Talking Seahawks on the BBC World Service

September 4th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

I was interviewed by the BBC World Service today, talking about the recent success of the Seahawks under Pete Carroll.

If you’re interested in a little pre-game listening, have a listen by clicking here and fast forwarding to 13:21.

 

Keys to the game: Seahawks vs Packers

September 3rd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

San Francisco has a 4-0 record against Green Bay in the last two seasons. Two home victories, two road victories. In those four games they’ve averaged 33 points.

The Divisional round in 2012/13 was a major eye-opener. Green Bay’s archaic scheming was no match for Colin Kaepernick and the read option. They had no idea how to stop it, none at all. Aaron Rodgers kept them in a game that should’ve been a total blow out. Kaepernick ran for a quarterback record 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Packers looked old-fashioned, outdated and conceded 45 points on a miserable night.

They spent an entire off-season trying to fix the problem. When they faced Seattle in week three of the 2013 pre-season, they were as intense as any team I’ve seen in a meaningless sporting event. They had the 49ers in week one of the regular season and were determined to make amends. This was a chance to face a similar opponent, to test out all of the summer’s work.

They lost to the Seahawks that night. They lost to the 49ers 34-28 in week one.

Anticipating a heavy focus on the read-option, Jim Harbaugh brilliantly put the game on Kaepernick’s arm. Never known as an accomplished passer, he carved open the Packers for 412 yards in the air and three scores. A career best.

He ran seven times. The Packers probably planned for 17.

It highlighted Green Bay’s inability to adjust to an element of surprise. For what it’s worth the following week Kaepernick had a miserable turnover-laden night in Seattle.

Dom Capers is a highly respectable NFL coach and the current defensive coordinator of the Packers. He’s come in for criticism over the last two years because his defense has looked flat out bad.

According to Football Outsiders, Green Bay had the #31 ranked defense in the NFL last year. Even with Aaron Rodgers missing a large portion of the season through injury, the offense still ranked in the top ten (#9).

If the Packers had even an average defense, imagine how frightening they’d be?

With Capers still clinging to his job, they’ve only made two significant off-season additions. They drafted safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the draft and signed free agent Julius Peppers, who turns 35 in January.

Peppers is a generational great with 118.5 career sacks. Yet he only had seven last year on a rotten Bears defense despite playing in all 16 games. Dix meanwhile has been battling for a starting spot with Micah Hyde and according to the teams depth chart — won’t start in Seattle.

The Packers were 28th on pass defense according to Football Outsiders, but 30th against the run. Losing B.J. Raji to a torn bicep won’t help the cause.

Peppers and Clay Matthews will still cause plenty of problems this year, possibly starting in week one. Russell Okung needed extra reps in the final pre-season game to get up to scratch and rookie Justin Britt starts at right tackle. The last two times Seattle started an OL rookie this early, it didn’t go so well on debut. J.R. Sweezy and Michael Bowie were both given a baptism of fire.

You do get the sense, however, you can be creative against this Packers unit and keep them off guard. San Francisco has shown that. The Seahawks will want to establish the run of course and they could have some early success there. But this is still a Caper’s defense that has had major issues adjusting in-game. It won’t be a surprise if Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin are the X-factors in week one, perhaps more so than Marshawn Lynch. They are the two players most capable of providing the unexpected.

Even if Seattle scores points, they’ll still need to keep a lid on the Packers offense. In the four recent defeats to San Francisco they still scored an average of 25 points. In week one last year they managed 28 points at Candlestick — the most San Francisco conceded at home in 2013 and the second most overall (one point short of Seattle’s tally vs the 49ers in week two).

The Niners conceded 48 points to the Packers in two games last season. Seattle might need to exploit possible weaknesses in Green Bay’s defense to win the game. It could be a high scoring contest, maybe even a shoot-out.

Eddie Lacy is a fantastic running back but the key is Rodgers. In Green Bay’s last visit to Seattle (2012) you could see the difference between a pressured Rodgers and a quarterback allowed to get into a rhythm. In the first half he was sacked eight times and scored zero points. In the second half Seattle couldn’t get near him as the Packers upped the tempo and found a way to slow down the pass rush.

Is it optimistic to think he can play four quarters at that level on Thursday? Perhaps, especially against a defense that has taken giant strides since 2012. But if there’s one QB who can do it, it’s probably this guy.

Seattle’s new defensive line couldn’t wish for a better test.

It is a new defensive line — even if many familiar names remain. It’ll be a little strange looking at an early down without Red Bryant’s massive presence or Chris Clemons working the edge. There’s no Clinton McDonald supplying a vital interior rush. The combinations are going to be different, the looks will change. Pete Carroll made reference to a kind of evolution in the immediate aftermath of Bryant’s departure. For us observers, there’s an element of mystery to this.

For starters they have to get to the QB. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are as good as any pass-rush tandem in the league, but against a likely up-tempo passing attack they’ll need to work the substitutions. Can O’Brien Schofield continue his pre-season form? Can Cassius Marsh and Jordan Hill have an impact?

There were times over the last month where the defense looked a little sluggish against both the run and pass. However, key players sat out (Bennett, Bobby Wagner) and they’ll always benefit from a home crowd in Seattle.

What could be key is the return of Bruce Irvin. He had a monster performance against the Packers in 2012 and could see more reps at the LOS especially in rush situations. He could be a surprise impact player on defense.

Something else that maybe works in Seattle’s favour is the Green Bay offensive line. Center Corey Linsley makes his first start following an injury to J.C. Tretter. They’ve also lost tackle Don Barclay to an ACL injury.

Their starting line is: LT David Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, C Corey Linsley, RG T.J. Lang, RT Bryan Bulaga.

If there are questions about Seattle’s defensive line after an off-season of tweaks, there are certainly a few questions that need to be asked about Green Bay’s offensive line.

Nevertheless — as with a lot of up-tempo passing games, the need for an elite offensive line is somewhat diminished. Rodgers’ quick release, superb handling of the offense and ability to find a mismatch makes for a terrific attack. He’ll make plays, but can the defense make more?

One final point on Seattle — the performance of Russell Wilson and the offense during pre-season was a major plus-point. There’s no reason why that can’t continue into the regular season — especially if Harvin remains healthy.

It’s easy to forget that in 2012 he was the most outstanding skill-position player in the NFL for several weeks. The defense has to account for him wherever he lines up. The threat of a bubble screen can free up space over the middle. A faked end-around can drag defenders out of a congested LOS freeing up running room for Lynch. His ability to run deep will create 1-on-1 opportunities for Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.

Seattle can improve on 2013. That’s the scary thing for the rest of the NFL. The offense has major growth potential with Harvin in the line-up.

Let’s see if they can take the next step — starting tomorrow.

 

Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor) vs SMU

September 2nd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

This was a good start for Oakman, who’s listed at 6-9 and 280lbs by ESPN. In fact it was a good start for the entire Baylor defense. SMU couldn’t block anything, the Bears regularly had 2-3 players (if not more) rampaging into the backfield. The game looked every bit a 45-0 beat-down.

The hype factor on Oakman has gone into overdrive. If he was 6-5 it wouldn’t be so interesting. If he really is 6-9 and 280lbs then he moves incredibly well for the size — and it makes him a very interesting pro-prospect. He carries the height/weight perfectly. He’s not skinny like Dion Jordan (6-7) — he’s sculpted. He has a few moves too — his swim in particular was on show here.

He was credited with two sacks and if he can add production to freakish physical potential he’ll be a high pick. Much sterner tests await, however.

Baylor go to Texas on October 4th, Oklahoma on November 8th and finish with three home games against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State. Those five games will be a much better test-case for his potential. That’s not knocking what he achieved in the video above, it’s just perspective.

 

The Seahawks, Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley

September 1st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Todd Gurley — a fun player to watch

I don’t expect the Seahawks to draft a running back in round one. I think they’d only consider it if an Adrian Peterson level player was sat there at the end of round one.

A gift. A set of events that is pretty unlikely.

It’s a funny situation because on the one hand, Seattle is determined to use an explosive and physical running game as its offensive focal point. When the Seahawks eventually do part ways with Marshawn Lynch they’ll probably feel his departure, whoever’s waiting in the wings.

Yet even with a real sense of priority towards the run, here’s what we need to remember…

— The league has moved on from the 30-40 carry work horse. Lynch averaged 18 runs a game last season, with a regular season-high of 28 carries (vs San Francisco in week 2). In 2006 Shaun Alexander averaged 25 carries a game during an injury-hit regular season. He had a regular season high of 40 carries (vs Green Bay).

— Teams are passing on good running backs in round one these days, but Trent Richardson was seen as the exception to the rule. He was considered (by the media and many teams) to be a safe pick and was duly drafted #3 overall by Cleveland. His titanic failure coupled with the success of later round or UDFA backs will not be forgotten in a hurry.

— Pete Carroll is kind of making an exception by making Lynch such a tone-setter and focal point. At USC he loved to let multiple 5-star recruits battle for snaps. A multi-back system seems likely going forward. Even if Lynch retires after the 2014 season, Robert Turbin and Christine Michael are both contracted for at least another year. With potentially greater needs on the OL and DL — are you spending a vital first rounder on a running back?

It just seems unlikely.

I’m not convinced Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley will go in round one, or at least in the top-20. They’re both exceptional players with different skill-sets. Gordon has fantastic acceleration, the ability to cut with ease and the vision to exploit the smallest gap. He’s elusive and athletic if not a straight line runner. Gurley has the size to pound the rock but he’s surprisingly more effective when used as an explosive home run hitter carrying in the 15-20 range. That’s not to say he can’t develop into a feature runner like Lynch, but he tired too easily at times last season.

We’re seeing the position as a whole take a back seat. Teams rush to snap up the top offensive lineman and with several attractive DL options eligible for next years draft, they’ll almost certainly take priority. Not to mention the top 2-3 quarterbacks.

I suspect the Seahawks would be willing to keep looking for value at the position. Christine Michael was a relatively high pick but still a late second rounder. He wasn’t just any old running back either, he was one of the best athletes to enter the league in his generation — a true SPARQ champion. If given the opportunity to go after a first round running back or chance their arm on another Spencer Ware-type later on, I think they’ll wait.

If Lynch doesn’t retire and Turbin/Michael remain too, it’s pretty much a moot point.

And yet when you watch their week one tape, there’s still a lot to like about Gordon and Gurley. Fans of many teams will pine for this pair in 2015, we’ll see in good time where their true value lies.

 

College football week 1 headlines: Markus Golden starts fast

August 30th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Markus Golden, a former JUCO star, is ready for a big season

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri) is one of the more underrated pro-prospects in college football. We talked about him back in May as a potential breakout candidate. His state line against South Dakota State in week one? 10 tackles, three for a loss and two sacks. Only one player troubled Ja’Wuan James (first round tackle from Tennessee) last season — Markus Golden. Keep an eye on him.

Devin Funchess (WR, Michigan) has switched from tight end to receiver this year. He’s 6-5 and 230lbs, he’s incredibly fluid running downfield and it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to the change. On Saturday he had seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns. Considering he only had six total touchdowns last season, this is an impressive start. He has the potential to be a first round pick next year.

— The West Virginia/Alabama game featured two intriguing receivers. Amari Cooper is well known and he finished with 12 catches for 130 yards. He’s going to get a ton of targets this year — new starting quarterback Blake Sims pretty much looked his way on every read. He’s adept at getting open and he runs crisp routes. You still have to question what his ceiling is at the next level given his lack of size. Is he another Marqise Lee/Robert Woods? WVU’s Kevin White has the size (6-3, 210lbs) and could be set to deliver on his massive potential. He’s a senior and recorded nine catches for 143 yards and a score.

He has a fantastic size/speed combo and he can high point the football. The way he comes back to the quarterback is reminiscent of Sidney Rice. He’s suffered with confidence issues in the past. Last year he managed just 507 yards from 35 receptions. This is a better West Virginia team and he’s another prospect who could really emerge this season.

— Nebraska’s highly rated pass rusher Randy Gregory hurt a knee against Florida Atlantic. It’s not said to be serious, but it’s something to monitor.

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia) had a sensational performance against Clemson. He had a 23-yard touchdown, a 100-yard kick return TD, an 18-yard score and then a 51-yarder. Georgia didn’t ask him to do too much and that’s the way it has to be. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a 25-30 carry runner who wears down a defense over time. He’s an impact playmaker. He finished with 198 rushing yards from 15 carries. It’s also worth noting Clemson’s run defense isn’t the greatest.

— Oklahoma announced yesterday that receiver Dorial Green-Beckham will be forced to sit out the season. The Sooners had requested a waiver for DGB after he was dismissed by Missouri. He’ll not play football this season — so will he declare for the 2015 draft?

 

Seahawks trade 6th rounder for Marcus Burley

August 30th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

After a difficult night in Oakland, it isn’t a total surprise that Seattle looked elsewhere for an extra corner. Phillip Adams and Akeem Auguste had rough outings. The Seahawks are likely to gain a cluster of conditional picks next year and they’ve chosen to give up a 6th for Burley.

He’s 23 and another native of Richmond, Virginia. He went undrafted in 2013 and had spells in Jacksonville, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Indianapolis. He’s listed at 5-10 and 189lbs and hasn’t made a NFL start.

Meanwhile…

This was also expected. Toomer hasn’t had a fair crack due to injury, while Mayowa was outplayed by O’Brien Schofield.

Veteran tackle Eric Winston is something of surprise cut. Gary Gilliam has tweeted he made the team — clearly the Seahawks feel good about his development. Jimmy Staten and Phillip Adams were also cut.

Here’s the cut list in full:

Bryan Walters’ agent vented a little bit on Twitter:

It means receiver Phil Bates made the cut. He had a strong camp, even if he was quiet in some of the pre-season games. The Seahawks are carrying seven receivers including Kevin Norwood. They only have four running backs — including full back Derrick Coleman. Steve Schilling beat out Caylin Hauptmann.

 

Terrelle Pryor will be cut

August 30th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

This was on the cards. Pryor, for all his outstanding athleticism, simply isn’t a good quarterback. Too often he succumbed to the temptation to run after the first read, too often he made the wrong decision. The interception in San Diego was a glimpse of what he’s capable of under pressure. While Russell Wilson remains ice-cold, Pryor in that instance tried to throw it away and lofted one up for grabs.

Stashing him on the roster would’ve meant carrying a non-active red-shirt player who’s out of contract in 2015. Even if they spent time developing him (and how can you develop a 3rd string QB with limited snaps in practise?) they could’ve lost him for nothing in a few months.

Look at Indianapolis when they had Peyton Manning. They never developed a suitable backup or prospective replacement. Why? Because Manning took all the practise snaps. When you have an established quarterback that’s what happens. Pryor just wouldn’t get the snaps week-to-week to show real growth.

It seems likely they’ll run with two quarterbacks again, freeing up the option to carry an extra wide receiver (Bryan Walters?) or another defensive lineman (Benson Mayowa?). It’d be a surprise if the Seahawks didn’t look on the waiver wire for a defensive line or defensive back addition to the roster.

 

Reaction: Seahawks well beaten by Raiders

August 29th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Seattle’s backups (and some of the starters) had an off-night in Oakland

Well, this was something of a surprise.

I settled in to watch the first half of this game at 3am GMT. By the end of the first drive I was already plotting an early exit. Russell Wilson dissected Oakland’s backup defense with three completions for 77 yards and a touchdown. Everything was going to plan.

Then the defense came out. What occurred next was totally unexpected.

Sleep? I couldn’t take my eyes off this. This was the football equivalent of slowing down to gawp at a car crash.

Dennis Allen has a very different approach to pre-season games compared to Pete Carroll. In this one for example he sat nearly every starter. Seattle gave both starting units a series and kept certain players (Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor) on the field for extra game time.

That’s why it was so surprising to see rookie Derek Carr (poor in his previous pre-season outings) pick apart Seattle’s defense on a long opening touchdown drive.

It might’ve raised a few eye brows, but it wasn’t inexplicable.

The defensive line simply got mauled. They created no pressure with the pass rush and couldn’t stop any run play. They were gashed.

Carr deserves credit for taking advantage, but even the sloppiest NFL quarterback will make a few plays in a squeaky clean pocket. There were some nice back shoulder throws and Carr was very accurate on the night. But he shouldn’t have had such an easy ride.

After the initial tying touchdown things escalated very quickly. Bryan Walters fumbled on the following kick off, gifting the Raiders great field position and an immediate second score. Phillip Adams got torched peaking into the backfield on a downfield throw and was beaten badly. The Raiders had 14 points in 15 seconds.

Pete Carroll preaches protecting the ball and limiting explosive plays. Through Walters and Adams, they betrayed both core philosophies in less than half a minute.

Tarvaris Jackson replaced Wilson for the subsequent drive and immediately had to drag a confused Paul Richardson into the right position. That badly organised play ended in a holding call and a botched snap on the next one almost led to another turnover. Punt time.

The special teams unit gave up a big return to follow and then Carr scored another touchdown immediately. It was certainly his night and a tipped pass by Malcolm Smith deflected kindly into the hands of a receiver.

One more three and out and yet another quick Oakland scoring drive completed one of the worst quarters of football in Carroll’s ultra-successful reign. In a flash 7-0 became 7-28.

Seattle regained its composure by half time and the rest of the game played out as a pretty even (if somewhat tedious) contest.

It’d be easy to overreact to this ultimately meaningless outing. A lot of the players who played badly here will be cut. It’s unlikely Seattle’s two starting units will perform this badly next week.

Yet there are some concerns that need to be addressed. The depth on the defensive line is the key one.

Michael Bennett, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Cliff Avril are fine starters. O’Brien Schofield has possibly been Seattle’s brightest spark in August after Russell Wilson. It has to be of some concern, however, that beyond this group hardly anyone has stood out.

Gregg Scruggs has drifted between ineffective and at times a liability (see his needless hands-to-the-face penalty that torched Kevin Pierre-Louis’ interception). D’Anthony Smith was pushed around all night. Cassius Marsh looks like he needs a red-shirt year and left the game with a hip problem. Jordan Hill had a sack but hasn’t exactly filled Clinton McDonald’s shoes in pre-season. Veteran addition Kevin Williams hasn’t had much impact.

The pass rush will probably be OK if Bennett and Avril stay healthy. Schofield can provide some threat in the three man edge rush that worked so well at the end of last season. The interior line and rotation could be a problem though.

Will the line suffer when the starters aren’t in? How about the run defense? You could argue they had ugly games last season too (see: Tampa Bay). In fact the run-D was pretty patchy for the most part. It hasn’t improved. Not on this evidence.

The NFC West is a war of attrition and you need to be stout up front. Seattle needs to be effective against the run. They also need the ability to rotate like they did so brilliantly last year.

Carroll and John Schneider have done a fantastic job building this roster. One of the all-time great jobs in fact — they don’t get enough credit nationally, even despite all the plaudits this year. Yet they’ve struggled to draft for the defensive line.

They inherited Mebane and Bryant and traded for Clemons. They signed McDaniel as a free agent and traded for McDonald. They made cost-effective moves in free agency for Bennett and Avril. They went after Williams this off-season to add experience to a line now missing some key leaders.

The moves they’ve made should be applauded — it’s just as tough to find starters in free agency or via trades as it is in the draft. But with money getting tighter they need to find young, cheap talent for the DL. So far it’s the one thing they haven’t achieved.

They’ve avoided defensive linemen early in their five drafts. The highest pick they’ve spent is Jordan Hill in round three. Does it need more attention?

It’s also evident that Seattle’s incredible depth — created by excellent drafts between 2010-12 — is on the wane somewhat. Last year Seattle’s backups terrorised pre-season opponents and many were snapped up by rivals on cut day. That level of depth isn’t there any more.

The number of misses in 2013 is mostly to blame. From 11 picks last year only Christine Michael, Jordan Hill, Tharold Simon and Luke Willson remain, plus UDFA’s Alvin Bailey and Caylin Hauptmann. It was unfair to expect Seattle to retain the 2013 depth for years to come, but it does show the kind of pressure they’re under to keep hitting in the draft.

The 2014 class has already suffered some setbacks. Garrett Scott is unlikely to return, Jimmy Staten appears set for the practise squad along with potentially Kiero Small while Eric Pinkins is on the PUP list. Kevin Norwood is fighting to be healthy for the start of the season. Terrelle Pryor, who cost a seventh rounder, could be cut this weekend.

There are promising signs too. Cassius Marsh could develop into a versatile pass rusher while big things are expected of Paul Richardson. Both players probably require a red-shirt season, though. The only immediate starter to come out of the class could be Justin Britt — and coupled with a lack of starters in the 2013 class — it’s not surprising the depth is weaker this year.

It’s no reason to panic or be overly negative. But it’s also worthy of debate. We shouldn’t avoid talking about this.

On the positive side Russell Wilson appears ready to take a major step forward, Percy Harvin is healthy and sharp and the offensive line is moving in the right direction. Bruce Irvin is also facing a big year and could be set for a break-out season when he gets healthy.

It does raise the interesting point though of quality versus quantity in a draft. Seattle has traded down en masse for consecutive drafts selecting 20 players in 2013-14. The New England Patriots have taken a similar approach in recent years, with mixed results.

You can hardly blame the Seahawks for feeling confident about their ability to hit in the later rounds and find “their guys”. Yet a high number of picks doesn’t guarantee depth and quality. Sometimes less is more — picking higher and getting better players. I don’t expect their philosophy to change in 2015 and it’s not like they aren’t flexible. They’ll be aggressive when the time calls (see: Harvin trade).

It’s hard to criticise anything about their draft approach, but I also think there are lessons to be learnt from the Pats here. Did they get a bit cute? While they’ve been competitive for years, they’ve often fallen just short in recent seasons.

I’ll end with some final thoughts on a few players vs Oakland:

— Bryan Walters played really well despite the fumble. He scored a touchdown and had an impact as a receiver. If there’s no home for him in Seattle he’ll land somewhere else. It’s easy to linger on the fumble, but take that out of his performance and what more could he have done on the night?

— Terrelle Pryor just doesn’t look special enough. Yes he’s a great athlete, but at no point during this pre-season has he been truly exciting and worthy of stashing as a third QB. Keep two quarterbacks and bring in a player who can contribute to the DL or DB rotation.

— Phillip Adams and Akeem Auguste both made nice plays and had some big errors. With A.J. Jefferson injured it’s probably a safe bet Seattle’s final defensive back comes in from another team. On the plus side Deshawn Shead had a good performance.

— It was a tough night for any of the running backs to impress given Seattle quickly fell behind 28-7. I still think Spencer Ware will make the cut.

 

What I’m looking for tonight vs Oakland

August 28th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Terrelle Pryor could feature against his old team this evening

1. Can Terrelle Pryor earn a roster spot?
Who knows whether the Seahawks are willing to keep three quarterbacks — they have a secure 2014 backup in Tarvaris Jackson. If they keep Terrelle Pryor they’d have to re-sign him as a free agent next year. If he was on a cheap three-year contract it might be a no-brainer, but he isn’t. The ugly interception last week against Chicago stuck out like a sore thumb. It’s unclear how much he’ll play tonight. Here’s why he might stick around — Seattle probably wants to groom a new backup. Jackson is 32 next year and while not terribly old, he hasn’t got Pryor’s outstanding athleticism. He also has zero trade value these days. Pryor is similar to Russell Wilson as a mobile, potentially explosive playmaker. He could have trade value in the future. He’s also a good scout-QB when preparing to face the 49ers. If he gets some playing time tonight and he doesn’t mess up — there is room to stash him on the roster.

2. What is left to decide?
Not much. O’Brien Schofield easily won his battle with Benson Mayowa. Ricardo Lockette easily beat out any potential wide receiver competition. Heath Farwell needing surgery made life easy at linebacker. Korey Toomer gets another chance to stand out, while Mike Morgan has had a good summer. Akeem Auguste and Phillip Adams might be fighting over one spot. The fringe players may simply be fighting for an opportunity elsewhere.

3. Can they keep up the momentum?
In the last two weeks the offense has been on fire. Russell Wilson might take a drive and call it a night with the rest of the starters. It’d be nice to see the backups collect the baton and make it another productive display. In the grand scheme of things these games don’t matter and whatever happens tonight is unlikely to have much impact against the Packers next week. Yet last year the Seahawks started hot in pre-season and began the regular season in a similar fashion. It won’t hurt to keep things ticking along.

4. Stay healthy
This one is obvious. No injuries tonight — to the starters and key backups. These week four games carry a sense of desperation — players know this is their last chance to create an impression. Get what you need out of your key guys and move on. It’s staggering the NFL forces teams to cut down to 75 players before this game. Why not maintain the 90-man roster for another week and cut straight to 53? You play four pre-season games and this is the one where you want a large roster.

 

College football returns tomorrow

August 27th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Cedric Ogbuehi is a potential top ten pick at left tackle

Game #1 this year will be Texas A&M vs South Carolina. Who knows what to expect from these two in 2014 — both are sporting new quarterbacks. Both have lost top ten picks this year (Clowney, Matthews, Evans).

Most of the focus will be on the two offensive lines. Cedric Ogbuehi could easily make it a hat-trick of top-10 O-line picks for the Aggies. He moves over from right to left tackle just like Jake Matthews a year ago. SCAR’s Corey Robinson isn’t going to be a top pick in a loaded tackle group but he could generate some second day interest with a good season. Guard’s Germain Ifedi (TAMU), Mike Matthews and A.J. Cann (SCAR) plus center Mike Matthews (TAMU) are worth keeping an eye on, as is running back Mike Davis (SCAR).

On Saturday I’ve got three games on the schedule — Virginia vs UCLA, West Virginia vs Alabama and Florida State vs Oklahoma State.

I’m quite interested to see which players emerge from the SEC. It’s not a conference loaded with obvious first round picks this year. Ogbuehi should be one, but after that you might be struggling.

Alabama receiver Amari Cooper is a natural talent but lacks size and has inconsistency issues. He could suffer the same fate as Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri) has the potential to be a top pick as a former JUCO transfer — but he needs to fill the gap left by Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and deliver on his enormous potential.

Dante Fowler Jr (LB/DE, Florida) is an exciting athlete capable of playing anywhere on the line or dropping into space. He needs to make more big plays, however, and with the Gators hoping for a bounce back year he should be more of a consistent playmaker.

La’el Collins (T/G, LSU) could’ve been a first or second round pick this year but chose not to declare. Talented offensive linemen are popular in the early rounds but his stock will be impacted if teams see him as a guard and not a tackle.

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia) gets a lot of unfair Marshawn Lynch comparisons. He’s not Marshawn Lynch. He’s a capable playmaker with decent speed for his size. But he tired quickly in some games last year. At his size you want to see him wear down a defense over three or four quarters.

Players can and will emerge from a still deeply competitive SEC. But there isn’t the big name draw of previous years. It could be a wide open conference in 2014.

The Big Ten has an interesting crop of potential first rounders. Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa) is a sure-fire lock to go in round one if he stays healthy while Melvin Gordon (RB, Nebraska) is by far the most intriguing skill-position player eligible for the 2015 draft.

Devin Funchess (TE, Michigan) has ideal size and speed for his position and is so fluid running down field but he most improve his catching (he’s set to switch to wide receiver this year, apparently). Randy Gregory (LB, Nebraska) struggles to get off blocks attacking the edge but when he works in space he’s an effective blitzer. Noah Spence (DE, Ohio State) is another one to monitor when he returns from suspension.

In the PAC 12 you’ve got Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon) who should go on to be the top pick next year. Marcus Peters (CB, Washington), Leonard Williams (DT, USC), Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon), Andrus Peat (T, Stanford) and Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA) have their admirers. The depth is perhaps more impressive with Hroniss Grasu (C, Oregon), Hayes Pullard (LB, USC), Austin Hill (WR, Arizona), Shaq Thompson (S/LB, Washington), Kasen Williams (WR, Washington),
Hau’Oli Kikaha (DE, Washington) and Jake Fisher (T, Oregon) making this a conference to watch. Jaelen Strong (WR, Arizona State) is a bit overrated for me while USC’s Williams and Stanford’s Peat need to prove their worthy of the pre-season hype.

The ACC will be dominated by Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State) talk. He has the skills and the talent to be an effective NFL quarterback — but he must make technical improvements (throwing motion, delivery) and stay out of trouble. He’ll be protected by likely high pick Cameron Erving at left tackle — a defensive line convert. Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson) is the real deal, despite a lack of size.