MOBILE, Ala. - Some of the most impressive performances in Senior Bowl practices this week have come from the defensive backs, including Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith on the South squad and Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas on the North side.
Smith (5-9, 193) lacks ideal height for a corner, but he has been snaring interceptions and smothering receivers all week in Mobile. The ACC's all-time leader with 21 career interceptions, Smith is very fluid and always seems to be one step ahead of the receiver.
A scout said that while Smith's height is a disadvantage, he's so fast and such a playmaker that it won't hurt his stock too much. The scout also said that Smith could be effective if put inside against slot receivers in nickel packages.
"Making plays doesn't have a size or a speed on it, ever," Smith said. "The analogy I always use is if you look at Jerry Rice's class, he was probably the slowest out of all those receivers, yet he was the most productive one. Making plays doesn't have a size or speed on it."
Smith continued his impressive week with an acrobatic interception during one-on-one drills on Wednesday. He's a smart player who gained experience in a myriad of coverage types under former Wake Forest defensive coordinator Dean Hood.
"As a corner, I just act as if I'm on offense," said Smith, a high school quarterback in Pahokee, Fla. "When the ball is in the air, I never get uncomfortable. I just act as if I'm the receiver instead of a defensive player."
Delmas (5-11, 197) has lived up to his billing as a big hitter in practice this week and is making a case to be one of the first safeties taken off the board in April.
"Hands down, I think I'm a great open-field tackler," Delmas said. "Any chance I get, I'm going to lay somebody out."
Delmas has a lot of experience on his resume with four years as a starter at Western Michigan, where he was regarded as a strong leader. He said that he hopes to use the week to show scouts that he can improve his man coverage technique.
"I think this week has given me the upper hand as far as being able to have the chance to just come out here and just show everybody what Western is about," he said. "I need to take full advantage of this opportunity, and that's what I plan on doing."
Another Spartan to watch: San Jose State defensive end Jarron Gilbert garnered plenty of buzz last week with an impressive showing at the East-West Shrine Game. One of his Spartan teammates, cornerback Coye Francies (6-1, 185) is making a name for himself in Mobile with aggressive play that has caught the attention of scouts.
Francies wowed onlookers on Tuesday with a monstrous hit on a receiver that drew plenty of cheers from the crowd at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The former junior college player who transferred to San Jose State from Oregon State said his toughest adjustment this week has been playing off receivers in practice.
"I've never really played off before, so it's a new transition for me and I'm just trying to make the best of it," he said. "Being physical is my main objective playing football. I just like to be physical."
Moore to prove: Missouri safety William Moore (6-0, 223) is considered by many pundits to be the top safety prospect in the draft, but he has had a relatively quiet week of practice.
Moore had an outstanding 2007 season with 115 tackles and eight interceptions. His production tapered off in 2008 to the tune of 70 tackles and one interception, but that senior season was marred by a low-ankle sprain that Moore played through early in the year.
"I'm hoping to solidify my spot as one of the top safeties," Moore said. "I'm healthy, my speed is up to par. I'm just overall a great athlete and ready to go."
Moore has a strong combination of size, speed and instincts. He is likely a strong safety prospect due to his ability to be physical against the run.
"At times, I get too physical," he said. "I can overrun certain things instead of settling and letting the defense come to me."
Tidbits: Alabama's Rashad Johnson (5-11, 195) has shown solid instincts and range this week. The two-time first-team All-SEC performer is in the mix with Delmas and Moore as one of the top safeties in the senior class…Jackson State cornerback Domonique Johnson (6-1, 192) is an intriguing prospect with good speed and raw athleticism but, as expected for a small-school prospect, has room to improve as a cover corner.