By NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports XchangeMONDAY NORTH TEAM REPORT
MOBILE, Ala. -- The North team practiced at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Monday afternoon, where all remaining practices and Saturday's Senior Bowl game will take place. Because the South practiced across Mobile Bay in Fairhope, the usual NFL personnel crowd was split between the fields.
The Senior Bowl separates itself from other postseason prospect all-star games because NFL coaches are leading the teams on the field and in meeting rooms. This year, Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis and their coaching staffs are guiding the future pros. This benefits the players, who get an early education on what to expect in training camp, and the coaching staffs, who get an up-close look at the best senior prospects in the 2009 draft.
While the Jaguars and Bengals appear set at quarterback, many teams want to see a senior separate himself from the rest of the crowd this week. Two of the top candidates on the North squad are Rhett Bomar (Sam Houston State) and Graham Harrell (Texas Tech). Bomar has better pure arm strength but needs to take a little off when throwing underneath. Harrell showed better anticipation downfield, leading his receiver over the middle or placing the 17-yard out right on the money. Nathan Brown (Central Arkansas) doesn't have a great arm, but anticipated routes fairly well and has adequate zip on short to intermediate passes. He tends to throw off his back foot and will drop into three-quarter delivery, a serious flaw considering he measured right at 6-feet.
Underclassmen are dominating the top of the running back ratings, but second-round challenger Jeremiah Johnson (Oregon) displayed quickness and reliable hands out of the backfield. Kory Sheets (Purdue) also is versatile enough to produce as a runner and receiver. His compact build and speed stood out. Syracuse's Tony Fiammetta has quick feet for a fullback and packs a powerful punch.
Scouts continue to mine for elite talent at wide receiver. Brandon Gibson (Washington State) was the star of the North's practice Monday, running with fluidity and snatching the ball with his hands. His extension and concentration on a deep ball drew a strong reaction from the crowd. He needs a strong week to help overcome a lack of exposure in a moribund offense at Wazzu.
Derrick Williams (Penn State) caught everything thrown his way, even adjusting to poor deep throws in Monday's session. Brian Robiskie (Ohio State) is smooth and also has solid hands but he takes his time getting off the line of scrimmage.
Brooks Foster (North Carolina) has the size and speed to contribute to an NFL roster but his hands are suspect. He dropped at least two passes and caught another with his body, but bounced back on a few other plays. Ramses Barden (Cal Poly) offers a nice target at 6-6 and is quicker in and out of breaks than expected. But his lack of top-end speed makes it hard for him to separate downfield and he's a bit awkward in running routes, especially in comparison to this peer group.
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew (Oklahoma State) met expectations as a good blocker on the edge and reliable receiver in space. Virginia's John Phillips could really boost his stock if he continues to display good hands and run crisp routes. Mike Vrabel clone Connor Barwin (Cincinnati) is playing tight end this week to fill a need for the North, but told NFLDraftScout.com that teams expect him to play defensive end. Even so, his willingness to play both sides of the ball will not be ignored by scouts.
Connecticut left tackle William Beatty continues to shoot up draft boards. His athleticism was evident on the practice field. Former teammate Cody Brown did win one head-to-head battle, however, forcing Beatty to overextend and lose his balance.
Oklahoma tackle Phil Loadholt played on the left and right sides, using his length to keep ends at bay throughout the afternoon. He lacked lateral movement in the shadow drill, however, which is no surprise to those who remember his rough ride against Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo during the 2008 season.
This year's interior offensive lineman group has talent.
Alex Mack (California) and Max Unger (Oregon) played at center at guard, displaying excellent versatility. Both also showed a nasty streak in practice. Guard Kraig Urbik (Wisconsin) was strong and has more nimble feet than he's given credit for. Oregon State's Andy Levitre lined up at left guard and right tackle, but he's best in tight spaces. He really struggled in one-on-one blocking drills because he lacks adequate lateral movement.
Xavier Fulton (Illinois) also played both tackle spots. The former tight end has the athleticism and strength to be a solid mid-round pick.
The senior defensive end group lacks star power. Will Davis (Illinois) has adequate burst off the line and actually sent Fulton to the ground in one drill.
Larry English (Northern Illinois) could be tried at linebacker later this week, but was strong enough in drills to disengage from blocks to make plays outside when lined up at end. Stout Tim Jamison (Michigan) doesn't own great quickness on the edge but, like English, recognizes plays coming to his side and is able to rein in the ballcarrier.
Defensive tackle Ziggy Hood (Missouri) had one of the standout spin moves during one-on-one drills, maintaining his balance throughout just like he's done over the last couple of seasons for the Tigers.
Boston College DT B.J. Raji demonstrated his unique combination of explosiveness and strength inside in scrimmages and drills. His matchups with Unger were interesting; Raji beat him with quickness on one set and then tried a bull rush that didn't work quite as well.
Iowa's Mitch King is undersized at 275 pounds, but he is relentless and uses quick hands and a variety of pass rush moves to beat his man off the snap.
Linebackers and safeties are the toughest positions to scout during all-star game practices, when open-field tackling ability is left to the imagination.
But Clint Sintim (Virginia) is a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker with good size, closing speed and the willingness to mix it up with a top tight end like Pettigrew in coverage. Versatile Tyrone McKenzie (South Florida) is just a solid player who doesn't do any one thing great, but seems to consistently be around the ball. Middle linebacker Scott McKillop (Pittsburgh) had trouble beating backs to the edge but showed nice awareness in coverage, closing on Juaquin Iglesias (Oklahoma) in his zone and stripping the ball out.
Among safeties, David Bruton (Notre Dame) displayed better lateral movement than William Moore (Missouri), who actually looked more like a linebacker. Both are good closers when a play is in front of them. Oregon's Patrick Chung is a bit more versatile, looking smooth for his position in drills and able to play in the box without fear. Louis Delmas (Western Michigan) also exhibited sideline-to-sideline range as a free safety.
The North team also has some talented corners, a position featuring pretty good depth in this draft. UConn's Darius Butler looked like a perfect zone corner/free safety with excellent closing ability and toughness. Cincinnati cornerbacks Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith acquitted themselves well, although Mickens showed better ball skills and more fluid hips. Victor "Macho" Harris (Virginia Tech) and Keenan Lewis (Oregon State) will be squarely on teams' radars this week as potential first-day picks.
Kicker Louie Sakoda (Utah) is a strength for the North team, but punter Kevin Huber (Cincinnati) turned over only one punt, which minimizes hang-time (usually less than four seconds) and distance (around 40 yards). Long snapping specialist Mark Estermyer (Pittsburgh) bounced a couple back to Huber and his better snaps usually came between .75 and .78 seconds -- which is about one-tenth of a second too long for scouts' liking.
Receiver Derrick Williams also had problems returning punts, dropping two -- one hit him in the helmet -- and allowing another to drop on the ground about a yard away as he lost visual contact with the ball to find the sideline.WEIGH-IN NOTES
The National Scouting weigh-in took place Monday, when evaluators were finally able to scrap the program-listed -- and often embellished -- height and weight of the seniors on hand for eyewitness measurements. Some prospects impressed with their length, height and/or cut builds, while others looked as though they spent more time in the dining room than the weight room. Who measured up?
Standing tall was wide receiver Ramses Barden (Cal Poly), who came in at 6-6 on the nose and impressed his 10 5/8-inch hands and 33 3/4-inch arms. Oklahoma offensive tackle Phil Loadholt measured 6-8 and his 36 1/2-inch arms were the longest on either roster. Free safety David Bruton (Notre Dame, 6-1 3/4, 210) showed a six-pack and his 10-inch hands and 34-inch arms are prototypical for defensive backs. Center Alex Mack (California) and guard Kraig Urbik both looked tall and thick with long arms (33 1/4 inches and 33 1/2, respectively) and big hands (10 5/8 inches, 10 1/2).
A few players came in a bit smaller than expected. Quarterback Nathan Brown (Central Arkansas) came in at 6-feet, 1/2-inches and 217 pounds with what looked more like a kicker's body than a quarterback's. The physical traits of running backs Jeremiah Johnson (Oregon, 5-8 3/4, 198) and Cedric Peerman (Virginia, 7 7/8-inch hands) disappointed scouts.
Cincinnati cornerbacks Mike Mickens (5-10, 176) and DeAngelo Smith (29 1/2-inch hands) did not measure up in some ways but both had some obvious strength. Teammate Trevor Canfield's (6-4 1/2, 311) physique did not impress, however, nor did his relatively small hands (9 1/4 inches) or arms (31 inches) for a guard.
Arm and hand length may seem trivial to casual fans, but backs with small hands like Peerman will get tested by NFL linebackers in space to see if they can hold onto the ball. Although he hadn't had fumble issues until the end of his senior year, pro scouts will factor the late-season turnovers and small hands in their evaluations.Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.MONDAY SOUTH TEAM REPORT
MOBILE, Ala. -- From players who caused scouts to scribble furiously in their notebooks to revolutionary practice drills to assistant coaches generating unexpected buzz in post-practice interviews, the action was everywhere during the South team's first practice at the Senior Bowl on Monday.
With Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Baylor's Jason Smith electing to skip the Senior Bowl, Mississippi's Michael Oher has an opportunity in Mobile to establish himself as the elite offensive tackle of the 2009 class. To do so, however, he'll need to win more battles against Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers.
Oher, ranked by NFLDraftScout.com as the elite senior prospect throughout much of the season, showcased the nimble feet and upper body strength to warrant such high praise. The surprise was Ayers, whose quickness off the snap, strength to anchor and dizzying array of counter moves enabled him to beat Oher at times and consistently proved too much for lesser pass blockers. If he can build upon his initial showing with a strong week of practice, Ayers could be the latest example of players catapulting up draft boards with a strong performance in Mobile.
Oher was smooth getting to the second level and showed a determination and physicality scouts had hoped to see more of throughout his career. The physicality extended to his pass blocking. After being beaten with an impressive swim move by Ayers during a late scrimmage, Oher exacted some revenge with a dominating pancake on the next play. The battle between these two SEC stars could go down as one of the best of the week.
Ayers was impressive Monday, but he'll have plenty of competition from Mississippi defensive tackle Peria Jerry this week to be characterized as the South's top defensive lineman. Jerry used his explosive quickness and strong upper body to consistently dominate in one-on-one drills.
Southern California defensive tackle Fili Moala also showed great quickness and made plays in the scrimmage. Moala, quicker and better in pursuit than often given credit for, helped himself Monday.
While he was occasionally beaten by quickness, Alabama center Antoine Caldwell proved capable of handling even the best of the South's defensive tackles when he was able to get his hands on them. Strong and balanced, Caldwell locked up defenders well in one-on-one drills, easing some of the concerns scouts had about his lateral quickness and agility.
The monumental clashes that take place in "the pit" present scouts with some of the more entertaining moments during Senior Bowl week, but there is no denying that the defensive linemen have an inherent advantage during one-on-one drills. Rather than spend all my time watching the behemoths wage war in the trenches, I focused mainly on those not requiring the development of camaraderie with others to excel -- an impressive South roster of defensive backs. In doing so, I also got a feel for many of the quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends.
The battle to be the top quarterback on the South roster was only a two-man fight Monday, as West Virginia's Pat White will need to step it up the rest of the week. White consistently struggled with his accuracy Monday. His short and intermediate passes had enough zip, but were often too high or outside. Receivers were often forced to break off their routes and defenders had multiple opportunities for big plays.
Alabama's John Parker Wilson and Clemson's Cullen Harper both had their moments. Harper may have been the more consistent of the two, but he also elected to throw dump off passes to the backs and tight ends much of the day. Harper completed the prettiest pass of the day, a deep go route to Southern California's Patrick Turner, but otherwise relied on intermediate routes. He generally was accurate, but scouts want to see him take more chances.
Wilson was willing to go deep, but it's not his strength. He threw with better accuracy and zip on comeback routes and when rolling out than expected, and was often the South's most impressive passer in drills. However, he'll need to step up his level of play in scrimmages.
Jacksonville quarterbacks coach Mike Shula had a unique way of coaching the South quarterbacks to avoid the long arms of the incoming pass rush. With receivers running simple routes, his coaches put up a 10-foot fence-on-wheels that forced the passers to throw with an over-the-top release. Not surprisingly, Wilson, the former Shula disciple, was the most successful with this device, as his passes typically flew just over the top, traveled with good velocity to their target and were generally accurate. Harper's passes were generally accurate, but lacked zip. White's passes were often quite high - sometimes yards high - to his receivers.
Shula, the former head coach at Alabama, was an even more popular post-practice interview for local media Monday than head coach Jack Del Rio. To the amusement of Del Rio and probably the rest of their staff, Shula had roughly double the media contingent in front of him than any other person on the field as Monday's practice ended.
The receivers and tight ends on the South roster were plagued by drops. Arizona's Mike Thomas and Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi each dropped multiple passes. Thomas also dropped a punt toward the end of practice, though the wind was swirling. South Carolina's Kenny McKinley showed the toughness and concentration that characterized much of his career with the Gamecocks on one early pass, snatching a reception and hanging on despite a good, physical pop from the defender.
Mississippi's Mike Wallace has deep speed, but rarely was targeted Monday. Southern California's Patrick Turner had the catch of the day, extending himself to snatch a deep pass from Harper against close coverage by Alphonso Smith, but otherwise wasn't consistently able to use his huge height advantage to make plays.
While the receivers were largely inconsistent Monday, the tight ends were worse as a group. Alabama's Travis McCall and N.C. State's Anthony Hill each dropped passes, with McCall really struggling at times. Southern Mississippi's Shawn Nelson flashed the hands to snatch the tough pass outside of his frame, but wasn't as secure on other passes, too often allowing throws into his pads. His rare speed down the seam, however, warrants a close look.
The South's cornerbacks are the squad's top group from top to bottom, and have the athleticism scouts are looking for.
Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith and San Jose State's Coye Francies both have the elite foot quickness and flexible hips for man coverage. Smith was aggressive throughout the day, breaking up multiple short passes and challenging receivers to try to take him deep. He victimized White for an easy pick-six late in the scrimmage that just served as the icing on the cake. Smith was as impressive as any player on the field, though the reality is few starting NFL cornerbacks stand just 5-feet-9. Francies was tentative at times, but seemed to get more comfortable as practice went on and broke on the ball well. He also had the most impressive interception of the practice, running stride-for-stride with the receiver and catching a pass over his opposite shoulder despite contact.
Troy's Sherrod Martin practiced at cornerback throughout the day and looked surprisingly effective. He was a bit high in his backpedal at times, but broke on the ball well and showed better than expected hips to turn and run deep.
Jackson State's Domonique Johnson was as inconsistent as one might expect for a player making his jump in competition level. There were bright spots, as he improved as the practice went on, but he's long-legged and struggled to mirror the quicker receivers' routes.
It's difficult to gauge linebackers on the first day of all-star game practices, but there is simply no missing the combination of size and pure athleticism in Southern California's Brian Cushing. While teammate Rey Maualuga generates most of the attention, Cushing is incredibly light on his feet considering he is 6-3 and 243 pounds. In drills designed to test agility, flexibility and leaping ability, Cushing consistently graded higher than his teammates.
Similarly, I don't focus on running backs on the first day of practice as the offensive linemen haven't been able to develop any chemistry and, thus, any holes. Liberty running back Rashad Jennings made a nice catch on an outlet pass during the scrimmage, however, and showed much more acceleration than scouts - and certainly the South safeties - were expecting. Jennings, 6-1, 234 pounds, zipped through the defense and broke into the open for what would have been a long touchdown.
LSU guard Herman Johnson was moved outside to right tackle at times. He played well there, though was often attacked in pass protection. He did show the pop at the line of scrimmage as a run blocker and showed his surprising quickness to the second level, providing an imposing figure. Linebackers and safeties were able to move around him, but by the time they were able to do so, the backs were safely downfield. WEIGH-IN NOTES
The height and weight measurement process had to be delayed twice due to overzealous media and scouts taking pictures of the players. Francies was the lightest player on the South roster, weighing in at 179 pounds. Thomas was the shortest, standing only 5-8. There was no doubt who the tallest and heaviest player on the South roster would be, but the gasps were still quite audible when Herman Johnson measured in at 6-7 3/8 and a whopping 382 pounds.
Other notable results from the South weigh-ins included Texas wide receiver Quan Cosby measuring in at a shade under 5-9, a full two inches shorter than he was listed with the Longhorns. Two inches may not seem like much, but the difference could mean the Fiesta Bowl hero drops a full round in the draft amid questions about how he'll match up in the NFL.
Maualuga might be a fierce hitter, but his lack of upper body definition was surprising. Tennessee guard Anthony Parker's is a big man at just a shade under 6-2, 310 pounds, but his especially sloppy middle drew some raised eyebrows.
Two small-school players stood out for their impressive measureables. Jennings, a Pittsburgh transfer, owns one of the more impressive builds in this game. The rugged 6-1, 234-pounder certainly passes the eyeball test.
Richmond defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, Jr. might have earned a lot of money just by having his arms and hands measured Monday. While scouts will continue to question whether he's athletic enough to move to linebacker or will have to remain an undersized defensive end, the 6-2, 267-pound pass rusher measured in with extraordinary arms (35 inches) and hands (10 1/2). Only Herman Johnson was longer. Sidbury's long arms and big hands will prove useful in his fighting with blockers on his way to the quarterback. Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.Related Links:Related Links:* 2009 Senior Bowl: Practice Review* 2009 Senior Bowl: Wednesday Practice Reports* 2009 Senior Bowl: Tuesday Practice Reports* 2009 Senior Bowl: Monday Practice Reports* Senior Bowl Journal: Oregon State OG/OT Andy Levitre* 2009 Senior Bowl Measurements, Excel Spreadsheet: Height, Weight, Hand, Arm, Plus/Minus notes from listed* Senior Bowl Rosters* Senior Bowl Preview* Senior Bowl TV Schedule