With the caveat that the first day of practice at any event such as the Senior Bowl needs to be graded on a curve, I wanted to share some observations from the first day of practice for the six quarterbacks down here in Mobile. At the outset, when you remember that these are players throwing to new receivers, in a different offensive system, having to do things like execute drops from center with different footwork, every throw needs to be graded with that bit of context. But the first day of practice serves as a great baseline, to see how quickly these players can take to new coaching and concepts and then implement what they have been taught.
The South squad, under the tutelage of Hue Jackson and the Cleveland Browns, started off in team drills as practice began. The first player I saw take some snaps and execute throws was Antonio Pipkin, from Tiffin University. It was a great chance to see up close the two areas I wanted to examine this week from him: play speed and arm strength. Pipkin checked those boxes on Division II tape, but this is a step up from that level of competition. He seems to have the adequate arm strength to make most throws at the next level. His velocity was a bit behind both Davis Webb and Josh Dobbs, but I don’t have any serious reservations about his arm at this point.
Footwork was definitely something these three players were working through, particularly executing five-step drops from under center. There were many times when drops were either cut short, failed to gain the appropriate depth, or were hurried to try and synch up with the route structure on a given play. That’s something to watch as the week unfolds. This was on display as the players worked through various routes with the receivers. Dobbs had some nice ball placement on a few comeback routes working through a simulated play-action play. Anticipation was a bit lacking on some of these routes from all the quarterbacks, but Pipkin did show some nice anticipation on a Bang 8 route during this portion of practice.
The team then moved into a 1-on-1 setting, which allowed the receivers to get some individual work against the defensive backs. Dobbs threw another good comeback route during this portion, and Webb had a nice out route during this segment that showed good anticipation, with the ball coming out well before the break. Pipkin struggled during this segment of practice, missing on a double-move with the throw sailing out of bounds, and missing on a sluggo (slant and go) route as well. One thing that did stand out during this section which bodes well for Webb’s development was his vision. Even though these routes were always to one side of the field or the other, with only one receiver running a route, Webb focused on looking down the field or to the other side of the field before coming to his target to throw the route. If you believe in the old saw that you play as you practice – and I do – that bodes well for Webb moving to the next level and using his eyes to read the field and freeze safeties.
The squad then moved to some more team 11-on-11 drills, and the only thing I wrote in my notebook was “be decisive.” Both Webb and Dobbs were slow to pull the trigger on a few different plays. Again, with it early in the week we make a note of this, and see how the players move going forward. Unfortunately, this trend continued during seven-on-seven drills, as well as the final team session of the day. Although, during the seven-on-seven session Pipkin threw a great inside seam route on a four verticals concept, using his field of vision to look the Cover 3 free safety to one side of the field before throwing to the other side.
After the South squad wrapped up practice, it was time for the North squad to go to work under the guidance of the Chicago Bears. Sefo Liufau, C.J. Beathard, and the early leader in the “top QB in Mobile” contest Nathan Peterman were put under the microscope. As with the South squad, they started in team drills, and as with the South quarterbacks, hesitation was the word of the day. On a few plays both Beathard and Liufau looked hesitant to pull the trigger on routes.
When they moved to route running drills with the wide receivers, the QBs got off to a shaky start. Peterman one-hopped a deep curl route to start this segment, but then they got on track. Peterman threw some nice slant routes, and all three players started to get in synch with their receivers on deeper out routes. One thing that stood out during this session, similar to Webb, was the head movement of the quarterbacks. Peterman, and to a lesser extent Beathard and Liufau, seemed to focus on keeping their eyes moving to simulate reading the coverage.
When the rest of the team moved into a special teams session, the three quarterbacks worked on footwork over to the side. I did notice that all three quarterbacks do move well with their feet, at least in this situation. Beathard tends to use a wider base at times, which can get a quarterback in trouble in a crowded pocket, or in tough weather.
Next up was the 1-on-1 session, and all three quarterback looked very good during this segment. Peterman opened this portion of the practice with two beautiful vertical routes, again showing good manipulation by simulating freezing the free safety in the middle of the field, and then flashing his eyes to the sideline to throw the route. Liufau threw two nice comeback routes showing some anticipation, and Beathard threw a few good slants and out routes as well.
When they moved to the team session, and then a later seven-on-seven session, there were two mistakes that I noted. Beathard, keeping with the theme of the day, double-clutched on one out route, hesitating to make the throw when it was open. Liufau bird-dogged one deep curl route, allowing the flat defender to cut under the route for the interception
In all, it was a mixed start for the quarterbacks. Peterman might be the best of the group right now as the week kicks off, but I was impressed by the way Webb handled his field of vision during the various drills. He came down a few days early to get some work in with some receivers from South Alabama, and the work might be paying off. Pipkin, for his part, showed that he belonged, and now he needs the rest of the week to demonstrate that more than just belonging, he can thrive at the next level – and he’ll now face some size questions given the fact he measured in just over 6 feet tall. But all the quarterbacks had some good moments – and also showed some areas they need to improve. With today’s baseline, we can now see how they develop and grow during the week.