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Getting Bull-ish on defense

9/22/2009

South Florida lost QB Matt Grothe to a season-ending knee injury, while Florida State QB Christian Ponder is playing the best football he's ever played, so suddenly there is a lot of pressure on the Bulls' defense when the two teams meet this weekend. Much of that pressure will fall on a pair of early-round prospects -- DE George Selvie and FS Nate Allen.

Selvie, a first-round prospect, needs to get pressure on Ponder, forcing him into bad decisions. Selvie, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, will go against FSU's Andrew Datko, who despite his 6-6, 291-pound frame is a very athletic lineman. He's not a power offensive tackle. He moves well and sets his feet quickly. It is the type of matchup that could test Selvie, who is a speed rusher. It will be interesting to see if Selvie can still get the corner on the athletic Datko. But there are a couple of things to like about Selvie in this matchup. First of all, he's simply the most explosive defensive lineman in the country. The second thing -- and just as important -- is that he's smart. If he sees Datko trying to take away the outside with wider splits or with a big kick-step when the ball is snapped, Selvie will shoot inside.

As good as that matchup will be, I'm more excited to watch Allen. Allen, who projects as a second-round prospect, will be tested in a couple of areas. The first is against a mobile quarterback like Ponder. I think Allen will step up and help out in run support. He's an effective drag-down tackler, and although Ponder isn't Tim Tebow-like when he runs, he does run hard. It will be interesting to see how Allen limits Ponder's yards after contact.

In the passing game, Allen is one of the nation's best cover safeties despite his size (he's generously listed at 6-2, 206 pounds).The Seminoles could put WR Bert Reed in the slot and see if Allen can stay with him in man-to-man situations. He has great range in his zone play, but there are questions about his ball skills. He comes up with some big plays, but doesn't always make all the plays he needs to make. If Ponder makes a mistake, Allen needs to be there to make a play.

For a look at a flaw in a potential first-round defensive back, why Washington QB Jake Locker shouldn't celebrate too much and why WVU QB Jarrett Brown shouldn't hang his head too much, plus notes from around the country, become an ESPN Insider.Insider

• Another defensive back I'm looking forward to watching this weekend is Alabama CB Javier Arenas. Arenas has a late first-round grade right now even though he's just 5-9, 195 pounds.

I've been impressed with his skills in the return game. He has balance, vision and burst in that role. He has excellent start-and-stop skills, which just crush coverage teams' pursuit angles.

He's tougher than his size suggests. He's physical as a blitzer, in run support and after the catch. Arenas is very willing to come up and hit someone and has great closing speed. He does an adequate job keeping guys off his legs when they try to block him, but if they do get him down, he pops up almost immediately.

He will face the best passing offense he's seen this year in Arkansas. While he has all the necessary athletic ability to be a nickelback and possibly start in the NFL, there are concerns about his footwork, which can be inconsistent at times. He can be sloppy and not make crisp cuts, which allows receivers to separate from coverage. He is also sometimes too quick to open his hips in one direction or another. For example, if a receiver is running a post route to the middle of the field and throws a head fake toward the sidelines before breaking to the middle, Arenas has at times bitten on the fake, opened his hips to the outside and then has to come back and play catch-up. That's something Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and QB Ryan Mallett, who is the nation's leading passer, will test. The Razorbacks have young receivers, but they run good routes.

• It's hard to criticize QB Jake Locker for his performance in Washington's win over USC. On the plus side, he showed good mobility, looked poised and confident late in game, did a good job using his feet to buy time, and threw the ball on the run well on the game-winning drive. Still, there's room for improvement. USC's pass rush dominated at times and Locker didn't always have time. But when he did, he held the ball too long. He had guys open underneath, but didn't get rid of the ball quickly enough. He also made some poor decisions and threw in double coverage at times, including in the red zone. That is something you don't want to see. He took too many chances and missed open receivers. It was a win for the Huskies, but these are some things Locker can work on.

• On the flip side, West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown threw four interceptions in a loss to Auburn, so it doesn't look as if there'd be much good to come from that. Although the interceptions are a concern, they were more a reflection of his footwork and lack of experience. Brown doesn't always set his feet, and while he has at times gotten away with it because of his strong arm, he throws off his back foot too much. That makes the ball sail and basically creates a jump ball between the defender and receiver, which is more often than not going to favor the defender because he is going toward the ball while the receiver is usually running away from it. Brown needs to learn to set his feet and when he doesn't have anything open, throw the ball away.

But make no mistake, Brown has a very strong arm. Need proof? On a play on which he got flushed out of the pocket, Brown threw a 58-yard pass on the move without setting his feet and hit WR Bradley Starks in stride. That is a very difficult throw to make. Also, while he's not a Pat White-like runner, he's OK -- more like a Daunte Culpepper or Ben Roethlisberger. Those are big names to compare him with, but it's because he has that strong body to fight off pass-rushers, is tough to bring down and buys time in the pocket. Those are good features for an NFL prospect.

Around the nation

• A glimmer of hope? Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford (Scouts Inc.'s top-rated prospect) threw in quarterback drills on Monday, but coach Bob Stoops pulled the reins on any runaway speculation about the Heisman Trophy winner, reports Tulsa World. "No updates on Sam," Stoops announced on the Big 12 teleconference. "He continues to do well, but we're not getting into any speculations about when (he might return)." Bradford's replacement, Landry Jones, who threw a school-record six TDs in the Sooners' 45-0 romp over Tulsa, was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week.

• The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., reports Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy (No. 10) looks as if he's ready to return from the sprained ankle he suffered in the season opener against Memphis. The Rebels open their SEC schedule Thursday at South Carolina (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

• Penn State LB Sean Lee (No. 35) suffered another setback in his return from missing all of 2008 with a torn ACL in his right knee. Lee is doubtful for the Nittany Lions' game with Iowa on Saturday because of a sprain in his left knee, reports The Tribune Review. He could miss two weeks. "Sean has a sprained left knee and his availability for practice is day-to-day," Penn State spokesman Jeff Nelson said.

• LSU is 3-0, but WR Brandon LaFell (No. 11) and the Tigers know they have a lot of work to do before they can consider themselves a good team. "Senior wide receiver Brandon LaFell strung together a handful of goals," the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported. "The team must be seen as 'hard nosed,' one that 'goes in there and gets the job done,' and 'runs the football,' he said. However, he also is waiting for that to make itself felt on the field. 'We're really just going out there this weekend and trying to set that tone and establish ourselves,' LaFell said. 'We've made it through so far, but as we go on in the season the road is going to get tougher. So sooner or later we'd better put it together.'"

• It has been three years since Arizona State hit the road for a nonconference game, but the Sun Devils will pack their bags and head east to play between the hedges on Saturday in Athens, Ga. Senior OLB Dexter Davis (No. 82) was on the last trip, a 21-3 win at Colorado. "I just tell them it's going to be fun," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said in The Arizona Republic. "Enjoy the moment. This is a tremendous opportunity for these guys. You can't worry about atmosphere. I'm not going to tell them it's not noisy. It's going to be noisier than heck. ... It's college football at its best."

• Clemson RB C.J. Spiller (No. 15) and WR Jacoby Ford (No. 40) are highly ranked NFL prospects. Still, despite the firepower, Clemson hasn't been able to get its offense on track in the red zone. K Richard Jackson hit six field goals in the Tigers' 25-7 win over Boston College. Spiller added Clemson's only TD on a 77-yard punt return. "Very common, very common issue. It's called, we're making critical errors. I mean, critical errors that are breaking down the play," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney told Upstatetoday.com. "We've got to coach better, bottom line. It's not what the opponent's doing. It's what we're doing. And the good news is we can get better at that and we can fix that."