team has plenty of talent and should really challenge the north team’s defense. I expect a fun game with enough points to keep it interesting. Watching both sides, I think the South team has a slight advantage on both offense and defense. My final prediction for Saturday’s game is South 28 – North 20.