Thursday was the final day of 2023 Senior Bowl practices. All that’s left is Saturday’s game. Today’s practices were arguably less intense as the first two days but we still have notes to tell you everything you need to know about what happened in Mobile, Alabama earlier today.
Tyler Wise’s Practice Report
National Team (Defensive Backs)
The emphasis today for both teams was red zone, goal line situations. So many of the team sessions and 1on1s were in close-quarter environments.
— Boise State Safety JL Skinner generally plays high in his pedal and when changing direction. It really hurts him in coverage against quicker, more agile receivers unless he can get hands-on. Saw it best when he was tasked with covering the smooth Michigan WR Ronnie Bell in the slot. The ball didn’t come his way but Bell completely lost Skinner on his way to the corner of the end zone, it’s been a common theme this week. During the runs in the team periods, I was expecting to see him react quicker to the run, but he’s too often flat-footed and slow to trigger downhill to fill the alley. I’m not sure this type of low-contact environment is the best way to showcase his game. When he can be physical, he normally wins. During 1on1s he lowered his shoulder into Clemson TE Davis Allen inside five yards, causing Allen to fall to the turf.
— Illinois Safety Sydney Brown was the player of the day for this group. He’s well put together (5110 213) and is another one of those guys that tuck their jersey up into his shoulder pads exposing his chiseled core. He had six interceptions during the 2022 season and he showed why in today’s practice, it was easy to see why. He had two near-picks today. The first in 1on1s, he had a nice click and close on a comeback in 1on1s against a TE, but couldn’t get two feet in bounds on the sidelines. The other was on the first rep of 7on7, playing centerfield, and driving on a slant throw, but he wasn’t able to reel it in.
He’s definitely not the most natural hands catcher (most DBs aren’t), saw him awkwardly fight passes with poor hand positioning in positional drills towards the beginning of practice, but his six this season proves he can do it. He also had a nice diving pass breakup on Whyle in a team session. Loved his recognition and closing speed as well. On play-action boot play in team, he saw it early and quickly got downhill to make the QB get rid of the ball before he wanted to. The last thing on Brown, he’s not the biggest guy at 5110 but he was doing just fine covering big tight ends because he’s so good at playing through their hands after the catch, he showed it on multiple reps during 1on1s.
— Stanford CB Kyu Blu Kelly started out the day getting torched on a stop-and-go double move from Cincinnati’s Tre Tucker who couldn’t reel it in. Blu Kelly recovered nicely eating up a dig-route playing trail technique. The rep drew praise from Steelers DB Coach Grady Brown yelling, “Let’s Go!” and dapping up Blu Kelly after the play. He played a lot of trail technique today and overall looked pretty good doing it. He finished off the 1on1s getting beaten inside badly at the snap by his Stanford teammate Michael Wilson, but Blu Kelly recovered nicely knocking the ball out of Wilson and giving the defense the win in the period.
During the last team period, he was playing Cover 3 and lost track of Wilson on a vertical route, Blu Kelly had to turn run and find him again, luckily the QB was none the wiser. In the same team period, Blu Kelly was targeted on a goal line fade, he reached up fully stretched with his inside arm but the ball just went over his fingertips. Charlotte WR Grant Dubose almost made the juggling catch behind Blu Kelly but couldn’t complete the process. The last thing I’ll note on Blu Kelly, he’s really awkward when trying to high-point passes on vertical routes. During the individual period, he rarely high points the ball and/or jumps when he doesn’t have to make him have a weaker hand position.
— The entire defensive backfield was killing it during the 7-on-7 and team periods of this practice. They were constantly blanketing receivers all over the field leaving the quarterbacks nowhere to go. There were more than a few coverage “sacks” in those periods.
— Iowa CB Riley Moss put together another solid day. He had a few rough reps during 1on1s, one where he was caught holding Michigan WR Ronnie Bell, but that will happen at times in such an offensively slanted drill. He was part of the group that had two straight coverage “sacks” in a row during 7on7. Noticed today in the goal line situations that Moss is more than okay with sticking his face in the fan. On multiple occasions, he was aggressively trying to get in the pile. One rep he got barreled over into the end zone by Illinois Chase Brown, but it’s not for a lack of want-to. In the same drill that I criticized Blu Kelly for not being able to highpoint the ball, Moss is a natural. He looks like a wide receiver plucking the ball out of the air, high and away from his body. Moss was easily one of my biggest surprises of the week.
— Mekhi Blackmon is another guy that has impressed me, stacking multiple good days together. He was on the opposite side of Moss during the back-to-back coverage “sacks” in 7on7. He had a nice rep during goal line 1on1s where he didn’t give up the inside on a slant the play was blown dead. During the first team period, Michael Wilson ran a corner route with an inside stem at the top before breaking out and Blackmon stayed square and ate up the route. He’s a really fluid mover and would be a good fit in a man-heavy scheme.
— Maryland CB Jakorian Bennett also had some nice reps through team and 1on1s. It looks like he’s much more comfortable playing in the slot with short and intermediate routes where he can get use his short area quickness to his advantage. Per the Senior Bowl official Twitter account, Bennett ran 21.22 mph during the 1on1 period, which would be the 2nd fastest speed across all practices this week, so long speed isn’t an issue for him either, but I saw him get vertically stacked with relative ease too much this week to feel as comfortable with him on the outside.
— Ohio State Safety Ronnie Hickman and Illinois Cornerback Jartavius Martin did not practice today, hopefully, they can return for the game Saturday.
American Team (Defensive Backs)
— The American team practice again started slowly with technical, low-energy individual drills. The coaches turned up the energy after about 45 minutes with three 1on1 competitions between the four levels of position groups, OL/DL, LB/RB, TE/S then WR/CB. Kansas State CB Julius Brents was tasked with covering Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo for the WR/CB portion. Mingo had a decent release off the line, but Brents was able to stay in phase, play through some hand fighting, and get his head around to find the ball and force the incompletion. Other than his rep, he had a pretty quiet day, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as a cornerback. He was firmly one of the best players in all of Mobile this week.
— The defensive back of the day from this squad was South Carolina cornerback Darius Rush. He had a nice 1on1 session today starting off by jumping a hitch to Princeton WR Andre Iosivas, he’d go on to win his first three reps before eventually losing his fifth to Mingo on a fade after trying to take away the inside. Rush often looks like he’s trying to guess the route before it happens, leading to a high variance of play at times, but it worked out for him today. He’d add another pick in the 7on7 period and pass breakup on a throw behind a receiver in the team later in practice. He also gave up a touchdown on a slant to Rashee Rice during the 7on7 period allowing Rice to cross his face unabated at the goal line for the score. The DB coach called him over and coached up the moment immediately.
— LSU Safety Jay Ward is a tall and slender safety with a long wiry frame (6010 186). His practice started out rough as he was the TE/S 1on1 matchup of the competition period. He drew Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave and he couldn’t stick with him on a post route for a deep touchdown in front of the whole team.
He would go on to lose his first rep of WR/DB 1on1 period with SMU WR Rashee Rice making quick work of him on the release and working a slant route. On his next rep, he drew a holding penalty. For his rough start, he finished the period well winning his next few reps including sticking hip to hip with Rice on a corner route, forcing the incompletion. If there’s one thing a defensive back needs it’s a short memory. Later in the team period, I appreciated his ability to shed nagging slot receivers attempting to block him in the run game, but ripping them to the side.
— UVA CB Anthony Johnson Jr. is a guy that has seen his fair share of trouble down in Mobile. If I had to guess, he has drawn the most flags in coverage this week for the DBs and he drew a few more today. He’ll find himself behind WRs too often and will panic, leading him to grab. There was another rep in the 7on7 period against his UVA teammate Dontayvion Wicks where he found himself giving far too much space and it resulted in a simple ten-yard out route for Wicks in the end zone with no resistance. He did have a nice rep in trail technique shutting down a dig in the back of the end zone the quarterback didn’t even throw the ball.
— Florida State Safety Jammie Robinson generally is a smooth mover and I like how he operates out of his peddle. He’s not afraid to get hands-on at the top of intermediate routes with bigger receivers and had a good battle with Iowa State WR Xavier Hutchinson. Hutchinson eventually caught a ball but think it if it were a true rep he would have broken up too late. Robinson did have some trouble today with giving up the inside with no contact on a slant route to Iosivas, he got lucky because it bounced right off his chest. In another rep against Dontayvion Wicks, he got completely lost on a whip route. To be fair to Robinson, nobody covered Wicks today, he was the best WR through 1on1s. Robinson had a nice rep in the 7on7 period playing as a cover-2 safety spot. He carried Iosivas on a corner route and blanketed him with ease.
— UGA safety Christopher Smith II played some corner inside and out today and did not look comfortable at all in coverage.
— A late add from the NFLPA Bowl, safety Jason Taylor II from Oklahoma State (he has no relation to Hall of Famer Jason Taylor), looked solid today in his first day. Coaches were giving him a ton of tips in between reps. He weighed in at the NFLPA bowl at 5117, 208. He didn’t have a ton of splash today but was doing a nice job getting hands-on tight ends and sticking and running with them with ease. He also was getting the mix in the run game filling the alley well and block shedding. Looked like a fun player, wish he would have been in Mobile longer.
— Miami CB Tyrique Stevenson did not practice today, but he’s still expected to play in the game on Saturday, per ESPN’s Jordan Reid.
Jonathan Heitritter’s Practice Report (Trenches)
— Arizona State DL Nesta Jade Silvera is quite the character in warm-ups l, dancing around the rest of the DL while cracking jokes to lighten up the mood on a gloomy, chilly day. He definitely has a big personality in a good rush. He played with great leverage in 1 on 1s, getting underneath guards with a nice push/pull the shed the block and get into the backfield. Still, his size limits his effectiveness on a down to down basis, being completely taken out of some reps.
— Coastal Carolina DL Jerrod Clark showed some good movement skills for a 340lb+ DL today, bending around the corner on individual drills whole showing some hand usage. He had some sack production in college and said that he wants to show teams that he is more than a two-down player this week. Clark walked back Troy C Jake Andrews in 1 on 1s, driving back the undersized blocker with relative ease on the bull rush.
— Keeanu Benton out of Wisconsin has some powerful pop in his hands. Shocks blockers back on contacts and drops bags to the ground once he hits them in drills. Benton has a tendency to telegraph his pass rush moves early, getting off-balanced and losing a rep to Jarrett Patterson, who got into his torso in 1 on 1s.
— BYU OT Blake Freeland did a great job in 1-on-1s, dropping anchor and playing with a hood base to neutralize the pass rush. He did cheat sometimes too much to the outside, allowing the DL back inside on the counter.
— Maryland OT Jaelyn Duncan does a good job playing with a wide base in pass protection in 1 on 1s, ceiling off the edge and digging his heels into the turf to stall the rush. Can be susceptible to giving up the inside on counters, but has done a decent job recovering to get back in position to stop the rush.
— NDSU OL Cody Mauch buried Louisville DL YaYa Diaby on a rep in 1 on 1s, winning two consecutive reps while displaying the anchor to sit in and ability to use the defender’s weight and momentum against him. Also had two solid reps against Foskey, controlling his inside shoulder to stall his rush. Did a goof job on a quick pull to kick out Diaby in team, spring the runner into the second level.
— Adetomiwa Adebawore out of Northwestern is undersized but shows great quickness and hand usage in team session. Won right after the snap on a club/swim combo to get into the backfield in 1 on 1s.
— Clemson EDGE KJ Henry schooled Michigan OT Ryan Hayes on an inside swim move in team, immediately getting into the backfield, forcing the check down to the back.
— Oklahoma OT Wanya Morris got the best of Derick Hall in 1 on 1s in the middle of practice, ceiling him off inside and hit the griddy afterwards to celebrate. Morris did well against Dylan Hortan of TCU as well, getting a good inside punch with active feet and good knee bend.
— South Carolina DL Zacch Pickens has some serious pop in his hands, knocking Steve Avila back on the snap of 1 on 1s and extending him back. He did the same to Nick Broeker the next rep. His strength at the point of attack was evident against Nick Saldiveri, walking him back in 1 on 1s. I have been impressed with Pickens the last three days of practice.
— Tennessee OT Darnell Wright aggressively went after Iowa State EDGE Will McDonald IV, getting into his chest with pads popping and good leg drive on contact. He got the better of Isaiah McGuire in 1 on 1s and in team, chucking him to the ground in 1 on 1s and snatch trapped him in team session.
— Tennessee EDGE Byron Young did a good job setting the edge in 7 on 7, working the TE down to keep outside leg and arm free while cutting back outside to wrap up the runner in the backfield. Constantly plays with great energy and effort.
— Syracuse OT Matthew Bergeron beat Derick Hall on back to back reps in 1 on 1s, slamming him down to the ground on a pancake block as Hall tried to counter inside, then dropped anchor and had good hand placement inside to neutralize the rush. He has been the best overall OT of the American group.
— Alabama OT Tyler Steen had a good day of practice. Was stout in pass protection, dropping anchor in 1 on 1s as well as getting a push and creating holes in the run game in team. He’s had a good week of practice down here in Mobile. He got some snaps at LG in team session and looked good in pass protection, but needs better bend, playing high and generating little power in the running game. Overall a solid three days of practice.
— Auburn EDGE Derick Hall had a great arm over move in team session to clear the TE and wrap up the running back in the backfield for a loss. He has had a solid three days of practice setting the edge against the run and putting pressure on the passer with a combination of power and speed around the edge.
Ross McCorkle’s Practice Report (Off-Ball Linebackers)
WSU LB Daiyan Henley had a nice practice overall, showing off sideline-to-sideline speed and good footwork. He is smooth in coverage and stays in phase easily with running backs out of the backfield. I saw him bat a couple passes away today. He struggles a bit with play recognition, late to the swing pass in team session on one rep. He was good in backs on backers, winning each of his four reps, but it was a lot of finesse and not a lot of taking on the block. I definitely haven’t seen enough physicality against the run for Henley this week, but you might be able to find ways to use him outside of the traditional ILB mold.
Texas LB Demarvion Overshown was someone I heard buzz about earlier in the week, but he had a pretty nondescript practice today overall. He was the only linebacker that lost a rep during the backs on backers one-on-one drill today. I appreciated that he attempted the bull rush since the rest of the session was all finesse, but it did not end well for him. He got stood up and stumbled a bit when he tried to spin as a last ditch effort. In the team session he got washed out and stuck on blocks a couple times and failed to make any real impact.
Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace Jr. continued his dominance in the backs on backers using his sudden movement and very good play speed to finesse the running backs and get to the quarterback. His overall size, specifically his length, are an issue as he can get stuck on blocks and I don’t know how effective he can be against the run overall. That being said, if the right team can find a way to utilize him and minimize those issues he has very solid traits to work with. He consistently shows up on the Zebra Analytics list they put up on the scoreboard with the highest top speed of the linebackers.
Unfortunately, this team was dealing with possible injuries to Marte Mapu, Dee Winters, and Dorian Williams as all three were in street clothes watching practice. This left just two off-ball linebackers in Pitt LB SirVocea Dennis and Jackson St. LB Aubrey Miller Jr. They grabbed Isaiah Land from the OLB group to help compensate.
SirVocea Dennis had a really nice practice playing well in pass coverage in both the one-on-ones and the team session. He came downhill for a would-be tackle for loss in the team session, but they weren’t playing full speed in practice. He briefly went into the injury tent at one point during practice, but emerged and continued practicing. The biggest thing that stood out to me was his play recognition. He did not waste time trying to figure out where he should be and that allowed him to make a handful of nice plays.
Jackson St. LB Aubrey Miller Jr. was the most physical ILB of the day today. He was not afraid to step up and take on blockers and he always seemed to fall forward. I don’t think I saw him get blown back by anyone today. He had a forced fumble for the second day in a row in the team session which continues the trend of forcing the ball out that he showed in college. He isn’t the most fluid in coverage and doesn’t have the quickest feet, but he sure can come downhill.
Alex Kozora’s Practice Report (Wide Receivers)
— Not focused just on receivers but plenty of players not practicing today. They included: Troy LB Carlton Martial, BYU WR Puka Nacua, Illinois DB Jartavius Martin all didn’t work today. Big Ohio State OT Dawand Jones was on the field but didn’t practice today either.
— In warmups, the outside WRs were Nebraska Trey Palmer and Michigan’s Ronnie Bell while Cincinnati’s Tre Tucker played inside as the slot/F receiver.
— Watching players go through individual work, I did notice Bell’s arms would swing wide just before he made his break in his route. Has to be careful he doesn’t tip the route and when he’s breaking to the DB.
— National Team WRs coach with some coaching points as receivers ran routes on air.
On goal line fades: “Attack the ball, don’t let it come down!”
On end zone comebacks to front pylon: “Don’t play with your release. Get into the route!”
— Hadn’t watched much of Michigan State’s Jayden Reed (5106, 191) but heard the buzz on him throughout the week, especially from Tyler Wise’s notes. First rep I saw of Reed’s in 1v1 today was him stacking Maryland CB Jakorian Bennett and winning vertically on a nine-route, forcing Bennett to grab him for DPI to force the incompletion.
— Tucker (5087, 187) ran a nice double-move but couldn’t finish the play, dropping the ball downfield.
— It’ll get noted elsewhere but Illinois S/NCB Sydney Brown was great in 1v1. Undersized against big tight ends, he was competitive and carried them well vertically. He’s had a nice week.
— Stanford’s Michael Wilson (6015, 216) had a great release in 1v1s against Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly to cross his face on a slant. But Kelly recovered and punched the ball away from behind to force the incompletion.
— Charlotte’s Grant Dubose (6023, 204) made a nice diving red zone fade later in the day during 7v7s. He also showed effort as a blocker in team drills, stalk blocking his CB after a swing pass to the RB in the right flat.
— Broadly speaking, the defense won the day. The offense was doing pushups after most competitive sessions, their punishment for the overall loss. During the first team session, Brown broke up a pass on the first play followed by three straight quarterback scrambles.
— Tucker and Bell were included in the punt return drills. Tucker also fielded kicks.
— Not a wide receiver but Purdue tight end Payne Durham (6050, 258) used every inch of his big frame to snare a fade over his head for a touchdown, losing his helmet in the process but securing the catch to the ground. Celebrated by handing the ball to North Dakota State offensive lineman Cody Mauch, who spiked the ball into the end zone.
Bell did the same later in practice, running a nice route in the back of the end zone and grabbing the ball thrown above his head. Tossed the ball to Chattanooga’s McClendon Curtis who big-man spiked it into the ground that nearly bounced across and into the bleachers.
— Steelers’ GM Omar Khan was on the field in the back of the end zone during the National Team practice, talking with Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy. Assistant GM Andy Weidl was on the field for the American Team session, watching the receivers and skill positions through individual drills before walking off.
— Small note but liked seeing Cal safety Daniel Scott work on special teams technique, getting off blocks, with VMI long snapper Robert Soderholm during a break in the action today.
Not related to receivers specifically but the Senior scoreboard posts GPS tracking numbers each day. Here’s the fastest players of Day Two, South Carolina CB Darius Rush easily the fastest player here so far.
— Some names not practicing today. A slew of inside linebackers not working that Ross discussed. Miami (FL) DB Tyrique Stevenson did not work today after leaving in the middle of yesterday’s practice. Alabama Emil Ekiyor Jr. was injured and had to be helped off by trainers.
Wide receivers not working today included Houston’s Tank Dell and TCU’s Derius Davis.
— Early rep of 1v1. SMU’s Rashee Rice (6004, 200) had a nice jab step off the line to beat LSU’s Jay Ward.
— But the best player of the group had to be Virginia’s Dontayvion Wicks (6015, 212). Great quickness in his routes, he routinely won in 1v1s and showed plus body control, starting with a toe-tap catch on a fade by the back right pylon. He later ran a whip route to beat Florida State’s Jammie Robinson. In 7v7, he ran a great nod route to create space at the break point to again find the end zone. He ran the same in team and got open but Shepherd QB Tyson Bagent hit the checkdown underneath. He did sit down against zone and caught a short touchdown later in the session. His combination of size, quickness, and tracking makes him an interesting prospect.
— While some reports said otherwise, Bagent’s accuracy seems erratic. Lot of throws that weren’t even close to being caught. Understand there’s a lot of moving parts but his placement and accuracy and timing has been a struggle.
— Princeton’s Andrei Iosivas (6027, 212) is a big-body but fluid and easy-mover. Didn’t always catch the ball cleanly though. One thing to work on. But he created space on a double-move against Georgia’s Christopher Smith III. He played CB today after playing safety in college and looked every bit of working at a different position. Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson (6017, 207) had a combat snag against him, too. And Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo (6013, 226) crossed his face to beat him on a slant.
— South Alabama wideout Jalen Wayne (6014, 211) struggled to separate on his routes. He did win one rep against fellow Jaguar CB Darrell Luther Jr., a cool matchup to watch.
— In my narrow evaluation of the quarterbacks here, TCU Max Duggan has impressed me the most. Probably not worth much but it’s my evaluation.
— Kansas State CB Julius Brents capped off his nice week. In a 1v1 competition session, the whole team watching, Brents carried Mingo vertically and forced the incompletion on a nine-route.