Busy first day of practice in Mobile, Alabama for the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl. It all looks a little different and not just because of the COVID world we’re all living in. Starting last year, practices are held in a new location, moving from Ladd-Peebles Stadium to Hancock Whitney Stadium, a new and gorgeous venue South Alabama calls home.
It might be a new place but our coverage is hopefully as extensive as before. In fact, we have four people covering this week for Steelers Depot: Jonathan Heitritter, Jacob Harrison, Tyler Wise, and myself. We’re able to attack practice like no other year before and each day, we’re each focusing on certain position groups to get the most comprehensive view possible. Today, Jonathan focused on o-line/d-line, Jacob on the quarterbacks, Tyler on receivers/secondary, and myself on the off-ball linebackers/tight ends/running backs.
We’ll break this post up into notes from the National and American Team. Each group will be labeled below.
Before we do that, some notes I took about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ attendance in Mobile. Like most years, they were well-represented.
– Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were on the field throughout the entire day while the scouting staff largely were up in the seats, sitting about mid-way up the lower bowl at the 50 yard line. Shortly before practice kicked off, I saw Tomlin shake Steelers’ Team President Art Rooney II’s hand. Rooney was there throughout practice. I’d have to go back and check my notes but I’m not sure if I’ve seen him at a Senior Bowl practice before. Perhaps the urgency to look at an important group of quarterbacks compelled Rooney to get eyes on Ben Roethlisberger’s potential successor.
– Tomlin began the first, National practice watching the defensive linemen go through individual work in the end zone. For the second, American Practice, he and Colbert didn’t move around much at all, choosing to watch QBs/WRs against CBs 1v1 instead of the 11v11, run-session on the other end of the field.
– For the second practice, OC Matt Canada and QBs Coach Mike Sullivan traced the field throughout the session.
– Other Steelers I spotted in attendance included: Pro Scouting Coordinator Brandon Hunt, Area Scouts Dave Petett (North), Mark Bruener (West), Dan Colbert (Midwest), Dennis MacInnis (BLESTO), along with Senior Scout Rick Reiprish (South) Player Personnel Coordinator Dan Rooney, Football Administration Coordinator Cole Marcoux, a man who I believe is Team Operations Coordinator Aidan Hennessey-Niland, and potentially Football Analyst Tosin Kazeem (who also has a scouting background) though I had a little trouble placing the face.
Also in attendance was Omar Khan, VP of Football & Business Administration. Khan and Hunt are the two internal options to replace Colbert as GM following the draft. For what it’s worth, he spent part of the practice sitting away from the rest of the Steelers’ scouts, talking with a member from the Panthers (Khan interviewed to be GM in Carolina last year) for a little while. Don’t freak out over that, Kreidler talked to a Panthers’ personnel member too. Lot of relationships guys build up at Mobile is a great place for the whole NFL to say hello to each other.
This is not necessarily a complete list of all from Pittsburgh who is attending. The Shrine Game is finishing up its week of practice so it’s likely some scouts are still there, too. And the setup this year makes it a little tougher to identify some of the Steelers who are in attendance. There were at least one or two faces I could not place.
We were walking out after practice and Tomlin, Colbert, and famous agent Drew Rosenhaus were having a conversation on the concourse. Here’s a photo of the three of them.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) February 1, 2022
NATIONAL TEAM (COACHED BY JETS)
(Jacob’s Notes – Quarterback)
– Clearly put in a concerted effort to shore up his mechanics and fundamentals. Slightly exaggerated overall, but calculated and measured in his approach.
– Snap in his hips to create velocity, created a tight spiral on a large portion of his throws.
– Showed comfort in rolling to his left and generating the throw through his hips while squaring his shoulders.
– Wins on accuracy among the National Team quarterbacks. Showed anticipation with his new targets and routinely hit his receivers on the numbers or in stride.
– Showed some leadership when Boise State receiver Khalil Shakir was off on his route on a play action roll out play. Pickett walked over and discussed the play with his teammate and left him with a pat on the helmet.
– Didn’t have many opportunities to throw deep, timing was quite off with his targets on the few attempts that were taken.
– Showed some athleticism, but the Jets’ play calling was short and safe making the ball leave his hands rather quickly.
– Decision making was solid, but didn’t seem to have to come off his first read most of the day.
– Threw the only interception of the day, but it was an accurate ball that bounced off the hands of Cole Turner (TE, Nevada) on a short out route into the hands of Illinois defensive back Kerby Joseph.
– Struggled with accuracy and anticipation early in the day. Cleaned up towards the end but definitely sailed some throws high and shortchanged others.
– Did look more comfortable in full scrimmage. Most exciting plays did have Cincinnati players Jerome Ford and Alec Pierce on the receiving end.
– Overall, pretty loose in his footwork and mechanics. Not sloppy by any means, but not the same attention to detail displayed by the other quarterbacks.
– Did fumble a snap with Cole Strange at center during inside drills. Worked on under center snaps briefly with Zion Johnson and Strange after practice.
– Did not wear a brace on his problematic right knee. Looked comfortable from the waist down most of the day.
– Did have a slight hesitation with under center snaps to ensure he had the ball. This improved throughout the day.
– Was pretty erratic when throwing to a second read.
– Arm strength and velocity was as advertised. Generated power from his upper body rather than his hips or legs. Didn’t throw consistent spirals, but the ball was firing off his hand.
– Strong showed an understanding of anticipation, but the absent comradery with his targets did hinder his overall accuracy. His deep balls had great arc and field placement, but were always out of reach for the receiver, with the exception of his final throw to his Nevada teammate Romeo Doubs.
– One of his last throws in full scrimmage had him roll to his left to evade pressure and he air mailed a simple dump off to his running back. While Strong didn’t struggle to move, he did struggle being productive on the move.
(Jonathan’s Notes – OL/DL):
Boston College IOL Zion Johnson
— Johnson popped with great arm length and a thick build the second he walked out for practice. Bubbly legs and upper body strength with the length you like to see for an interior offensive line.
— Johnson did a great job turn and sealing defenders off in the run game, getting his shoulders and working his feet to create running lanes inside.
— Johnson was a smooth mover in pass protection, showing good lateral footwork and active feet with hands synced up to match. Footwork was matched with his ability to drop anchor against power rushers in one-on-one drills as well as in the team session.
— Johnson played both center and guard during practice, taking clean snaps under center as well as in shotgun.
Minnesota OT Danial Faalele
— Faalele’s size and length was as-advertised coming out to start practice appearing taller and thicker than Penning, Lucas, and Raimann who are large human beings in their own right.
— Faalele did a good job overwhelming base defensive ends and linebackers on his run fits but needs to play with better movement with his feet once engaged to sustain blocks after initial contact.
Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning
— Penning showed great leg drive and finish when getting his run fits in drills.
— The nastiness and physical play demeanor of Penning came out early in the run portion of practice, popping pads on contact on nearly every rep.
— Penning had a tough time transitioning to the pass protection portion of practice, noticeably struggling with speed around the edge and looked visibly upset with his struggles.
— Several occasions stood out where Penning was frustrated with himself after losing the corner on a pass rush or allowing the counter inside. Jets OL coach tried coaching him up afterwards, but you could see the bad reps affected him well afterwards.
Washington State OT Abraham Lucas
— Lucas showed a nice wide base and footwork in his run fits at the beginning of practice.
— Lucas showed a tendency to drop his head in pass protection one-on-one drills.
UCONN DL Travis Jones
— Jones was overwhelming all interior players in one-on-ones in pass protection, using his sheer mass and strength to walk back blockers into the lap of the passer.
— Jones did a great job fighting pressure and keeping gap integrity against the run in team drills.
— Jones held his own on double team blocks at nose tackle, not giving any ground and was able to work off blocks while allowing linebackers to get to the ball free.
Ohio State DL Haskell Garrett
— Garrett combined good hand usage with low pad level/leverage in one-on-ones, making a lot of blockers miss getting a good punch on his frame.
Cincinnati LB Darrian Beavers
— Beavers had a strong showing on the afternoon, playing downhill against the run as well as effectively covering the flats in pass coverage drills.
— Beavers looked as advertised, boasting a thick, rocked-up build with the length and movement skills to match.
Nevada WR Romeo Doubs
— Doubs did a great job dropping his shoulders and hips on comeback routes out of his breaks. Looked crisp as a route runner in the facet.
— Doubs posted the fastest recorded speed during the National practice hitting 21.25 mph according to Zebra tracking technology.
(Tyler’s Notes – WR/DB):
National Team Wide Receivers
– One of the biggest winners of the entire day was Christian Watson from North Dakota State. From the start of practice, you could tell the 6’4” 211-pound receiver moved differently from the way he glided in and out of his routes. The eye test from individual drills and routes versus air translated right on over to 1on1s. You saw him win on numerous different routes from digs to comebacks to back-shoulder throws.
He looked comfortable catching the ball away from his body with his hands. He does play a little high at times, especially at the top of his routes, but overall he’s really looked impressive. The thing I want to see more from him is the extensiveness of his release repertoire at the line of scrimmage. He was mostly winning with speed and I didn’t get to see him against any of the more physical corners.
Compiled NDSU's Christian Watson's wins from 1on1's today at the first #SeniorBowl practice.
He's winning in a variety of ways:
One thing consistent with all of these is they are all HANDS catches.
Day 1 Winner pic.twitter.com/9FS2MaHr6t
— Tyler Wise (@TriggeredWise) February 1, 2022
– You can tell Romeo Doubs has massive hands just from how he catches the football. Plucks it out of the air and it sticks. No double catches. According to the Senior Bowl main Twitter account reached the fastest speed of the day for the National team at, 21.25 mph. The connection between Doubs and his college quarterback, Carson Strong, was on display during 1on1’s as they connected for a deep touchdown of their own. Nothing new for that crew.
– Boise State’s Khalil Shakir had a nice rep of 1on1’s against Cincinnati’s, Coby Bryant. It was a simple hitch route but he created some nice separation then cut inside after the catch due to feeling Bryant’s oncoming outside angle. He was eaten up a few times during his routes with the more physical corners. Want to see more of his route running and working through contact as we progress through the week. He does have a little hitch when he runs and walks, makes his route running a bit unorthodox. You can tell it throws off defensive backs trying to cover him.
National Team Cornerbacks
– Coby Bryant out of Cincinnati had a solid day for the cornerbacks. You can tell he’s not afraid of any match-up. He mirror-matches well off the line and can play physically at the catch point. One rep in 1on1s, Braylon Sanders threw his entire footwork at Bryant to try to run a dig and Bryant patiently ignored it and sunk underneath the mini dig to take away the throwing lane. He also had a downfield break-up during the team session where Romeo Doubs was targeted. Doubs initially won off the line, but Bryant didn’t panic and raked through Doubs hands at the catch point and the incompletion.
— Cole Topham (@HamAnalysis) February 1, 2022
– Damari Mathis was solid in coverage all day as was expected coming from Pat Narduzzi’s man-heavy scheme in Pittsburgh. The coaching staff was consistently moving him inside and out and he wasn’t missing a beat wherever he was. Don’t think it’s a stretch to call him the most physical defensive back in Mobile. He doesn’t take a rep off and the way he closes on catches underneath him you can tell he’s itching to lay someone out.
– One of the bigger winners of the day was Tariq Castro-Fields. He’s a tad stiff but has a nose for the football. His most impressive play was on a deep ball to Alec Pierce, a receiver known for his contested catch ability, the ball was fully in Pierce’s mitts, but Castro-Fields kept his hand in the catch point was able to wrestle the ball from him on the way down. It was the highlight of the day. He carried that over nicely to 7on7’s where he almost picked off Kenny Pickett on a comeback.
This picture puts into perspective how impressive a play it was for Tariq Castro-Fields to eventually pick this off.
— Tyler Wise (@TriggeredWise) February 1, 2022
(Alex’s Notes – Linebacker)
– A solid group of players to watch for this squad. Some hybrid guys too like Baylor’s Jalen Pitre, who took place in some of the linebacker drills. Both Baylor DBs here are notable. Pitre played the “star” Rover position in college, getting great coaching from well-renowned DC Dave Aranda late in his Bears’ career. Pitre isn’t a massive guy at 5106,196 pounds but plays much bigger with good downhill aggression, and finish/hit power. Teammate JT Woods was vocal during special team sessions and worked as the upback/personal protector of the punt team, the QB of that unit. So you gotta be loud to call out the front and the snap. Illinois’ Kerby Joseph also saw snaps there. Pitt’s Cal Adomitis served as the team’s long snapper.
Joseph, by the way, had a nice day overall and made plays. INT in 1v1 and a breakup in team drills. He’s a good athlete.
– Special teams might be new to some of these guys. Or at least something they haven’t done in awhile. Coaches working on the stance and stagger of guys like LB Kyron Johnson from Kansas and EDGE Jesse Luketa from Penn State. Luketa is built well at 261 pounds, telling us after practice that’s up from 252 this year at Penn State. He came to school at 220 pounds so he’s put on the pounds since but he carries it well as a big EDGE rusher.
– Jets’ coaches working turnover circuit early in practice. Punch-out drill coming downhill against the run followed up by each guy going through the line and high-pointing passes as part of their warmups.
– Bit of a tough start for Oklahoma’s Brian Asamoah in drills. Coaching really repping his plant and footwork coming out of his zone drops, focusing on the angle of his right, outside foot to get him downhill and taking a 45 degree angle to the ball. Work might have gotten in his head just a bit, dropping the INT the next time through his drill. Remember, it is Day One. This is not make or break. This is about progress from start to finish.
– Cincinnati’s Darrian Beavers is an interesting kid. Big, thick man at 6’4, 252 pounds. Seeing him stand next to Sterling Weatherford, a safety converting to LB, is pretty stark. Beavers has a powerful lower half and ability to explode out of his break with long striders to cover plenty of ground. He looked great his first two reps of LBs vs RBs/TEs, winning both reps on underneath routes by the receiver, a breakup on a pivot route against Colorado State TE Trey McBride following by a nice-sized collision on Oklahoma FB Jeremiah Hall, bumping the 241-pound Hall off-balanced and not even tempting the QB to throw the ball.
But I think he was cheating the drill a beat. He got beat the next two times, failing to make contact and using his size and physicality to knock his man off balance. Baylor’s Abram Smith beat him on a quick out with Beavers lunging a little bit while another back beat him deep on a wheel, Beavers again hoping and guessing on something quick and underneath, which is what most of the offensive guys were running up until that point. He finished winning reps 3-2, driving and using his size to finish the play when Arizona State’s Rachaad White bobbled the ball.
In team, he initially covered the flat on a Desmond Ridder boot to the right. When a DB also covered the flat, Beavers took off to the QB and in just about three striders, pressured Ridder and forced the ball out and incomplete.
Overall though, Beavers is explosive and strong and with some refinement to his game, and a guy the Steelers should have their eye on. In fact, they may already with Jonathan having the eagle eyes and noting Mike Tomlin had a quick chat with Beavers on the sideline.
– Wyoming’s Chad Muma and Montana State’s Tyler Anderson did better against the vertical pass game, carrying Wisconsin TE Jake Ferguson downfield on corner/seven routes in drills. Muma had tight coverage to force an overthrow while Anderson played down through Ferguson’s hands to help break the pass up.
Overall, I thought Muma had a nice day. He’s not super-strong in coverage and can lose at the top of routes but his processing in the run game is impressive and he’s always working clean and through the trash, just as I noted on his Cowboys’ tape. Early in team, he (and Anderson) flowed well on a boundary toss to push the running back out of bounds. Will say Muma had a memorable first rep, running into an offensive lineman who decked him and sent Muma to the ground. I didn’t get a name on the train that hit him and I don’t think Muma did either. Hope to check the All-22 to see who smacked him but credit to Muma for being aggressive and flying in there to take the blow. Got back up and kept fighting.
Similar to Beavers, Muma also took away the free-money throw on a boot by Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, forcing Pickett to his second read on a pass that fell incomplete. That turns 2nd and 5 into 2nd and 10 and a big win for defenses.
– Baylor’s Pitre played physical and wants to finish. Doesn’t quit on a play and definitely one of those “whoa” not “sic ’em” guys Tomlin always refers to. Had a breakup on a dig thrown to Ferguson while he read the route as Missouri’s Tyler Badie broke out. Pitre jumped it and broke the pass up though he couldn’t come away with the interception.
In 7v7, he hit McBride hard enough from the back that it sent him sprawling to the ground while Pitre finished things with a breakup at the catchpoint against Boise State WR Khalil Shakur.
– Miami (OH)’s Sterling Weatherford is making the switch from safety in school to linebacker at the Senior Bowl and presumably, the NFL. Added 15 pounds, up to 230 from his listed weight of 215. But he looked like a guy with a lot of newness to deal with. Looked like he was unsure of assignment at times, looking around and putting his palms up as to say he wasn’t sure of the call. Maybe it wasn’t communicated properly, it’s hard to say what the issue was. But he looked around one play, got his eyes back to the line just as the ball was snapped and was popped hard from a double-team by Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar and Washington State OL Abraham Lucas. Another play, he followed the off-ball Y tight end as he pulled across but the offense ran the ball away from the puller and Weatherford was late to find the football.
In drills, Weatherford looked tight in his hips and late to flip, getting beat by Cincy RB Jerome Ford deep downfield, though the throw was off the mark and incomplete. Coaches were talking about his footwork afterwords.
Even down to his uniform, he feels a bit out of place, wearing #12 while sporting a #21 helmet, the number he wore in college. #21 is occupied by Pitt slot corner Damarri Mathis. Day One for a guy in a tough spot needs to be taken into context. But there’s a lot of progress he’ll have to make in the coming days.
AMERICAN TEAM (COACHED BY LIONS)
(Jacob’s Notes – Quarterback)
– Threw the best deep balls of any quarterback throughout the day. Understood field placement, showed a beautiful arc and hit his receivers in stride. Best deep throw was to Jalen Tolbert of South Alabama over Derion Kendrick. Placed the ball within the three-yard gap from the sideline and hit Tolbert in stride.
– Mechanically he looked solid. Didn’t appear quite as exaggerated as Pickett, but was calculated in all of his fundamentals.
– Showed fluid, natural mobility in the full scrimmage.
– Overall Howell made good decisions throughout the day. Bounced from read to read with ease and didn’t lose anything mechanically, nor in accuracy or velocity.
– Compared to his teammates, did have heavier feet than Malik Willis and Bailey Zappe. Didn’t hamper him much, but pressure is only simulated and he didn’t have to manage much trash in the pocket.
– Did lose a snap under center during inside drill.
– Noticeably light on his feet. Floats in his footwork.
– Generates a lot of velocity in his throws. He and Howell would throw the same routes to each boundary and while Howell’s passes would leave his hand first, Willis’s passes hit his target first consistently.
– Did have anticipation issues with his targets. Second guessed where his receiver was going on occasion and was inaccurate as a result. When he was sure of his receivers intentions, he tossed some heaters with pinpoint accuracy.
– The only quarterback that challenged Howell’s deep ball prowess. Dropped a touchdown pass into the bucket of SMU’s Danny Gray in stride over UTSA’s Tariq Woolen. The ball landed within the three-yard sideline gap just past the near pylon.
– Also fumbled a snap under center during inside drill.
– Evaded pressure well during the full scrimmage and located open targets with a strong, accurate pass.
– Showed prowess in progressing his reads during seven on sevens.
Liberty QB Malik Willis dropping a dime to SMU WR Danny Gray pic.twitter.com/LnYUE3hgun
— 4th and JAWN (@4thandJawn) February 1, 2022
– Appeared fluid and comfortable in his footwork and upper body mechanics.
– Though he measures similarly to Howell and Willis, he did seem noticeably small standing next to his fellow quarterbacks.
– Light on his feet as well. Not quite as floaty as Willis, but he was obviously comfortable with his feet beneath him.
– Had to wind up a bit to hit the high velocity boundary throws.
– Did his best to keep up with Howell and Willis’s deep ball prowess. Nice arc and gave his guys a chance. His deep passes did drift inside during one on one drills.
– Showed good anticipation and ball placement on shorter patterns.
– Overall, nothing dynamic from Zappe, but he showed he’s comfortable with the setting and is smart with the ball.
(Jonathan’s Notes – OL/DL):
Georgia DL Devonte Wyatt
— Wyatt was the only defensive player to come out of the locker room with his helmet on at the start of practice, looking amped up and ready to go bouncing around with tons of energy.
— Wyatt did struggle at times holding the point of attack against double teams by the guard and center against the run, giving ground and getting moved off his spot.
— Wyatt did a good job taking on blocks on the inside and shedding at the opportune time to make a play against the run at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield.
— Wyatt looked dominant at times when penetrating up the middle, shooting gaps with good burst and blowing plays up in the backfield.
— Wyatt won a majority of his one-on-one reps against pass protection, getting up underneath the offensive linemen’s’ pads for leverage or winning with sheer speed and quickness through their shoulder.
North Carolina QB Sam Howell
— Ball seemed to jump off Howell’s hand on his throws. Threw with good touch and ball placement on his deep passes during 7-on-7s as well as in team sessions.
Liberty QB Malik Willis
— Willis notably threw with the most zip/velocity on his passes during the American practice session.
— Willis needs to do better stepping into his throws and not throwing off his back foot. He tends to rely too much on his arm at times, causing missed throws over the middle and to the sideline.
LSU LB Damone Clark
— Clark showed good stack and shed in term drills working off blocks against guards and tackles in the run portion of practice.
Georgia OL Jamaree Sayler and Justin Shaffer
— Sayler and Shaffer had some good-looking reps at guard on the afternoon, getting seals in the run game and springing the backs for big chuck gains at the second level of the defense.
— Shaffer had a nice snatch trap move on Arkansas’ John Ridgeway, throwing him to the turf in a one-on-one pass protection drill.
(Tyler’s Notes – WR/DB):
American Team Wide Receivers
– Jalen Tolbert, the hometown Southern Alabama kid, also put together a solid first day of practice. He was the best receiver on the American squad. He has a great burst off the line and can easily get on the toes of corners and stack vertically. On the very first play of 1on1s, he burned Georgia’s Derion Kendrick for a touchdown on a go-ball. Tolbert also made a nice adjustment on a go-ball on the final play of 7on7. Definitely, someone to circle as a possible vertical deep threat the Steelers are missing in this offense.
— Ray G 🏁 (@RayGQue) February 1, 2022
– The other intriguing receiver for the American squad was Calvin Austin out of Memphis. If you’re 5’7”, 173 pounds, you better have some “oh s*** speed” and he certainly does. While he has the body of a traditional slot, he moved inside and out freely and was winning at both spots. After his first few 1on1 reps simply running by defensive backs, you saw them start to respect his speed, opening up underneath routes for him.
– Danny Gray is another vertical receiver that burned corners on deep routes today. The former Texas state champion sprinter proved just how real his speed is today. The speed is how he has to win at this point as he’s pretty raw as a route runner but his ability to stack vertically is definitely something to take note of. He is known for having some drops and that showed up today on a deep ball during 1on1’s where he was about 7 yards behind a defender. Sam Howell laid it right on him, he just couldn’t bring it in. He did catch Malik Wilis’ prettiest deep ball on the day on a 40 yard bomb that was dropped in the bucket to Gray right at the pylon.
– Dontario Drummond out of Ole Miss had a tough with multiple drops. One of them was on a wide receiver jet screen that bounced off his helmet and about 10 yards in the air, towards the middle of the field. He was lucky it wasn’t picked. Hopefully, he can bounce back tomorrow.
– Tariq Woolen is one of the longest cornerbacks you’ll ever see, standing at 6’3” with 33.5” arms and it stands out on the football field. He’s great at playing with hands-on and ate up a few routes inside of five yards because of it. It does get him in trouble at times he can get over aggressive and over-rely on his physicality. Excited to see a larger sample size of him through the week.
– Mario Goodrich quietly had a good day. Nothing very flashy to his game but looks especially comfortable in zone drops where he can read and react to the quarterback. Jalen Tolbert mentioned Goodrich by name when talking about his toughest matchups of the day.
– Cam Taylor-Britt’s versatility jumped out today. The American coaching staff had him playing all over. He lined up outside, inside, box safety, and deep. He did get burned by Calvin Austin badly on a slot go during 1on1’s but other than that had a real solid day in coverage. His hips are smooth and have a quick click and close on quick routes. He did seem to get banged up towards the end of practice as he sat out of the last few practice sessions. Hopefully its nothing major and he can build on his performance the rest of the week.
– Auburn’s Roger McCreary didn’t disappoint either today. He was expected to be one of, if not, the best true cover corner in Mobile. Nothing that he did today makes me think otherwise. He always looks in control against the opposing wide outs. He did play most of his reps in team from the slot. That may be where he ends up due to his frame and below average arm length. We’ll see if he gets a larger sample size outside as the week goes on.
(Alex’s Notes – Linebacker):
– A little less here and overall, the off-ball group isn’t quite as notable as I had for the National Team.
But don’t tell that to LSU’s Damone Clark, impressive on and off the field (we’ll have a story on him in the near future). Clark is aggressive with a quick-trigger and the ability to get off of blocks. Good energy and a solid dude to talk to post-practice. He’s athletic without sacrificing size, coming in at 6023, 240 pounds with nearly 33-inch arms. He had at least two run stops in team sessions Tuesday.
– And overall, the American Team’s front seven did a much better job against the run than the National Team did. A lot of that had to do with some butt-kickers up front, guys like Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson and Arkansas’ John Ridgeway, but this group was gap-sound and forced backs to bounce or run into a sea of defenders over and over.
– Replacing Florida’s Jeremiah Moon is App State’s Tariq Carpenter, a strong safety converting to LB, now wearing #50 after wearing #2 in college. He’s 6’4 and roughly 230 pounds, making him a long and high-cut player in the middle.
– Couple other guys with similar builds are VT’s Amare Barno and Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone. Malone has good closing speed and hit power for a lankier frame.
– Non-linebacker note but South Alabama WR Jalen Tolbert caught a long deep ball back-shoulder down the right sideline, right about in front of where Tomlin and Colbert were standing. Steelers need speed at WR and Tolbert can fly.
– Another non-linebacker note but I had to include it. Gotta respect Kentucky center Luke Fortner. It’s common today and I have no actual issue with it but all the offensive linemen around him wear something on their legs. Cade Mays has braces on both legs, Ed Ingram has LSU-purple compression sleeves on both in this chilly weather. Fortner? Just shorts, cleats, elbow pads, and gloves. Old-school.
– Florida RB Dameon Pierce had a nice today, including a long-run left side in team but he was prepared for the cold. Sweats and a hoodie, one of if not the only player in pants and long-sleeves. It was in the 60s Tuesday but there was a solid breeze and the sun tucked behind the clouds, making for a chilly day.
– Ok, back to the linebackers. App State’s D’Marco Jackson grew up on a farm and is built like it, a denser frame with a bubble-butt. Meanwhile, Georgia’s Channing Tindall isn’t big at 223 but tries to look larger than he is with an old-school, 90s neck roll La’Varr Arrington would be proud of.
– Lions’ coaches really working on shedding and block deconstruction early on in practice. Seemed to be the focus of today. Went into a backs on ‘backers drill after that. Some notes from there from each side.
– Alabama RB Brian Robinson is a big guy at 6’1, nearly 230 pounds but he struggled with his first couple of pass pro reps. Clark beat him with a swim move initially while Jackson swiped past on Robinson’s next rep. Robinson clapped his hands together, knowing he’d been beat. He also ran one wrong route in 1v1s, cutting out when he should’ve angled inside and had to repeat the rep.
– Pierce looked competitive here, once burying Nebraska’s JoJo Domann as Domann attempted – and failed – to win the edge.
– Maybe I’m a bit biased here watching big brother for so many years but Michigan State’s Connor Heyward stood out in this drill. Dropped his hips and anchored as Tindall tried and failed to bull rush him and he caught a contested grab on a five-yard out later on working on Jackson, who couldn’t close the gap in time. Heyward seemed to get most of his work at FB today after moving around quite a bit with Sparty. He’s a H-Back at the next level who will cut his teeth on special teams, sorta similar to Derek Watt but with more offensive value with the ball in his hands.
– Not that tight end is a high need for the Steelers but couldn’t help but notice UCLA’s Greg Dulcich has a solid pair of hands and can create space at the top of his breaks, especially on out routes.
– Jackson nicely carried San Diego State’s Daniel Bellinger down the left seam, the pass bouncing off Jackson’s helmet and incomplete.
– Defensive lineman who caught some buzz was Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson, who seemed slightly hobbled by an ankle injury at the end of one run but came back to lay a big tackle later on. On the other side of the ball, Tennessee’s Cade Mays false started on the second play of team and was pulled out. NFL coaches won’t let you get away with mistakes like that.
– Overall, my winners of the day based on the groups I was focusing in on. I won’t do losers after Day One.
Winners: LSU LB Damone Clark, Baylor S/DB Jalen Pitre, Florida State, DL Jermaine Johnson, Florida RB Dameon Pierce, Wyoming LB Chad Muma, and Illinois DB Kerby Joseph.
– I asked the rest of the crew to give me the one name who impressed them the most. Jacob said QB Sam Howell, Tyler WR Christian Watson, and Jonathan DL Devonte Wyatt.