The North and South teams put on full pads on Day 2 of the Senior Bowl and the intensity went up a notch or three, to say the least. Here are my observations from the day.
- Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman doesn’t possess as strong an arm as his two North team quarterback counterparts - Sefo Liufau (Colorado) and C.J Beathard (Iowa) - but his ball placement, anticipation and cool have all been on display this week. Out of the six quarterbacks this week, he seems to be the one that makes his receivers do the least work catching the football, as the ball is delivered on time and at the right spot.
- I remember Raiders star quarterback Derek Carr telling me in 2014 that former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley challenged him to be the leader of the North’s all-star team. That’s a whole lot more difficult to do than it seems in a week’s time when everyone is looking to make a name for himself, not improve the squad. I thought about Carr’s comments watching Peterman lead the North team before and during practice. He has cool and a command of the team and his all-star teammates seem to respond well to him.
- I previously mentioned that a fair number of the best players at the Shrine Bowl are not from the traditional powers (with the clear exception of O.J. Howard from Alabama) in FBS. Troy. Western Kentucky (two of them). Charlotte. Let’s not forget about…Bucknell. That’s right, the Bison produced an interesting prospect at offensive tackle - Julie’n Davenport. He’s got arms for days, a wing span of 87.5”! Today, I focused on how he moved, as an athlete. At 6-6, 310 pounds, he’s more fluid in his movement skills than I saw on Monday. He’s still raw and had trouble with power ends during pass rush drills, in particular. But, he can mirror rushers not trying to bull rush him back into the quarterback. He doesn’t get much movement at all in the run game and that’ll be something teams will want out of him as he goes forward.
- During pass rush 1-on-1s, Wisconsin edge Vince Biegel tried to work Davenport with some speed upfield, but the Bison star tackle swallowed him up. The second time these two matched up, Biegel threw an inside spin move and got free to the quarterback. I’m a fan of Biegel, regardless of the fact that he was overshadowed by J.J. Watt’s brother T.J. in 2016. Biegel can do a little bit of everything and his versatility could help him flourish at the next level.
- Matt Rhule recently moved up the road from us in Houston, taking over as the head coach at Baylor. If he develops players in Waco like he did at Temple, look out. Through the first two days, it’s hard to say that Temple linebacker Haason Reddick wasn’t the most impressive player on the North roster. He’s done a little bit of everything - dropping in coverage, rushing the edge, showing his ability to blitz and beat running backs in protection. Tuesday, though, his teammate, former left tackle now auditioning at guard, Dion Dawkins, had a much better day, especially in pass rush drills. One of his first reps was against Michigan’s relentless defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow and Dawkins held his own against Glasgow’s power up the field. He then faced Monday’s star Charlotte defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and rode him right upfield past the quarterback for another win.
- Speaking of Baylor, former Bears center Kyle Fuller continued to impress. I thought he had some decent moments on Monday, but was even better on Tuesday. He shut down Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson on one pass rush during 1-on-1s. He moves laterally well enough for a guy his size and showed that during 1-on-1s, half-line and team drills.
- Watching USC defensive tackle Steve Tu’ikolovatu, I couldn’t help but think “2017’s Senior Bowl version of D.J. Reader”. Wearing No. 98, he has a similar build (uh, like a tank) and like Reader, couldn’t be moved off the ball. He’s not a polished pass rusher, as he really only has a bull rush move up the field. That said, his ability to two gap, hold the spot and dominate the interior guard-center-guard trio was evident.
- Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp put on a show on Tuesday. He’s so smooth and consistent to find the open areas on the field. He caught the ball everywhere on the field. On a long ball down the field, he went up and stole one out of the air from Iowa cornerback Desmond King. When they got up off the turf, King couldn’t believe Kupp made the catch. He’s the FCS all-time receiving leader and he’s showing that he could’ve done that work at the highest level of college football too. He’s gotten a ton of respect and attention this week for certain.
- Iowa defensive back Desmond King is as physical in coverage as his former childhood pal Jourdan Lewis isn’t. King will clutch, grab, jostle to disrupt any route he faces. Lewis, a bit smaller than King, relies heavily on anticipation and transitional quickness, given that he’s only 188 pounds. He did cover inside receivers on Tuesday, something he’s going to need to do at the next level. But, he can be an inside covering dynamo in due time.
- Lewis faced his former teammate Amara Darboh on goal line fade routes and Darboh got the best of the Wolverine matchup. He made a tremendous catch in the back of the end zone and got both of his feet in for the touchdown. Darboh is a lot like Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M), in that he’s wiry, long and a bit thin, but he’s gotten open against nearly everyone. He showed incredible body control on that fade route, as he has all week.
- Notre Dame defensive end Isaac Rochell has started to change my opinion of him. Last summer when I studied him, I wasn’t sure that he could win consistently at the point of attack. This week, not only has he won, he’s done it in different ways. He’s overpowered offensive linemen at times, displayed quickness and adequate hand usage to get free at other times.
- West Virginia center Tyler Orlosky caught the eye of our good friend Texans videographer and producer extraordinaire Joe Amaral. As we watched the offensive line go through 1-on-1 drills, Joe looked back at me and asked, “Who’s 65”? When I said who he was, Joe noted, “He’s a tough dude; they can’t get past him.” Joe was right. Orlosky and Baylor center Kyle Fuller had much more success facing the interior defenders than on Monday.
- Wait, hold on…Texas A&M receiver Josh Reynolds just caught another pass.
- No one has found a way to cover Alabama tight end O.J Howard. Not even close. Honestly, I’m not sure how you cover him, but I guarantee you that Alabama fans will see him this year in the NFL and wonder why former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin didn’t throw him the ball more. His blocking improved each and every year at Alabama, but that’s not what has the NFL’s attention this week. His ability to get separation and make catches look routine have done the trick.
- UCLA left tackle Conor McDermott held up better on Tuesday against Texas A&M defensive end Daeshon Hall in pass rush 1-on-1s.
- A skirmish broke out between Miami safety Rayshawn Jenkins and Grambling receiver Chad Williams. I think they didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on the Whataburger/In-n-out debate.
- Unfortunately, LSU defensive back Tre’Davious White got injured at practice in the afternoon. He’s been excellent for the most part this week and I hope this doesn’t keep him out for a while. The South team has been ravaged with injuries during the first few days of workouts, losing nearly half a dozen players.
- During his career at Alabama, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson rarely got the acclaim that his more ballyhooed defensive teammates received. But, he’s a powerful package of TNT on the interior. When he strikes, offensive linemen feel it. A couple of times over the first two days, his strike off the snap jolted a few interior linemen significantly. He can play a number of different spots up and down the line of scrimmage and will be a steal, no matter when, or where, he’s selected.
- Villanova defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon is nothing but arms and legs coming off the snap, but he’s been tough to block for linemen of all kinds on the South team. If he can learn how to get all of his limbs and such working in concert with one another, he could be a pass rushing demon at the next level. On one rep during 1-on-1s, he ripped right under Kentucky lineman Jon Toth, forcing Toth to have to hold Kpassagnon on his way to the quarterback.
- One guy that I failed to mention on Monday was Tulane defensive tackle Tanzel Smart. He’s built low to the ground, but he understands leverage and technique more than most. He was ultra-difficult for the South offensive linemen to block consistently. He got into a fracas during that practice as well (I believe it was LSU’s Ethan Pocic) as his relentless style frustrated the South offensive group.
- Western Kentucky receiver Taywan Taylor is a baller. When I spoke to NFL Draft expert Josh Norris from Rotoworld/NBC Sports, Taylor was his “draft man crush” this week in Mobile. He’s fun to watch and here’s hoping he doesn’t end up in Tennessee with a healthy quarterback Marcus Mariota.
There’s nothing like football practice in late January to get the blood flowing, but seeing these prospects has me excited for the draft, a short three months away.
Check out some of the best shots from Wednesday's Senior Bowl practice in Mobile, Alabama. Images courtesy of AP.