SAN ANTONIO – Wednesday's practices took the West inside to the Alamodome. Quarterbacks finally seemed to get into the groove. Whether it was in the Skills Competition or in the practice, Blaine Gabbert, Dayne Crist and Andrew Luck finally felt at home. Dan Buckner continues to find a home on the list also, as he's emerged as the West's top pass catching threat. Find out who else impressed on the West squad in today's Hot 11 edition.
Make it three-for-three for Buckner. He was used a number of different ways on Wednesday, and he looks like he should be in position to have a big game. Not only does his size make for tough matchups, but he does have deceptive speed. He'll be a weapon for Texas, and he'll be a weapon for the West on Saturday.
Crist really found his groove about mid-way through the Skills Competition. He started to deliver the ball on the money with great accuracy. He also put some real zip on the ball in 7-on-7 and then in 11-on-11 situations. His connections with the receivers over the middle and on a slants were amazing. The Notre Dame commit finally looked like he felt at home in the offense, and it paid off with his best day of practice.
He made an amazing catch on Tuesday, and then he repeated the feat again on Wednesday. On a pass that was for sure going to sail over his head from Blaine Gabbert, Floyd leaped up and snatched the pass out of air. It alone might have been enough to get him on the Hot 11, but he was also effective throughout the rest of the day. He was really impressive with his route running and he even did well blocking on running plays. Notre Dame is getting a pretty complete receiver, even if he's not going to be a home-run speed threat.
Gabbert is starting to feel at home in the West offense. He was really on the money with his throws in the Skills Competition and then in drills in practice he was very accurate. His arm strength also really jumps out compared to some of the other quarterbacks in the game. He also showed his mobility and athleticism on the final play of the practice when he took a bootleg around the left side for a touchdown. He outraced two defensive players to the corner of the end zone.
Luck's big day started off in the Skills Competition. He had the fastest time in read and react competition and he displayed amazing accuracy all day long. He also had a really nice throw on a scramble in 7-on-7 drills. Luck stepped up to his right and found a wide open receiver streaking down the field. All three quarterbacks looked to finally find their groove on Wednesday and if they keep it up, it's going to tough to stop the West offense because it has so many weapons.
On run support and then on short passes, Mauti made big play after big play. If he would have been able to hit full on, he would have lit up some of the West's receivers. He also made a few nice stops in the open field. To show how valuable Mauti is developing into, he was flipped over to the offensive side of the ball on some plays. After a nice day on Tuesday, Mauti looks to really have hit his stride.
McGuffie put on a show in the Skills Competition with his front flip over R.J. Washington. He also was really impressive in the shake and bake portion of the competition. He drew a lot of hoots and hollers from the West squad with his moves. He would stop, start, twist, turn and move in ways that humans aren't supposed to. He also had some nice runs in practice on Wednesday.
Scott showed why he's a versatile back on kickoff returns Wednesday. He took a return from the 5-yard line and flew right up the middle untouched for what would have been a touchdown. He also made some really nice runs in the team situations. There's little doubt he's the nation's top running back and his practices on Tuesday and Wednesday have helped solidify that.
Smith has become the anchor for the West offensive line. You could really put about any of the linemen here on this spot – including Stephen Good, J.B. Shugarts, Matt Kalil, Trevor Robinson. It's that special of a group. It's hard to say that one is much better than the other, because they're all really good and probably the best collection of linemen the Army game has seen. But Smith just has so much athleticism that it's tough to imagine him not being a first-round pick someday.
Steinkuhler really stood out during the team scrimmage. He busted through repeated double teams to make big stops in the backfield. While he might not be the heaviest defensive tackle on the West roster, he is the one guy that always seems to give the talented West O-line fits. He uses good leverage and takes good angles to the quarterbacks. The Huskers have a real keeper here.
Both West kickers had good days, but Tucker looked to be the most explosive and most accurate during the skills competition. Justin Sorenson is also a very talented kicker and the ball seemed to really jump off his foot, but Tucker's balls had the extra boom that you're looking for from an elite kicker.