Player Notes – Week 8 CFB

* Wisconsin lost a heartbreaker to Michigan State Saturday night. One of the stars for UW this year is RB Montee Ball. You watch Ball and can’t help but be impressed by him. Evaluating him as an NFL prospect is complicated because of the fact he’s a UW RB. We’ve seen Ron Dayne, John Clay, PJ Hill, Brian Calhoun and others go to the NFL and fail. There have been a variety of factors, but one common denominator – they were Wisconsin RBs.

So why should Ball be any different? The one UW runner who had some success was Michael Bennett. He was 5’9, 210 and speedy. He actually had a track background. Most other Wisconsin runners were 220-230 pound thumpers. They ran over guys, not around them. Ball lists at 5’11, 210 and is an athletic RB. He can be physical, but is not a power runner at all.

Ball was 18-115-1 as a runner vs MSU. He caught 2 passes for 24 yards and a TD. The TD catch was short, but impressive. Ball adjusted as QB Russell Wilson broke from the pocket. Ball came open and used his hands to pluck a short pass. Sounds simple, but I can’t tell you how often RBs struggle with simple plays like this. Ball showed good awareness and good hands.

As a runner, Ball tries to be as N-S as possible. He has good speed, but isn’t explosive. Ball is fast enough to run outside, but UW’s bread and butter is staying between the tackles. Ball had a good game vs MSU. He got hurt in the 1st half and missed some time. He then returned after halftime and provided a spark to the UW offense.

Ball isn’t anything special as a pro prospect. I do think he is a legit pro prospect. Terrific college player. He didn’t hit the field regularly til middle of the 2010 season. Check out the numbers if you combine the two parts:

288 carries
1764 yards
6.13 ypc
35 TDs

One of the guys opening holes for Ball is RG Kevin Zeitler. He’s a 3-year starter. Typical Wisconsin OG. Good size at 6’4, 315. Isn’t going to wow you as an athlete, but is a tough as nails grinder who can run block. Good effort. Works hard to sustain blocks. Had a good block on Ball’s 9-yard TD run. Kevin got up to the 2nd level and then rode a LB out wide, clearing a good hole for Ball. Kevin had a solid night overall. Won’t go early in the draft, but has NFL potential.

* The other big game on Saturday night was USC at Notre Dame. I was hoping ILB Manti Te’o would have a great game. He didn’t. Teo finished with 10 total tackles (3 solo). He missed some early tackles that surprised me. He was in the right gap and just whiffed. He doesn’t normally do that. No idea what happened with him. USC ran wild in the game. They had 44 carries for 219 yards.

Teo is very talented. You watch him in space and he’s very natural on the move despite the fact he’s 6’2, 255. He changes direction well. Good speed for a big guy. I really do wonder if he’s not meant to be a 4-3 SAM or maybe to play ILB in the 3-4. I don’t see him as the instinctive 4-3 MLB that so many teams would love.

* I seem to write about UNC linebacker Zach Brown every week. Why stop now? He played well for parts of the Clemson game. Zach had a pair of sacks. One of the sacks came on a pass play, the other on busted read-option. Both blitzes were through the B-gap. In college, any tackle of the QB behind the LOS is considered a sack.

I was actually more impressed when he broke up a pass down the middle of the field. Brown was in good position and showed good awareness on the play. Brown had 7 tackles, to go along with the 2 sacks and PBU.

Teammate Quinton Coples came into the season with a huge rep, but hasn’t been impressive. UNC has him playing mostly RDE. Coples lacks the explosion to be LTs on a consistent basis. He did have a strip-sack on Saturday. Good hustle on his part, but good coverage helped a lot. QB had to hold the ball an extra second and that was the time Coples needed to make the play. I think some teams should consider Coples as a DT. He was very disruptive up the middle last year.

* One group I haven’t talked about at all is Stanford. Let’s start with RG David DeCastro. He’s a 4th-year Junior that could very well come out after the season. Great run blocker. He played very well against Washington, as he’s done all year. DeCastro can fire off the ball and help double a DT. He can go up and get a LB. He can pull and act as a lead blocker. DeCastro, 6’5, 310, isn’t a great athlete, but he is a polished O-lineman. His movements are specific. You can tell he’s been well-coached. Teams like the Jets and Ravens could use him right now.

LT Jonathan Martin, 6’6, 304, is another high quality player. I haven’t had a chance to study him against a gifted pass rusher yet. Looks technically sound. Has good feet. Knee bender. Good balance. Martin is a high quality run blocker. Like DeCastro, Martin is a 4th-year Junior would could leave for the NFL.

TE Coby Fleener is another NFL guy up front. Excellent frame at 6’6, 244. Good pass catcher. Has 79 career grabs and 15 TDs. Caught a short TD vs UW. Andrew Luck had to throw around a defender. Fleener saw the ball and adjusted. He made a smooth hands catch. Fleener is a Senior and NFL prospect. He won’t appeal to teams looking for a workhorse pass catcher, but those looking for a complete TE will like him.

* Arkansas WR Joe Adams had a 92-yard TD run last week. This week his damage came as a receiver. Against Ole Miss he had 4 grabs for 124 yards. Adams was deadly when he got the ball in space. He is able to explode and just pull away from defenders. The long gain this week was a 67-yard catch. Adams looks like a role player, but watching teams like SEA, CLE, JAX, BAL, and MIA…those teams could use an explosive offensive threat.

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