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Underhyped before kickoff, Ponder and others show their mettle

by | NFLDraftScout.com

After playing all week in practice in the most scrutinized position, the quarterbacks continued to be the focal point of Saturday's Senior Bowl.

Florida State's Christian Ponder, who slid under the radar a bit this week, with most of the attention going to Washington's Jake Locker and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, rightfully took home MVP honors by completing 7 of 13 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

In a game in which there were several noteworthy plays, Ponder's two scoring passes were as impressive as any of them.

South squad QB Christian Ponder evades a tackler in Saturday's Senior Bowl. (AP)  
South squad QB Christian Ponder evades a tackler in Saturday's Senior Bowl. (AP)  
Ponder fired a perfect pass to Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson in the first quarter for the game's opening touchdown. On third-and-8, Ponder put the ball on his man's back shoulder, leading Hankerson away from the defender and into the end zone for an 18-yard score.

In the fourth quarter, with the South team nursing a 7-point lead, Ponder again demonstrated both his accuracy and recognition of the defense -- which has been a major concern for scouts. Looking left and giving a shoulder fake that got Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett moving, Ponder fired a pass down the seam to slot receiver Jeremy Kerley of TCU, who slipped between the closing Jarrett and trailing Joe Lefeged, a safety from Rutgers whose strength is in run support and not coverage.

It was this type of recognition by Ponder that stood out in a game in which so much attention is devoted to which prospects are the biggest, strongest and fastest.

Locker, who battled through an inconsistent week of practices, went 6-for-10 for 98 yards. Kaepernick helped himself the most among quarterbacks throughout the week -- but during the game, mustered just 53 yards on 4-for-9 passing with an interception.

Other Senior Bowl standouts:

  • Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M: Miller will wind up as the first Senior Bowl participant selected in the 2011 draft. Scouts knew he could rush the passer based on his production with the Aggies. Miller also proved capable of handling coverage duties throughout practice week.
  • However, with defenders asked not to tackle during practice, scouts wanted to see his ability to make open-field stops against elusive ball carriers. Miller demonstrated precisely that, stringing up Kaepernick and Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott all alone in space.

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  • James Carpenter, OT, Alabama: Overshadowed by the North's talented offensive tackles throughout the week, Carpenter and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod each played well in Saturday's game. Both have good enough foot quickness and balance to slide over to left tackle in a pinch, but I like them best at right tackle. Carpenter's play, in particular, was impressive. He was officially credited with allowing a sack to Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal, but the Sooner pass rusher was clearly offsides on the play. Otherwise, Carpenter's steady pass protection and physical running cleared rushing lanes for the South.
  • Colin McCarthy, ILB, Miami: The Hurricane linebacker supplied some of the game's most explosive hits on defense and special teams, but it was his surprising speed that will catch the attention of scouts. On one third-quarter play, McCarthy beat Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr. to the sideline, demonstrating a second gear that most teams didn't believe he possessed.
  • Kendrick Burney, CB, North Carolina: Burney's quick feet stood out through the week of practice. He's not afraid of contact, making his conversion inside to the nickelback position an easy one. In Saturday's contest, Burney broke up an early attempt from Ponder to Hankerson at the goal line and was the most active defender on special teams, recording three tackles.
  • Curtis Brown, CB, Texas: TV analysts spotlighted several defensive backs throughout the Senior Bowl broadcast, but none was more impressive than Brown. The 6-foot, 180-pound former Longhorn demonstrated great physicality and closing speed in this contest.
  • Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: Pass rushers have the advantage in all-star games. Kerrigan and Arizona's Brooks Reed were among the group able to capitalize. I was impressed by Carpenter and Sherrod's ability to handle him when rushing off the left side, but once moved over to the right against Arkansas' DeMarcus Love, Kerrigan's speed and agility were too much. The now-former Boilermaker beat Love and Louisville running back Bilal Powell (who had come over to chip) on an inside rush to notch a sack and came back moments later with pure speed to draw a desperate hold from Lo
  • Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami: As he has done throughout his career and this week of practice, Hankerson allowed too many passes into his pads, resulting in one drop and a few double-clutches, but his deceptive build-up speed, size and body control made him the game's most productive receiver. Hankerson caught five passes for 100 yards, including the 18-yard TD from Ponder in the first quarter and a 48-yard bomb even earlier in the game. The deep ball was Hankerson's more impressive play, as Ponder's pass was underthrown, forcing the Miami wideout to sneak back inside of Colorado's Jalil Brown to make the catch.

Chad Reuter contributed to this report.


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