ESPN analyst Jon Gruden conducted a lively conference call with media members Tuesday to address the upcoming draft.
Several of the topics Gruden broached involve the AFC West and this draft. Among the topics he addressed were the quarterbacks in the draft (each team in the division could take a quarterback), the top pass-rushers available and the defensive tackles Denver may choose from at No. 2.
Let’s take a look:
Was there one guy you sat down going into the QB camp that you came away really impressed by or you may not have thought as much of until you sat down with him and broke down the film with him?
GRUDEN: You know these five guys that we had in, three of them are juniors: (Cam) Newton, (Blaine) Gabbert and (Ryan) Mallett. They're all underclassmen. Cam Newton with 14 career starts, the thing that impressed me, not only his physical attributes and his size, but his charisma. I think his eagerness to learn and prove that he can adapt to a pro style on offense. He showed very good retention to me in the meetings and the material that we covered. I just like the look in his eyes, the eagerness and feeling that he has a lot to prove to everybody including himself. I think Newton impressed me the most in that regard.
When you look at Andy Dalton, you see him evolving into what long term? Is he best for a West Coast offense, or could you see him becoming a starter in any style of offense?
GRUDEN: I think Andy Dalton can play in any offense. I think when you become a pro quarterback and play in the National Football League, as the hash marks change, the field becomes more available. When you're on a college hash mark and you're throwing the ball to the wide side of the field, that's almost an impossible task for anyone. So I think putting the ball in the middle of the field favors Andy Dalton. I've seen him be an accurate passer down the field. I've seen him manage a high volume offense with great success at TCU. He's got four years of production. And if you look at Texas Christian football, who would have thought they'd be 13-0 and Rose Bowl champions? I really think Andy Dalton can fit any offense. But the more you put on him above the neck mentally to make decisions and play the game with his heady nature, I think the better Andy Dalton's going to be. He's an outstanding, well versed quarterback that I think will fit a lot of schemes.
Wanted your take on Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, and whether it's harder to project him because he's playing in the pistol and against WAC competition?
GRUDEN: Well, the pistol does make it tough, but you can't deny production. No one's thrown for 10,000 yards and rushed for over 4,000. I wanted to see Randall Cunningham when I picked up the film. This guy's got a fastball and he can really throw it. He's a Chicago Cub draft selection. I mean, he threw the football 60 miles an hour in Indianapolis. But the pistol offense is hard to really define what kind of pure passer he is. I watched him in the Senior Bowl, the workouts. I think he showed some improvement going underneath the center. But I do think you're getting a double threat. You're getting a guy that has a contagious, charismatic personality -- a guy that really wants to compete. You're getting an exciting prospect. Might take him some time, but you're getting a guy that can run and pass, just needs some development and needs to make the transition to the next level.
Talk a little bit about premium placed on pass-rushers and cornerbacks. Every year it seems more and more, and how does that match up with the strength of this particular draft?
GRUDEN: There is a premium on pass rush. You don't want to have to blitz five, six, seven guys to get there. You want to be able to get there with four, if you can for sure, and use seven men in coverage. Play two deep, five under, three deep, four under. Mix your coverages up. Don't telegraph to these quarterbacks what you're playing, but you have to put pressure on these quarterbacks. Defensive ends are a premium in this draft. I think this is an outstanding class of defensive end. There are some good defensive tackles. But Bowers, providing his knee is healthy, and Robert Quinn at North Carolina, Aldon Smith is special at Missouri. I think J.J. Watt is a physical guy coming off the edge, like Ryan Kerrigan at Purdue. Adrian Clayborn has some excellent tape. There are a number of good pass rushers in this draft. I think if you look at Nick Fairley, you're seeing one of the best inside pass rushers from a tackle position. So this is the strength of the draft. You throw in guys like Von Miller, who is a Derrick Thomas size speed guy coming off the corner. There are some guys that can provide pressure quickly, and I think that is the strength of this draft.
Cam Newton is visiting the Broncos today, and of course they have Tim Tebow. You had them both in your camp in the last two years. Is it true that Cam is superior with the throwing mechanics and a better athlete because he's faster, but Tebow is far better in the intangibles? That's what I'm getting as everyone talks about these guys.
GRUDEN: Well, Tebow's body of work was much more extensive than Cam's. Cam Newton has come from nowhere. I was watching film with Cam Newton. I showed Cam Newton throwing a pass for the Florida Gators against the Hawaii Rainbows two years ago. Cam Newton has exploded on to the scene out of nowhere and threw in 14 games. Whereas, Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner [as a sophomore], came back for his senior year, and part of two national championship teams. They're different guys. One's a left handed guy with different mechanics. And Newton is a work in progress in his own right. But they are similar from the standpoint that they both physically dominated college football. I think there are some interesting intangibles with Newton also. You're getting a guy that you can build a very unique offense around. I hear the elevator music. I don't know what is reality. I just got to spend a day and a half with Cam. I was impressed with him. I know people that have had him in for individual meetings. They like his retention. They like his attention to detail. There are some similarities in that they're physical status type guys. I'd like to have either one of them.
On D tackle, Marcell Dareus seems to be rated higher than Nick Fairley coming into this draft, and Fairley's getting this criticism on work ethic and technique. But production wise, Fairley about doubled Dareus this past year. Your thoughts on those two guys?
GRUDEN: Well, Dareus, if you watch Darius play two years ago, his film is even better than it was this year. He got hurt in the Arkansas game. That ankle lingered throughout the season. He missed the opening game because of a rules violation. But I think Dareus is a different player than Fairley. Dareus is a three position player in a 3-4 front. He can play nose, either defensive end. He is legitimate, sheer power. This is a power player. He is rare. You've seen the physical nature this guy's put together with a rare combination of explosive physical play, and a guy that's well versed under Nick Saban. Fairley is an under tackle. He's the guy that reminds me of Kevin Williams of the Minnesota Vikings. He's a one gap penetrator and a premier pass rusher in his draft, if you ask me. A lot of the sacks and hits he put on quarterback were not by accident. He, again, has one year of production, really. I think he's on the rise. I think he's getting better. I think Coach Rocker at Auburn did an excellent job with Fairley developing him.
Christian Ponder at Florida State, have you gotten to spend much time with him? Have you broken down his film? What do you think of him as a quarterback and as a person?
GRUDEN: I have not had a chance to individually work Christian Ponder out. I have had a chance to study his tape. Here's a guy that is a three-year starter. He's won 22 games at Florida State, Senior Bowl MVP. He's already graduated. There are a lot of upsides here. He's had some injuries, which are the big concern. He's a great leader. Two-time team captain of the Seminoles. Two years ago he threw for almost 70 percent. I think the injuries got to him a little bit this year. But you see a couple tremendous throws in the Florida game. One, a red zone post where you see the anticipation, the accuracy, the toughness in the pocket. There are a lot of guys I know that that like this guy because he's got the aptitude to learn. He's got the leadership traits that you want, and he's got a lot of playing experience. And Jimbo Fisher does some good things on offense. But I think he's an accurate, intermediate passer. People want to see him push the ball maybe a little more down the field. Like to see a little more arm strength. But I think those things will develop and come to Ponder when he gets healthy and continues to physically get stronger. He's a very good collegian. He's got good enough size, good enough mobility, and he's won a lot of games and shown tremendous toughness for the Seminoles.