The South team kicked off practice at 1:45 local time at Ladd Peebles Stadium. It was the first time I got to see them this week and there was a lot to be learned. The South practice got off to a slow start. They really drilled special teams and even spent a good five minutes doing strictly gunner drills.
When practice finally picked up, you noticed the difference in intensity between the South and the North squads. The South was incredibly physical and all of the players had a high spirit. The attitude was contagious and led to high effort from most of the players.
Below are some of the highlights and lowlights from today’s practice:
-There was a lot of hype about Leonard Hankerson going into the day and he did not disappoint. The Miami receiver had incredible body control and he caught everything thrown his way. He has the best hands in the game and was selling his routes really well. There isn’t a wideout in the game who can sell the double moves as well as Hankerson. He has been the talk of the South.
-South Alabama receiver Courtney Smith is struggling to keep up against the higher level of talent. Smith had multiple drops and was staying high coming out of his breaks. Smith did show flashes of brilliance with a few unbelievable catches. If he can adjust to the speed and level of play that he’s not used to facing, Smith can develop into a nice steal later in the draft.
-West Virginia running back Noel Devine is tiny. Compared to the other players in this game, Devine looks like a high school kid out there size-wise. Athletically, Devine has incredible quickness and is a really shift back. He gets really low in his cuts and uses his center of gravity in his favor. Devine gets lost behind blockers and accelerates into the open very well. When you watch him play, you see glimpses of Darrin Sproles. Running backs Derrick Locke of Kentucky and Lousiville’s Bilal Powell also looked good out there.
-Marcus Gilbert of Florida was false start happy in 11-on-11’s. The Gator got a head start on two consecutive plays and failed to engage with anyone. To make this worse for Gilbert, he left practice with a right foot injury and did not return.
-Luke Stocker really impressed. He has hands of glue and is as reliable as they come. He is going to make a young quarterback very happy at the next level. You could see all of the South quarterbacks had confidence in Stocker — he is the perfect security blanket. He showed off his hands after being popped during drills by Marcus Gilchrist of Clemson.
-Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder had a rough day. His accuracy was all over the place and he threw a near interception to Marcus Gilchrist. There was a play during 11-on-11 drills were Alabama tight end Preston Dial was running wide open down the center of the field for a good 25-30 yards before Ponder spotted him. By the time Ponder pulled the trigger on the throw, it was too late. Out of the South QB’s, Greg McElroy looked the most impressive.
-Gilchrist showed some good range throughout practice and was looking to make his presence felt. Not only was he all over the ball, but he was also leading the defense in between snaps. You couldn’t have found a more vocal leader out there at practice today.
-Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller was very disappointing as was Texas’ Sam Acho. Miller held his own in the pit against the offensive linemen, but really struggled in coverage. Miller was always running behind the tight ends or backs and was having a difficult time reading and reacting to the throws. Miller would get caught back peddling and he didn’t have the reaction to make a quick break on the ball.
-Greg Salas made a solid impression. He was a strong route runner, but struggled with the passes that were thrown high — which came often from the South QB’s. Salas did burn Curtis Brown of Texas, who was one of the more impressive running backs, deep during one-on-one’s.
-No offensive lineman really stood out on the South. They will have a hard time containing the North squad’s Cameron Jordan and Christian Ballard on game day. They did nothing to generate buzz. Danny Watkins was the most impressive of the offensive lineman. He won every one on one battle sent his way. Auburn’s Lee Ziemba really struggled badly when he was playing at guard. He didn’t win a single one on one matchup.
-Southern Arkansas Cedric Thornton held his own today. During 11-on-11 drills, Thornton blew up Lee Ziemba and immediately got to the quarterback. Phil Taylor and Jarvis Jenkins were among the top performers on the defensive line. The others — Brooks Reed and Sam Acho — were inconsistent.