Day One of Senior Bowl practices are in the books. Inside the Pylon staff writers Michael Nuttle, Matty Brown, Nick Falato, Andrew Jordan, Joseph Ferraiola and Mark Schofield are down in Mobile covering the week, and have their thoughts on the first day of practices. Here are their notes on the South team practice.
The South squad, coached by the Houston Texans, began this practice session with a team installation period. During that segment, Kurt Benkert from the University of Virginia opened the proceedings with a nice throw on a seam route to start off the session. Kyle Lauletta, from the University of Richmond, had a few good throws during this period, one on a play-action boot concept which is a familiar schematic component to his game, and also a nice timing/rhythm on a hitch route.
Michael Nuttle observed the cornerbacks during the practice, and was lukewarm on the players on the South squad. M.J. Stewart impressed, was smooth with his transitions, good at firing back to the football and was proficient in getting his hips turned. Siran Neal from Jacksonville State came in with great measurables and length, but was grabby at times, usually in space or in off-coverage situations, which is something to watch going forward this week. Levi Wallace from Alabama impressed with his footwork, particularly in press alignment, but seemed to struggle in those situations against more physical receivers.
Nick Falato observed a lot of the one-on-one matchups in the trenches. Alex Cappa from Humboldt State impressed during this session. Marcus Davenport might not have performed up to his athletic ability, but you can tell the potential is there. Shaq Griffin seemed to have some early jitters, but you can see the explosiveness in him and you can tell there is a home for him in the NFL on a roster.
Matty Brown watched the safeties during this practice, and Quin Blanding from Virginia showed a lot of the good things you see with his tape, such as play and route diagnosis. However, Blanding struggled in some areas, such as his poor approach angles. Blanding showed good long speed, and had good depth in single-high situations, but his short area quickness and burst seemed to be lacking. Tray Matthews, from Auburn, worked his way over the top of routes very well, was great at reading the quarterback and was effective at avoiding rub routes. Jeremy Reaves from South Alabama showed very good footwork working downhill and great mirroring in press coverage. However, his long speed showed up as an issue, confirming that a press-slot role is his best fit in the NFL.
Joseph Ferraiola followed the wide receivers this day. Marcell Ateman from Oklahoma State further displayed his ability to execute hard breaks with good flexibility, however his hand inconsistencies reared their ugly head on Day One. His hands were poorly placed during both drills against air and in one-on-one drills. Also during one-on-ones, he failed to display the long speed to win in the vertical passing game, an issue that Joseph noticed studying his tape before the Senior Bowl. James Washington looked really stiff at times and showed tight hips into his breaks, but he was very impressive with his hand strength and flashed in contested catch situations. He may prove to be a difficult evaluation but the NFL has often found homes for players with consistent ability at the catch point. Tre’Quan Smith was good against press, consistently getting free using his hands and arms to fight through contact. On D.J. Chark, he consistently created separation throughout practice using good acceleration deep with good hands and suddenness at the top of his routes. He separated at all levels of the field, and had excellent footwork, and was Joseph’s favorite receiver on the day. Byron Pringle laid all the chips out there today, beating man coverage twice deep and on the first time he did a great job stacking the cornerback for a scoring play. He also beat Levi Wallace on another vertical route as well. Finally, J’mon Moore showed good hard breaks and flexibility, and good usage of the arm bar and footwork to create separation as well. His feet were quick to generate separation, and despite some early hand struggles he was able later in practice to separate and extend his hands to make catches away from the body.
Andrew Jordan observed practice from a fantasy viewpoint. The only two wide receivers that impressed with the potential to put up good numbers were Chark and Tre’Quan Smith, based on many of the reasons set forth above by Joseph. Ito Smith, the running back from Southern Missouri, made some fun plays, particularly in the passing game. Smith showed excellent lateral ability and burst, and opened a lot of eyes. Rashaad Penny needs to show more in the passing game, but is still Andrew’s favorite back on the South Squad. Running backs in practice can be tough to evaluate, but Penny dropped and sunk his hips on every carry as he hit the hole, an impressive sign for a young runner.
Regarding the quarterbacks, Mark Schofield was somewhat underwhelmed by the South quarterbacks. Each of them had there moments, such as Lauletta in the play-action, boot game and as well as some anticipation throws, but there were also times when he was slow to get the ball out, particularly during one-on-ones. Benkert hit on two beautiful deep throws during seven-on-seven as well as during one-on-ones, but his day did include some poor throws during one-on-ones, such as a missed corner route, a missed hitch route and a missed go route. Brandon Silvers still showed the loop and draw to his throwing motion, which caused a few throws to be mis-timed and inaccurate. Western Kentucky’s Mike White struggled on some of the one-on-one throws against press coverage, but rebounded with some better throws later in the afternoon including a comeback route that displayed both great anticipation as well as good feel for the coverage and positioning of the defender. The first day of practice tends to be a baseline day for the quarterbacks, as they are trying to get a feel for new receivers and new routes, so we will see how the South QBs show over the next few days.