BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The week of practices at the 2014 Senior Bowl is halfway over, following the first of two days of fully-padded practices on Tuesday. The North took the field in the morning at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., while the South practiced there in the afternoon.
Windy conditions in Mobile on Tuesday provided an extra challenge for the quarterbacks throwing the ball, but altogether, both teams’ quarterbacks looked better than they did on Monday.
Carr, Garoppolo, Thomas improve
Fresno State’s Derek Carr has been the most consistent passer between the two days. That’s not to say that he has been great or even proving that he is a first-round pick, but in a senior class of quarterbacks devoid of any sure-fire NFL starters, Carr is corroborating the consensus opinion that he is the best quarterback.
He has been mechanically solid and shown the ability to hit passes deep but perhaps more importantly, he has made the least mistakes of any of the quarterbacks in Mobile.
Furthermore, he seemed to have more success cutting the ball through the wind than any of the other quarterbacks Tuesday.
“(The wind) was not a factor,” Carr said after practice. “As long as you throw spirals. As soon as those balls wobble a little bit, the wind takes it, but if you throw it hard enough when it’s windy, it doesn’t matter.”
Another impressive decision by Carr this week has been his choice to lead a post-practice throwing session each day. On Monday, he conducted that session at Fairhope Stadium with Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews. On Tuesday, BYU wide receiver Cody Hoffman and Texas wide receiver Mike Davis joined Carr and Matthews.
Carr said the post-practice throwing session is something he also did every day when he was at Fresno State.
“You can ask my coaches, this isn’t just for show,” Carr said.
Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo was already holding interviews with the media while Carr was throwing after practice, but he had a solid turnaround Tuesday after a poor Monday performance. He had some issues with floating passes into the wind, but did not have the same issues he had Monday with dropping snaps under center and had less errant misses.
“Compared to yesterday, I think it mentally got a step better really today,” Garoppolo said Tuesday. “The coaches have so much knowledge that they’re just feeding us day in and day out and I’m just trying to take it and bring it in a part of my game and if I can do that every day and get that much better then I’ll be in good shape.”
Garoppolo made some solid intermediate throws and continued to throw the ball with a great release and good zip. The least impressive quarterback on the South roster thus far has been San Jose State’s David Fales, who had trouble driving the ball deep against the wind and is therefore keeping concerns about his arm strength alive.
Though the North group of quarterbacks continues to be a largely disappointing group, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas has unsurprisingly generated buzz thanks to his high-upside combination of size, arm strength and athleticism. With the ability to drive throws downfield against the wind, Thomas was the most impressive of the team’s trio of quarterbacks Monday, though his accuracy continued to be inconsistent per usual.
“You just got to play through the wind,” Thomas said. “It changes the course of some things but you just got to get used to it, figure out how the ball’s going to be flying but for me, I just got to calm down, make sure I do what I do.”
Having never completed 60 percent or more of his passes in any year of his Virginia Tech career, Thomas’ game comes with many critics (including me), some of whom think he could best take advantage of his size (6’5 3/4”, 250 lbs) and athleticism by playing tight end (I’m not so sure about that personally). Asked after practice Tuesday, however, Thomas dismissed that idea.
“I’m a quarterback no matter what,” Thomas said. “I don’t even entertain the idea of being a tight end.”
For what it’s worth, the buzz from NFL scouts and other media members here in Mobile all seems to point toward Thomas being selected in the draft’s first three rounds, despite his subpar collegiate career.
South wide receivers impress but cornerback stands out
Having paid attention mostly to the passing drills during Tuesday’s South team practice, it isn’t hard to reason why Matthews, Hoffman and Davis would have all wanted to continue catching passes after practice. All three of them made good impressions Tuesday.
The first thing that stands out about Matthews on the field is the impressive build on his 6’2 5/8”, 209-pound frame, but that frame wouldn’t matter much if he wasn’t making plays on the field. That he did consistently on Tuesday, even when he was going up against Utah’s Keith McGill, the one cornerback on the South squad who is bigger than him (6’3”, 214 lbs).
Two of Matthews’ biggest plays came during one-on-ones against McGill. First, he made a tough diving adjustment to a pass at the left sideline approximately 35 yards upfield for an impressive grab. On his next play, he caught a shorter pass against McGill then showed impressive open-field running ability by making McGill miss with a cut inside of him.
Matthews is the best all-around wide receiver at this year’s Senior Bowl, and he looked like it on Tuesday. Though he might not wow with his downfield speed or quickness, he uses his size well and has a very well-rounded game.
Hoffman has less downfield ability than Matthews and did have trouble with his footing on a couple of occasions, but he continued to show how route running is his forte. Specifically, he did a great job of bumping off coverages to come back to the ball for a few strong intermediate catches.
Davis is a more explosive athlete who was not always consistently productive at Texas, but he has looked good through his first two days in Mobile. He gave Auburn cornerback Chris Davis the biggest embarrassment of the day when he fooled him completely on a double move and left him in the dust for a deep touchdown catch. He also ran a number of strong comeback routes for sideline catches.
Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins, however, stole the show with a number of big plays he made, some against those receivers, on Tuesday. He showed his physicality and ability to break on routes to separate both Matthews and Hoffman from downfield passes intended their way. He also intercepted a pass, was in on a forced fumble and had consistently tight man coverage.
He might only been the third-most heralded cornerback from his own college team thanks to Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, but Watkins certainly made sure his name was known today.
“I feel like I’ve done really good, came out and competed,” Watkins said. “Got a bunch of balls off some guys, got an interception today so I feel like I’m proving my point that I can be a great corner in the NFL.”
Still, Watkins thinks he can continue to improve upon his technique the rest of the week.
“Coach Walker’s done a good job in teaching us the technique and being patient at the line,” Watkins said Tuesday. “When you’re in college, you kind of get a little antsy, he’s teaching me to patient and it’s working out well for me.”
On the other end of the spectrum was his Florida teammate, wide receiver Solomon Patton, who had at least five passes go off his hands Tuesday. Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood also put some easy catches on the ground, though he did have one impressive leaping circus catch up the right sideline over Auburn cornerback Chris Davis, who had a rough day.
See page 2 for more of the day’s highlights and lowlights, including a focus with quotes from some of the North’s top defensive prospects.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 Senior Bowl, Aaron Colvin, Aaron Donald, Billy Turner, Brandon Linder, Chris Borland, Cody Hoffman, Cyril Richardson, Derek Carr, Jaylen Watkins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jordan Matthews, Logan Thomas, Mike Davis, NFL Draft, Notes and Quotes, Ra'Shede Hageman, Scouting Notes, Senior Bowl, Trent Murphy