Scouts Inc. will be in the Twin Cities this weekend for the California-Minnesota game, and we're excited to see more than just the brand-new TCF Bank Stadium.
My colleage Steve Muench broke down the intriguing perimeter matchup between Golden Bears CB Syd'Quan Thompson and Golden Gophers WR Eric Decker in an earlier blog entry, but there are a trio of California prospects who are also worth watching this week.
The first is DT Tyson Alualu, a 6-foot-2, 291-pounder who is a bit undersized to line up and anchor inside in the NFL. Aluala also lacks the quickness to be an effective edge rusher in a 4-3 system, so in our opinion his best fit is as a 5-technique (head-up/inside shoulder vs. offensive tackle) in a 3-4 scheme.
Aluala has above-average upper- and lower-body strength and should have no problem getting push against the Minnesota offensive line in the running game, but after watching film we want to see a more explosive initial punch that jars blockers and gets them off-balance. We'll also be keeping an eye on Aluala's balance because he sometimes lunges and falls to his feet, and he must do a better job of protecting his legs against cut blocks.
Lateral mobility is also an are of concern for Aluala because he shows only adequate abilit in pursuit and that is an area NFL 5-techniques must excel in. He also has to develop a wider array of pass-rush moves. Aluala is primarily a bull-rusher on film and we want to see if he had developed the ability to work half the blocker, setting him up and then using double moves to get to the passer.
Alualu is a tough player, though, and his strength and ability to shed blocks at times are what make him a fourth-round prospect at this point. But with improved first-step quickness and more variety in his pass-rush arsenal he could move himself into the third round before the season is over. Alualu has a chance to start that ascent this week against a very average Minnesota offensive line.
For a look at two more Cal prospects and the prospects making the Miami offense tick, as well as notes from around the country, become an ESPN Insider.
• Steve Muench has also sung the praises of California junior RB Jahvid Best in recent weeks, and Best shold be in line for another big game this week. He is averaging 10.5 yards per carry and a back with his blend of vision, quickness and acceleration should spell trouble for a struggling Minnesota run defense.
Best is not a complete product, though. He can get around the corner and has elite elusiveness in the open field but Best is undersized (5-10, 195) and we have questions about his ability to grind out yards between the tackles. Best has to show he can run through arm tackles and bounce off bigger tacklers inside, and stay healthy while doing so, in order to maximize his NFL draft potential. We'll also have an eye on his patience as an inside runner, particularly whether is is too quick to hit the hole or too quick to bounce runs outside.
We've talked to some scouts who think Best is the top back in the nation, and while we're not quite ready to make the same claim he will certainly strengthen his argument if he shows improved balance and power inside and avoids the nagging injuries that have plagued him so far in his career.
• Golden Bears LOT Mike Tepper missed the entire 2008 season with a torn pectoral muscle but he is a solidly-built prospect at 6-5 and 317 pounds. Based on his 2007 film Tepper needs to better utilize that size as a run blocker. He is a wall-off blocker at times and appears to simply try to get in the way, so we want to see more aggressiveness in terms of attacking defenders, rooting them off the ball and finishing blocks.
Tepper also appears to be heavy-footed, especially in pass protection, and we'll be watching to see if he can shuffle his feet and stay in front of quicker defensive ends, and whether he can recover if thrown off-balance by double moves. He projects as a right tackle at the next level because of his slow feet, but Tepper could improve from a late-round prospect to a middle-round pick if he shows he is recovered from the pectoral injury and improves as a run blocker.
• Count this scout among those who are solidly on the Miami bandwagon. The Hurricanes are clicking on all cylinders offensively under new coordinator Mark Whipple, and while QB Jacory Harris is deserving of the credit he's been given the running back tandem of Javarris James and Graig Cooper have played a big part as well.
James is a senior who shows great patience on the outside stretch play, setting up his blocks well and cutting behind them when he sees a crack. He also shows impressive lateral mobility when finding holes inside, shuffling to get to space and then exploding downhill with good burst.
Cooper is a junior but is the most impressive of the two. He has excellent speed to the edge and can also get donwhill in a hurry, and Cooper is an explosive finisher who lowers his pads and finds extra yards at the end of runs. He showed that on a late 4th-quarter run against Georgia Tech, slipping between two tacklers and taking on another while gaining an important first down that helped the Hurricanes bleed the clock. Cooper is also an important contributor in special teams with his ability to seek out holes and burst through them.
Both James and Cooper are 6-0, 205 pounds, and because of their determination and explosivenesss they play bigger than their listed size. James grades out as a late-round pick at this point while Cooper is using his versatility and finishing ability to open the eyes of NFL scouts.
Around the Nation
• Miami had its game against Georgia Tech marked on the calendar. Now, the Hurricanes can take a bright yellow highlighter to it after their dominating defensive performance on Thursday. One year after giving up 472 yards rushing, the Canes, led by Darryl Sharpton's (Scouts Inc.-rated 96) team-high eight tackles, held the Yellow Jackets to 97 yards rushing in a 33-17 win. "We just wanted to go out there and work hard and hit 'em, hit 'em, hit 'em, and make them quit," Hurricanes safety Randy Phillips said. "It looks like that's what we did. A lot of their players went out of the game."
• Tomorrow the chatter stops and the game begins: Tennessee at Florida. Gators QB Tim Tebow (No. 26), who could become the third quarterback to win four games against the Vols, says he's expects a ton of hard hitting. "Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow said the Volunteers always produce 'one of the most physical games that we play all year,'" reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the Gators' Heisman Trophy winner has plenty of perspective. He'll have a chance Saturday to become just the third SEC quarterback to defeat UT four times. Florida's Danny Wuerffel and Alabama's Jay Barker were the first two."
• Texas OLB/DE Sergio Kindle (No. 20) is an impact player. Problem is, he hasn't made much of an impact yet this season. He has eight tackles, none for a loss, and no sacks. Even his dad wants to know when he's going to plant a QB. "Being on the outside looking in, he wants me to have 20 sacks already," Kindle told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I have to break it down to him [and explain], 'I'm playing well. We're getting sacks and pressure. It's just that my name is not at the end of it.'"
• USC's Freshman phenom QB Matt Barkley has been ruled out of Saturday's game against Washington. But he's not the only injury concern for the Trojans. Senior S Taylor Mays (No. 8), who sprained his right knee against Ohio State, is still nursing the injury and his status for the game is unclear. "I'm going to try," Mays told the Bellingham Herald "I don't know if I'm going to practice, but I'll try to play. We'll see how it feels."
• Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead (No. 10) doesn't put up huge stats. "Consider this: Now in his second season with the Rebels, Snead is still looking for his first 300-yard passing game," David Brandt writes in the Clarion-Ledger. "He came closest to that mark in the Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech last year, when he threw for 293 yards in UM's 47-34 victory." Brandt goes on to note that Snead's low yardage totals are a result of coach Houston Nutt's desire to have a balanced offense. But Snead, Brandt notes, has thrown at least two touchdowns in the Rebels' last seven games.