MOBILE, ALa. -- When I come to these all-star games, I always try to have a plan in how I want to study these players. With everything that is going on, you sometimes fall into a trap of trying to do too much and you miss those important moments in the practice.
My plan was to follow three defensive linemen on the North squad on Monday to try and get a better feel for how they moved around live. The three players that I chose were: Aaron Donald, Ra’Shede Hegaman and Rasheed Martin.
After the team broke from stretching, I knew I was following the right group because Will McClay was doing the very same thing. My seat was in the press box, while McClay was within four feet of the drills that the Falcons coaches were putting the players through.
It was interesting to see how these players went through the drills. Donald and Martin were the smoothest and moved the best. Hageman was better straight ahead and struggled a little more with the side to side stuff.
When the group went to the one-on-one drills as they worked against the offensive line, all three did a nice job of playing with some power. Donald for his lack of height and bulk, played with outstanding leverage against Cyril Richardson, who can be a load to deal with. Donald didn’t give an inch against Richardson and that was impressive.
Rasheed Martin measured well this morning at 272 pounds and despite his long build, he battled the massive tackle, Seantrel Henderson to a stalemate on several reps. I remember studying these two last week when Miami and North Carolina hooked up during the season, with Henderson getting the best of Martin plenty that day. It was a nice bounce back for Martin with a ton of eyes on him.
There is no doubt that Ra’Shede Hageman looks the part. At 6-6 318 pounds, he is a full grown man. What I was worried about was his ability to get off the ball quick enough. His first few reps were not impressive than the defensive line coach, got on his rear and you saw a different player. He can be a very hard man to block and there were times when Richardson and Brandon Linder really struggled with him.
Like Donald because of Mike Nolan’s scheme, they both saw action playing as the one and the three. Where Hageman did struggle is when he did get up the field and had problems finding the ball. He would make a great move, look to be in position, than the ball would go right by him. Thought he could have shown more awareness there.
When Mike Smith took his squad to the team period, this is where Donald really shined. His quickness and power were difficult to block. Centers Weston Richburg and Tyler Larsen had a handful to try and slow him down. He played the majority of the day on the offensive line side of the ball. It didn’t matter run or pass, he was in the middle of the action. I thought his technique was spot on the entire day, arm over, rip move, two hand bull, he was on.
Of the three that I followed, Aaron Donald looked the most ready to play from the opening snap of practice and I am sure that Will McClay noticed that. His motor was running and he was on a mission. I did like some things that I did see from Ra’Shede Hagaman once the coach got in his face and his intensity picked up. Kareem Martin needs to do a better job of not rushing down the middle when getting after the quarterback, because then he has no shot. Martin is a better player when he can attack the edge and I sure they will point that out tonight in the film sessions.
Overall it was a good start to the week for Ra’Shede Hegaman and Kareem Martin but a great one for Aaron Donald. It will be up to Donald to build on that and he could separate himself from the others because Tuesday morning, we get to all come back to the field and do it again.