Senior Bowl week concluded with a 31-13 victory for the Jim Schwartz-coached North Team on Saturday afternoon. The game carried many interesting story lines and didn’t disappoint. While the game wasn’t as close as one would have expected, it featured 9 turnovers and many big plays, allowing ample opportunity for players on both sides to capture the spotlight.
The major headline throughout the week and leading up to the game was how Tim Tebow would fare without his system to protect him. The game can’t be used as anything more than an early measuring stick, but Tebow struggled early and often. He took the majority of his snaps out of the shotgun and his prolonged release made for some highly contested catches for his receivers. He fumbled a few balls and couldn’t get much going on the ground either. On the South team, the most impressive was Zac Robinson, though despite one poor pass that was picked off, played a pretty good game. He slung the ball around with authority and was plagued by drops late in the game, which otherwise would have made his afternoon seem very impressive. Dan LeFevour was the most impressive on the North team. He connected on a few deep balls and showed some pretty good arm strength, which was a big concern coming into this week. He moved well in the pocket and even scrambled for a pair of first downs. Jarrett Brown and Tony Pike looked like the best prototypes on the field, though Pike cooled off after a hot start and Brown wasn’t given many opportunities and faced heavy pressure for most of his reps.
Only the North team managed to get a consistent, effective running game from their backs. LeGarrette Blount translated his good week of practice into the game, using his athletic ability to shoot through the hole and his size to finish off runs. Joique Bell received the start for the game and looked pretty good. He doesn’t have the speed of Blount or the natural athletic ability, but made the most of what was presented to him. Lonyae Miller made the most of his opportunities showing great speed in getting to the edge on his longest run of the day. On the other side, Ben Tate was the only back able to get anything going. I was impressed by his quick footwork as a complement to his downhill running style.
If I had to award an offensive MVP for this game, it would go to receiver Mardy Gilyard who capped a nice week with a great game. He reeled in 5 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. He has great footwork and foot speed to separate from defensive backs. He also made a nice adjustment on one of his long catches, against Trevard Lindley. However, I think the aspect of his game I was most impressed with was returns. He didn’t bust any for more than 33 yards, but the speed, vision, and moves he has was made blatantly obvious on each of his 4 returns. On the other side, Jeremy Williams led the South team with 6 receptions for 82 yards on a variety of passes. He also had a nice end around early in the game that went for 27 yards, which was enough to lead the team in rushing. Andre Roberts made two wonderful grabs across the middle of the field. I get the feeling he’s going to go much higher than people expect. Tight end Ed Dickson had a nice 31 yard grab. His fluidity and smoothness in route running is a step above the other tight ends in Mobile this week.
This week’s big name on the offensive line was Idaho’s Mike Iupati. He struggled early in the game facing Dan Williams from his right guard position. Called for an early holding penalty which negated a touchdown, Iupati would have to bounce back to prove he could handle the competition he’d face in the NFL. He did just that, playing a lot better at left guard. He neutralized the first level quickly then moved onto the second level where he connected on most of his blocks with great effectiveness. Vladimir Ducasse played pretty well in the game, showing a startling punch, which almost knocked down the defensive end. Ciron Black showed some nice athletic ability on the end around where he ran with Jeremy Williams more than 20 yards downfield. He did get beat once or twice in pass protection though. Eric Olsen wasn’t able to get much push against the big boys in the interior of the line for the South team. Selvish Capers was manhandled by Brandon Graham who knocked his hands down, then proceeded to sack Jarrett Brown. Ted Larsen had one of the worst shotgun snaps I’ve seen in my football-watching career. It shot way over Jarrett Brown’s head like a sand wedge trying to loft the ball out of a deep bunker.
With 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and a 6-yard stuff, Brandon Graham was this year’s Senior Bowl MVP. This must be around the 4th time I’ve mentioned it this week, but Graham has the most explosive first step I’ve seen this year and it showed today. He was a force to be reckoned with and was one of the players who helped their stock the most in the game. Dan Williams helped his stock as much as anyone this week. He ate up double teams that came his way even with Terrance Cody in the lineup and made a couple of plays himself. Terrence Cody also had a nice afternoon. He stood up well to double teams and showed some nice quickness spinning off a double team to strip the running back in the backfield. Tyson Alualu also showed some great versatility, playing outside and inside. Outside, he used his strength and leverage to drive the offensive tackle back into the quarterback and inside he used his quickness to beat interior linemen. He finished with a sack, forced fumble, and a fumble recovery today. Geno Atkins had a wonderful sack in which he beat guard Mike Iupati with pure quickness. He’s one of the best penetrating, 1-gap tackles in Mobile this week.
Sean Weatherspoon had himself a fantastic day, finishing a close second in my eyes to Brandon Graham for MVP of this game. He showed true sideline-to-sideline range and sensational coverage. He beautifully dropped into a zone while reading the quarterback’s eye to make a crucial interception near the goal line. On another play, he drew man coverage versus the speedy Dexter McCluster and almost picked off another pass in the end zone. Dekoda Watson has elite speed. Based on what I saw today, I would expect him to time first among linebackers in the 40 yard dash next month. He made a great play peeling off a tight end block to make a tackle near the sideline and also shot a gap near the goal line to make a crucial 4th down stop. Koa Misi hasn’t been mentioned much, but put together a very solid week and a fantastic game today. He had 6 total tackles today and really showed some terrific athleticism on a number of his stops. Daryl Washington also had a nice game in which he shot out of his perfect zone drop to tackle Tim Tebow for a 3rd down stop.
Patrick Robinson’s only knock has been the inability to play consistent football. Today, he did an outstanding job locking down on the outside. He shut down receivers in coverage, but also did a nice job of disengaging from blocks to make plays in the run game. Kyle Wilson had another very solid day on the other side. He may have allowed one or two receptions in the game, but was never caught out of position and broke quickly on routes. Taylor Mays stepped up making an interception, something everyone questioned coming into the week. Earlier in the game, he did miss a tackle going for the big hit rather than wrapping up, which is exactly what some have questioned of him. Perrish Cox stood out again, which included a hard hit in run support. Trevard Lindley was torched twice, which capped a very disappointing week for the Kentucky standout who battled injuries for much of the year. Javier Arenas was beat in coverage, including once over the top by Mardy Gilyard, but atoned for his mistakes by exhibiting his instincts and vision in the return game, where he almost broke a pair for touchdowns.
Both punters struggled with hangtime, but Matt Dodge did a better job of rocketing several punts of his leg. Zoltan Mesko just had a poor afternoon, booting several low and short punts. Leigh Tiffin and Brett Swenson connected on all of their fields (Tiffin from 43 and 33, Swenson from 43), but both had short kickoffs. Swenson struggled particularly in that area, which included one that went out of bounds.
The game concluded an exciting week in Mobile, Alabama. Though a week of great scrutiny has passed over these young players, a 3-month interview and the path to the draft has just begun.