"Shilique Calhoun"

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The annual spring trip report is due out – two weeks after the anticipated date. This year the number of trips decreased slightly with stops at Tennessee, Penn State, Virginia, and Michigan State. As always gleaning practice habits of players is an always helpful tool when evaluating prospects. This year, I was left with several ‘aha’ moments after the four visits.

I’ll run down each school and the who/what stood out from my time there.


TENNESSEE


Many of you will remember my infatuation with another Tennessee one and done receiver – Cordarrelle Patterson. I may have another one starting with Von Pearson. Pearson is a JUCO transfer that was the standout of both practices that I took in. Pearson is rail thin but wasn’t afraid to mix it up as a blocker or going across the middle of the defense.

Pearson was all of his listed 6-foot-3 height but could stand to add 10-15 pounds to his slight frame. He didn’t look as explosive as Patterson but didn’t put a ball on the ground during either practice. He worked primarily out of the slot but did see action at both outside spots. Pearson is a name for draft watchers to latch onto as he could be the next one and done WR at UT.

To be expected, the defense was far ahead of the offense as the defensive front four was giving the OL fits throughout my stay. That said, I didn’t see a ton of talent on the defense. A.J. Johnson is probably the biggest name in terms of the draft but he didn’t standout at all during either session. He was outshined by sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who should lock down the SAM LB spot. Maybin is an undersized LB that flew around the practice field – cleaning up most every play. He’s not draft-eligible but is a name to watch in the future. He will have to add some weight but reminded me a lot of Ryan Shazier, who was taken No. 15 this year.


PENN STATE


"Christian Hackenberg"

The top pick in 2016?
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

I walked away from Penn State as impressed with James Franklin as any coach that I’ve run into in the entire country. With Franklin at the helm it won’t be long before Penn State is an annual competitor for the Big Ten crown.

I spent one day at Penn State and there was a clear cut best positional group – the defensive line. The coaching staff heaped praise on DE turned DT Anthony Zettel at every opportunity and he didn’t disappoint. Zettel needs to pack on a few more pounds but his quickness is going to cause fits for Big Ten interior OL. Deion Barnes is a guy that I highlighted on the trip as one to watch. Barnes is coming off a so-so season in 2013 but looks primed for a breakout 2014. Barnes flashed more than a handful of times with his athleticism and motor. At his size he could be a perfect transition to rush linebacker at the next level. On the hoof, he’s the most impressive prospect that I saw this spring.

On offense, things were not yet clicking, as they have a ton of work to put in before the season kicks off. Christian Hackenberg struggled a bit during practice but it’s clear that his physical tools are that of a sure-fire top quarterback prospect. The OL was a mess with injuries and inconsistencies. Junior LT Donovan Smith is the standout in the group but didn’t show much the day I was there. His technical skills lack that of an elite tackle as he was fairly consistently rocked off balance by a reserve DE – Nassib??

In the secondary, Jordan Lucas is a guy that caught my eye. He has ideal CB size with the physicality that NFL teams are seeking. I read up a bit on Lucas prior to practice with the expectation that he was an average athlete….that couldn’t have been anymore wrong. He looked smooth in his backpedal and broke on the ball with explosive speed. I would be shocked if Lucas wasn’t a name that draftniks were familiarizing themselves with as the season wears on. One name that we should already know is Adrian Amos as he the most decorated member of the PSU secondary. Amos looks to have completely transitioned to the safety position and should emerge as a very good one in the 2015 draft class.


CINCINNATI


I know many of you are saying – oh great a UC preview for draft prospects. I came to two days of practice knowing one legit NFL prospect (Eric Lefeld) but left thinking there were three solid, draftable prospects.

Lefeld didn’t practice either day, so not much on him other than the coaching staff couldn’t stop gushing about his work ethic and talent. Let me start this by saying UC is going to be a competitive team this season and probably for the next few. Gunner Kiel looked very solid in both practices and could live up to the hype coming out of high school. That said, I’m going to highlight two defensive standouts.

Jeff Luc transferred to UC from Florida State after being relegated to a backup role in his two seasons there. Luc has the size and overall skills that teams covet in the MLB position. He was a force during both sessions, making plays from sideline to sideline. If he can continue this into the fall, he could be a day three prospect worth watching.

Similarly defensive end Silverberry Mouhan is a guy to watch this upcoming season. Only a junior, Mouhan could be the next in line of UC’s DE’s to impact the NFL game. Mouhan is an effortless mover that couldn’t be blocked during either practice. The coaching staff had to pull Mouhan out for several snaps so the offense could get a good look. His speed off the edge is what catches your eye but it was his power that I came impressed with. If you are looking for a guy to rise up draft boards that almost no one has heard, Mouhan could be that guy.

The most impressive positional group was the wide receiver group. They are stacked for the present and future with loads of depth. One guy to watch is Mekale McKay. The junior Arkansas transfer is all of 6-foot-5 and this coaching staff will have a hard time keeping him off the field even with a deep corps of receivers.


MICHIGAN STATE


Expectations that MSU will be competing again for Big Ten supremacy aren’t off base. From a team perspective they were clearly a notch above all others I visited this spring.

"Connor Cook"

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

As good as the team was there were equally as good of prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft. With only one practice to take in I focused my attention to the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and secondary. Obviously there are boatloads of other talented draft prospects (Shilique Calhoun, Marcus Rush, Jeremy Langford to name a few) but I’ll focus on the groups that I took in.

Last year, I put the jinx on Devin Gardner after watching him dominate spring practice. I hope I don’t do the same to Connor Cook. Cook was as advertised plus some during the six hours I spent at MSU. He looked like he added some weight to his listed 219 frame – looked in the 225-230 range. On top of that, he was sharp from all standpoints. He showed good command of the offense, was accurate, and showed a bit of the ‘it’ factor in the huddle and on the sidelines. In an effort not to put the cart before the horse, I’ll be surprised if Cook doesn’t have a spectacular season and a very tough to decision to make in January.

It was no surprise to me that Tony Lippett had a great spring game. Lippett is head and shoulders the best receiver on the field. At 6-foot-3, Lippett is going to draw some attention this season after having a full year of starting experience under his belt. He and Cook had it working from snap one of the practice and it carried over into the team session as Lippett got the better of two very good corners in Trae Waynes and Darian Hicks on more than one occasion. Lippett isn’t on the ‘national draft radar’ but I would tend to think he will be when 2014 is all said and done.

The defensive backfield is stocked with NFL talent – present and future. Already mentioned cornerback duo of Trae Waynes and Darian Hicks should give MSU the top tandem in the Big Ten. Hicks is the frontrunner to replace Darqueze Dennard and didn’t look to miss a beat opposite Waynes. As good as those two were it was safety Kurtis Drummond that caught my eye. The senior was hands down the leader of this defense – calling the shots in the backend and emotional leader of the group. Drummond has all the tools to be a day two safety prospect come next spring.

Outside of Darian Hicks, there were a couple of youngsters that caught my attention during the session. TE Josiah Price looked the part of an NFL TE despite being on the short side (probably 6’3” instead of listed 6’4”). Cook had some chemistry with Price, so he’s a guy we’ll be watching closely for the 2016 NFL Draft. Jack Conklin will be a name to monitor in coming seasons. In 2013, as a redshirt freshman, Conklin was inserted as a starter at LT (10 games) and RT (3 games). He worked solely on the left side and has the look of a future starting LT in the league. He’s a massive guy with nimble enough feet to stick with the likes of Shalique Calhoun down in and down out.

  • Reggie

    Brad,

    As a guy who lives and breathes MSU I am pumped to hear this. I was a strong advocate of Cook since the TCU bowl game. His growth last year was incredible. I think he has the making of a first round selection. Jeremy Langford is very under rated as a three down back. Maybe Round 3 if he runs well. Tony Lippett could have a very strong season and be a mid round selection and Price is a red zone monster. Just knows how to get open and has soft hands. Conklin was a monster as a Freshmen. Best OL talent we have had since the Flozell the Hotel. Do not under value Jack Allen as a OG/C prospect. Very Mean and versatile.

    Calhoun is the real deal and is a hard worker…only worry the attention he will get will make his stats go down…we have loads of young talent but unproven.

    There is not much at LB unless someone steps up from no where. I miss Denecos Allen already.

    Waynes and Hicks should be solid but Drummond at FS is a Day 2 player. Keep an eye on Freshmen Powell at SS.

    GO GREEN!!!

    • bradc11

      MSU was hands down the most impressive team I watched this spring. Load of present and future NFL Draft talent. I didn’t get a good look at Langford and I believe Allen was out of practice the afternoon I was up there.

      The young safety that caught my eye was Cox. I kept asking who is this kid…looks like an NFL safety. Good build and moves like a corner. Powell was just so-so the day I was there. He needs to add a little bulk…looks really thin for such a short build. I was going to include this in my write up but forgot – I’d be surprised if they didn’t find a way to get Cox on the field for a bulk of the snaps.

      Can’t remember his name but #33 (Riske??) was the best LB I saw…they played him at all three spots rotating between first and second unit. Looks like a more athletic Bullough but needs some seasoning. He’s young RS F or Soph??? Also made notes on Noah Jones. Versatile guy they used at end and tackle. His future is on the inside and it’s bright…talked to him for awhile, nice kid that seems to have a good head. Ideal interior pass rusher – Jerel Worthy-esque.

      • Reggie

        Demetrius Cox is a RS Sophomore who has not seen the field much yet. He was a huge recruit so I hope he starts putting it together. Powell has done a lot in Spring games so I have not seen him in person much but has generated a ton of talk. Riske is a RS Freshmen along with Shane Jones who we are hoping will take over spots along with Ed Davis. I have not seen Noah Jones. What is his measurements? Have to look into him

  • Grover Strong

    Another Spartan here. Lets not get too excited. It sounds good. However, lets wait until we get some W’s on the board.