The North team finished their final official practice in shorts today. It was the final opportunity for many of the players to show the improvement they made through the week before the big game on Saturday. Most scouting eyes have already determined the big winners and losers this week based on the days of practice in pads, while the atmosphere today was more laid back and relaxed from player, coaches, and scouts. It wasnít nearly as clean as I thought it would be, at least offensively, but much of that came as a direct result of a stifling defense.
The quarterback who suffered most from the tight defense was Sean Canfield, especially near the goal line. He held onto the ball and was indecisive. Canfield didnít anticipate routes very well and seemed out of sync. Even in warm-ups he missed a couple open receivers. I did like his arm strength on a couple passes which shows me the potential is there if he can get his feet set, but he needs to work on really using his whole body to drive the ball out. Tony Pike had a decent showing today. He made some nice throws, but never developed any real rhythm. Pike started off strong on his first two days in Mobile, but finished on a lesser note, paving way for Dan LeFevour to pick up ground. LeFevour looked the best of the North team quarterbacks today, finding a nice rhythm, making several nice throws down around the goal line, including a beautiful tight touch pass near the back pylon. All three quarterbacks struggled a little with accuracy and completing passes against the defense today.
The more Iíve watch Joique Bell move with the football this week, the more impressed Iíve been with his vision and ability to get to the holes without hesitation. He seems capable of taking every inch given to him, but can he create on his own? Thatís something that still remains to be seen and could be answered at the Senior Bowl. He did drop a pass or two today though. LeGarrette Blount continued to run fast and run hard. Both of these backs have shot up my draft rankings after this week.
Today was another great day put together by Taylor Price. He just ďgets it.Ē He has great instincts and hands, but also put on a nice route-running clinic this morning including a beautiful quick slant to completely shake Brandon Ghee in the red zone. Marshawn Gilyard continued to build on his nice week. Though he was blanketed on a couple plays by some of the better corners here, he also won his fair share of battles, which included a beautiful reception near the boundary in the end zoneÖboth feet down. Donald Jones, the late add from Youngstown State, showed some nice things, including good ball skills. One player Iíve largely ignored in my practice reports is Pittsburghís Dorin Dickerson. Heís very quietly put together a few nice practices. Outmatched early in the week by speed, Dickerson played more wideout today and actually succeeded on a number of occasions. He took a risk this week lining up out wide where he could have been exposed as merely a slow wide receiver, but the fact that he made some plays from out there just adds to the versatility heíll bring to an NFL roster. I think Iíve run out of things to say about Ed Dickson, but another solid showing, which included very few mistakes. Garrett Graham hasnít done much to show me he can be a solid NFL tight end. He allows too many passes into his body and doesnít have the size to compensate. If he doesnít get more aggressive, heíll be an easy cover in the NFL.
Itís difficult to get a solid evaluation of the offensive line when theyíre holding back on physicality, so just a few notes here today. Believe it or not, offensive guard Mike Iupati was out there covering kicks, which is a testament to his athleticism. Not only was this the most impressive feat Iíve witnessed all week, but it embodies what the Senior Bowl is about: players trying to show as much value and versatility to scouts. On the other side, Notre Dame offensive tackle Sam Young has been very disappointing not just today, but all week. Heís a high-effort player Ė the type you love to have on your team Ė but just doesnít have the quick-twitch movements or power and leverage to be a good run blocker. Young has struggled all week to defend against faster pass-rushers and to move defenders in the run game.
Similarly, itís difficult to evaluate the defensive line without pads. You have to concentrate more on technical details such as hand placement. One player that I came away impressed with was Calís Tyson Alualu. His effective game speed and jarring hand punches made for a difficult day for some tackles trying to stay on him. In drills, his smoothness as an athlete really shows up. Brandon Grahamís explosive first step continues to show on each rep. On the inside, the same thing shows for Jared Odrick.
While Phillip Dillard was impressive on Wednesday in pads, his lack of athleticism showed up today in shorts. As I mentioned yesterday, heís the type of player who elevates his play in pads and in game situations. He looked stiff in coverage and struggled to stay with his assignments. Daryl Washington on the other hand was the most impressive linebacker in shorts. He has the best change-of-direction ability and will have great value as a coverage linebacker in the NFL.
Chris Cook has done much better this week than I expected he wouldnít. Defensive backs are put in more isolation coverage here than in real-game situations and Cook stepped up. Heís a great swing man and will have great value for teams that emphasize size at cornerback. Kyle Wilson had another terrific day. His size is a bit of an issue, but even without pads, he looks to get his hands on the receiver. He does a nice job mirroring them downfield and showed terrific ball skills. Iíve mentioned it before, but his football IQ always impresses me. Devin McCourty had some nice battles today and has quietly made some money this week. He can mirror receivers downfield and contest passes on the backend. Larry Asante did a nice job in one-on-one drills today. Brandon Ghee had only a so-so day and a so-so week in my opinion. Ghee has nice size and speed, but sometimes gives too much cushion and can be too aggressive at times.
This concludes the official televised practices for the North team. The team will hold a walkthrough Friday morning to make final preparations for the Senior Bowl. The game will begin at 4:00PM on Saturday and will be televised only on the NFL Network.
Continue to Thursday's South practice recap -->