2009 Senior Bowl Week Wrap-up
by Colin Lindsay and Jon Cozart
That's a wrap.... Practices have wrapped up in Mobile prior to Saturday's actual Senior Bowl game. In fact, most scouts cleared town after Wednesday's full-pads workout as the remianing practice sessions are mostly glorified walk-throughs with some special teams work in preparation for the game. NFL teams also reportedly geenrally put more emphasis on what happens on the practice field as opposed to the actual game. That said, it is important not to put too much emphasis on what happens at the Senior Bowl. With underclassmen not eligible to attend and many of the to-rated seniors passing on the event, only a fraction of the top prospects for the 2009 draft are actually in Mobile. As well, in stattistical terms what happens in Mobile is a very small sample. When all is said and done, the players are really on the field for a only a total of 3-4 hours and will only be involved in a limited number of plays at speed with real contact. It is perhaps even more important to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of pro scouts is to try and project how well a player will perform in the NFL in 2-3 years rather than whether he necessarily makes a play today. Indeed, pro teams are watching the intangibles such as how coachable the players appear to be and how they relate to their teammates almost as much how well they perform on the field. That said, the following are some of the trends observed at this year's Senior Bowl practice week.
The defense rules... The 2009 draft is not believed to be overly strong along the defensive line, and especially at DT, however, someone forgot to tell the D-linemen wo showed up in Mobile. Boston College DT B.J. Raji, was the best player on the field period as he unblockable from day one. Raji came to the Senior Bowl rated as a possible late-first or early secon round prospect for the upcoming draft, but likely moved up into the middle of the opening round with a thoroughly dominating performance. Raji, though, wasn't the only DT to have a great week. Ole Miss' Peria Jerry also went along way to earning a first-round call himself this coming April as he was just too quick for most South offensive linemen to handle on a consistent basis. Meanwhile, other DTs to have very solid weeks in Mobile included Missouri's Ziggy Hood, who literally had scouts heads on a proverbial swivel with his many spin moves, Georgia's Corey Irvin, Alex Magee of Purdue and USC's Fili Moala. At the same time, Raji's Boston College teammate - and fellow 330-pounder - also was very strong at the point of attack, but showed little in the way of lateral quickness or agility. Same for Vance Walker of Georgia Tech, another pure bull-rusher who might not have enough upfield explosion to be an every down player at the next level.
The DEs weren't quite as dominating, but came close. Larry English of Northern Illinois had a particularly strong weak showing an explosive first step and relentless closing speed, although he did get stuck at the line of scrimmage on a couple of plays when there was too much head faking before he really got going. Meanwhile, unheralded tweeners David Veikune of Hawaii and Lawrence Sidbury of Richmond were able to consistently get to the edge in one-on-one pass rush drills, but were occasionally engulfed on running plays in full scrimmage mode. Rangy Kyle Moore of USC, Robert Ayers of Tennessee and Will Davis of Illinois also had strong weeks as did tweener DT/DE Mitch King of Iowa, a college DT who at barely 275 pounds will have to find another niche to play at the next level.
Didn't you used to be... One of the emerging story lines at this week's Senior Bowl was the strong play of a bunch of relativlely unheralded players who more than held their own with the top seniors in the country. Indeed, players like Tennessee Georgia DT Corey Irvin, CBs Coye Francies of San Jose State and Ellis Lankster, DEs Robert Ayers of Tennessee, Richmond's Lawrence Sidbury, and David Veikune of Hawaii, Virginia Tech C Ryan Shuman, CB Coye Francies of San Jose State and FS Louis Delmas of Western Michigan all advanced their draft stock this week with strong showings. At the same time, though, pro scouts had to be a little disappointed with hot small-school prospects Ramses Barden, a 6-6, 227-pound stud WR from Cal Poly who looks the part of a big-time receiving threat, but wasn't at all quick or athletic, and Jackson State CB Domonique Johnson, a very fast cover corner with good size who was very tentative coming out of his breaks.
The NFL contingent in Mobile also had to be even more disappointed with the fact that a large number of top-rated seniors opted not to come to Mobile after originally committing to the game. The potential 2009 first-rounders who backed out of this year's event for one reason or another included CB Malcolm Jenkins and LB James Laurinaiis of Ohio State, Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson, Wake Forest OLB Aaron Curry, Virginia OT Eugene Monroe, Baylor OT Jason Smith, and Texas DE Brian Orakpo. Those absences really put the spotlight on the top stars who did come to Mobile including Ole Miss OT Michael Oher and Southern Cal MLB Rey Maualuga. Oher, for example, was the consensus highest-rated player in Mobile and on most plays looked the part as he got in a devastating punch as slid easily about the pocket mirroring the DE. On others, though, Oher appeared stiff and flat-footed and was beaten cleanly on a couple of outside-inside moves. Meanwhle, Maualuga realy came on as the week progressed as he was aggressive all over the field. The problem for Maualuga, though, was just about everything the backers were doing this week in Mobile was very much in his comfort zone coming forward and attacking the line of scrimmage. What Maualuga wasn’t asked to do much of, in contrast, and where the questions lie regarding his ultimate draft status are playing in reverse. Maualuga's USC LB teammate and fellow potential first rounder Brian Cushing didn'tmake any highlight plays, but was solid all week playing in both directions and likely didn't do anything to hurt his draft status.
The one potential first-rounder in this year's Mobile field who did really struggle was FS Will Moore of Missouri. Moore, an athletic 230-pound thumper, struggled through an inconsistent 2008 season as he was hampered by a string of nagging injuries and had hoped to re-establish himseld as the top safety in the current draft class in Mobile, but looked stiff and slow all week.
It probably shouldn't have come as a great surprise, given the overall weakness of the position in the 2009 draft class, but it was a very disappointing week all-around for the QBs, none of whom threw the ball very well. Graham Harrell of Texas Tech did show some nice touch and pocket awareness and was better than expected working under center, but didn't have a lot of zip on the ball, especially on the intermediate and deep outs. On the other hand, Rhett Bomar of Sam Houston State and Cullen Harper of Clemson showed better arm strength, but neither was very accurate at all. In fact, it wasn't hard to note in Mobile the inordinate number of passes that ended up on the ground even when there wasn't a defense around.
The 2009 draft also isn't expected to be very strong at receiver and that also showed through in Mobile this week. In particualr, there wasn't much in the way of real speed at the position. That said, veteran WRs Brian Robiskie of Ohio State, Brandon Gibson of Washigton State and Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma were able to consisistently get open as each ran good routes, used their size to shield defenders away from the ball, and showed good hands, but again none of the three is going to set any sprint records. Meanwhile, scouts appeared to be split on Penn State WR Derrick Williams. Some liked his quickness, but others were looking for him to be more physical beating the jam. And for a guy who is supposed to have extra value as a return man, Williams struggled to cleanly field punts. Mike Thomas of Arizona also showed nice quickness on underneath routes and caught the ball well, but also tended to get hung up at the line of scrimmage when jammed, while Quan Cosby of Texas also showed excellent hands. Arguably the most intriguing receiver in mobile was rangy Patrick Turner of USC. An underachiever for the Trojans, Turner ran some very precise routes for a 6-5 wideout, but had a couple of very noticeable drops.
TE tends to be an an afterthouht at the Senior Bowl, however, Shawn Nelson of Southern Miss may have done more for his draft stock as any player at this year's event. Thought of as mostly a TE in a WR's body who would likely have to make it as an H-back at the next level, Nelson surprised onlookers with his blocking skills. While not very big at under 240 pounds, Nelson was just exploding of the line of scrimmage and ripping into defenders before they could get out of their stances. Nelson was also extremely fluid running in space and made some tough catches in traffic, although he also dropped a couple of what should have been routine receptions. Meanwhile, Brandon Pettigrew of Oklahoma State, anothe of this year's top-rated prospects overall in Mobile, didn't disappoint. Pettigrew blocked well and caught the ball well as he found the soft spots in coverage, but scouts left town still looking for that extra gear to split the seam. And this year's winner of the 'Mr. Versatility' award was clearly sometime TE, sometime LB Connor Barwin of Cincinnati. Barwin lined up at TE the first two days of practice, the position he played early in his career at Cincinnati, but switched back over to DE, the position he played in 2008, at this morning’s practice. And Barwin, who has also played for the Bearcats hoop squad in the past, didn’t look at all out of place on the defensive side of the ball as he showed some very good quickness and explosion coming off the edge in the one-on-one pass rush drills.
As we have noted on several occasions, all-star games, including the Senior Bowl, are lousy venues for RBs to show their stuff as they just don’t get enough carries, plus there isn’t any real tackling in the practice sessions. That said, both 224-pound Andre Brown of North Carolina State and 232-pound Arian Foster of Tennessee have both shown good vision and made some precise cuts into the hole in limited carries this week. Unfortunately, though, as noted above, Foster appeared to hurt a hammy after a botched hand-off in Wednesday’s workout. Meanwhile, Syracuse FB Tony Fiammetta got some props for some solid lead blocks.
Arguably the most disappointing position at the 2009 draft were the offensive linemen, who as noted above were stampeded on occasion by their defensive countreparts. The inside guys, in particular, struggled with B.J. Raji and Peria Jerry and company. Howevr, there were a couple of exceptions. Alabama C Antoine Caldwell, in particular, showed good quickness and functional strength, while Auburn OF Tyronne Green played with a solid wide base and really battled to the whistle. Cs Alex Mack of California and Oregon's Max Unger also held up reasonably well, but like a lot of their position mates, struggled at times when asked to match-up head-to-head with a big DT. Unheralded UConn OT William Beatty and Virginia Tech C Ryan Shuman also had decent weeks. Beatty in particular showed some LT potential; while undersized at barely 290 pounds, Beatty moved his feet very well and appears to have the frame to add another 15-20 pounds.
On the other hand, offensive linemen who had as many downs as ups were Oklahoma OT Phil Loadholt and and Oregon State G/T Andy Levitre. With Loadholt, its game over when he gets his long arms into an opposing DE, however, he struggled to cut off the edge by quick outside rushers and has limited ability to change direction. Same story for Levitre, who was strong enough at the point of attack, but really struggled to move laterally. Meanwhile, it was hard not to miss 382-pound LSU OG Herman Johnson who literally blocked out the sun at times. Unfortunately, it was often about the only thing Johnson blocked as he struggled to keep up with the speed on the people in front of him. Florida OT Jason Watkins also struggled as he appeared to play too high and struggled to change direction.
While Missouri FS Will Moore, the highest-rated DB in Mobile this week, had a disappointing Senior Bowl, it actually was a pretty good week in the secondary. Western Michigan FS Louis Delmas, for example, who may have as good ball skills as anyone in Mobile, and showed plenty of aggressiveness attacking the line of scrimmage, moved up draft boardswith a great week, while Alabama FS Rashad Johnson and Patrick Chung of Oregon were also more than solid. At the same time, David Bruton of Notre Dame had a disappointing week, as he looked stiff and tentative, although more than one scout noted that the former Irish safety still had tremendos poteantial as a special teams coverage ace. Same story at CB where Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest, Virginia Tech's Macho Harris, Keenan Lewis of Oregon State, and Ellis Lankster of West Virginia all were physical in press coverage. Same for Darius Butler of UConn and San Jose State's Coye Francies, although the latter two weren't as quick to break on the ball when coming out of a backpeddle.
There were also a couple of nice coverages by Oklahoma LB Nik Harris and Pitt’s Scott McKillop. Harris, a converted safety with excellent quickness and athleticism for a LB, in particular, seemed to catch the eye of scout's. Moise Fofou of Maryland and Ole Miss' Ashlee Palmer also impressed with the quickness and aggression. On other hand, LBs Marcus Freeman of Ohio State and Darry Beckwith of LSU tended to get tied up with blockers. Scouts were also keeping a close eye on LBs Clay Matthews of USC and Virginia's Clint Sintim, both of whom were primarily edge rushers in college but who did a lot of work at LB in Mobile. Both in fact did get a few reps with the defensive linemen in the one-on-one pass rush drill with the offensive linemen and did a nice job getting after the QB; both, though, also appeared lost at sea at times when dropping into coverage
Top 10 players in Mobile
1. Boston College DT B.J. Raji
2. Mississippi DT Peria Jerry
3. Western Michigan FS Louis Delmas
4. Alabama C Antoine Caldwell
5. Southern Miss TE Shawn Nelson
6. Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith
7. Northern Illinois DE Larry English
8. USC LB Brian Cushing
9. Virginia Tech CB Macho Harris
10. California C Alex Mack
Honorable mentions: NC State RB Andre Brown; Ohio State WR Brian Robiskie, Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias, Washington State WR Brandon Gibson, Oklahoma State TE Brandn Pettigrew, UConn OT William Beatty, USC DE Kyle Moore, Oklahoma LB Nik Harris, Maryland LB Moise Fokuo, Oregon DB Patrick Chung, Alabama FS Rashad Johnson, Oregon State CB Keenan Lewis, .
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