Thursday, January 27, 2011

Semi-Pilfered Senior Bowl Observations: Day 3.

As promised, I did indeed check out the Senior Bowl practices yesterday live and on television in hopes of bringing you some more TCU-centric opinions on the matter. The final results? Well, for one, watching Senior Bowl practices, no matter how much we all love TCU and Dalton, is only slightly more exciting than watching the TCU Basketball team try and run a half court set. Well, that's probably not a good analogy because the latter part of that sentence is fun to watch in a horrifyingly catastrophic way, much like open mic night at the Cellar. No, on the excitement spectrum I'd rank watching senior bowl practices somewhere between watching a non-major golf tournament on TV and folding clothes. Which is to say, they aren't very exciting. So if this review sounds a little forced and half assed, it's because it is. There's just not a whole lot you can say about watching Dalton hand the ball off to a running back 3/4 of the time.

Anyway, to try and make these opinions entirely my own, after the first few minutes of watching I muted the TV and just zipped through to when Dalton, Kirkpatrick or Kerley were involved in the play. In those first few minutes, however, I listened to what the announcers were saying and, wouldn't you know, it looks like Andy Dalton is this year's Tim Tebow as far as the Senior Bowl announcers are concerned. They LOVE him. Ok, so clearly they don't give him the unwavering pole slobbing that they gave Tebow, but they were throwing out so many purely arbitrary and intangible reasons for an NFL team to love Dalton it was actually kind of off putting. In fact, all the AD love coming from somehow other than me may have caused me to black out for a second. It was, "This kid is just a GREAT kid" this and "Andy Dalton is a coaches DREAM" that and pretty much anything unrelated to what he was doing on the field which, to be completely honest, probably wasn't turning the heads of any disinterested by-standers.

This wasn't necessarily Andy's fault, but watching him run the plays set out by an NFL head coach - in his case, Chan Gailey, who may not be the best mentor - definitely demonstrated the differences between what we run at TCU and what he should expect at the next level. For instance, he's got some work to do when taking the snap under center, dropping back and hitting a receiver deep, mostly because we lined up in the shotgun a good majority of the time and probably never ran a 20 yard post route. It's a hard play to make, for sure, and Dalton has the arm for it, but as with most of these slap dash All-Star type games, it's hard to get everything completely perfect, which is a shame because there are so many NFL types in attendance. There were also some serious timing and communication issues between Dalton and his receivers, which can clearly be worked out in an NFL camp, but are hard to pin down in three days of practice. Being a Dalton homer, I'm more apt to blame the receivers more than anything because when Dalton did miss a receiver, it was always like he was throwing where the receiver was SUPPOSED to be rather than simply winging it over his head.

That said, there was more good than bad about Dalton's third day of practice, but most of it related directly to what he was used to doing in Fort Worth. He was extremely solid on short completions out of the shotgun and, for what it's worth, never fumbled a snap or missed a hand off. In fact, he would've been perfect on these short passes had he not had a bunch of iron fisted receivers to work with because my goodness some of those guys can't catch. Kerley's also checked out practice and probably has better insight into the matter than I do, but those guys were not impressive whatsoever and if Dalton gets a bad rap coming out of the weekend, then he should sue all of them for lost wages. Hammer? Buffalo?

But really, I don't know how those scouts judge these practices because it's not necessarily fair to use an all-star game situation as a parting shot to a successful career. For instance, after watching I understand how Todd McShay can love Dalton and Draftinsiders can hate him, because they're putting greater emphasis on two different aspects. If I woke up today and decided I wanted to rip Dalton, I would've talked about how his long range accuracy is going to have to be completely fine tuned before he has a chance of playing a meaningful down in the NFL because it's very, very rusty. But on the other hand, if I wanted to fawn over him, I would've talked about his short range accuracy and poise in the pocket and rave about how he'll be a stud in the right - read: West Coast - offense.

So I guess my daily assessment is a little bit of both - Dalton has a ways to go before he can be considered a complete NFL QB, but he's going to make some coach extremely happy to grab him in the 2nd or 3rd round.

So what did the "experts" have to say about him? Well, draftinsider was less than impressed:

Slightly better today but still not sold he’s anything more than a clip board holder at the next level. Threw a few solid passes downfield but really has to put a lot of effort to get any speed on throws. Threw a few bad passes into coverage and had in one instance had Hankerson open down the flanks and poorly under threw him.

You see? I saw some of what he's saying - he did force one into coverage that should've been picked, but it was a very quick, short route that was jumped - but do not recall the under throw on Hankerson and didn't really think he threw any true floaters. Regardless, it appears Dalton is going to be running the first team offense Saturday afternoon if I'm judging the rotations correctly.

As for Kerley and Kirkpatrick, I'll be completely honest - I didn't see much of them. Ok, that's not true - I saw a LOT of Kirkpatrick because he worked almost exclusively with Dalton - but I'm definitely not a judge of offensive line talent. The knock on him has been that he's getting out of his stance too high and that he'll simply get blown to bits by an NFL defensive tackle, so I think it's no coincidence that yesterday he seemed to be using his bulk a little more effectively, firing off a little lower than he presumably did in his first two days. As far as "footwork," he could probably use a little change in technique in run blocking because he was mostly just leaning on opposing linemen, using his weight to move them rather than blocking through them, but like I said, what the heck do I know?

And Kerley? I saw him catch probably two passes, but he did catch them, so that has to be viewed as a positive and puts him ahead of the rest of the class in that respect. And both routes were to the sideline, which I have to assume is a more difficult route to run effectively.

Here's Draftinsider's take on each:

Better performance as Kirkpatrick continued to battle throughout the practice. He still presented some of the issue described earlier in the week, but they were not as readily apparent today.

Did not stand out as much as yesterday but far and away the best route runner from the South.

So, at least we're mostly in agreement there.

A few more rumblings from the interweb

I can say the same things about Dalton. He has been a 4-year starter at TCU, been very durable and his most amazing stat is he has lost only 3 games in the last three seasons. He has a little more of a transition to make because he played in more of a spread style offense. In the practices here, he has looked good playing from under center. He can set up quickly, find the open receiver and get the ball out of his hand. He throws a nice tight ball with more than adequate arm strength. Like Stanzi and McElroy, he has shown very good poise.

The quarterbacks still failed to stand out. Christian Ponder holds on to the ball way too long, Greg McElroy seems to be the most consistent of the group and I just don’t see the hype for Andy Dalton. Dalton hasn’t shown a strong arm and his accuracy has been spotty. Dalton is afraid to go deep — possibly because he doesn’t have the arm to do so. I have heard reports of people being very high on Dalton, but they just must be watching something other than what I’ve seen.

Under the "Holding Steady" section of their risers and fallers -

QB Andrew Dalton, T.C.U.: Dalton was known for average arm strength, and his mechanics reveal that he needs to put everything into every throw just for his passes to be of average strength. He was a project entering this game and he did little to demonstrate anything to dispel that notion.

Unfortunately, that's the extent of the free analysis from Day 3. ESPN apparently changed all of their extensive coverage to insider material, and SI doesn't seem to even be aware that this thing called the "Senior Bowl" is taking place right under their noses.

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