2023 NFL Draft

2023 Senior Bowl Practice Notes: Day One

Day One of the 2023 Senior Bowl has concluded. An exciting and warm day in Mobile, Alabama, it was a solid first day of practices for the National Team (kicking off at 11:30 AM) and American Team (kicking off just after 2 PM). There will be practices tomorrow and Thursday before the game Saturday afternoon. We have you covered from all angles. Jonathan Heitritter, Tyler Wise, Ross McCorkle, and myself are here to follow the event with Jonathan and Ross staying through Saturday’s game.

Each day, we’ll divvy up our notes and analysis by position group along with any other stray observations we have. We also have a ton of interviews to get to know the person, not just the player, at this year’s event.

Let’s dive on in.

Jonathan Heitritter’s Report (Linebackers/Trenches)

National Team

— Cody Mauch and Keeanu Benton are having some good battles in the team session. Benton showed hand usage and counters in his pass rush.

— Benton looks smooth going through pass rush drills, looking the best of all the interior DL in the first practice.

— Benton dominated 1-on-1s, overwhelming OL with power and strength.

— Texas LB DeMavion Overshown looks the part, having great length and height as a physical specimen.

— Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace Jr. does look short, but densely built as an aggressive ball of muscle.

— Ohio State OT Dawand Jones lunging forward and dropping his head on bag drills to start practice. Sitting with Ramon Foster, who isn’t impressed with his technique.

— Jones with a nice snatch trap to bury Isaiah Foskey in 1-on-1s.

— Boise St S JL Skinner is extremely long, having gangly arms and legs to cover ground quickly.

— BYU OT Blake Freeland looks sound in 1-on-1s, mirroring passers well with a solid base and footwork.

American Team

— K-State CB Julius Brents has great length and height, towering over the rest of the DB group.

— Florida OG O’Cyrus Torrence has one of the thickest lower bodies I have ever seen, having tree trunk legs on a dense frame.

— Florida St . Jammie Robinson looks extremely fluid in DB drills transitioning from backpedal to turn and run. No wasted movement.

— TCU LB Dee Winters looks smooth working laterally and changing direction in drills. Had a big CFP for the Horned Frogs and could be a big riser in the NFL Draft.

— Minnesota C John Michael Schmitz standing up defenders in 1 on 1s, showing solid base and anchor in pass protection.

Tyler Wise’s Notes (Wide Receivers)

National Team

— Michigan State WR Jaylen Reed was the biggest winner today in this wide receiver room. It’s surprising with how solid his tape was at Michigan State that he is still a relative unknown in many draft circles, but if he keeps up like he did today the buzz will begin to grow exponentially. He played mostly in the slot today and dominated all of his 1-on-1 reps creating separation with relative ease starting it off with a long TD right up the seam from the slot. He has great nuance and tempo to his route running that keeps DBs on their toes. He didn’t do much in team but the talent is definitely there.

He’s a well-rounded player who looks to do more than just run his routes and do his job. I saw him go over to coaches after reps to seek coaching and was holding Ronnie Bell for not blocking on a RB screen. Also looked comfortable reeling in punts back deep. 

— Cincinnati WR Tre Tucker was also a nice surprise. He weighed in at only a little under 5’9”, but height doesn’t matter much when you’re creating as much separation as he was in the slot. His short area quickness and burst out his breaks and press releases made him look like a real deal NFL slot. He also was getting some looks as a punt returner and was getting some tips from Mike Tomlin while back deep. 

— Michigan WR Ronnie Bell had an up and down day. He is a smooth mover while running routes. He did get eaten up on some sort of comeback that he seemed out of sorts with after initially beating the corner. He also had a drop on a stop route on the outside in team that got on him faster than it looked like he was expecting. Think we’ll see some good things from the next few days. 

— Stanford WR Elijah Higgins is put together really well at just under 6’3” 228 pounds. He looks like a superhero. His play wasn’t anything more than average today though. He’s not super fluid at the top of his routes which is a big reason why he can’t create separation. He had a chance for a deep go ball during one-on-ones but was out battled by USC’s Mekhi Blackmon. Needs to learn how to use his size better. 

— BYU WR Puka Nacua was impressed me with his body control. He had one rep during 7-on-7 where he did a full turn and caught the ball while falling onto his back. He almost had a similar twirling catch in 1-on-1’s but just wasn’t able to pluck it off the turf. He added a few more catches during team sessions to round out a solid day. 

— Charlotte WR Grant Dubose was probably the least impressive of the group today. Thought he generally looked out of a place in terms of play strength especially on releases. He also had a fumble shortly after a catch during a team session. 

Mostly was focusing on the WRs today, but the three CBs that stood out to be for the National Team were Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly, USC’s Mekhi Blackmon, and Iowa’s Riley Moss.

— Blu Kelly has an interesting backstory with his father playing DB under Mike Tomlin in Tampa Bay and I wouldn’t be shocked if Pittsburgh is interested. He’s shown great physicality especially when playing press man in 1-on-1’s and has the long speed to stay in phase on deep balls. He should have had an interception during the 7-on-7 period, but dropped it. Pushups ensued because of it. 

— I didn’t see USC’s Mekhi Blackmon lose a rep all day. He was very solid in cover including a deep pass breakup against Elijah Higgins in 1-on-1s. 

— No one is straight up beating Iowa CB Riley Moss vertically. He was tested on deep balls 3x this practice and had the speed to stay in-phase with everybody. None were completed. Really think he’ll blow up the combine with his speed. He’s been known for being the “right place at the right time” guy during his time at Iowa and it happened again today with a fumble recovery during team period. 

American Team

— SMU WR Rashee Rice started out practice rough with a lackadaisical drop during individual drills and then starting out the routes vs. air period by running the wrong route. He cleaned his day up though and overall was solid. He understands how to create late separation on deep balls with subtle pushoffs and got away with for a deep touchdown over UVA’s Anthony Johnson on the first rep of 1-on-1’s. 

Rice also finished the day being called out as the very last rep of practice to matchup with South Carolina’s Darius Rush. Rice easily won the rep with a dig route and was wide open, but the quarterback sailed it over his head for the offense to officially lose the competition. The penalty was pushups.  

— Princeton WR Andrei Iosivas was probably the biggest surprise for me today. Saw a lot of people comparing him to NDSU’s Christian Watson at the Senior Bowl and while I get the sediment still think Iosivas is even more raw than Watson was. He’s a little awkward catching the football as if he’s not sure his hand placement and often lets the ball get into his body. The other thing he needs to clean up is his lack of pumping his arms at the top of his routes. It makes him stall out and not be as effective coming out of his breaks. All that being said, he still had a good day winning every 1-on-1 rep that he wasn’t interfered with including a contest catch touchdown after a double move. Will be one to watch the next few days. 

— Houston WR Tank Dell was the probably the most fun player to watch today. In a 1on1 session where flags were being thrown left and right for DBs grabbing or interfering, no DBs were even close enough to grab a hold of Dell. He’s an easy separator, that can stop on a dime and possesses great body control to real in the tough catches. 

Dell made a nice grab on an underneath drag route where he had to reach back behind his head while running feel speed and make the grab. He did weigh in at 163 pounds, that is his biggest concern right now, but it wasn’t a problem today. In terms of returning punts, it was a rough day as he had two straight that bounced right off his chest turn special teams sessions. 

— Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo had a solid day as well. He  thick lower half that will be effective for some YAC and soft hands. His hands are massive and are like a vacuum any time the football gets around it. He had a nice catch on a dig route while Kansas State Julius Brents was trying to punch it out. His strong hands prevailed. During 1-on-1’s he definitely struggled to consistently create separation, but was one of the guys that was consistently getting held too so it’s a bit of a wash. 

— Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson I can tell through the way he moves and catches in individual work that he’s a solid wide receiver but overall he had a quiet day. Don’t think he’ll make it through the week without making some more splash.

— The only CB that caught my eye out of this group was Kansas State’s Julius Brents. He has elite length and was using it to his advantage dominating the WR/DB press release drill right before 1-on-1s. He was slightly grabby during the 1-on-1 period but overall looked super solid and even reeled in an INT that I think was wrongly called a defensive pass interference, the WR was the one who pushed off. 


Brents also wasn’t afraid to get involved in the run game the whole way across the field. The length and aggressiveness makes him an exciting player to keep an eye on. 

Alex Kozora’s Notes (Defensive Backs)

National Team

Before getting into the players, let’s talk Steelers’ coaches. If you’ve followed my notes in the past, you know I love playing Where’s Waldo with this group. Their heavy presence isn’t a shock, the Senior Bowl is still the premiere college All-Star game but it’s a unique chance to see scouts and front office members work alongside the rest of the league.

Pittsburgh mixed between having coaches/scouts on the field and up in the press box. Trying to stay in the shade and beat the heat, the Steelers had a press box on the second level so some personnel members watched on from inside while others sat outside.

— Mike Tomlin kept his feet field-level the entire practice. He spent plenty of time today watching the linemen work, watching the American Team linemen go through individual drills before working his way over to the OL/DL 1v1 sessions later on. Though he’s not coaching the event, you couldn’t tell. A football junkie, Tomlin might be the only head coach who walks the field, gets behind the huddle, and practically lines up in the OL/DL drills to get as close to the action as possible. And who’s going to tell him to get to the sidelines? He’s Mike Tomlin. He can do what he wants and uses the reputation he’s built for himself to his advantage. Last year, he eyeballed the quarterbacks all week. Today, it was o-line/d-line. He spent some time talking with Georgia OL Warren McClendon Jr. during the American practice while tapping up American corner Tyrique Stevenson as he made his way to a punt return drill.

— New GM Omar Khan was also on the field throughout today’s practice. He spent time with Area Scout Kelvin Fisher during the National Team’s practice talking and walking the field, also watching OL/DL 1v1 in their competition period (it’s where most coaches and scouts set up considering it’s the most intense action of practices, there’s no live tackling).

Defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores was also on the field throughout the day. Wearing a Steelers’ hoodie (they’re still his employer so it really isn’t a story), he was initially on the opposite and far sideline from Khan and Fisher but they got together at the back of the South end zone a bit later during the National practice. Flores also spent a fair amount of time chatting with New York Giants’ defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, two bright defensive minds. Martindale has interviewed for the Indianapolis Colts’ head coaching job, which remains open. Hiring Flores to a staff with Martindale on it doesn’t seem ideal but if Martindale becomes the Colts’ head coach, keep an eye on him at least wanting to interview Flores to be DC.

— As far as I could tell, the rest of the Steelers’ staff was up in the press box or the seats that sat right outside of it. With front offices changes in 2022 for basically the first time in 20 years, there are some new faces I frankly have to learn. But there are still some that are highly recognizable. Longtime scout Mike Butler was in attendance as is analyst Will Britt. Phil Kreidler, flying in from the Shrine Bowl, is also in Mobile. Ditto with Dan Rooney Jr, Dennis MacInnis (who has moved up the Steelers’ scouting ranks) and Fawwaz Izzuddin. New faces include Director of Player Scouting Mark Sadowski and Scouting Coordinator Casey Weidl and I believe Director of Player Scouting Sheldon White.

While I didn’t see him today, Ike Taylor is also in Mobile – he said during the season he was hired as a scout. It also looked like Chris Watts was there, another new area scout, but with them sitting further away and him being a new face, I’m not certain.

I did not personally see Andy Weidl, I believe Casey Weidl was there, but he of course could’ve been and probably is attending. We’ll see if I spot him the rest of the week. Certainly was a bit strange knowing Kevin Colbert wasn’t there. Probably the first Senior Bowl he hasn’t attended in 40+ years.

— Former Steelers’ front office member Brandon Hunt, passed over to be the team’s GM and was hired by Philadelphia, was also on the field today. He spoke with Fisher and Tomlin throughout parts of practice. Hunt wore a green Eagles’ hat with a vintage logo on it as his team gets ready for the Super Bowl so Hunt’s role is even more important without the coaching staff attending.

Here’s the two of them, Tomlin with the towel around his waist, Hunt to his right.

— One other important Steelers’ note. For the first time in Senior Bowl history, there aren’t dedicated coaching staffs (i.e. the Bills and Falcons coaching staffs as a complete unit). This year, the coaching staff is a mix of non-playoff teams, 16 of the 18, and two represent Pittsburgh. Steelers’ DBs Coach Grady Brown is the National Team defensive coordinator while Steelers’ assistant outside linebackers coach Denzel Martin is the National Team linebackers coach. Brown was a visible presence throughout practice and spent plenty of time focusing in on the DBs during 1v1 work. The benefit of this pieced-together coaching staff is the rest of a front office can be better connected to the players.

At one point relatively early during the National practice, Grady Brown walked over to Omar Khan, wrote something down, and the two had a quick conversation between drills. Pieces of information the Steelers will have access to, how players learn, take to coaching, they otherwise wouldn’t have had unless they were picked as one of the two designated coaching staffs (and the Steelers haven’t been picked since 2001).

— Overall, one takeaway of the day was how sloppy the day’s practice was. Nothing too shocking or a first in Senior Bowl history, the offense especially trying to gel and come together as they learn a new playbook with a new coaching staff. The National Offense was full of bad snaps, dropped passes, and penalties. In fact, the first shotgun snap in an 11v11 session was botched. Kinda set the tone for the rest of the day. Things weren’t a whole lot better for the American Team who went through a less intense practice.

— Keidron Smith is a big corner out of Kentucky, 6015 203 with 32 inch arms, and saw plenty of work in the slot today. Interesting fit there.

— Cal CB Daniel Scott had a pick had a pick in an early on-air session, getting depth from his curl/hook zone and sinking to pick off a pass thrown along the left sideline. I’ll have an interview with with in the morning for the site.

— As Jonathan noted above, Boise State’s JL Skinner has a highly unique build. 6042, 211 pounds with 32 1/2 inch arms, he’s versatile and spent practice playing in the box and as the post safety. In press drills 1v1 with receivers, he struggled, a tall and leggy safety not comfortable playing a cornerback’s technique. BYU’s Puca Nacua gave him issues releasing off the line, Skinner’s cleat stuck in the ground on their first rep causing him to fall. After the session, Grady Brown took Skinner aside to offer a few coaching points.

On the plus side, he plucks the ball out of the air well and looks natural catching the football. He also displayed his physicality in team drills, blowing up an insert block on the first play of thud tackling 11v11 while popping the slot receiver on a rep later in the session from his hook zone spot. Skinner definitely packs a punch on contact. You can hear it.

Nauca had a nice day. Great diving/falling backshoulder catch in one particulate 1v1 rep.

— Iowa CB Riley Moss (6003, 192) looked comfortable and fluid playing press coverage, not opening his hips until the wide receiver gained ground and declared his initial stem. He does a good job squeezing and forcing receivers to work laterally off the line instead of planting and getting vertical. He had a breakup on a nine route for Nebraska WR Trey Palmer in 1v1 sessions down the right sideline.

USC’s Mehki Blackmon (5106, 182), a Colorado transfer, also shows patience with his press technique and plays with good balance. He also had a breakup on a go-ball to big Cincinnati TE Josh Whyle (6064, 260) down the left sideline in 1v1.

— The DBs also worked on specific coverage techniques in practice. Expect to see some 2 Man in this game, the DBs lined up alongside receivers who would come off the line first with the DBs playing “trail” technique to the inside hip. Receivers would break to the sideline on out routes and the DBs would have to rally to close the gap and undercut the route. Outside routes is how you beat trail technique/2-Man.

— Didn’t spend much time on the EDGE guys today but watched Army EDGE Andre Carter II drop during 7v7. 6062, 252 pounds with 34 inch arms, he’s one of the longest pass rushing prospects in this year’s class. Predictably skinny in the ankles, he’s a quality athlete who doesn’t look awkward moving backwards. But will he be too big for his own size? In body type, he reminds me a bit of former Norfolk State linebacker Lynden Trail, who didn’t have a successful NFL career.

— Overall, sloppy QB play and the newness of it all made things tough to evaluate in 1v1s for the National side. Miscommunication, poor accuracy, a lot of plays that really weren’t even contested.

— Illinois’ DB Sydney Brown (5110, 203) showed some versatility today, playing safety and slot corner. Five-year player at Illinois, it’s rare to see guys stay in one place anymore, he picked off six passes in 2022 and helped turn the program around.

— Notre Dame EDGE Isaiah Foskey had a forced fumble in 7v7, ripping the football out and recovered by the National Team defense. Pretty big pop there.

— And in the final team session, Maryland CB Jakorian Bennett (5105, 193 pounds) had a great click and close to breakup a curl route intended for Charlotte WR Grant Dubose.

American Team

— A slower start and pace to practice for the American team compared to the National squad. More warmups, not as much music, a more gradual progression into drills. Not saying it’s good or bad, just how it’s being conducted.

— LSU safety Jay Ward (6010, 186) is fluid in his turn and explosive out of his pedal while South Alabama corner Darrell Lutter Jr. (5115, 191) looked a little tight.

— Kansas State’s Julius Brents (6030, 202) has 33 3/4 inch arms that can nearly touch the ground when they swing. Nice day for him. Aggressive and seeking contact in all situations, he repeatedly made plays on the ball and stayed in-phase vertically. Tariq Woolen starred here last season. I don’t know if Brents is going to run quite like him but he’s the body type that catches your attention. Busy man in the post-practice media scrum so he’s got their attention, too.

— Cornerbacks working on wide receiver route distribution during an early individual portion of practice. Two receivers (just other DBs) running routes with the CB matching based on the concept. Carrying whoever ran vertically and passing the other underneath route off. If both receivers went vertical, the CB plays depth/divider and midpoints the two until he can break on the football.

— The American Team DBs were definitely a lot grabbier in 1v1s than the National Team. Virginia CB Anthony Johnson is big and long (6011, 207) but gets grabby when receivers have a step on him vertically. He played a lot of press and tight coverage in college so maybe he’s just more used to the style, though it drew flags today from the refs who were on-hand, including on one rep against South Alabama WR Jalen Wayne. Lutter Jr. also had a similar issue and was flagged.

— Before practice, Jonathan Heitritter mentioned to watch South Carolina CB Darius Rush and he was as-advertised. Good size at 6015, 196 pounds, he traced a comeback route in 1v1 today and picked the pass off along the right sideline. These 1v1 moments are tailored to the offense/receiver so defenders making play without a pass rush and defending the whole field is no easy task.

But it wasn’t all perfect for Rush, who bit badly on a sluggo by Virginia WR Don’tayvion Wicks, running by himself downfield for the easy score in a 1v1 session. Princeton WR Andrei Iosivas had a stop ‘n go against Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson for another big gain, though I appreciated Stevenson not looking back for the ball when he was beat. Head down, full speed to try to catch-up and he nearly did. He’s willing to put his face in the fan against the run, too.

— In 7v7, Iowa State EDGE Will McDonald IV, Iowa State’s all-time sack leader, dropped into coverage and ripped the ball out late in today’s practice. He’s a big dude at 6034, 241 pounds with 35 inch arms.

— Alabama’s DeMarcco Hellams (6005, 213) had a pick in 7v7, jumping a five-yard route and intercepting the pass.

— While I wasn’t watching receivers, Houston’s Tank Dell (5083, 163) didn’t add any weight heading into the Senior Bowl but he flashes with his great burst and stop/start ability. On display today.

Ross McCorkle’s Notes (O-Line/D-Line)

I focused mostly on the trenches today, though it was tough at times with some of the drills taking place on the opposite end of the field closed to the media.

National Team

— Cody Mauch had a nice practice, showing a lot of nastiness in one on ones. He is put together real well and took snaps at tackle and guard. He also took some snaps at center over on the sideline. Versatile guy at 6047 and 305 lbs.

— Keeanu Benton had a really nice one on one session, using his quick feet and violent hands to make quick work of UNC OL Asim Richards in one rep. Unfortunately, it didn’t appear that Benton participated in the team session. He could just be taking it easy with already-high draft stock.

— Nesta Jade Silvera impressed me in one on ones, overwhelming a few different iOL with power, but Troy OL Jake Andrews got the better of him on one rep with good inside hand placement and leg drive. Silvera’s hips got turned as he tried to regain leverage and he lost the rep.

— Dawand Jones had a really nice day and I was watching him closely for a good bit of the National team practice. His size was unmanageable for several defenders in the run game session and if he gets his arms fully locked out driving the defender backward they don’t stand a chance. The one rep I saw of him versus Isaiah Foskey, Jones did his signature snatch and trap and planted Foskey on his face. He did weigh in 15 pounds heavier than expected which is the opposite direction I was hoping for.

— Keion White had a rep, I think against Notre Dame OL Jarrett Patterson, where he caught the OL’s punch and used his arm as a slingshot into the backfield. Really impressive technique on display there. He also had a rep in team drills where he nearly chased down BYU QB Jaren Hall in the backfield. His speed is something else for a 280 pounder.

— Isaiah Foskey had a relatively quiet day from what I could see, but he did plant Michigan OT Ryan Hayes (305 lbs) square on his back with a nice bull rush.

American Team

— Steve Avila is a unit, thick throughout his whole body. Outside of one (really) bad rep in one-on-ones against Zacch Pickens, Avila had a great day. He mostly played guard, but kicked inside to play center for some reps as well.

— Zacch Pickens was absolutely mauling people all day. Him and maybe Dawand Jones stood out to me as the biggest “trench player” winners of the day. It seemed like every time Pickens engaged with an OL, they were blown back 3-4 yards. Very impressed by the South Carolina DL.

— Will McDonald IV has really nice bend. Watching him cut around a bag in one of the agility drills stood out well above the rest of the competition. I saw him hit an inside spin move in one rep as well and it looked smooth. Impressive burst, too. Side note, Mike Tomlin was chatting with McDonald in between reps at one point for 30 seconds or so.

— O’Cyrus Torrence disappointed in today’s practice. Multiple defenders got the better of him. He had trouble getting his hands inside and his hips kept getting opened up. Two names I recall him struggling against were Derick Hall and Jalen Redmond.

— Matthew Bergeron played well overall, shutting down anything coming around the edge. He did struggle head to head against defenders aligned in tight. He tended to stop his feet and twist his body. Very thick and powerful thighs.

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