I took some time out of my time off during Fourth of July weekend to watch some football (like that’s a surprise) and I wanted to take a look at this game to get a feel for what to expect from Alabama’s offense and Kentucky’s offense during this upcoming year. Some of what I saw surprised me in a good way, but overall the guys I took notes on in this game something to be desired. Enjoy my breakdown of the players I took notes on!

Analysis of game:

Hartline has potential but he was plagued by bad decision-making in this game, especially when under pressure.

I watched this game because I wanted to evaluate Mike Hartline as a junior against quality competition, but I went in knowing that he had his struggles statistically in this game. However, it turns out that his performance in this game was just as bad as the statistics showed, if not worse. He never settled in and looked comfortable against Alabama’s pressure, he routinely made bad decisions under duress and did not show much pocket poise at all. He has good height but he looks very skinny and does not look strong or tough. He didn’t demonstrate good pocket poise in this game, and because I put so much stock in how well you handle yourself in the face of pressure I was very disappointed in him because of how he dealt with Alabama’s blitz packages. He showed good zip and some good accuracy in this game, and he throws a pretty good deep ball and put a couple of them right on the money. Like most QB’s, when he can get into a little bit of a rhythm and when he has time to throw the ball he can be effective. But when he is pressured he does not look comfortable, he doesn’t make good decisions and he turns the ball over. That is the bottom line, and barring a cataclysmic change in how he handles pressure and duress differently as a QB as a senior he will be nothing more than a 7th round or UDFA QB to me, which is really disappointing. However, I am glad I found this out now and not after I had already put my faith in him as a potential sleeper at the QB position. He could still show something as a senior and get himself drafted, but he won’t be a quality starter in the NFL because he won’t be able to survive without a great offensive line and running game to keep teams from coming after him when he drops back to pass. That’s too bad, but that is just how these things go sometimes. Just ask Joey Harrington.

Watching this game certainly opened my eyes to how Mike Hartline carries himself, but I was also very pleasantly surprised by other players on Kentucky’s offense. I also got a closer look at Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Julio Jones and James Carpenter on Alabama’s offense. So it was a good bit of tape for me to watch, and here are my thoughts on those respective players.

First and foremost, the two players who really impressed me the most in this game were Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke on Kentucky. I already knew what Ingram and Richardson were capable of on Alabama, but I had no idea what to expect out of Cobb and Locke, but they really impressed me.

Cobb should be in the end zone a lot next year, and I think he has the potential to be a star.

Cobb is a WR who converted to the position from QB, so he is still learning the position. But Kentucky does everything they can to get him the ball and rightfully so: the guy is an absolute playmaker. I have come to understand that some guys just have an ability that other players don’t to make plays every time they touch the ball, and Cobb is absolutely one of those players. Every time he touched the ball he made a guy miss and got extra yards. He just makes moves and plays that most guys can’t make, and hardly anyone knows who he is. But I guarantee you if you watch a Kentucky game and Cobb gets his hands on the ball he will look like he’s in 3D and the rest of the players are in 2D. He just pops out at you and makes you notice him when he gets the ball in his hands, whether he is taking snaps in the wildcat, catching the ball as a receiver, or returning the ball on kickoffs or punts. He just makes plays and makes guys miss. And the crazy thing is he was only a sophomore, but he was the best player on the field for Kentucky along with Derrick Locke. I often talk about how crucial it is for a QB to tilt the playing field in his teams favor when he gets on the field, but that is absolutely not limited to the QB position. But it is rare to see in any position, and WR is no exception to that. However, I will say this right now: Randall Cobb makes the Wildcats better when he is on the field. He is that special of a player. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see him as a junior, but this kid is going to be a star, I just know it. So remember Randall Cobb’s name, he is going to be a star by the time he leaves Kentucky.

Locke runs hard despite his size, and is effective running between the tackles. To be honest, his playing style reminds me a lot of Warrick Dunn.

Now Cobb may have shot off the screen like 3D fireworks when I watched this game, but Derrick Locke had a quietly good game too, but it was much more methodical and slow to develop than Cobb’s game. Locke is the RB on Kentucky and he will be a senior this season while Cobb is only going to be a junior, however I really liked what I saw from Locke. You can tell he has playing experience because this had to be a frustrating game for him. Alabama’s defense was extremely stout up the middle and Kentucky had to stick with the run even if it wasn’t producing much in the way of yards. But credit to Locke, he stayed patient and got whatever he could on every touch he got, even if it was breaking a tackle behind the line and turning a negative play into a two yard gain. He just kept wearing the defense down and running hard, which is surprising because he is listed at only 5’9”, 190 pounds. So when you look at his size you think “He is a NFL scat back and 3rd down back, the lightning to a more durable, power back’s thunder,” but that is not the case at all. Locke can carry the load, and he did last year with almost 200 attempts and 31 catches as a receiver. He produced almost 1,200 total yards from scrimmage as a runner and receiver along with eight touchdowns as a runner and receiver (six rushing, two receiving).

Now I know this is high praise, but his running style and overall game reminded me a LOT of Warrick Dunn. He can run up the middle effectively despite his size, he is a patient runner and is small enough that he can hide behind his blockers a bit, plus he is an effective receiver out of the backfield and can turn a one yard swing pass into a 12 yard gain by making a guy miss and hitting the accelerator. He is a starting quality back because he can carry the load, and he is good at finding cut-back lanes as a runner. And once he finds a seam he can hit it with a good burst and has the speed to take it the distance once he gets in the open field. Now, I was thinking about how he played and all of a sudden it dawned on me that he reminds me a ton of a poor-mans Warrick Dunn, and the more I thought about it the more the comparison fit well in my opinion. Normally I hate comparisons between two players because there are just too many variables to usually make a valid comparison, but as comparisons go I think this is an accurate one. That’s not to say that I think Locke will be as good as Dunn in the NFL, but I think their playing styles are very similar. I definitely think Locke has the potential to get drafted in the 3rd or 4th round, especially with a productive (and healthy) season as a senior. Not a lot of RB’s stay all four years, especially if they have the talent to go pro, but despite that I think Locke will show that he has a lot to offer a NFL team because of his versatility, and I look forward to scouting him more as a senior. Depending on how well he is known, he could be my sleeper as a RB because he is really flying under the radar right now, but I don’t think that will last much longer.

Now, obviously Alabama was the better team so it was not surprising that they had more players that I needed to take note of, but I made sure to take note on how Greg McElroy and James Carpenter did. When I watched Kentucky I took particular note of how Hartline did, but Cobb and Locke just caught my attention over and over again during their offensive possessions and special teams plays. The same can be said of Ingram when Alabama had the ball, but Trent Richardson and Julio Jones had pretty quiet games. Here are my thoughts on the Alabama players:

McElroy was not much more than a game-manager in this game.

First of all, McElroy looked pretty average to me in this game. I think he has NFL potential similar to John Parker Wilson, but honestly I liked JPW’s game more than I like McElroy’s at this point. Contrary to what the announcers seemed to feel watching this game, I absolutely thought McElroy looked like a game manager for the vast majority of this game. He did have a very impressive drive when Alabama was inside their two yard line and he led them down the entire length of the field on a methodical drive for a touchdown. It was impressive, and it was a good drive, but I can’t say I saw him make a lot of NFL throws in this game. He shows pretty adequate touch and I’d say average or a little above average arm strength, above average accuracy and he doesn’t force throws into coverage and is willing to take a sack instead of forcing a throw where he shouldn’t. His intelligence is well reported, but I don’t see him making a lot of checks at the line like Hartline seemed to be doing in this game, nor do I see him going through more than one or two of his progressions on a regular basis. He also doesn’t use his eyes very well to confuse the defense and keep his real primary read a chance to get open. How a QB uses his eyes to keep a defense honest really says a lot, and McElroy mostly just looks at his receivers as he goes through his progressions, and doesn’t use his eyes well at all. Again, he didn’t look bad in this game, but he did nothing out of the ordinary other than lead that very long drive, but none of the throws or reads he had to make were of particular difficulty by any means. So he I would say is an average to above-average QB in college, but if he was on a less talented team he would not look nearly as good as he does on Alabama, nor would he have his precious undefeated record to cling to.

Ingram has the potential to be a quality every-down back in the NFL.

Ingram, however, impressed me. He is a powerful runner and finishes runs well, plus he runs through arm tackles like they are yellow tape in a marathon. He also showed good vision, patience and pretty good burst and acceleration to go from East/West to North/South quickly. There was one play where he was running to the left, cut laterally to the right to try to find a seam, he found one, made one cut and all of a sudden he was in the secondary on the way to his second touchdown of the day. It was a display of burst and quickness that I wasn’t quite sure he was capable of, so that was very encouraging to see. I think he definitely has NFL talent, so I am excited to see how he does this season.

Trent Richardson also has a lot of talent, but you could tell he was still adjusting to the college ranks in this game. He looked like a totally different running back in the National Championship game against Texas, so you can tell he grew a lot as a player during the course of the year. This was earlier in the year though, so you could tell he was making some mistakes because of his inexperience. It was a quiet game for him, but he showed his potential and I know what he is capable of from the BCS title game. He will definitely make defenses pay for worrying too much about Ingram next year, that’s for sure.

Richardson has a lot of potential, and should help keep Ingram fresh during the season.

One of the more unimpressive players on Alabama was left tackle James Carpenter. He didn’t have a good game, as he routinely looked sloppy fundamentally, ended up on the ground a number of times, got called for two holding penalties and looked uncomfortable in pass protection. He just looked raw fundamentally and didn’t do a good job drive blocking in the run game, and he looked underdeveloped as a pass blocker. When he got his hands on the defender he did a better job of taking him out of the play, but if he had been going against a very good speed rusher he would have been eaten alive in this game. As it was he did fine because Kentucky’s RE was not a household name by any means, but he still did not impress me. Whether he looks any better as a senior is up in the air, but he looked like he 1. might not get drafted until the 6th or 7th round if he gets drafted at all and 2. that he might have to slide inside to guard in the NFL if he sticks with a team. That sure is a drop-off from Andre Smith, who was drafted #6 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals (even though I didn’t like him as a prospect, he was vastly more talented than Carpenter is). Hopefully he looks better as a senior, but my expectations will not be high.

That about does it for my analysis of Kentucky-Alabama from last season. I will have more to say about Alabama after I watch the Texas-Alabama match-up in the National Title game but that is a little further down the road. Hopefully you found this post interesting, and I hope that if you watch either team next year you will be able to recognize some of the things I mentioned about the players I took notes on this game. And seriously, look out for Randall Cobb. The guy has star potential.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom Melton