Senior Bowl Practice Report: Day One

Kicking off the first day in beautiful Mobile, Alabama for the 68th Senior Bowl. A long but an awesome day that kicked off with weigh-ins bright and early. You can check out my overview here and Dave Bryan cobbled together all the numbers here.

Want to again thank our fantastic sponsor, Touring Plans, for their funding that helped the cost of the trip. Great people and company so if you’re planning a trip to Disney anytime soon, find them on their website at the link. 

To your notes!

South Team 

The South team, coached by the Cleveland Browns, were up first this afternoon. My main focus turned to the secondary and the receivers. But we dabbled in some of the other positions, too.

– You can tell some of the nerves were hitting the guys today. Cornerback Damontae Kazee struggled with instruction through some of the opening drills, having to repeat one twice. He did look fluid and explosive going through them, though.

– Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton did a little bit of everything today. Designated as a corner by the roster, he went through safety drills and then rolled down into the slot in 7 on 7s when the defense would use a single high safety. We’ll keep an eye on where he ends up the rest of the week.

Justin Evans’ footwork is a little choppy but he doesn’t show any stiffness in his zone turn for a safety. Didn’t know much of anything but I’m interested going forward.

– Back to Kazee. He played at right cornerback today. Shows impressive short area quickness and can transition and drive downhill on anything underneath. But I question his long speed. Got beat deep twice today. Recovered reasonably well the first time, staying in-phase and looking to play the pocket (pass was incomplete but I don’t think he tipped it). But the second time, Grambling’s Chad Williams beat him on a nine route for a clean catch. Think Kazee is someone who will have to kick inside at the next level due to size limitations and a lack of speed. 40 time will be key.

– LSU’s Tre’Davious White has the same diagnose ability as Jalen Mills did last year but much better speed and ability to flip his hips, something Mills struggled a ton with. On one play today, White had a flat-foot read to read Taywan Taylor’s slant, undercut it, and broke the pass up. Earned some love from Hue Jackson.

– Small school corner Ezra Robinson (Tennessee State) looks a little tall in his pedal. Also getting coached up on his two-handed jam at the line of scrimmage. He played left cornerback today.

– Alabama OLB Ryan Anderson snuffed out a tight end screen today but that was about the best I saw from him. During media sessions, he was walking around with his hand wrapped up. Not sure if the injury is serious enough to put him in danger of missing tomorrow’s practice. We’ll keep you posted.

– One injury for the offensive line today, a unit I didn’t spend much time watching for the South. SDSU’s Nico Siragusa suffered a left thumb injury and was forced to leave midway through today’s practice. Hand was all wrapped up during interviews.

– At wide receiver, Ryan Switzer received positive reviews across the board. Crisp route runner out of the slot.

– On the other side, Mississippi’s State Fred Ross struggled. Coach was getting after him to stop decelerating at the top of his routes. Wasn’t able to separate. Hoping for better days tomorrow.

– In 7 on 7, so take it with a grain of salt, O.J. Howard beat Houston linebacker Tyus Bowser down the seam for a touchdown. Bowser told me later that night there was miscommunication on the play though he didn’t specify exactly what went wrong.

– Didn’t spend much time on the quarterbacks today and probably won’t throughout the week, even with Ben Roethlisberger’s media hypestorm, but Josh Dobbs got praise for making good decisions and not forcing passes. On one rollout, with Bowser in his face, Dobbs ran out of options and threw the ball away.

“That was a good decision!” the coach called out to Dobbs.

– Players not used to having to go through special team drills. Lot of coaching up needed throughout practice. Working as gunners, most guys were getting to wide after defeating the initial bag, not getting tight enough to run down the line and avoid wasting steps. That’s something most of these guys are going to have to rep a lot. We’ll find out quickly who are the ones who can take in the information and avoid making the same mistake the next day.

– The Browns, now under Gregg Williams, are running a 4-3 defense, so it’s a little tougher judging the edge guys. Playing off ball more often.

– Crazy thing with the Steelers’ organization. They try to hide everything as much as possible. Won’t see their scouts around the lobby, like practically every other team, talking to players. I finally saw the first scouts in the lobby Tuesday evening and they weren’t talking to any prospects. I totally get and respect the thought process, heck, I’d probably do the same, but from an outsider view, it’s a bit of a letdown.

One guy I didn’t see at weigh-ins I saw last year: Steelers’ scouting director Brandon Hunt. He interviewed for a job in Philadelphia a year ago. Is something in play again?

Guys I want to get a better look at tomorrow.

South Alabama TE Gerald Everett
LSU CB Tre White
Miami (FL) CB Corn Elder
Kansas State DE/OLB Jordan Willis
LSU WR Travin Dural 

Mobile is a really great city. Pretty small, the heart of it feels like only a couple blocks wide, and it isn’t the bustling headquarters like say, a Pittsburgh, even during it’s busiest moments of the year (i.e. now). But there’s a mom and pop restaurant on every block and some gorgeous buildings.

One of the most popular places to eat is a seafood place called Wintzell’s, about a mile away from the main hotel where all the players stay. Got myself some fish tacos and gumbo. All the big name guys seem to hit it up too. When I went yesterday, Stanford’s David Shaw, Indianapolis’ Chuck Pagano, and the NFL Network crew, including Mike Mayock, were all in attendance.

– Like I said last year, the place is just a football Mecca. There’s nowhere else on Earth you can get scouts from every team all intertwined with random media people like myself. The only place where you can peek in at Ted Thompson watching the All-22 from practice and then walk down the hallway and see a ton of scouts talking to players. Really unique experience, to me at least.

You also get random players who show up too for reasons that aren’t totally career. Believe the DeShawn Shead from the Seattle Seahawks was coming. And I saw Baltimore Ravens’ nose tackle Michael Pierce chilling in the lobby. Maybe a head start on a scouting/coaching career, who knows.

North Practice

Which is being led by John Fox’s Chicago Bears.

– The four players getting early work in kick return drills: WR Trent Taylor, WR Cooper Kupp, CB Brendan Langley, and CB Desmond King. Langley struggled securing the football, muffing two kicks.

– Michigan corner Jourdan Lewis, as expected, saw a lot of time in the slot.

– Bears are running a 3-4 so we get a better feel for the edge guys. We’ll talk about them more in-depth throughout.

– Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson is one of the better guys here overall and the top interior linemen. He’s got an impressive first step and shows proper pad level. But he also got coached up quite a bit from DL coach Jay Rodgers, who seemed like an impressive guy to learn from. Teaching, not yelling, and doing so after most reps.

He was working with Johnson on his footwork in change of direction, not to round off his cuts and avoiding “pitter patter” with his feet and his hand use in the run game. Johnson will look good because he’s so much more athletic than the linemen he’s facing but he’s far from a finished product.

– Let’s talk about some of the edge guys, yes? The #1 position we’re looking at for the Steelers.

– Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers looked impressive. Great get-off and the ability to flatten and corner at the top. Maybe it was a product of facing some heavy-footed tackles but winning is winning. And he won.

On one rep, he speed rushed pass Pitt tackle Adam Bisnowaty, who lost his balance and went down to one knee. On another, he started to dip under Bucknell’s Julien Davenport, who countered by grabbing him under the neck and nearly ripping his head off. Only way to stop him once he reaches your hip.

Rivers’ college tape shows a guy who played hand up and hand down. Frankly, I thought he was even more explosive with his hand up, perfect for the Steelers.

Vince Biegel, on the other hands, is pretty much the opposite. He struggles to win with speed, struggles to win with power. His hand placement is solid and he can shed late in the rep but it’s not going to cut it in the NFL. One rush against Temple’s Dion Dawkins sent Biegel into the ground. Davenport absorbed a later bull rush and even Zach Banner made quick work of him in a late rep with Biegel again on the ground.

He can set the edge against the run and he chases the ball well but I don’t know if there’s anything beyond that. I know that’s a super stereotypical “white guy scouting report” but hey, if the shoe fits…

– Temple’s Haason Reddick was my star of the day. The guy was asked to play inside linebacker and outside for the Bears after picking up his playbook 24 hours ago. He won the edge cleanly when asked to and was a force against the run, sending backs to the ground even in a non-tackling session. Drives through with his lower half, wraps up, and finishes with authority. Came away pretty impressed.

– Illinois’ Carroll Phillips is a pretty athletic guy who plays with a lot of energy but he doesn’t always know what to do, even in one-on-ones where having a plan is pretty easy. On one rep, he had an inside spin directly into OT Taylor Moton, toppling both over.

Teammate Dawuane Smoot looked more impressive.

– Moton, by the way, wasn’t a guy I studied very much but Brandon Thorn, an o-line expert, said he was his favorite guy of the afternoon. Seeing Mouton’s makeup during media day, the dude is a house. Could make himself money this week.

– Michigan’s Chris Wormley is probably going to be a five tech at the next level but when he’s got to kick inside, he can win. Explosive first step and a strong punch that can stunt guards. Really wins in just that way but interior pressure is so valuable.

He used that move on Kutztown’s Jordan Morgan today and won easily. He did similar to Dawkins and ripped under him to finish the job.

Makeup and style reminds me of Joel Heath, a guy who got some buzz on this site last year. Maybe a little quicker.

– Other random tidbits from the afternoon.

– From the people I trust to evaluate these things better than I, none of the North quarterbacks stuck out today. “Moments’ was the word used but consistency was fleeting. Despite that, the general consensus is Nate Peterman is the best guy down there. Bar isn’t very high though, I suppose.

– Lindenwood’s Connor Harris had a pick six today. Think it was in 7 v 7s. WVU corner Rasul Douglas joked with him that he “stole his pick.”

The guys I want to follow tomorrow. Learn a little more.

Ohio DE/OLB Tarell Basham
Iowa CB Desmond King
Louisville WR Jamari Staples 

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