ESPN’s Jon Gruden Talks Second-Tier Tackles

Bill Voth2014 Draft, NewsLeave a Comment

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Get ready for another wave of NFL Draft conference calls. ESPN’s Todd McShay is on a call as we’re writing this post. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock has one Thursday. Earlier today, it was Jon Gruden’s turn.

The Monday Night Football analyst will once again be a part of ESPN’s “gavel-to-gavel” draft coverage next week.

Looking through the transcript, there’s not much related to the Panthers, but you may be interested in how Gruden answered a question about the second-tier offensive tackles.

You can read the entire transcript by clicking the TRANSCRIPT tab near the top of this post.


Q. After the top offensive tackles of Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, can you talk about the next group of tackles of who you see and what you like there?
GRUDEN: Morgan Moses at Virginia is a very interesting guy to me. They’ve had a history of left tackles come out of Virginia. Moses is a kid that played one year at left tackle. He was a right tackle for a couple years. Joel Bitonio at Nevada is an interesting player. A fifth-year senior, been around, worked hard. I think he has some position flexibility, can play right, left or go inside. I like Zack Martin at Notre Dame. He might be my favorite linemen in this draft – 52-time starter, captain, really excelled at the Senior Bowl, drill work. Cyrus Kouandjio at Alabama, interesting player. Had some knee issues. I believe he’s rounding into health. Massive person with experience on the left side. There’s a number of interesting big people in this draft. I think last year we had three tackles go in the top five. So we got a lot of good quality offensive linemen coming into pro football here.
COURTESY: ESPN

Q. How much do you think GMs have to take into consideration everything that comes with Johnny Manziel? Even if he’s trying to tone things down, it goes viral with everything he does.
GRUDEN: Everything is evaluated on and off the field. When you’re dealing with a high-profile position like the quarterback, obviously there’s some well-documented things to cover and to consider. Johnny Manziel had George Bush at his pro date. Manziel brings a lot of excitement and interest to your organization. Maybe some people don’t want to be part of it. That will be up to them. But everything will be carefully scrutinized.

Q. There’s been a lot of talk about Teddy Bridgewater. What do you think about the talk and how do you think he projects as one of the top quarterbacks in the draft?
GRUDEN: I’ve done a lot of individual workouts in my past as a receiver coach, as a quarterback coach, even as a head coach. If the player didn’t work that well for me, I didn’t move them down, I took them off our board. So if you’re not having good individual workouts, if you don’t have a good pro workout, that’s part of the evaluation process. You’re going to be moved down or potentially off some people’s boards. I’d be concerned if I were any person and I didn’t have good private workouts or I had a typically bad pro date.

Q. Is there an obvious No. 1 pick in your mind? Also, which quarterback is best equipped to succeed immediately, and which is the best long-term prospect?
GRUDEN: To me the first pick of the draft, the sure-fire Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, I don’t know that that player is in this draft. You’re dealing with more underclassmen than I can ever remember. If you’re talking (Jadeveon) Clowney, (Johnny) Manziel, Sammy Watkins, even some of the underclassmen linemen, Greg Robinson. So it’s a crapshoot. This is not a complete body of work to evaluate. You have to use your imagination, be able to see down the road a bit. There is no sure-fire, can’t-miss No. 1 in anybody’s world, but there are some great prospects.

The second part of your question, if there was one quarterback ready to come in and contribute right away, I think to me it’s dependent on the organization and the team that you have. If you got a really bad team, I don’t care who you bring in there, you’re probably not going to be successful. I like a lot of quarterbacks. I’ve been accused of that. But I do think it’s up to the organization to take the player at the position of quarterback and stay with them, train them, stay with them some more, help this young man develop and become a great player. It might not happen right away.

Three of the top guys are juniors. I don’t think they’re physically ready. I don’t think they’re far along mentally. I think they might be a work in progress for six months or a year. But I do like (Derek) Carr. I like the fifth-year seniors. I think Carr is going to come in and be further along than a lot of these (quarterbacks) because of his vast background, two different systems. I think he’s got an excellent arm. I think he’s been challenged from a protection standpoint. I like Aaron Murray from Georgia. I like (A.J.) McCarron. The fifth-year seniors will be the guys that are obviously most ready.

Q. Logan Thomas from Virginia Tech, there were some people hoping you might dissect him in QB Camp. What led to the decision he wasn’t part of that group? How would you break him down as a prospect?
GRUDEN: I wanted to do more quarterbacks. We did nine. Unfortunately time is a big part of it. We just don’t have the time. We don’t just show up and shoot these guys. We spent a week basically preparing for each one of these quarterbacks. We just didn’t have enough time.

In fairness to (Zach) Mettenberger, Logan Thomas, a couple other guys we would of liked to have done. Studying Logan, he’s been in a couple different systems. He is a player I first saw a couple years ago. He reminded me of Cam Newton for obvious reasons. A dual threat that had physical presence at the position that was rare. He just hasn’t come along as a passer, a consistent passer, like maybe some people think. He had his ups and downs at the Senior Bowl. It was clear it wasn’t consistent. When you’re not consistent at the quarterback position, you’re going to be downgraded. I think that’s why Logan Thomas is where he is in terms of the draft boards. When you stand next to him and look at him, see him run around, you can see he has the ability to play a number of positions. Somebody with a creative offensive mind will get him and hopefully get the best out of him.

Q. Jimmy Garoppolo comes from the quarterback factory in Eastern Illinois. Do you see some Tony Romo in his game? Do you see him coming off the boards as early as late in the first round?
GRUDEN: I don’t know that he’s going to go in the first round. He doesn’t really remind me a lot of Tony Romo because of the offense he’s coming from. He’s running the same offense that Robert Griffin ran at Baylor. Dino Babers, Eastern Illinois head coach, came from Baylor. It’s an up-tempo, no-huddle spread. They’re going to try to run as many plays as they can in a game. Tony didn’t play in that type of system. He ran some formations and plays that I actually recognized.

Where Garoppolo jumped most at me was in the East West practices and the Senior Bowl. I think he looked like he belonged. When I met Jimmy, I met a very sharp, eager young prospect that has size. But Garoppolo has improved tremendously over his last two seasons. They’ve won two Ohio Valley Conference championships. He’s not a finished product. He’s going to have some growing to do because of the system he comes from. But he’s a big, sharp prospect that I know a lot of people like.

Q. A couple of quarterbacks here in South Carolina: Tajh Boyd was part of your program. Even though he wasn’t on the program, I know you’ve seen Connor Shaw in person a couple times. Do you think he has a future in the NFL?
GRUDEN: Those are two really productive quarterbacks. Starting with Tajh Boyd, here is a dual threat. What I like about Boyd is he’s a finisher. He went back to Clemson to finish with his teammates. He is a quarterback that has a live arm. He can run. He has production passing and running. The show we did on him that I think is relative to his performance, it’s all about peaks and valleys. He’s had tremendous peaks at Clemson in this no-huddle spread offense. He’s had some great individual performances. He’s also had some valleys I think. The three South Carolina losses, I thought the struggle against Florida State. I think people are studying those games, high-profile competition, and wondering why he struggled a little bit in those outings. He’s just got to become more consistent. I think when he did go to the Senior Bowl, it was a struggle initially converting to being an underneath-the-center quarterback. But I really like Tajh. I think he’s going to be a mid-round selection. He’ll develop in somebody’s system and has a chance to get a good player if they can get some continuity around him.

As far as Connor Shaw goes, he is another dual threat that has interesting training, that being Steve Spurrier. He does have some pro-style system background. You also see the Gamecocks running a lot of up-tempo zone-read type stuff. Shaw is capable of running a lot of offenses. He’s a winning quarterback. He’s had sustained production. Does he throw it well enough? How he performs in his individual workouts will be critical for him.

Q. Bradley Roby, the Ohio State cornerback pleaded guilty to a variation of a DUI charge even though his alcohol content was below the legal limit. With this coming so close to the draft, how much do you think this will affect his draft status and how do teams evaluate those situations?
GRUDEN: Everybody will evaluate it differently but at the same time they’ll take this very seriously. It’s not good right before the draft to have anything like this occur for many reasons. But they’re going to go back and weigh the pros and cons of every one of these players, what they’ve done on the field and off the field. All the information I’m sure will be gathered and everybody will have their own interpretation once they gather it. Here is a kid who missed the opening game. He was suspended for some reason. Here is a kid that didn’t play against Clemson in the bowl game, I think he had an injury. There are some concerns regarding Bradley Roby.

Q. What is your overall impression of A.J. McCarron? He mentioned recently teams told him he could go in the first round. What do you think of that?
GRUDEN: I can see him certainly going in the first round. Again, here is a pool of players, these seven, eight, nine quarterbacks that we’re talking about. McCarron’s production speaks volumes: 36 wins, four losses, all-time record holder at Alabama in a lot of different categories. He doesn’t have the flashy statistics that some of the other quarterbacks do because of the system he comes out of. Alabama comes out of a huddle. They only throw the ball 26 plays a game, which is about a hundredth in college football. But he takes care of the ball. He has a big-picture understanding of the game. He’s been well-schooled. He’s disciplined. He’s durable. I don’t think he has tremendous athletic ability. His arm is not off the charts, but he can play quarterback and manage an NFL system. I think he’ll be a good acquisition for someone that has a long-term plan.

Q. It looks like Aaron Murray is in that eight to 10 range. Do you think that’s about right? Where do you think he stacks up?
GRUDEN: He doesn’t fall that low on my board. Unfortunately I don’t have a team. I’m the head of the Fired Football Coaches Association. He’s in my top five. I realize he’s got some injuries, not just the knee that he’s rehabbing right now. He’s had some injuries in high school that I’m sure people are also documenting.

But when I watched Georgia play I see production at the quarterback position. I don’t think many kids have thrown for 3,000 yards four straight seasons in that conference. I just like what he is off the field. He’s an SEC scholar of the year. He has his degree. He goes to the Senior Bowl on his own just to be in the meetings. He’s a football junky. He has a charisma about him. When I saw him down here at our quarterback camp, we have a number of NFL players here, Santonio Holmes, Devin Hester, Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, Kyle Williams. Murray did a good job with meeting NFL players, college players. I just like a lot of things about him. So he’s higher on my board.

Q. What system or coach do you think is right for him? Did you notice a change at all in his game from last season to previous ones?
GRUDEN: It’s a very diverse system that they run at Georgia. It’s a single-back, no-huddle spread system. It’s a traditional I-formation two-back system. But they do throw the ball down the field as well as any team in college football. I’ve seen him manage a lot of systems. I like the fact he’s been in the offense for four years, been a starter for four years. I like this kid a lot.

Q. Some coaches and GMs have said in the last month or so if they can get three starters out of a draft, they’ve had a successful draft. What were your expectations in Tampa? What did you want to get out of each draft?
GRUDEN: You like to have your draft choices make your football team, number one. When I used to work for the 49ers years ago, before the salary cap era, I heard if you had too many rookies starting for you, you weren’t a very good team. To be honest with you, you don’t want to have five rookie starters. You want good starters. I don’t care if they’re rookies or second- or third-year players. Because of the modern era and salary cap, you want as many rookies to be on the field because they’re the most affordable. Most importantly, let’s get good players that are on the front line at every position or we won’t be here for very long. The worst thing is to say we had a good draft because we had five good rookie starters because then in a year you want to replace them.

You’re seeing new coaches coming in. At Tampa, I’m not sure they like (Mike) Glennon at quarterback. Last time during the season they were saying he might be the future of the Buccaneers. It’s in the eyes of the beholder, but you better get good players out of this draft that make your team because they’re affordable and they’re the life’s blood of the organization.

Q. The Seahawks coming off their first Super Bowl title, does it change at all once you’ve won a Super Bowl drafting at all?
GRUDEN: We didn’t have any draft picks when I got to Tampa for the first couple years, so I wouldn’t know what that is like. On Seattle’s behalf, they’re going to pick late because of where they finished, for good reason. That’s how the league has been set up for years. What I like about the Seahawks is they didn’t seem to lose a lot of high-profile players in the off-season. This is a young team. They maintained some continuity. Earl Thomas resigned with (Cam) Chancellor now gives them a dynamic duo in their defense for years to come. The biggest challenge they’re going to have is staying healthy, trying to replace Golden Tate, trying to replace the depth they lost in their front four. I think continuing to draft extremely well not only in the first round but in the middle to late rounds.

Q. Talk about Mike Evans. Do you think he’s below Sammy Watkins in terms of his impact right away? Is he a good fit for the Bucs at seven? And your thoughts on Khalil Mack?
GRUDEN: I think Evans is a completely different receiver than Watkins, at least on the tape I’ve seen. Evans plays on the right side of the formation. He is in a no-huddle offense. He plays on the right every play. They don’t switch sides. He doesn’t go in motion. He’s not in the slot. He’s a big X receiver that is a prototype split end, much like Tampa already has in Vincent Jackson, a guy that is a dynamic force when the ball is in the air. He’s a threat to run it after the catch. When he wants to, he can be a dominant blocker. He’s really very similar to Vincent Jackson of the Buccaneers already. I don’t know if you want two of those on the same team. I don’t know that you don’t. Depends on what Jeff Tedford has in store.

In regards to Khalil Mack, as a 4-3 player, my biggest concern is where do you play him? I think he’s an edge player to me. When I look at Khalil Mack, he’s most effective on the line of scrimmage, as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or as a nickel pass-rusher playing the defensive end position. In a pure 4-3, I don’t know that you want him as a base defensive end. I think he fits the 3-4 schemes the best in terms of a base outside linebacker and in the sub-package he’s obviously a defensive end.

Q. Could you see the Cardinals drafting a quarterback? If so they’d be doing it the old school way where a guy sits behind a veteran or two for a year or so. Do you like that?
GRUDEN: I’ve heard that rumor – that Arizona needs to draft a quarterback. Seems to me that Carson Palmer had one of the best years of his career. Arizona is on the cusp of closing in on a lot of people in this NFC. Getting (Jonathan) Cooper back from an injury is really going to help their offensive line. I think it all depends on how the board falls, to be honest with you. If one of these quarterbacks that Arizona likes were to slide to them, I could see them pulling the trigger certainly. If the one they like in this draft isn’t there, I can see Steve (Keim) continuing to add good players to a formidable defense or to a position of need, maybe address the offensive line one more time. Who knows?

Q. Who do you think will be the Jets week 1 starter, Geno (Smith) or Michael Vick? If Johnny Manziel happens to slip to 18 to the Jets, what would you do then?
GRUDEN: Well, who do I think will be the starter week one? I wish I could answer that. It’s a two-horse race. Might be a photo finish. Might need to ask me this after we’ve seen the pre-season. I have no idea. Just because Michael Vick has an association with Marty Mornhinweg. I do like what Geno Smith did as a freshman or a rookie quarterback in the NFL. He had a rocky beginning, rough outings, but he showed some mental and physical toughness. I think he improved. I like the youth at the quarterback position that has experience. So I think if it’s close, the tie goes to the rookie, the second-year player.

If Johnny Manziel is there at No. 18, I’ll give you my cell phone number and I’ll take you out to a steak dinner.

Q. Lions are looking for a quarterback maybe in the later rounds as a backup for Matthew Stafford. What traits were you looking for when you took a developmental guy late in the draft?
GRUDEN: They used to come to my office and get me in the sixth round because that’s when we took quarterbacks in Tampa. I like the idea of taking them at the top of the first rounds, to be honest with you.
In Green Bay years ago, I remember Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren would take a quarterback in the late rounds. They got Mark Brunell late in the fifth round, we got Ty Detmer in the seventh round, then they got (Matthew) Hasselbeck. They continued to do that. What you’re looking for is production, number one, a productive college quarterback that has the ability to think quickly, that can make all the throws. You’re looking for a lot of intangibles certainly in the sixth round, a guy that fits your system. You hope with coaching he can improve mentally and physically. There’s a couple guys that I think might appeal to the Lions. They took a kid a couple years ago Kellen Moore out of Boise. I’m sure they’re looking for someone else that can develop for the future as well.

Q. Who could you see being late-round picks for them?
GRUDEN: The kid at San Jose State has some qualities. We talked about Tajh Boyd in the mid-round who has the chance to be that kind of guy. I try not to float a lot of projections in the sixth round, to be quite honest with you.

Q. Sammy Watkins, what do you think he’s done during the offseason in workouts to set himself apart? Also from a coaching standpoint, you touched on the explosion of underclassmen to the NFL. You don’t have all the tape on them. What’s something people don’t realize about the challenges of a player coming out before he’s ready?
GRUDEN: I think that’s a great point in this draft. I think there’s 80 underclassmen players that have applied for the draft. You’re dealing with players that aren’t as far along as they used to be physically or from an expertise standpoint. A lot of these players have two years of eligibility left, so they’re missing two spring practices, two training camps, and two regular seasons. That’s unprecedented, if you ask me. The body of work is not complete and it’s not as impressive as it was in years past. I think it is a real challenge for all of the coaches and all of the scouts to not be able to see these kids perform in a college all-star game like the East West game or the Senior Bowl game. This is not a complete body of work and it becomes a little bit of a projection. I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s easy. But it’s the way the world is going.

In regards to Sammy Watkins, I think the biggest thing he’s done, he has done it consistently well for every team he’s worked out for. He’s a big, explosive man. He’s able to run after the catch at Clemson. He can return kicks. I think what sets Sammy apart is his sincerity and passion for the game. Everyone I’ve talked to has come away very impressed with Watkins’ passion to be great and to put forth a tremendous work ethic.

Q. There was not a running back selected in the first round last year. There may not be one this year. Is that a trend? Do you think that the teams are more reluctant to take running backs because there’s so many passing teams now? The Raiders at No. 5 may not draft a quarterback, but they’ve said they want to take one. Which guy do you see fitting what Greg Olson likes to do?
GRUDEN: In the running backs, the game used to be set up offensively around a strong running game. If you wanted a strong running game, you needed to get a great running back. I can remember Bo Jackson that my dad drafted in Tampa Bay, Herschel Walker, those types of backs. That was how your offense was set up, to run the football, be a good play-action team, et cetera. Those times obviously have changed.
When you look at the running backs in college football, you never know if they’re ever going to get the ball because the quarterback pulls it out of his stomach half the time and keeps it himself. Carlos Hyde, (Ka Deem) Carey at Arizona. It’s hard to evaluate them because the quarterback pulls it out of his chest half the time.

In regards to the Raiders, I think Greg Olson is like a lot of NFL coaches today: you’re looking for a quarterback that can run any play that you dream up. That’s the beauty of Russell Wilson. He can run read options, speed options. He can run a west coast offense. He can run any play you dream up. You’re seeing more and more of the dual threats becoming a force in the NFL with (Colin) Kaepernick, obviously Cam Newton. You’re seeing quarterbacks being coveted that can run it, throw it, run an up-tempo style.
(Blake) Bortles from Central Florida. Bortles did a lot of options, drop-back stuff in the pro-style system. I can see Olson liking Johnny Manziel. Greg Olson is a guy with tremendous imagination. I can see him liking a lot of these quarterbacks.

Q. We all know if you give scouts enough time they can pick holes in anyone. With such a late draft, is there over-analysis going on, any impact at all?
GRUDEN: That I’m sure is going on every place. The longer you stir the stew, the longer you have a tendency to screw it up. Too many chefs spoil the stew. This draft needs to take place quickly. We’ve had first, second and third analysis done on just about every factors from doctors to psychiatrists, the short shuttles, film study, the individual workouts and combines. I think everybody is ready to draft them.

Q. After the top offensive tackles of Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, can you talk about the next group of tackles of who you see and what you like there?
GRUDEN: Morgan Moses at Virginia is a very interesting guy to me. They’ve had a history of left tackles come out of Virginia. Moses is a kid that played one year at left tackle. He was a right tackle for a couple years. Joel Bitonio at Nevada is an interesting player. A fifth-year senior, been around, worked hard. I think he has some position flexibility, can play right, left or go inside. I like Zack Martin at Notre Dame. He might be my favorite linemen in this draft – 52-time starter, captain, really excelled at the Senior Bowl, drill work. Cyrus Kouandjio at Alabama, interesting player. Had some knee issues. I believe he’s rounding into health. Massive person with experience on the left side. There’s a number of interesting big people in this draft. I think last year we had three tackles go in the top five. So we got a lot of good quality offensive linemen coming into pro football here.

Q. Give your thoughts on compensatory picks, how it goes against the nature of the draft because the stronger teams seem to get rewarded by that. When you were in Tampa, did you ever make moves or not make moves trying to get compensatory picks the following year?
GRUDEN: The second part of your question, I don’t believe we ever did. There is a formula for acquiring compensatory picks. You have to lose a certain amount of free agents. I don’t know how the formula works nowadays to be honest with you. We never went into free agency saying, ‘Let’s let Bobby and Billy go so we can get a compensatory pick to replace them.’ We never said, ‘Let’s not sign a free agent because it will hurt our ability to get a compensatory pick.’ I think everybody in pro football looks at three ways to improve their team: they can do it in the draft certainly, they can do it in free agency, they can do it through their coaching staff developing players. We have to do all three at a high level. Most importantly, we have to make sure we keep the right players and sign the right players for our future.

Q. Does it tend to favor the better team? You look at Baltimore. They seem to have worked that to perfection as far as when to let a guy go and replace them with the fourth-round picks?
GRUDEN: As long as those third- and fourth-round picks can play. You have to give Ozzie Newsome and his staff a tremendous amount of credit. When you get a third- or a fourth-round pick, there’s no guarantee those players can come in and play, let alone start. They’ve done an excellent job bringing in players in the middle rounds to supplement the players they lost. I can remember talking to Dennis Erickson. Sometimes you get a compensatory seven instead of a compensatory three or four. There’s a big difference in where that compensatory pick falls, as you know.

Q. Here in College Station, we hear it said that Johnny Manziel could be considered in the right situation. What do you consider the right situation for him? What would be your main concerns about him?
GRUDEN: I don’t have any concerns. I’m a Manziel – I don’t know what the word I should use is – advocate, proponent. I want Manziel. I realize he’s under six feet tall. Maybe he can’t see over the line. We blew that theory in the water last year with (Russell) Wilson and (Drew) Brees. I know he can learn. I spent two days with him, and I know he wants to learn. He had four different offensive coordinators at Texas A&M. He had two different head coaches. It didn’t matter. He adapted and did extremely well. This is the first Heisman Trophy winner as a freshman. In two years at Texas A&M, he had the most productive back-to-back seasons in SEC history. I don’t know what you want him to do. He threw for eight thousand, ran for two thousand, he has 93 touchdowns. All I know is I want Manziel.

Q. Did you have a chance to evaluate the two Florida receivers, Solomon Patton and Trey Burton?
GRUDEN: No. I had Trey Burton in the Outback Bowl when he was dabbling at quarterback. I’ve seen the cornerbacks for the Gators. Other than that, I haven’t done these two receivers.

Q. What do you think of (Florida’s) Dominique Easley coming off the knee injury?
GRUDEN: I don’t know exactly where he is because I haven’t done the individual workout circuit. I liked him a lot before the injury. For a 4-3 defense, if you’re looking for an under tackle, a pass-rusher, a run defender, an all-around inside presence with a good factor grade that can rush the quarterback, read and react, I think Easley is a very good prospect. I thought he was certainly a top-50 player in this draft prior to the injury.

Q. The Bears might be looking for a backup running back. Is there a personality trait you look for in a guy who might not be able to get many carries in his first year or two? Are there any guys out there you think might be a good fit?
GRUDEN: In regards to the personality part of it, I just always look for team players. I don’t really want too many running backs that want the ball all the time, although that’s not a bad thing either. You want somebody that really wants to impact the game. Knowing Marc Trestman, from having worked with Marc in the past, I’m sure he’s looking for a young back that has some similar traits to Forte. To be a running back for the Bears in this current system, you have to be sharp, have to be able to handle a lot of offense, picking up blitzes, understanding protections, audibles. You got to be sharp and you got to be able to catch the football and do something after you do. Then you got to be able to run an array of different runs, shotgun runs, pistol formation plays, from the I-formation, you name it. I’m sure Marc Trestman is looking to find another back because they lost a pretty good back in free agency.

Q. One of the guys that’s come out of nowhere is Tom Savage at Pitt. Is that real or agent posturing?
GRUDEN: It could be both. Savage is one of the great American mysteries right now. Rutgers, he lost his job, he left and went to Arizona. Rich Rodriguez brought the spread offense to Tucson. He left Arizona and went to Pitt. He threw for over 60%. He’s a pocket passer. You can see he has a big arm. Then he got hurt in the bowl game against Bowling Green. It is a limited body of work. He is a pocket passer with a strong arm. I’m sure some people have seen it and fell in love with him because of that. There’s not a lot of quarterbacks in college football that drop back and throw it anymore, and Savage is clearly one of them.

Q. The two defensive linemen, (Stephon) Tuitt and (Louis) Nix, from Notre Dame, if you can share your impressions. Also a defensive player from Notre Dame, Manti Te’o, kind of a year from that, what your impressions are of him early in his career.
GRUDEN: Manti Te’o, I really liked him coming out of Notre Dame, and I really liked the progress he made at San Diego. Joe Barry is the linebacker coach of the Chargers. He was my linebacker coach in Tampa for several years. Manti had the injury pre-season in the first few games. You have an every-down linebacker that can communicate the game. Everybody talks about the quarterback, the no-huddle offense, all the statistics. I think it’s great. But who is the defensive player that makes all the checks, makes all the calls and lines up the defense? Well, that would be a linebacker like Manti who is on the field all the time. I think he showed great progress. The Chargers were one of the best secrets in football on defense late in the year. They beat Peyton Manning in Denver, beat Cincinnati in the playoffs.

In regards to the two defensive linemen, they both played better two years ago. I think that’s clear to everybody. They both played a lot lighter two years ago. I think it’s a mystery to everyone why they were heavier this year. To me, Nix is a pure nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. The problem with Nix, if there is one, these teams that come out there with three and four wide receivers, they get you in a sub-defense, Nix doesn’t rush the passer, he might not warrant selection if he doesn’t improve his pass-rush. To me, Tuitt is a prototype defensive end in a 3-4 defense. He can shock a tackle. He can beat up a tight end. He certainly is a physical man. That’s what I like about Tuitt. He rushed the passer better two years ago. He needs to maintain the weight he was at a couple years ago because he does have a power rush, he does have some deceptive speed. I like both players. I think I’d kind of lean towards Tuitt because of his position versatility.

Q. Johnny Manziel is a guy who left two years of eligibility on the table. How far developed is he and where do you see his upside? When would that come?
GRUDEN: Well, he’s developed from the standpoint of being on the field making quick decisions in the pocket, at the line of scrimmage, 95 to 98 snaps a game. He has no experience coming out of the huddle really, handling the pass protections, doing some of the things that you’ve seen some of the conventional pro quarterbacks do. It’s going to be a huge adjustment for him. It might not happen for him by opening day.
But I’m convinced that he will learn it. He will excel at whatever you ask him to do. But, remember, he did redshirt at Texas A&M. Maybe he needs a redshirt year in pro football. I’m not going to say that’s going to happen or that’s a certainty. But it will be an adjustment for Manziel making the adjustment as a young player at this position at the next level. But I’m sure he can do it.

Q. James Wilder, Jr. of Florida State. Your dad once coached his dad back in the day. What do you think of him as a runner and what kind of impact do you think he can make it in the NFL?
GRUDEN: I’ve known him almost as long as I’ve known his dad. That would be since he was a little kid. James is another underclassmen. I’m not sure why he came out. I have not had a chance to ask him that. But he’s a north/south, no nonsense powerful back. He’s a powerful man. He just has to make sure he gets things together off the field. There have been too many incidents for him at this point in his career. He’s got to straighten himself out to be in a position to do all the things he’s capable of doing. Hopefully he gets an opportunity with a coach that can put him on a fast track.

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