Monday, January 22, 2007

Senior Bowl Practices, Day One

For Colts and Bears fans, two of the longest weeks of their football fan lives have just begun. For fans of the other 30 teams, it's time to look ahead to next season. Until free agency begins at the beginning of March, there's the pre-draft workouts. The East-West Shrine game was this past Saturday, but the real highlight is the Senior Bowl, coming up this Saturday. Down in Mobile, though, it's not just about the game, but also the practices. And, the NFL Network is bringing to us practice coverage, like they did last year. I'll be watching that coverage (well, taping it and watching it when I get home, to be technical), and reporting on some of my thoughts.

Today was solely the North team's practice, coached by the Bucs coaching staff and Jon Gruden.

Ohio State QB Troy Smith graded in at 6' even. Given he'd been rumored to be as short as 5'10", this is good news. This makes the Drew Brees comparable, popularized most notably by Kirk Herbstreit during the tOSU-UM game, look better.

There must have been some real luggage issues, as both Smith and Penn State RB Tony Hunt were both wearing Northern Illinois helmets. Ditto Iowa lineman Marshall Yanda and Ohio State DT David Patterson.

1-on-1 WR-CB drills are tough for the DBs, starting 7-10 off and facing a QB with no pass rush. None of Marcus McCauley, Wilson out of MD, Leon Hall, or Daymeion Hughes of Cal stood out. Notre Dame WR Rhema McKnight pushed off on Hughes on play to set up a comeback, a common route, and Stanton missed him on the sidelines. Clemson DB Tye Hill really stood out in this drill last year and ended up going in the middle of the first round to the Rams. Nobody I saw stood out quite so much.

The difficulty in finding quality tackles is emphasized by Notre Dame LT Ryan Harris reportedly being considered as the second LT in the draft, behind Wisconsin's Joe Thomas. Ohio State DT Patterson weighed in at 274, really too light for a 4-3 DT without exceptional quickness, which he doesn't have. Amobi Akoye, the 19 year old Louisville DT, had a nice inside spin on Texas Tech's Ramirez, though Ramirez got him when he tried the same move the next play. Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley couldn't beat Penn State OT Levi Brown on the outside speed rush; he looks more like a 3-4 OLB to move, if he can play in space, so that result didn't really surprise me.

Michigan State QB Drew Stanton is a guy whose stock has really dropped from where it was before the '06 season. He needed to have a strong Senior Bowl week to move back into the first round. Two passes I saw in 11v11's, one a bad overthrow on a short route and the other a dumpoff to Penn State RB Tony Hunt which Hunt dropped. Nebraska DE Adam Carriker impressed me; he really beat Ohio State lineman Doug Datish inside to bust a run by Louisville RB Kolby Smith.

Colorado K Mason Crosby has a hell of a leg. The Pats were criticized for taking Steven Gostkowski with a 5th round pick last year, but he ended up being pretty good, particularly on kickoffs. I'd expect Crosby to be taken at least as high and be just as good.

On an off-field-ish note, I wasn't thrilled with NFL Network's production values here. The 11v11 camera work showed too much of Coach Chucky, and not enough of the play. Also, the camera work featured too much QB myopia, showing us just the pocket, even when the QB threw the ball downfield.

Tomorrow's coverage features 90 minutes of North practice, running 9:30-11 AM CT, and 2 hours of South practice, from 4-6 CT. There's also a half-hour recap show at 8:30 PM CT. I'm hoping today's work as more introductory coverage and tomorrow we'll get into more of a drills-based focus, particularly with the North team.

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