It's only my second year down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, but it's quickly become my favorite event of the non-football football season. That made more sense in my head than it sounded on paper, but you know what I mean.
Tuesday is now the first day of activities in Mobile and it's also the busiest day of the week for the players. Here are my observations from throughout the day.
Prior to the meat market Senior Bowl weigh-ins, Senior Bowl Director Phil Savage, former Cleveland Browns GM, gave a short talk to the scouts, coaches, media types and others to brief the crowd on certain aspects of the week.
Like last year, Savage highlighted the players that weren't able to make down to Mobile. Unlike last year, Savage actually went so far as to highlight players in certain "didn't make it" categories - guys who handled their business well, those that had injuries and those players that needed to answer for their absence in later interviews. Interesting approach and certainly an eye-opener.
-- As the teams went in alphabetical order, Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah was the first player to emerge from beyond the curtain. No one for the rest of the day topped him. He was sculpted from granite, not one ounce of body fat.
-- Yale RB Tyler Varga impressed the scouts with a chiseled frame as well. The Canadian was a star in the Ivy League and I'll have more on him later.
-- Drew Dougherty, star of Dear Drew and my partner in crime in Mobile, and I had a chance to catch up players after the weigh-ins. Be on the lookout for our one-on-one interviews throughout the week on www.houstontexans.com.
-- I asked Penn State OT Donovan Smith about playing for Bill O'Brien and the young man had the utmost respect for the Texans head coach. He didn't, of course, give away any of his best stories but big Donovan and I could share a few…that's what tonight's media dinner is for, right?
-- When it comes to bodies, Stanford WR Ty Montgomery is right there with the best of them. He moves so effortlessly, but he measured under 6' at 5'11", three inches under his listed 6'2". He didn't catch the ball well at all, which was a bugaboo for him during his career at Stanford. THIS was and is the one thing he MUST do well here in Mobile.
-- Arizona State DE Marcus Hardison wasn't a highly thought of name heading into the 2014 season, but he had a productive season at ASU. The 6'5", 300 lb. DE/DT hybrid had a strong practice to start the week. Whether he lined up over center or guard, the North OL had a difficult time handling his length, strength and quickness. He didn't start his day the best way, face-planting into the bags as he ran over them during individual. He rebounded nicely to say the least.
-- Hardison wasn't the only Pac-12 star to shine. Washington's Danny Shelton, he of the beautiful lava-lava (we had to look that one up) earlier in the day after weigh-ins, tossed guys left and right during inside run drills and one-on-one drills. His pass rush wasn't as successful but no defensive lineman stacked and shed near as well as the 343 lb. heavy from Washington.
-- Cincinnati's Jeff Luc (a Florida State transfer) has made significant strides as an inside linebacker. He looks good on the hoof and read well on Tuesday. During an inside drill inside zone, he shot the A gap and stoned Michigan State's Jeremy Langford.
-- Baylor QB Bryce Petty has a lot of eyes on him during practice and typical on the first day with new receivers, new offense and a ton of anticipation/hype, he struggled. Many Senior Bowl QB have a tough time on the first day and Petty didn't throw it consistently well, missing short, intermediate and long throughout the day. He hit teammate Antwan Goodley on a few quick routes but overall it was just messy.
-- His North team QB teammates - Sean Mannion of Oregon State and Shane Carden of East Carolina - didn't fare well, for the most part either. Carden made an excellent throw on the run to his teammate Justin Hardy, but for the most part, both guys missed high throughout the day. Mannion looked like he labors when he throws, not to mention he has a slower release than most quarterbacks already.
-- The Tennessee Titans coaching staff is in charge of the North squad and had the quarterbacks doing a bad snap, quick decision, quick release drill that was something I'd never seen before. The QB made one throw and then the coach fired a snap to his left or right or bounce it back there and made him throw it accurately as quickly as possible. Rinse, lather and repeat for three or four reps. I hate to say it, but a really cool, innovative drill.
-- Texas DB Quandre Diggs is all business. He came over to do an interview with Drew at the Tuesday night media gathering and there was no laughing or joking, it was ON. He came here with a point to prove and had a solid day. He moved inside and out, depending on the defensive scheme, with ease. In base, he stayed outside. In nickel, he moved to the slot. I've been a huge fan for a while and think that he can be a top notch nickel/slot corner. But, he showed today that he has the speed, feet, anticipation and skill set to play either. He ran with Stanford blazer Ty Montgomery step-for-step on a deep ball. Diggs got people's attention for sure.
-- Duke WR Jamison Crowder had some strong moments but the inconsistency of the quarterbacks took away from his overall impact. But, wow, he's got the scoots to play inside and he can also go deep from a perimeter WR spot as well. He made a tremendous catch on a deep route going 1-on-1 beating a DB by a step and making an over the shoulder grab for a TD.
-- Of all the players I wanted to meet in Mobile, Yale's Varga was either at the top of the list, minimum top three. I did that on Tuesday night after he had an excellent practice and chided him for being so nasty to my Brown Bears. But, don't be fooled by his Ivy League background and appearance, this guy can play. Lined up at FB. Played some tailback. Showed some speed. Showed burst. Caught the ball in the flat. Sprinted up the sideline away from North defenders. Ran away from Texas LB Jordan Hicks in 1-on-1 pass drill. This guy can play and little by little people will notice.
-- Kentucky DE Za'Darius Smith accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl after a strong week at the Shrine Bowl. He's still riding that wave as he had a solid showing against a tad better competition. He's a power end and displayed that today, but his pass rush skill/acumen was better than expected. He doesn't have a crazy explosive first step but he can push the edge a bit. He was a little mechanical with the finer points of pass rushing as he showed when he threw a spin move in 1-on-1 pass rush drills and essentially shut his own rush down. If, and when, he can learn how to seamlessly use his strong hands, his quick feet and throw it all together to create a good pass rusher, he'll really impress.
-- Quentin Rollins is one of the best stories in Mobile. The Miami University cornerback was a starting point guard for four years on the basketball team but had a fifth year of eligibility available to him, just not in hoops. So, after not having played football for four years, he decided to go out for the Redhawks football team. All he did was intercept seven passes, earn 1st Team All-MAC honors and receive an invite to this event. He didn't disappoint today as the raw talent is evident. Even his technique looked so much better than it did from the game tape I saw from earlier this year. This cat is just learning the game, or re-learning it. That's scary. College teams will be begging the basketball coaches for players if Rollins is the success I think he can be.
Duke's Laken Tomlinson was one of the only interior OL to not get rag dolled by Shelton on Tuesday. He's strong and powerful and plays with a low/strong base. This guy loves to compete and he showed that on Tuesday.
-- One guy that really got the attention of the Titans coaches as they worked with him throughout the day: Iowa DT Carl Davis. I'll put it this way…when Davis was turned up to full volume, the North OL couldn't block him. He's powerful, quick to a spot, possesses good hands, shows good technique. He just has to do it every play. The Titans coaches noticed that…but I hope they forget about him tomorrow and the next day…#Don'tWantToFaceHimInFuture
Quick thoughts to finish…--Michigan State WR Tony Lippett refined his route running over the past four years and that work was on display with the way he ran his routes on Tuesday.
-- Harvard OLB Zach Hodges is a tremendous interview but was overthinking it a bit on the field today. He hasn't completely unwound to just let his length and talent take over. He can and he will.
-- Tennessee State G Robert Myers struggled throughout the day with power, quickness and anything else that came his way, but I expect him to adapt tomorrow for the rest of the week. In fact, it's a must.
-- Minnesota RB David Cobb caught the ball adequately well today, something he didn't get a chance to do much of at Minnesota.
-- Oregon State CB Steven Nelson is a relative unknown to many, but man, he's smooth, quick and fast as a cover corner.
-- East Carolina WR Justin Hardy adjusted well on an under-thrown fade route for a TD.
-- Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford does a little bit of everything and had a couple of slithery runs during the 9-on-7 inside drill and team runs.
-- Utah DB Eric Rowe, a Klein HS product, got a bit of a surprise when he was listed as a starter at free safety. He prepared and took notes at corner but then was asked to move to FS. He showed range and played well, surprised though he was to start the day.
-- Baylor WR Antwan Goodley is so good after the catch that some team is going to think about using him as a running back. I would…at least think about it, I mean.
-- Penn State WLB Mike Hull got his knee scoped two weeks ago and struggled cutting laterally but showed great instincts once in team activities. He's so quick to read and so smart to the football that I can't wait to see him fully healthy.
-- Utah's Nate Orchard had a day sort of like his impact on me as an analyst - he's grown on me. He did that building up to a lather, playing his best ball in 11-on-11 team stuff at the end of practice.
And, I'm still waiting on someone to block Stanford's Henry Anderson. Beast Nerd Mode.
South Team--The first thing that stood out during the South team's practice - only two quarterbacks. Why? Well, former Auburn QB Nick Marshall had a blank orange jersey because he decided that he was going to work out at cornerback, instead of quarterback. Now, that's not surprising on one hand, considering that he played CB at Georgia before leaving. But, then again, he'd probably have the strongest arm of any quarterback in Mobile.
-- Marshall's decision opened the door for former Oregon/Southeast Louisiana signal caller Bryan Bennett to be the third quarterback on the South team, starting on Wednesday. Blake Sims (Alabama) and Garrett Grayson (Colorado State) will lose a few reps, but Bennett gets the chance to show that the last half of the 2014 season (it didn't go well) was an aberration.
-- This wasn't one of the finer days for the South team centers - Auburn's Reese Dismukes and Mississippi State's Dillon Day. Rough all the way around. Bad snaps. Living on skates. Getting beat consistently. Ugh, not a good day but there's always tomorrow.
-- Overall, this wasn't a great day for the South OL but one guy who really played well in every situation was Oklahoma T Daryl Williams. He worked hard to earn the edge in the run game and was the most successful of the South team OTs doing it. He didn't get beat at all in pass rush 1-on-1s, except maybe once. It was the best I've seen him in a while and I've watched him for years.
-- LSU OT La'el Collins wanted to establish himself as the best tackle in the draft but he needs to be more consistent over the next few days to cement that status. He got beat a few times, one a terrific spin move by Oklahoma DE/OLB Geneo Grissom. The Jaguars OL coaches were exasperated with the whole group but they know what they have in Collins and stayed on him to finish his blocks and dominate, especially in the run game.
-- I interviewed Clemson DT Grady Jarrett, son of former Atlanta Falcon great Jessie Tuggle, and I was struck by how similar, body build-wise, he is to former Pitt star Aaron Donald. I mentioned Donald to him and it was clear Jarrett was aware of the leap Donald made in this week last year. Jarrett didn't have that type of day but it was close, especially in 1-on-1 situations. The South OL had no answers for him in those situations. His 6' stature, strength and quickness were definitely on display. I'm not sure how I'd use him and in what defense, but I know I could. He's a menace.
-- After fighting through injuries throughout his UCLA career, Owamagbe Odighizuwa had an impressive senior campaign. He flashed his strength and quickness to the spot, especially during 1-on-1 run drills but watching him do individual pass rush drills on bags, I was struck by his awkwardness. He seemed mechanical in a strange way doing the drills but when it came time to take on tackles in run drill 1-on-1, it wasn't odd at all.
-- The only true full-scale, WHOA collisions today came courtesy of Miami LB Denzel Perryman and Alabama FB Jalston Fowler, a couple of times actually. On an isolation play during inside drills, Perryman saw the hole open and met Fowler who didn't give an inch on a massive collision. THAT got both offensive and defensive coaches jacked up and excited. But, the one thing we knew about both those players coming to Mobile is that they LOVE to strike. It was good to hear it though. I mean and see it too.
-- Georgia Tech G Shaq Mason played in a triple option attack throughout his career as a Yellow Jacket. He's a barrel chested, stout, point of attack guard. But, MAN, does he play with leverage. I can't remember an OL playing with his butt that low to the ground to win the leverage battle. If he can pass protect this week, there's something there to work with for certain.
-- Auburn WR Sammie Coates is frustrating to watch…at least for me. He has every physical tool you'd want but he just doesn't catch everything as you'd want. Give Coates Odell Beckham Jr's hands and it's a wrap - he's the first WR off the board. He showed it on Tuesday. He'd make a slant catch look easy then he dropped a curl route for a 15 yard gain. But, man, the speed….wow.
Same can be said for Miami WR Phillip Dorsett. That joker can flat out FLY but he did catch everything, or nearly everything, today. He played exceptionally well and it was much needed in front of the throng of NFL personnel on hand. He must prove that he's more than an outside the numbers go route ready to happen. Today was a nice start.
Quick thoughts to finish…
-- Heard a Jaguars defensive line coach say "one arm is longer than two" as Grissom used a stab move on an OL. That's the reason for so much more increased stab moves by college defensive linemen.
-- Colorado State OT Ty Sambrailo didn't have a great day and didn't handle power or strength well at all. Pass protection was a bit better but he was a liability v. run defenders all day.
-- Central Arkansas WR Dezmin Lewis isn't a name many know but he appeared to be the smoothest and most polished receiver on the south squad. I like him as a prospect.
-- I loved seeing Norfolk State OLB Lynden Trail up close, but he better play more violently the rest of the week.
-- Georgia ILB Amarlo Herrera was a "sometimes" player today and it's maddening. Sometimes he does everything right and it's glorious. Sometimes he doesn't and it's not. The inconsistency is maddening.
-- I really like watching FAU CB D'Joun Smith compete and challenge receivers in press man coverage. He's definitely one of this draft class' hidden gems.
-- Same goes for Ole Miss CB Senquez Golson. The former baseball star is a tad more aggressive and reckless too. He got beat on a double move by UCF's Rannell Hall during 1-on-1s.