Area scout Todd Brunner is back for year three of his popular Brunner's Blog. In this latest update, Brunner discusses his recent visits to several schools including undefeated Penn State, as well as one of the quarterback prospects in his area. **
In my last blog a couple of weeks back I left off talking about my trip to Virginia Tech. I've seen a lot of teams since then and I'll try to hit on some of those highlights.
The first school I visited was Penn State, who is 9-0 and ranked third in the latest BCS standings. It was my second time through and since they've now gotten into their Big-10 conference schedule it was an opportunity to watch some tape on them against better competition.
They're obviously having a great year on the field and that's mainly because of their three senior wide receivers. They're all playing extremely well and each of them does something different than the others. The group is led by Derrick Williams, who is their return guy and they have him play all over on offense. He'll line up as a wideout- as a Z or slot receiver - and will also play a little bit at running back, and so far this season, he's made some big plays for them. He's running hard and doesn't look like a slot receiver playing running back. The other two receivers are Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Both have shown the ability to make plays for the Nittany Lions this season as well.
After Penn State, I drove up to Hartwick College, which is a small Division III school. I went up to watch their game because of their quarterback, Jason Boltus, who is a pretty good player. I liked everything I saw from him in the game, including how he performed despite pretty cold weather under 40 degrees, so I went back to the school Sunday morning to watch tape on him.
Boltus was at a Division I-AA school, but transferred because he didn't like the offense they ran, which was more run-oriented. So he switched to Hartwick and has broken every passing record in school history, and when a kid throws for 10,000 yards on any level – that's pretty good. It was good to see him in person, because quarterback is one position that you need to see in person to really get a feel for what they can do.
Out of all the quarterbacks in my area, I have three guys, who I think have the chance to play quarterback in the NFL and Boltus is one of them. Granted, there are quarterbacks who I will be projecting at another position, but of the three guys, he's one of them.
Quarterback is a hard position to project down the road. Some guys go in to the NFL Draft and they're unbelievable in college and then when they get to the NFL, they don't develop the way you envisioned.
Last year I had Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan in my area. To me, they were no-brainers. I thought Ryan was a little further than Flacco, but if you look at them now, they're both winning games for their teams as rookie starters.
But I think it's important not just to evaluate the way quarterbacks play the game, but to talk to their coaches, their teammates, so you can get a feel for them. That way, you can see if the guy really has something special about him.
There's something about them, you can't necessarily see it, but it's there. An example of that would be Michael Robinson. He was like that when he played at Penn State. He was THE team leader. He got that team and he carried it on his back. There was something about him, you couldn't put your finger on it, but you felt that he was a winner. That's how I felt about Ryan and Flacco and that's how I feel about the three quarterbacks in my area this year.
From Hartwick, I went over to Syracuse University to finish things up a little bit. When I was there, they were excited because they had just won their second game of the season the day before against Louisville. Even though it hasn't been the best of years for them, they still had their smiles on.
Syracuse's starting running back Curtis Brinkley is a good player. He's an under-sized guy, but he produces for them. He's had four or five consecutive 100-yard games, and he's been a difference-maker for them.
After Syracuse, I visited UMass, which was my first time through there. It was a great visit because to me there's more Division I-AA schools in the Northeast than there are Division I schools. The one conference that I see every school is the Colonial Athletic Association Conference, which was formally the Yankee Conference, and they play very good football. Schools like Delaware, UMass, Rhode Island, JMU, Richmond, William & Mary are all in this conference, and year in and year out, they play great football. They're always competitive and last year Delaware went all the way to the I-AA National Championship game, so it's good football.
While at UMass I checked out cornerback Shawn Smalls, who is a standout player and a natural cover corner.
Now that I've seen most schools two times, this last month is very crucial in finalizing our reports which are due by the first week of December. About 85 to 90 percent of the grades that we put on guys when we send our reports is what we feel about them. Then we get together as a staff in February and go through each player in these meetings and move guys up or down as a staff consensus.
The next thing we'll have to worry about as scouts are the juniors, who declare early. When they start declaring, we have to hammer down and start getting tape on them. Realistically, we've had from August to December to work on the senior class. Juniors declare in January, so you don't really get the same opportunity to visit the schools again or catch them live. You end up watching tape primarily and making a lot of phone calls to get background information on them.
But, that's still two months off so like I said, the focus right now is getting our reports finalized in the next month.