BBD Editor: Dan Hope
From morning weigh-ins to media night, there was plenty to see and hear for the NFL coaches, scouts, executives, media and at the two practices in between, the fans, during the Monday kickoff of Senior Bowl week.
With no full pads, players just getting used to working with one another and their coaches, and a schedule/travel situation that made it virtually impossible to see the entirety of both of Monday’s practice sessions, they might not have been as quite as valuable as those to come Tuesday and Wednesday. Still, the players on the field knew full well that their every move was up for evaluation, and some shined while others struggled.
Mismatch of the day
Admittedly, I’ll probably watch more of the offensive linemen versus defensive linemen than anything else at Senior Bowl practices, so there were a good number of players who caught my eyes on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
The biggest mismatch I saw, however, came in two sets of three one-on-one repetitions between Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and Miami guard Brandon Linder.
Hageman clearly won all six of those competitions.
With fantastic explosion off the snap, a powerful straight bull rush and active hands at the line of scrimmage, Hageman consistently got around Linder—and just about everyone else he faced—one way or another.
Though Hageman really made Linder look bad on Monday, he responded “No,” without hesitation, when asked after practice if any of his practice opponents stood out to him.
“You got to be confident,” Hageman said. “You can’t go out there to be hesitant. You got to go out there and obviously kick some tail … Why settle just to be average? You always got to strive to be better.”
Other stars in the trenches
While Hageman stood out to me more than anyone, many others said the same about Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who also had a very impressive day.
Matched up often against Baylor left guard and projected early-round pick Cyril Richardson, he consistently won his battles. He showed great explosion off the snap, was aggressive with his hands and played with great leverage.
Donald was able to drive Richardson back and work his way through him, even though Richardson has what measured out Monday morning to be a 55-pound advantage over Donald.
Donald said Monday he was excited to get back on the field.
“Just getting the opportunity to get back out there, put the pads back on, go out there and compete,” Donald said. “I’m going to continue to do that each week, go out there and play football.”
Louisiana Tech nose tackle Justin Ellis, who had an impressive day himself to carry momentum from a strong Senior Bowl week, said he thought Donald “set the bar” for the North team Monday.
Ellis, who measured in at 342 pounds, might be best known for his size and power, but he continued to show Monday that he has impressive quickness and interior pass-rushing ability for his size.
Although he won the majority of his one-on-one battles, including a number of dominant efforts against Utah State’s Tyler Larsen, he only classified his day as “decent.”
“I got some more things to work on in order for me to be want to be,” Ellis said.
That said, Ellis actually thinks the athleticism he put on display Monday is the strength of his game.
“Everybody thinks I’m quick, explosive,” Ellis said. “I’ve been one of the bigger guys all my life, but I’m just as quick as any other lineman.”
On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin stood out among the North offensive linemen. He did a fantastic job all day of placing his hands properly and holding his blocks strongly, not allowing his opponents to control the play.
Though considered best suited to play guard, in part because of his 32 1/4” arms as measured Monday, Martin was fixture at left tackle in practice. He was largely dominant in pass protection, notably even when he went up against Stanford defensive end and potential first-round pick Trent Murphy.
The stud of the South practice, in my view, was California defensive tackle Deandre Coleman. He consistently beat his opponents in pass-rush drills, showing an impressive ability to both leverage his opponents and drive them back but also to rip his way by opponents with his hands. He might not stand out on physical tools and had a down senior year on a bad Golden Bears team, but he has shown those skills on tape and looks like a mid-round steal.
Also impressive in the middle during South practice was Princeton’s Caraun Reid. He gets naturally low at only 6’2 1/8”, but although only 301 pounds, he shows he can beat his opponents with power due to leverage. He also showcased violent hands as he impressed working through tackling dummies and through live blockers in pass-rush drills.
Auburn’s Dee Ford might be considered too small to play defensive end at the next level, but that didn’t stop him from being the most explosive player off the edge in defensive line drills today. His ability to quickly get off the snap and burst to speed was consistently evident in Monday’s practice. The 6’2 1/8”, 243-pound pass-rusher should be converted to outside linebacker, but is a projected Day 2 draft pick.
Linemen with work to do
On the other end of the spectrum, Linder and Richardson weren’t the only linemen to get beaten up in the pit.
Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson got the opportunity to work as a left tackle on Monday, but he didn’t look deserving. He often caught his opponents rather than attacking them, or failed to hit his opponents square when he went after them. His body language showed frustration and disappointment with himself in the midst of the practice, which isn’t exactly the recipe for an offensive lineman moving on from getting beat and bouncing back the next play.
Overall, the centers in Mobile really struggled with the explosion and power of their defensive tackle opponents on Day 1. Arkansas’ Travis Swanson was a bit of a disappointment, as he caught his opponents too often and allowed them to drive him back. Larsen, as aforementioned, struggled with power, especially that of Ellis. The most solid of the centers Monday was Colorado State’s Weston Richburg, who showed a good punch in all drills and showed intelligence in block-switching in team drills.
Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers looked the part in weigh-ins at 6’6 7/8” and 348 pounds, but he didn’t look the part on the field. The quickness Ellis showed with his size did not show up for McCullers, while he displayed a serious lack of ability to win with his hands.
Quarterbacks stumble out of the gate
The expectation that at least one quarterback would stand out and significantly elevate his draft stock during this week’s Senior Bowl is one that at least on Monday, no one came close to.
The most impressive quarterback, at least from what I saw, was Fresno State’s Derek Carr, but that might have been by default. The other five quarterbacks failed to quiet any doubts with their play on Monday.
Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo came into the week with a lot of buzz off an impressive Shrine Game week, but he struggled his way through his first practice for the South team at Fairhope Municipal Stadium on Monday.
Having played mostly out of the shotgun at EIU, Garoppolo struggled with taking snaps under center. He put multiple snaps on the ground and had another where he bobbled the snap, then fumbled the ball on his throwing attempt under pressure. Even when the snaps weren’t giving him trouble, he was largely erratic throwing the football downfield, putting no shortage of zip on the ball but leaving off the required touch and accuracy.
Garoppolo admitted Monday there were a “couple of throws (he) would like to have back.”
“It’s just getting acclimated with the offense,” Garoppolo, who had to do the same last week at the East-West Shrine Game, said of his struggles Monday. “It’s like learning a different language this week … hopefully the scouts take that into consideration, but it is tough.”
As for the South’s third quarterback, San Jose State’s David Fales, he did not necessarily look bad but failed to dispel concerns about his arm strength. When he threw deep downfield, he did not show much zip and put some balls short.
I didn’t see as much of the North quarterbacks, but none of them threw the ball impressively from my observations, and that thought was corroborated by just about everyone else who watched them that I talked to on the sidelines. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas looked the best of the trio, showcasing his ability to fire the ball out of his hand with zip, but his accuracy continued to be as inconsistent as ever. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Miami’s Stephen Morris also did nothing to dispel the notions that each is likely to be a Day 3 draft pick.
Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon trucked through Florida State safety Terrence Brooks on the back end of a big run up the middle on one of the last plays of South. Despite taking a defender down being frowned upon in a non-fully-padded practice, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was clearly enthused about McKinnon’s accentuation.
Even though I didn’t pay much attention to the North passing drills, I still saw Wyoming’s Robert Herron make a few big plays. He is a small wide receiver at only 5’8 7/8” and 193 pounds, but he exploded by numerous defensive backs Monday while he caught passes cleanly in his hands.
“I feel like it was a productive day,” Herron said Monday night. “I see some improvement on things I’ve been working on and I’m just ready to go out there and compete some more, for the rest of the week.”
I’ll also be looking to continue to improve for the rest of the week—well, at least the next two days—as Buffalo Bills Draft brings you coverage of both teams’ practices Tuesday and Wednesday from Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile.
Tags: 2014 Senior Bowl, Aaron Donald, Brandon Linder, Caraun Reid, Cyril Richardson, Daniel McCullers, Deandre Coleman, Dee Ford, Jimmy Garoppolo, Justin Ellis, Notes and Quotes, Ra'Shede Hageman, Robert Herron, Scouting Notes, Senior Bowl, Wesley Johnson, Zack Martin