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Great Blue North: Our week at the Senior Bowl...
Senior Bowl Week Wrap-up
by Colin Lindsay, GBN Editor, and Jamie Moore, GBN Chief Scout
Just what are they watching.... Perhaps the most important thing to remember when heading home from Mobile and this week's Senior Bowl workouts is not to overestimate the impact of the various players' performances here,especially - and perhaps ironically - what they do on the field. Indeed, it appears that pro scouts spend alsmost as much time just watching the players and how they react to various situations on and off the field such as how they react to making a mistake; how do they seem to relate with their teammates; are they paying attention to the coaches; what they do when they are not on the field; even how they warm-up. Its also critical to keep in mind that everything is relative and the players must always be rated in comparison with the guys around him; a player could dominate, however, if what's the level of the talent he's working against. Its also important to keep in mind that what happens in Mobile, in statistical terms, is a very small sample. When all is said and done, the players are really only 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. That said, the following are some of the trends observed at this year's Senior Bowl practice week.
Taking care of business... With juniors still not eligible for the Senior Bowl and many top seniors opting to pass on the game to protect themselves from injury or the impact of a bad performance, there were actually only a handful of legitimate first-round prospects at this year's event. The top prospects that did show up in Mobile, including Auburn RB Cadillac Williams, LSU DE Marcus Spears, Iowa DE Matt Roth, Oklahoma WR Mark Clayton, USC DT Shaun Cody and Auburn CB Carlos Rogers, however, did nothing but enhance their 2005 draft status. No player took a bigger gamble in coming to Mobile than Auburn's Williams. The 'Cadillac', in fact, was the only bona fide top 10 prospect to accept an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, but only added to his grade with a solid week of practice. Williams looks sleight for a feature RB - he weighed in at 206 pounds, but has skinny legs - but those legs were always moving, sometimes, it seemed in a 100 different directions all that the same time. More importantly, Williams showed he could catch the ball, was willing to block and generally impressed all week with a solid attitude. Same story for defensive linemen Roth and Spears; Roth, who is a tad undersized at just 262 pounds, just flew around opposing OTs all week; even more impressive than his quickness, though, was Roth's high-energy motor. For his part, Spears generally dominated with a freakish combination of size, strength and quickness, though, the debate whether he'll be more effective at DE or DT at the next level continues. Southern Cal's Cody also impressed with his intensity and work effort, but also appeared to bring a bit of a cerebral approach to his upfield pass rush. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's Clayton is undersized for a high draft pick, but was super quick all week, while Auburn's Rogers was a physical presence at corner before being forced to the sidelines with a hamstring strain. In fact, the only player carrying a first-round grade coming into Mobile who disappointed was LSU CB Corey Webster, who was physical enough, but played too far off the receivers he was trying to cover and lacked the closing burst to make up the ground once the ball was in the air.
And the short shall inherit the earth....Which is easy for us to say because the GBN staff in Mobile averaged in at under 5-7! One of the things that stood out right from the get-go at the Senior Bowl was the fact that there seemed to be an inordinate number of undersized players on the roster. Score one for short people everywhere, though, as most of the undersized players generally gave pro scouts plenty to chew on with some solid performances. At under 6 feet and barely 290 pounds, Southern Cal DT Mike Patterson, for example, has all the look of a mid-second-day pick, however, he played like a top 15 prospect. Patterson's quickness and aggressiveness gave opposing offensive linemen fits all week as he exploded off the snap, got leverage by keeping his pads low and simply didn't give much of a target to taller offensive linemen. And while, not very big, Patterson also did a nice job holding up against double teaming on running plays. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State CB Darrent Williams was the most aggressive cover corner in Mobile, despite measuring in at just 5-8, 170. Williams, who missed most of the 2004 season with a broken arm, made up for lost time, getting in the face of opposing receivers, sticking like glue, and exploding on the ball once it was in the air. Same story for Hawaii CB Abraham Elimimian who also measured in at barely 5-8, but also showed a very feisty side. On the other side of the ball, Purdue WR Taylor Stubblefield came to Mobile regarded as a player who, at 5-10, 170, was too small and slow to perhaps even be drafted at all, but always seemed to open and caught everything that came his way. Then there is Louisville LB Robert McCune, who also measured in at under 6 feet tall - short for a LB - although his sculpted body, which appeared to be one continuous muscle, turned a few heads early in the week at the weigh-in. McCune also went out and impressed on the field where he was an instinctive, low-slung sparkplug type whose feet were always moving making him very difficult player to find and block. and let's not forget the shortest of the short: Kansas State RB Darren Sproles, who at just 5-5 didn't even come to the bottom marker on the Senior Bowl's height scale, but was also super-quick; Sproles also tended to get lost behind his big offensive linemen.
However, while these players did excell in Mobile, most of them still have a lot to prove before draft day comes and goes. There is still a debate among pro scouts, for example, as to whether Patterson has the bulk to be a legitimate every down DT prospect at the next level; there aren't many, though, that wouldn't love to add him to their team's DT rotation, particularly as a 3rd down pass-rushing specialist type. Meanwhile, many teams are likely still going to be tempted to go with physical potential of bigger corners in the draft such as LSU's and 210-pound Ronald Bartell of Howard who struggled at times in coverage this week, over smallish players like Williams and Elimimian.
The short guys, though, didn't have all the fun in Mobile. In fact, the biggest buzz of the week may have been that surrounding the shift of former Arkansas QB Matt Jones to WR. The 6-6, 242-pound Jones lacks the twitch speed of the other receivers in camp, but otherwise has hardly looked out of place, in particular as he consistently beat press coverage where he was been able to use his size to keep CBs away from the ball. There is still a raging debate among scouts whether Jones is ultimately destined to become a pass-catiching TE in the NFL or stay at WR; wherever, he ends up playing, the consensus is that he could be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses around the league. There also has to be something of a similar sentiment regarding Northern Colorado WR Vincent Jackson. Like Jones, Jackson is a huge (6-4, 238) target who always seemed to be able to generate some separation during the course of the week, although he didn't always hang onto the ball.
Not yet a household name... While the cream did ultimately rise to the top this week, a number of players that came to Mobile as rather unheralded prospects put the NFL on register that they will be heard from a lot more between now and April 23rd as hot potential first-day picks this year. Missouri DT Attiyaf Ellison, for example, was a disruptive force all week, making repeated plays behind the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, Indiana WR Courtney Roby may have pushed himself higher in the receiver rankings. Roby showed plenty of deep speed and the ability to catch the ball in traffic over the middle, though, he did drop some balls early in the week. UConn MLB Alfred Fincher looked very quick and instinctive between the tackles, as well he appeared to emerge as one of the leaders of the North defense as the week progressed. And Virginia Tech CB Eric Green looked like something of an add-on invitee when the Senior Bowl rosters were announced, but looked like one of the few big corners to thrive in press coverage before he was forced to the sidelines with a strained hamstring.
To QB or not to QB... Playing in the all-star game format is always tough to evaluate QBs because they are working with unfamiliar receivers in an unfamiliar offense and seldom get enough reps to get into any kind of rythym. Unfortunately, this year's QBs took that a little too much to heart and overall had a rather rotten week. Auburn's Jason Campbell, though, was able to separate himself from the pack. Indeed, there are rumblings that Campbell could have very well elevated himself to a late first round pick with a solid week. Campbell has a strong, accurate arm with a very easy throwing motion and a strong arm, plus he's a big, physical runner who, while not overly fast, is tough to bring down because of his size and strength. Georgia's David Greene also had a solid week; Greene gets rid of the ball quickly and sees the field very well, but lacks Campbell's overall athleticism. Charlie Frye of Akron, on the other hand, wasn't all that accurate throwing the ball, and showed raw recognition skills, but did show some impress physical skills, while Kyle Orton of Purdue tended to be very inaccurate in the passing drills, but was sharper working against a defense.
Offensive line woes... One of the other recurring themes of the week was the fact that the offensive lines were pretty much dominated by their defensive counterparts. On what became a too regular basis, an offensive lineman would have a great series where he stuffed the man in front of him, but then would literally whiff on their next chance. In the end, Washington OT Khalif Barnes got our highest grade among the offensive linemen; Barnes was both athletic and feisty. Indeed, there's a bit of a buzz that Barnes could have pushedhimself into a first round pick. Alabama OT Wesley Britt also showed decent potential before breaking his foot; Britt would dominate when he got his arms into his opponent, however, too often his feet got rooted to the ground and lost momentum. Syracuse OT Adam Terry also had more good moments than bad; the 6-7 Terry could devastate an opponent with a punch to the chest, but struggled a bit with quick outside rushers where he wasn't able to make solid early contact. Included in the defensive linemen causing all the grief along with the likes of Roth, Spears, Cody and Patterson were DTs Jonathan Babineaux of Iowa andAlabama's Anthony Bryant and DEs Bill Swancutt of , Oregon State and Mike Montgomery of Texas A&M.
Everyone's a winner... While the offensive linemen struggled, the WR and LB corps graded out reasonably well across the board. Indeed, one didn't have to talk to all that many people untlil someone had something good to say about just about every receiver. In addition to Oklahoma's Clayton and the rangy Jones of Arkansas , the receivers that got the most raves were UCLA's Craig Bragg, along with superquick Reggie Brown of Georgia and Brandon Jones of Oklahoma. And no player in Mobile displayed more natural physical ability than WR Fred Gibson, the other receiver from Georgia. Wilson was just so smooth and effortless into and out of his routes, and then just exploded upfield with the ball, but didn't always catch the ball smoothly with too many little bobbles. Meanwhile, the TEs kind of went unnoticed, but Stanford's Alex Smith did draw plenty of attention as the week progressed. Smith made several solid catches in traffic downfield and also held up well blocking.
There was a similar story at LB where just about everybody played well. This year's Senior Bowl LB corps wasn't very big, but all ran well; none better than Oklahoma's Lance Mitchell, who actually appeared to run better than some of the safeties. Mitchell also showed excellent diagnostic skills and blew by would-be blockers to make a number of TFLs. Meanwhile, Barrett Ruud of Nebraska was almost as some as Mitchell while Clemson's Leroy Hill stayed with the TEs and RBs all week in coverage. Michael Boley of Southern Miss, the most accomplished pass rushing LB, and Marcus Lawrence of South Carolina also showed impressive athleticism.