The first practice of the 2014 Senior Bowl featured noteworthy performances by the recognizable stars from powerhouses FBS programs you might expect, but a handful of small school prospects also proved capable of handling the big stage.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley and his staff led the South team through a spirited, scripted practice at Fairhope Stadium which featured plenty of one on one matchups, allowing the hundreds of scouts and fans in the stands to evaluate the athleticism of the prospects. Players sported helmets, shoulder pads and plenty of physicality but were not wearing thigh pads and tackling -- as is virtually always the case in all-star game practices -- was forbidden.
Rather than focus on any one positional group on the first day, I kept my eyes open and head on a swivel. Here are 10 observations from Monday's South practice.
1. Of the South's quarterbacks, Fresno State's Derek Carr unquestionably possesses the best arm. The ball explodes out of his hand and caught a few of his new teammates by surprise with how quickly it got to them. Carr showed good anticipation, often delivering passes before his receivers turned back to look for the ball.
2. Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo continued the positive momentum he'd gained from the East-West Shrine Game with an impressive initial practice. While he does not possess Carr's howitzer, Garoppolo has a very quick set-up and release and frequently threw led his receivers away from defenders, showing better ball-placement than Carr on several of his throws.
3. On the defensive side of the ball, Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin demonsrated good speed and fluidity in coverage, as well as excellent leaping ability and timing to knock away passes.
4. Tennessee right tackle Ju'Wuan James hasn't received a lot of fanfare but he is a smooth athlete at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. He was beaten on occasion but plays with terrific knee bend and got to the second level during scrimmages.
5. As impressive James was, arguably the most impressive offensive lineman of the day was North Dakota State's Billy Turner, who possesses a very similar build at 6-foot-5, 316 pounds. Unlike James, Turner struggles a bit with leverage, bending at the waist rather than the knees but he has strong hands and is a good athlete who projects as a quality NFL starter with a little refinement. His upside could push Turner into the top 100 picks, if he isn't there already.
6. Given his 6-foot-2, 243-pound frame, perhaps it isn't surprising that Auburn's Dee Ford was the most explosive of the South's pass-rushers but he certainly showed the burst to catch the attention of every scout in the stands. Ford is stronger than his size indicates and carried over the strong senior campaign that helped his Tigers qualify for the national championship game into Monday's practice.
7. While Ford played well, his former Auburn teammates, Chris Davis, struggled a bit fielding punts early in the practice. Davis has a tendency to allow the ball to hit his chest plate, which results in some double-clutching. Oklahoma's Jalen Saunders also struggled in this area. The former Sooners' star also dropped a couple of passes.
8. San Jose State quarterback David Fales is more of a gamer than a practice-guy but his lack of ideal arm-strength, unfortunately, stood out in comparison to Carr and, to a lesser-extent, Garoppolo. Fales telegraphed some throws (including a short pass over the middle that was intercepted by LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow) and his passes to the perimeter had too much air under them.
9. Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton didn't have the most impressive weigh-in but he showed off his athleticism with a terrific spin move to beat Arkansas center Travis Swanson (who was playing guard) during one-on-one drills late in practice.
10. Of the linebackers, I was most impressed with BYU's Kyle Van Noy, who frequently is lauded for his ability at the line of scrimmage but showed off his fluidity and instincts in coverage by closing quickly to bat away multliple passes.
Fellow Senior Analyst Dane Brugler posted his notes from the North's practice, which began two hours later at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, where Saturday's game will take place.