Final day of 2020 Senior Bowl practice was yesterday so Daniel Valente and I are wheels up back home by the time you’re reading this. The final day of work prior to Saturday’s game was moved to South Alabama’s practice/indoor facility to keep everyone out of the rain. Rumor has it the Senior Bowl will move the game from Ladd-Peebles to the new stadium being built on the USA campus next year. Better for the players and fans, not as fun for the Uber tab (the new stadium is about 25 minutes away compared to Ladd, which is roughly five minutes from downtown Mobile).
But I digress. Here are our final practice notes from the Senior Bowl. But don’t worry, we have tons more content coming from this week. Some final wrap-ups, winners and losers, and plenty of player profiles and interviews. Combined, I think Daniel and I interviewed roughly 25 players over the week.
Can not believe that by the time this posts, I will be sitting in an airport in Mobile awaiting my flight back home to Canada, where I will return to my igloo and drink from a bag of milk. Anyways though, the last day of practice was a memorable one for a few reasons. Inclement weather forced the practice indoors with the media only allowed access to one portion of the end zone. That was a little disappointing as the view was very restricted but with the help of the All-22 footage, here are all my final observations from Thursday’s practice, starting with the North first.
Starting off with the 1v1s between the WRs and CBs.
Liberty WR Antonio Gandy-Golden really closed out his week in style as he had a great practice Thursday. On his very first rep of the 1v1s, he showed a great release, leaving Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia in the dust.
While Gandy-Golden flashed, the star of the day was once again Baylor receiver Denzel Mims. The Baylor receiver dominated from his first to last rep in the 1v1 portion of practice. First he had a violent push off on Essang Bassey, sending him a few yards backfield, giving him an easy release for an even easier catch.
Mims had another rep where he left a cornerback on the ground and he capped it off with an incredible one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone. The Baylor receiver won off the line and brought down a terrific one handed over the shoulder catch in the end zone.
SMU receiver James Proche continued to prove that he could make a lot of money in the slot with his footwork and quickness today as well. Up against Ojemudia, Proche had a good breakdown at the line, giving him an easy release for a catch across the middle.
Proche was not the only slot receiver to make some noise though as Ohio State’s K.J. Hill was all over the field today. He won his first rep by showing some physicality, using his feisty hands to get good separation. Hill’s quickness was a big takeaway for me over the last three days.
Thought Chase Claypool had a positive day as well. One rep that stands out in particular is when he got vertical pressure and stacked Troy Pride Jr. perfectly before cutting in near the back of the endzone for a touchdown.
Texas A&M receiver Quartney Davis is very intriguing for many reasons. Do not think he has a so-called trump card but he does a variety of things very well. He knows how to put pressure on opposing cornerbacks, as he jabs inside giving him an uncontested path down the sideline.
Few plays that I jotted down from the defensive backs. First, cornerback Lamar Jackson punched out the football from Davis on one rep. Not the point of the drill but got to love the awareness from the Nebraska cornerback.
Bassey had a strong rep against Proche in the slot as well as he smothered him, staying hip to hip and not giving the quarterback any place to place the football to the SMU receiver who was cutting towards the sideline.
Just a couple notes from the North team’s first team sessions.
Hill once again came up big, coming down with what was probably the most impressive one-handed catch of the week. Running a drag, Hill was able to palm the football and bring it all the way around his frame for a catch.
Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison took flight in the first team session, baiting Jordan Love into a risky throw. Harrison got good depth as he drifted slowly up the seam and was able to come down with an impressive interception.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson is a mixed bag of results. One play he looks decent and then the next play, you are wondering what he was thinking. Patterson first connected with Brycen Hopkins near the right sideline after rolling out and throwing a perfect ball on the run. Then on the next play he was intercepted by Logan Wilson. A very bad throw, Patterson served this one on a silver platter for the Wyoming linebacker.
Into the trenches we go next with the OL vs DL drills.
Michigan lineman Ben Bredeson handled the man of the week in Neville Gallimore on the first rep of the 1v1s. He stayed square and contained Gallimore’s brute strength, something that few people have been able to do this week.
Nick Harris looked like he was going to struggle again as he was driven backwards on his first rep but he did show improvement his second time around, keeping Larrell Murchison out of the pocket.
One name that keeps circling around my head is UNC’s Jason Strowbridge. He is having a monster week and he picked up right where he left off as he made quick work of Matt Peart on his first rep.
WVU offensive lineman Colton McKivitz also showed up big today. Up against Bradley Anae, he grabbed him on the shoulders and controlled him as he was coming off the edge. McKivitz then did another fine job on Alton Robinson on his last rep of the drill.
Houston tackle Josh Jones continued to build on his standout week, bullying Strowbridge on his first rep, literally pinning him to the ground. The matchup to see though was between Jones and Gallimore – two colossal titans crossing paths. Gallimore won this one though with an impressive bull rush, driving Jones at least five yards backwards.
Wanted to just briefly touch upon the North’s special teams drills before turning it over to the South squad.
Pride, JaMycal Hasty and Hill were back returning kickoffs. Claypool earned praise on the kick coverage team when he helped make a stop, earning a “That’s how you cover a kick” from a Lions’ coach.
– Just some random musings from Thursday. Rounding out some of the other Steelers’ front office members on-hand today, though I believe some of the coaches leave a day early. Spotted today was Area Scout Dan Colbert (handles midwestern schools, especially the MAC), Dave Pettet (Northeast Area Scout), Kelvin Fisher (not sure what area he covers) along with Brandon Hunt, Dennis MacInnis, Chidi Iwuoma still sticking around.
– Just watching the offensive linemen stretch. Can sometimes get a feel for their flexibility and bend. Colton McKivitz, for example, looked a lot more flexible and had more range than Wake Forest’s Justin Herron.
– Auburn CB Javaris Davis was a late add, an injury call-up but balled out today. Multiple breakups in 1v1 and another in team drills. Good for him hopping on a moving train. Showed competitiveness and ability to play the catch point.
– More from 1v1. Haven’t noted him often but Wyoming LB Logan Wilson had one nice rep, breaking up a corner route intended for Brycen Hopkins. Wilson later had an interception in team drills. So did Ohio State’s Malik Harrison, who had a great zone drop to low-wall TE Adam Trautman, tipped the ball and snagged it.
– Some of the North kick returners today: RBs Darius Anderson (TCU) and JaMycal Hasty (Baylor) and CB Troy Pride Jr (Notre Dame).
– Do have one minor note on Kansas guard Hakeem Adeniji. Sits really tall in his stance. Butt sticking up in the air. Hard to drive and create power when you’re so high up.
– Talked lots about tight ends this week. Haven’t mentioned Portland State’s Charlie Taumoepeau. Not sure how great of an athlete he is, looks about average, maybe a little below, but strong hands catcher who plucks away from his frame.
– Really nice day for Dayton TE Adam Trautman. Strong and physical at the top of his route who runs crisp routes to create space. Strong hands, big catch radius, who makes tough grabs look effortless. He’s earned plenty of buzz this week and shown he belongs on this top of stage.
Nice burst at the top of the route by Dayton TE Adam Trautman. Extends away from his body to make an impressive hands catch. pic.twitter.com/wrgrbzd5pb
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) January 24, 2020
– Michigan LB Josh Uche played some off-ball linebacker today and that’s where I think he fits well. Has pass rushing chops but too thin of a frame to consistently play on the edge so it was nice to see him at ILB. He has exceptional length, over 33 inches, and on one run, he got into the linemen’s chest, creating space with a long-arm stab, found the ball and defeated the block.
– I like Oklahoma DT Neville Gallimore’s game but he has to get stronger against double-teams. Do see him washed out in the interior too often.
– On one rep in team drills, Hasty was split out at WR and made a diving catch on a slant. Versatile player comfortable and competent running routes.
– Speaking of Baylor kids, here’s Denzel Mims doing Denzel Mims things.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) January 23, 2020
– South Carolina State OT Alex Taylor has had a decent week but he has the thinnest ankles I think I’ve ever seen. I worry they’re going to snap every time he goes to the ground.
– Cal LB Evan Weaver, who we noted yesterday for his run defense, struggles in space and seems like a stiff, rigid athlete. I wonder if he’s a conversion candidate to fullback who can thump around on special teams a la Rosie Nix. Weaver played some running back in high school. Rushed for nearly 1000 yards his senior year.
First time watching LSU offensive lineman Damien Lewis and boy, was he impressive. Showed a great ability to anchor and absorb opposing defensive lineman, containing Jabari Zuniga on one rep and then repositioning himself nicely on an inside move on his next rep.
Speaking of Florida pass rushers, Jon Greenard was very quick and explosive off the snap as he got by Alex Taylor fairly quickly.
Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings was the next man to beat Taylor. Jennings put on a clinic, as he opened up Taylor’s hips by jumping out before cutting back in across his face to win inside.
The LSU offensive linemen both showed up well in this drill as Lloyd Cushenberry stayed square and did not allow much pressure inside. Cushenberry and Lewis were both fairly impressive during the 1v1 portion of Thursday’s practice.
There was a good back and forth battle between offensive lineman Ben Bartch and Penn State’s Robert Windsor. The Penn State defensive lineman won the first rep as he left Bartch on the ground but Bartch would answer back on the very next play as he pinned Windsor to the ground with a convincing victory.
More 1v1 drills followed but this time it was between the receivers and the cornerbacks.
Let me just say that the Ohio State receivers have put on a show this week. Both Hill and Austin Mack have shined when called upon.
Mack quite literally put his best foot forward today even if the end results did not line up with the process. He showed an ability to consistently get clean releases and fought for some tough balls at the point of attack.
The Ohio State receiver made a really tough contested catch on his first rep though he was ruled out of bounds. It was very close though. One aspect that remained consistent with Mack was that he nearly always won his releases. That is going to be huge for him at the next level.
Mack’s best rep came a few moments later when he got good vertical push and stacked nicely as he worked towards the back of the end zone before cutting to the pylon. The pass was a little off target and fell incomplete but once again, this was one of those examples where the process was much more important than the end result.
Judging by his size, it would be fair that most people would be concerned with Jauan Jennings’ ability to separate. He quieted those concerns on his first rep. Jennings established pressure vertically with a step out before cutting back in for an easy catch. Quite the move on this slant route. Despite being labelled a junkyard dog, Jennings has more finesse than some may expect.
Collin Johnson is another tall receiver who has proved that he has the quickness to succeed at the next level. More of the same came on Thursday as he continued to overmatch his South team cornerbacks. He is able to get some clean releases off the line of scrimmage to open easy throwing windows for his quarterback. One rep saw him drop a quick breakdown off the snap, giving him room up the sideline for an effortless catch. He is really going to make it easy for quarterbacks in the NFL.
Florda receiver Van Jefferson has stood on the throne when it comes to the hierarchy in the South receiving group but Alabama defensive back Jared Mayden did a nice job shutting him down on one rep. On the last rep of the 1v1s, Mayden was all over Jefferson and was able to force an incomplete pass – a rarity on targets to Jefferson this week.
Some other departing notes on the South practice below.
Quarterback Steven Montez was evidently struggling on the footwork drills during the earlier portions of practice. He kicked up more than a few pylons.
Jauan Jennings was very. very animated today. Just a really fun guy. Interacting with the media in the end zone on almost all of his completed receptions. Jennings even grabbed a microphone and interviewed a security guard after practice. Got the whole crowd laughing.
Tight ends Stephen Sullivan and Jared Pinkney flashed some more toe drag swag today in the corner of the end zone. Sullivan had a funny moment with an official asking if he was in bounds with the official telling him “You know you’re in.”
Very rare fumble today from Arizona running back Eno Benjamin as well. The Bengals’ coaching staff was preaching for a fumble and they got it shortly after as Benjamin had the ball ripped from his grasp.
Final notes on some post practice interviews.
USC receiver Michael Pittman Jr. sat out practice with a strained right foot and will not be playing Saturday as well. Said he strained it Tuesday, gave it another go on Wednesday and is now just trying to get right. Pittman also spoke to me about his encounters with Lynn Swann and JuJu Smith-Schuster at USC and said he sat down and had a meeting with Mike Tomlin this week.
Pitt cornerback Dane Jackson did not meet formally with Tomlin but they did share an interaction during Tuesday’s practice. Jackson said that Tomlin told him “Any questions you got for me, do not be afraid to ask.” He also spoke of how much of an influence James Conner has been on his journey thus far.
– LSU TE Stephen Sullivan worked with the receivers and tight ends today. I see a receiver, the NFL is still looking at him as a tight end in some capacity. Understand that aspect working against LBs where he profiles better athletically but the guy is just so tall, so long, it’s hard to see him getting comfortable in a three point stance and really offer much as a blocker in-line.
– Tennessee wideout Jajuan Jennings has some swagger. High energy, highly competitive dude. Crossed up UCLA CB Darnay Holmes on one slant in one-on-ones, won the route, and exclaimed out in front of the media “That’s what we do!” as he spun the ball in celebration. Good day for him and he’s a rare body type in the slot, standing in at 6’3, 206 and somehow looks and plays even better.
– UF receiver Van Jefferson continues to impress. Good gear-down ability on underneath routes with quickness and plus hands. Temmate Tyrie Cleveland is an impressive route runner too.
– Pitt CB Dane Jackson and Darnay Holmes are competitive at the catch point. Not the biggest, probably not the fastest, but good recovery ability, never panic, and rallies to the ball with strength and physical hands. Holmes got crossed up on a dig route during team but closed the gap and broke the throw up.
– Want to flip to the offensive line. Oregon’s Calvin Throckmorton has largely had a good week. Got beat on a push/pull by Penn State DL Robert Windsor but the former Duck builds his house quickly at tackle and can move around the line. Left tackle in the first team drill, right guard the next. Versatility is certainly his calling card.
– Mississippi State OT Tyre Phillips is a massive human being (6’5 342) but has to work on his placement. Hands too far outside and it doesn’t let him take control of the defender.
– LSU’s Damien Lewis seriously might be one of the best players – not just linemen – in Mobile. Quick, technically sound, great ability to reset and repunch, with a quick first step, capable of mirroring in the pass game and reaching backside cutoff blocks in the run game. Super impressive week.
– LB Akeem Davis-Gaither continues to showcase his athleticism. Zone dropper on one play in team, got about 20 yards of depth, read the route and then got eyes on the football and broke it up. Should’ve picked it, went through his hands, but still a play most ILBs (like North Carolina’s Tyler Brunson, who gave up a completion on a similar concept a few plays later) didn’t make this week.
1) K.J. Hill and Austin Mack are both representing Ohio State very well at this year’s Senior Bowl. Two very quick receivers who are going to be tough to lock down.
2) Antonio Gandy-Golden closed his week out in style. May not have elite separation skills but he has something there worth exploring.
3) Jauan Jennings is a whole lot of field on the field and off the field. Big receiver with a big personality.
– Tight end class rounded into form. Hopkins, Trautman ended the weeks on high notes. Steelers should have some options.
– Wide receiver class routinely won. Stacked top to bottom. Proche, Mims, Jefferson, I could see Quartney Davis carve out a home on special teams.
– Starting to think Davon Hamilton would be a really good fit for the Steelers. Maybe even more than Gallimore. Hamilton seems stronger and stouter against the run/. But both are talented players.