By Matt Feminis
Special to Stlouisrams.com
Notre Dame vs. Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium (West Lafayette, IN), Saturday 2:30 p.m. NBC
DT Kawann Short, Purdue vs. C Braxston Cave, Notre Dame — Short, profiled in our first draft blog installment, notched his first sack and fifth and sixth career blocked kicks last week in a blowout win over Eastern Kentucky, but he faces stiffer competition against Notre Dame’s interior offensive line.
Cave (6-3 304), a fifth-year senior who missed the last four games of the 2011 season because of a foot injury, is not an elite center prospect, but he should play in the league and his performance against Short will affect his draft standing. Cave’s physical attributes rate average across the board, but he is solid in pass protection and plays with his head on a swivel — generally picks up threats and is aware to blitzes and stunts. Cave could stand to play with quicker hands and become more of a finisher for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who will institute more zone blocking and is the ND center’s fourth position coach in five years.
Florida vs. Texas A&M at Kyle Field (College Station, TX), Saturday 2:30 p.m. ESPN
RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M — A one cut-and-veer runner with a solid, balanced skill set, Michael (5-11, 220) was the 2009 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year before his 2010 (broken right leg) and 2011 (torn left ACL) seasons were truncated by injury. When healthy, he’s carried 441 times in his three-year career for 2,374 yards (5.4-yard average) with 22 touchdowns. Michael is built like an NFL back, shows nice feet and vision and is capable of running inside — has strong, albeit tight, hips and runs behind his pads, enabling him to break tackles and pick up yards after contact. He is serviceable as a short-dump off receiver and willingly faces up rushers in pass protection, though he will have to prove he can stay healthy and better protect the football (13 career fumbles).
OLB Sean Porter, Texas A&M —Porter (6-2, 230), who racked up 79 tackles, 17 for loss and 9 1/2 sacks last season, plays the “Sam” (outside) linebacker position in the Aggies’ 3-4 scheme, but projects as an undersized 3-4 right outside linebacker or a fast-flowing 4-3 “Will” in the pros where he could also contribute as a nickel ’backer. Porter lacks ideal length and bulk (needs to get stronger physically and against the run), but is very athletic and has quick hands and feet to sidestep blocks. A natural bender with loose hips, Porter can redirect, accelerate, chase and close fast. Needs to learn to learn speed-to-power conversion and develop counter moves, but has pass-rush value and will only help himself if he piles up sacks in the SEC this fall.
3T Dominique Easley*, Florida — Easley (6-2, 280) tore his left ACL in the 2011 regular season finale against Florida State, and returned to action in just nine months, registering a sack in the Gators’ season-opening win over Bowling Green. Easley is undersized, but is an explosively quick three-technique prospect with disruptive penetrating ability and a revved up motor. His athleticism and pass-rush ability enables him to work the edges and play multiple techniques along the Gators’ defensive front, but he’ll be challenged — especially against the run — by a big, talented Texas A&M offensive line.
SS Matt Elam*, Florida — The college game contains an unusual number of legitimate safety prospects, and the Gators’ Matt Elam (5-10, 202) is one of them. The junior strong safety has NFL bloodlines (brother, Abram, is a safety for the Chiefs) and is athletic, active and aggressive. After gaining experience on special teams and in nickel as a true freshman in 2010, Elam produced 78 tackles (11 for loss), five pass breakups and two interceptions with two sacks and two forced fumbles last season. An emerging prospect, Elam, who has endured the murders of a sister and brother and the passing of his father (cancer), is a candidate to make the early jump and bears watching this fall.
Georgia vs. Missouri at Faurot Field (Columbia, MO), Saturday 6:45 p.m. ESPN
WR T.J. Moe, Missouri — Teamed with Blaine Gabbert in 2010, Moe (6-0, 200) racked up 92 receptions for 1,045 yards (11.4-yard average) and six touchdowns. Though his numbers (54-649-4) decreased with first-year starting quarterback James Franklin last season, Moe, a Tiger captain, established himself as a sure-handed, nifty-footed slot receiver with a pro future. His smarts, toughness, feel and productivity play well inside. After endearing himself to the press during SEC media days and coping with an August hamstring injury, Moe gets his first exposure to a fast SEC secondary, including Georgia strong safety Shawn Williams (see below). However, the Bulldogs could be without inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and free safety Baccari Rambo (possible suspension) and cornerback Malcolm Mitchell (ankle).
SS Shawn Williams, Georgia — A respected defensive leader for the Bulldogs, Williams (6-1, 217) tallied 72 tackles, six pass breakups and four interceptions with five tackles for loss and a forced fumble in 2011. He even stepped up to handle inside linebacker in the absence of Ogletree. Williams has very good size and is able to keep pace with tight ends. He drops downhill quickly and shows good closing speed. He could stand to shore up his tackling (tends to tackle high and slips off some), but he enters his senior season as one of the most highly regarded safety prospects in the 2013 class. Williams’ coverage skills and ability to function in space should be tested against Missouri’s spread attack.
Nebraska vs. UCLA at the Rose Bowl (Los Angeles, CA), Saturday 6:30 p.m. Fox
TE Joseph Fauria, UCLA —The nephew of 13-year NFL tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph, a Notre Dame transfer, boasts a huge 6-7, 255-pound frame and long arms. The redshirt senior presents a big target over the middle and in the red zone and shows the ability to extend and catch with his hands. That said, Fauria needs technical work as a receiver and blocker. He’s a stiff-hipped, unrefined route runner who shows average initial quickness and straight-linish, monotone movement — can be knocked off course and is not creative or elusive after the catch aside from attempting to hurdle defenders. Needs to continue filling out and strengthening his lower body (has a basketball build and is light in the pants). For the time being, Fauria’s blocking leverage, body power and finishing strength leave something to be desired, but he has potential to grow into a 270-plus-pound “Y” tight end. He’ll be deployed as a hybrid tight end/receiver this fall and caught three passes for 55 yards and a score in the Bruins’ season-opening win over Rice.
SS Daimon Stafford, Nebraska —Stafford (6-1, 205), a junior-college transfer, started the Cornhuskers’ final 12 games and recorded 80 tackles with a team-leading 10 pass breakups. He has good size and athletic ability, though he’s more impactful as a downhill player than as a ballhawking playmaker. He has man-coverage limitations and does not always arrive under control to tackle, but he runs the alley and shows speed to close. Stafford is more athletic than Browns 2010 fifth-rounder Larry Asante, another Nebraska product, but he’ll have to show improved cover and ball skills as a senior to stand out amongst safeties, especially if underclassmen swell the talent pool.
Sleeper of the Week: QB Brad Sorensen, Southern Utah — Sorensen (6-5, 230), whose past includes an LDS mission and stops at San Bernardino Valley College and BYU, entered the season as a semi-sleeper coming off a 2011 season in which he was the Great West Conference Offensive Player of the Year. A team captain and third-year starter for the FCS Thunderbirds, Sorensen has a short-armed, low-maintenance delivery with some wrist snap and zip on short-to-intermediate throws. He also has enough mobility to evade the initial rush and extend the play. However, his velocity throws hang in the air and he forces throws, as evidenced by his touchdown-to-interception ratio regressing last season. Sorensen’s accuracy was poor in a season-opening loss to Utah state (did not complete a pass until the team’s fourth possession), and he’ll have to rebound against California this weekend to salvage his stock.