The Senior Bowl is in full swing and each team has put one practice on tape. The North team concluded the day with its practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium so here are my observations from the afternoon.
- I've been coming to the Senior Bowl for the past three years and I haven't seen a quarterback yet that got anyone's attention. That truly changed on day one of the North practice when NDSU QB Carson Wentz took the field.
- The Bison (pronounced Bye-zon, trust me on this) signal caller has been the flavor of the month since the season ended and the Senior Bowl is his opportunity to show that he's worth every single ounce of hype. At 6-5, 233, he looks the part of an NFL quarterback. Watching him make NFL throws effortlessly, it's clear he has the physical skills those I've seen at the Senior Bowl the past few years don't have.
- At media night, I asked him what he thought his weakness was and he said he needed work on his footwork. Okay, I'll take him at his word (he's right, slightly), but there's a lot to like about the way he throws the football. He's clearly THE guy in Mobile, but talking to him, he's trying to stay grounded with all this hype and chaos surrounding him this week. He's doing a great job of it too.
- La. Tech RB Kenneth Dixon isn't the most talkative young man in the world, but put a ball in his hands and that does all the talking for him. Man, does he have some quicks. He's decisive to and through holes in the line. He catches the ball well out of the backfield. He'll step up to take on rushers/blitzers. He's 5-10 but a legit 213 lb. so he can eventually carry the load at the next level.
- Talking to him on Tuesday morning, I asked him why he wore 28, not in so many words, but he told me that his favorite running backs to watch was Marshall Faulk. It's hard to not think "Faulk" when you watch Dixon out in space with the rock in his hands. Stylistically speaking, of course.
- Illinois DE Jihad Ward isn't a guy many know about, but when I was studying another Illini prospect this past summer, I sort of stumbled on him. I watched three games of him and thought he could be a project that could grow into a 3-4 DE position at the next level. In between interviews at weigh-ins, I walked back into the room and saw Ward on stage. He's built like a 6-5 tank. He's 295 at 6-5 and he's strong as an ox.
- Case in point, the DL were down all the way down the field working on pass rush moves on bags. About five minutes in, I heard the bags being pounded, 100 yards away. It was Ward. Against humans, Ward had a ton of success playing on the edge. He powered through tackles rushing the passer and made a serious impact on some scouts and the Cowboys coaches.
- San Jose State RB Tyler Ervin has some Akeem Hunt-like burst. Wow.
- On the first rep of WR/DB 1-on-1s, UVa CB Maurice Canady made a GREAT break on the ball to break up a completion. Canady battled throughout the day with the North WR and that was not the only play he made. When Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo made a catch across the middle during 11-on-11, Canady ran through Carroo and knocked the ball away for a fumble. He was probably the most impressive CB of the group by a long shot.
- Speaking of Carroo...the North DBs had a tough time covering him in 1-on-1s or 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s. He was the only receiver I saw today, North or South, that used his hands and technique to get free from defensive backs in coverage. It's clear that Carroo is polished at the position and I could see him playing inside or outside in the future. He's definitely one to watch the rest of the week.
- Ohio State multi-purpose star Braxton Miller has the most insane change of direction. He's just flat out ridiculous in a start and stop, shake you during the route sort of way. But, it's clear that he has to work to refine all of his receiver skills. On a slant route in man coverage against a North CB, he lost said CB so badly on the slant route, just by selling the route hard to the outside, jab stepping to the sideline, then quickly darting back inside. He was WIDE open. It was jaw dropping. Then, he couldn't hang on to the throw.
- All that said, Miller will be a tremendous offensive weapon, even if he's not a polished receiver just yet. He did make a whale of a diving catch on the sideline as he was covered by Oklahoma State CB Kevin Peterson.
- If Canady wasn't the top CB, it was former Temple product Tavon Young. Feisty and competitive, he challenged every throw that came his way. There wasn't one rep where Young let a guy get a step on him in coverage. He's tough as can be in press coverage as well.
- Although it was clear that Wentz is the cream of the QB crop, the QBs all had some solid moments. But, one thing I thought they struggled with throughout the day was throwing the ball deep. However, that's an annual thing with the Senior Bowl QBs and Tuesday was no different.
- UMass WR Tajae Sharpe was up and down throughout the day. He made a couple of solid high point catches. But, he also had a few knocked away from him on the sideline as well. Maybe up and down wasn't fair as he had more good moments than bad but he needs consistency over the next few days.
- UCLA WR Jordan Payton won't wow anyone with elite traits but it's evident that he's quite polished with his receiver skills. He runs smooth and effective routes and snatches the ball out of the air. Something about him I like.
- The defensive linemen on the North squad are ridiculous.
- Ohio State DT Adolphus Washington missed the Fiesta Bowl after he being suspended after getting arrested. It appeared as if he was trying to make up for that absence on every single play he was on the field. Unblockable isn't strong enough of a word to describe Washington on Tuesday.
Whether it was leaving interior OL in the dust during 1-on-1s or knifing into the backfield during 11-on-11, Washington left a massive impression. Now, the formal interviews the rest of the week? Those might be a little tougher but his play on the field is at least taking care of itself.
- Every time I looked over to the OL/DL 1-on-1s, Temple DT/DE Matt Ioannidis was in the process of destroying another interior OL. He walked by me during the weigh-ins and I was floored how well he was put together. He didn't look like he had an ounce of fat on him. Throughout his career at Temple, he had moments where it appeared he could take over a game on the inside. But, today, he actually did that.
- Penn State DE Carl Nassib had four pass rush reps during 1-on-1s. The first three? The opposing OL didn't even touch him. He roared right past with speed and a rip under. The fourth one? He told me later on Tuesday night he was "trying something new" so he just powered the OL straight back into the, well, spot where the QB would've been. He's an impressive guy in every facet, but to see him today, it blew me away. I knew he was good but that was flat out ridiculous.
- During 11-on-11s, I wrote "can't block him" three times. Twice for Washington and once for Penn State DT Austin Johnson. The OL couldn't.
- In the middle of practice, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett pulled the entire team up for a series of 1-on-1s. He first had UCLA WR Payton go against UVA CB Canady. Payton made the catch after knocking Canady's helmet off on his route. On the next rep, Ohio State TE Nick Vannett made a one hand catch on his Ohio State teammate safety Tyvis Powell. The closer was Temple ILB Tyler Matakevich breaking up a pass. The defense went nuts when he did.
- Indiana OT Jason Spriggs looked real good 85 percent of the time, but I'm having trouble getting past that 15 percent that gets him in trouble. He could end up being the third tackle taken behind Ole Miss' Laremy Tunsil and Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley. But, I'm not there just yet. Man, the part that looks good is really good, but he got beat once or twice today and it troubled me.
Quoting Ice Cube…"today was a good day." The good news about Senior Bowl is that there's more tomorrow. See ya' then.
Check out some snapshots from Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice in Fairhope and Mobile, Alabama. Images courtesy of AP.