January 4, 2007

Clarkson works with East QBs

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - The East squad had an easy day when compared to the frantic pace of their practices earlier in the week, but there was still plenty to work on. The morning practice was highlighted by an appearance from quarterback guru Steve Clarkson. Clarkson, who coached Carson Palmer, Matt Lienhart and others, put the five East quarterbacks through numerous drills with Tyrod Taylor putting on the best show.


Clarkson has become known as one of the best quarterback coaches in America thanks to his success with players like Palmer, Lienhart and others. So when he took over the quarterbacks in the morning session, he got their attention.

Clarkson began with some footwork drills where Taylor, Willy Korn and John Brantley excelled. He moved on to some simple flat passes and progressed to 15-yard outs and timing patterns. Taylor showed the best arm strength of the group and the best accuracy followed by Matt Simms. When it came time to throw on the run and work on a pump-and-go, once again Taylor and Simms looked the most comfortable.

Brantley struggled greatly in most of the Clarkson drills missing his target wide, overthrowing or simply not following through. Korn hung too many passes for Clarkson's liking as he labeled a few of them easy interceptions. The fifth quarterback, Sean Mara, was accurate but lacked the arm strength for a few of the throws.

Brantley was clearly disappointed in his performance and looked a bit shook up mentally. However, he responded with some very nice touch passes on end zone fades after the Clarkson workout.

Taylor's performance in the scrimmage on Wednesday and in practice on Thursday has elevated him in the minds of the coaches. He began the week as an athlete working with the defensive backs and is looking to finish the week as the best quarterback on the East team.

Simms gets impressive velocity on his ball considering his odd delivery. He has a very live arm but could get quite a few passes batted down in college with his low delivery. Korn continues to push the ball and his mechanics have seemingly changed completely from his junior year. He just doesn't look comfortable. Brantley still shows excellent mechanics and his accuracy has been solid except for the Clarkson drills although he has struggled throwing on the run.

Based on the practices so far this week and one scrimmage, I'd rate the quarterbacks in this order - 1) Taylor 2) Brantley 3) Korn 4) Simms 5) Mara.

No starter has been named at quarterback for the East squad but many assume it will be Simms because of his familiarity with the offense. East head coach Greg Toal and East offensive coordinator Nunzio Campese are both coaches at Don Bosco Prep where Simms played.

The next Danny White?

NFL fans might remember former Dallas Cowboys star Danny White who performed double duty for the 'Boys in the late 70's and early 1980's as quarterback and punter. Could Brantley be the next dual-threat?

Brantley will be the East's punter and he has a natural ability at the position. He's been averaging about 38 yards-per-punt in practice and gets good hand time on about half of his kicks. Originally Brantley wanted no part of punting for one reason.

"He didn't want to have to tackle anyone," said East coach Scott Burton. "So I told him if anyone broke one and he was the last guy out there he could always call time out. He didn't seem to like that idea."

Block that kick

The over-under on field goals and extra points the West will kick against the East has to be around one. If the West has a field goal opportunity, they had better be quick because the East has some guys with a knack for getting to the ball. Martez Wilson continues to block kicks with his speed and long, long arms and the East will have a little bit of speed coming off the edges with Noel Devine and Chris Rainey.

Speaking of Rainey, he was working briefly on pass routes and pass coverage in the morning but was back with the running backs later while Devine worked exclusively at running back. Four running backs is one too many for everyone to get enough touches so they will likely try to find additional ways to get the ball to Rainey and Devine.

Injury update

East offensive lineman James Wilson was back practicing but only on special teams. He sat out 11-on-11 play but is still hoping to play on Saturday.

Tight end Lansford Watson missed most of practice again with his injured foot. Cornerback Gary Gray missed the morning practice with a severe headache, another reason why Rainey was getting a look at cornerback. The East has as many defensive backs (5) as they do quarterbacks leaving them very thin in the defensive backfield.

Defensive end/tackle Sidell Corley still doesn't look 100-percent following his hamstring injury early in the week.

Rainey came up limping a bit after a sweep play in afternoon 11-on-11 play following a hit that forced his second fumble of the week.

Defensive tackle Marvin Austin came up limping badly late in the second session. Austin injured his right foot, specifically his big toe.

Defensive end Justin Trattou didn't practice due to a hip injury but he will be available for the game.

Let's get physical

Coach Toal was all over the East linebackers during the first session questioning their ability to play physical and their energy in drills. He got the response he was looking for as the linebackers amped up their intensity after the speech.

The East practices have been long and have been physical up until Thursday and many players are feeling a bit worn down.

"We'll either be so much more physically ready that we'll dominate or we'll be worn out and get dominated," said Marvin Austin. "We have a lot of banged up guys."

Austin, by the way, was on the kickoff coverage team in the second half of practice before his injury. It looked very odd to see a 320-pounder chasing after Rainey and Devine who combine to weigh less that Austin.

Mr. Bad Body

East coach head coach Greg Toal has always been known as a candid person who pulls no punches. In the case of Torrey Davis, he was wondering what he was getting.

"I saw this kid and he had the worst football body ever," said Toal. "I was wondering why they picked him just by looking at him. He walks like he's struggling and is a bit knock-kneed but then when you see him play you're amazed. He's our best defensive tackle. He has a great motor, he gets after it every play and he's a hustler. Once the ball is snapped he's suddenly one of the most agile 280-pound kids you'll see. He doesn't look like a player, but he is."

Better than Austin and Barksdale?

"Austin makes you saw 'wow' one out of every four plays but he needs to be consistent and work hard every play," said Toal. "He has a ton of talent but he doesn't hustle like Davis. Barksdale is a huge kid who can move but he plays a little high and I think he'd be a better offensive lineman in college."

Human Highlight Reel

Devine did it again on Thursday. He certainly doesn't get enough touches on offense, but when he does touch the ball he's breaking ankles. His start-stop ability is amazing and brings to mind Barry Sanders the way he dips into the line and back out until he finds the right hole. Devine caught a screen pass in the second session but it was a poorly developed play that was going nowhere. He juked three different players as he reversed field and turned what should have been a 4-yard loss into a 7-yard gain.

On another play, Devine took a handoff off right tackle but Martez Wilson penetrated and had him dead to rights. Devine stopped dead in his tracks, let Wilson slide by and continued outside. He then juked linebacker Allen Bailey in the same manner before being run out of bounds by Eric Berry. A 4-yard gain on what should have been a big loss.

Berry, Berry good

Eric Berry gets better with each snap it seems. He's so explosively quick that he closes on the fastest players with ease. He came from his free safety position in the second session to tackle Rainey for a loss and ran down Deonte Thompson easily on an inside handoff. Berry is excellent at stringing plays out when he's at safety and is getting better and better in single coverage.

Quietly getting better

The interior offensive line of the East deserves a pat on the back for improving as the week progressed. Early in the week they were getting blown off the football by the defensive tackles but they've done a good job of holding the line of scrimmage the last couple of days.

Chris Jacobson, Ryan Pugh and Stefen Wisniewski are each giving away about 40 pounds to Austin and Barksdale and about 20 pounds to Davis, but they've been quicker off the ball and have anchored well. The defensive tackles have been coached to simply bull rush the interior offensive line rather than shoot the gaps because of their size advantage but it hasn't been as effective as late.

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