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Impressive group of grunts in Senior Bowl South team

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

MOBILE, Ala. -- All-everything quarterback Tim Tebow was the story of Senior Bowl Monday's South team practice one year ago. There was star power on the sidelines at Fairhope Stadium this year, as well, with Alabama coach Nick Saban, former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, and Mobile Davidson high school and Alabama quarterback legend Richard Todd roaming the sidelines.

The real story was the South offensive line: the best group of grunts the Senior Bowl has seen in some time.

Interior linemen aren't shown much media love, even on the all-star circuit, but two all-conference tackles deserve the attention for their strong play moving inside. Daniel Watkins (Baylor) didn't play football until four years ago, but his technique and strength were exceptional in Monday's practice against strong defensive linemen such as Baylor teammate Phil Taylor and Jarvis Jenkins (Clemson).

Most scouts figure Alabama tackle James Carpenter will move inside at the next level with his toughness and work ethic. (AP)  
Most scouts figure Alabama tackle James Carpenter will move inside at the next level with his toughness and work ethic. (AP)  
Few offensive guard prospects in recent memory play with the knee-bend, arm extension and leverage that Watkins displayed in one-on-one drills. He also looked very adept at pulling behind the line of scrimmage and positioning himself to take on linebackers at the second level. Even though he's 26 years old and lacks football experience, it will be tough for him to escape the second round, or maybe even the top 50 overall picks.

Alabama tackle/guard James Carpenter also looked quite strong, but not quite as athletic or technically sound as Watkins. Most scouts figured he would move inside at the next level with his toughness and blue-collar, workmanlike attitude.

Another SEC lineman making a position shift was Auburn's Lee Ziemba. The BCS champions' left tackle, Ziemba anchored extremely well on the right side in one-on-one drills. Speed rushers in the NFL might give him headaches, but there was little room for anyone to operate once he latched on in Monday's practice. He'll probably also be tried at guard this week.

Center Kristopher O'Dowd didn't play in a bowl game this season because of USC's probation status. But his ability to anchor against Taylor, Jenkins and other talented defensive linemen on the South team was impressive. That sort of strength, his 6-4, 303-pound frame and mobility, give him a chance to be a top-100 pick.

Arkansas tackle DeMarcus Love had a tough practice on Monday, playing exclusively at right tackle. Love too often was caught backing up and bending at the waist when facing speed rushes from Texas defensive end Sam Acho, who was quick but also strong, consistently getting under the pads of taller tackles.

Florida left tackle Marcus Gilbert was also inconsistent, losing battles to Arizona's Clay Matthews look-a-like Brooks Reed. His long, stringy blonde hair is akin to Matthews' mop, and his ability to get under pads of tackles and spin inside in one-on-one drills were only slightly less impressive than the Green Bay Packers' 2009 first-round pick.

Miami (Fla.) defensive end Allen Bailey measured in at 6-3, 278 pounds on Monday morning, which was disappointing to scouts, and he failed to get much movement against Ziemba, Love and other tackles when lined up outside. But as he did his junior season, Bailey showed some quickness against interior lineman when lined up at tackle. Since he lacks size to play inside and seems unable to make a lot of plays on the edge, teams might consider him the top "tweener" defensive line prospect in this draft.

Baylor's Taylor began Monday's practice strong, not surprising given his 6-4, 337-pound frame. His combination of strength and quickness were evident when he was fresh. Later in practice, he and Jenkins showed a lack of stamina scouts identified during their college careers. He'll need to be more consistent over the next two days of practice to jump into the top 50.

Small school, big attitude

Southern Arkansas defensive tackle Cedric Thornton proved he belonged in the weigh-in (6-3 5/8, 299) and made it clear he wouldn't back down on the field. He constantly talked to O'Dowd, Florida State's Rodney Hudson, and others as he tried to beat them in team drills and one-on-one, even slapping their helmets in a playful way as the plays ended and they returned to the starting blocks. He won few battles on the day, but held his own by standing up against double-team blocks and giving full effort on every play.

Hudson overmatched him in one-on-one drills, but Thornton came back on the next rep to push Hudson backward into the tackling dummy serving as the quarterback. That effort will gain him fans among scouts this week as he learns what it takes against FBS stars this week.

On the sidelines

Troy receiver Jerrel Jernigan stood on the sideline of the South practice. He tweaked a left ankle injury originally suffered in the New Orleans Bowl. Although it was tough for him to watch the action instead of taking part, he said "the doctors said I shouldn't play, so we just followed that advice."

The 5-9, 190-pound Jernigan runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash and projects as a second- or third-round pick for a team looking for a slot receiver (84 receptions for 822 yards and six touchdowns) with very good return ability (23 punt returns for 306 yards and one TD, 25 kickoff returns for 630 yards and one touchdown in 2010).

Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter @ChadReuter.


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