MOBILE, Ala. -- At the beginning of Senior Bowl week, discussions about receivers on the North team centered around small but lightning-quick and super-fast Andy Isabella. As practices came to a close on Thursday, those conversations shifted focus to the similarly-sized Penny Hart.
While Isabella certainly didn't have a bad week in Mobile, he was outshined by Hart, Georgia State's 5-foot-8, 180-pound pass-catcher who was the best player on the field on Day 3 of practices for the North team.
Despite his slot receiver frame, Hart proved he can be effective on the outside and often wins exactly how you'd expect, with elite twitchiness and speed. However, he's not your classic tiny but nimble slot wideout. His 31 and 3/8-inch arms are actually pretty long relative to his size, and Hart showed an impressive catch radius on Thursday, making a few receptions well outside his frame. The football sticks to his hands. No body grabs.
Beyond his explosiveness, Hart is a nuanced route-runner who understands he needs to be very physical with his hands at the line to beat press coverage, something he did routinely on Thursday (all week really). I noticed Hart changing speeds in one-on-ones against corners, throttling down early before accelerating through his break to create major separation.
On one play in team drills, he exploded off the line to eat some of the corner's cushion. He then slowed slightly at the top of his route stem before cutting toward the middle of the field at top speed. Drew Lock found him in stride between the hashmarks and the numbers.
A few reps later during a red zone drill, Hart went at 75 percent speed for a few steps before exploding to the inside on a slant. Trace McSorley found him for the score.
I doubt Hart has the juice of Tyreek Hill, but he looks like him on the field. He maximized his time in Mobile this week by proving he can thrive against top competition. Hart is a souped-up slot receiver who can run sharp, intricate routes and give his quarterback a relatively large catch radius.
Dalton Risner turns up the intensity
Risner got off to a less-than-stellar start on Tuesday and fared slightly better on Wednesday. Much of his early struggles had to do with a lack of anchoring ability against the North team's loaded defensive line group.
On Thursday, the Kansas State offensive tackled turned it up. He was the most animated member of the offensive line group and met edge-rushers with much more power than the first two days. Risner was very vocal with encouragement toward his teammates.
During a stunt drill, when two defensive linemen could twist against two offensive linemen, Risner and Boston College's Chris Lindstrom (who had an awesome week aside from when he battled with Khalen Saunders) passed off the two rushers perfectly to stop them in their tracks. Risner was pumped, slapping Lindstrom's helmet afterward.
Very late in practice, Jon Gruden gave some offensive linemen one-on-one opportunities with rest of the team circled around -- a showcase of sorts. Risner had the second rep of the extra session and anchored well against Arizona State's Renell Wren (who was a problem all week). Risner celebrated by running to Gruden to celebrate.
Terry McLaurin, Chuma Edoga finish strong
McLaurin simply could not be covered all week in Mobile, and he put on a route-running, press-beating clinic on Thursday. While Hart caught more passes than McLaurin during team drills, the Ohio State receiver was a menace in one-on-ones.
He shook Kris Boyd with an inside-out move and was found in the end zone for a touchdown. McLaurin showed off point guard-like quickness at an even 6-foot and 205 pounds, and all of his routes look the exact same before he breaks in one direction. As a gunner on special teams, he routinely split doubles to get downfield in a hurry.
However, he'll be viewed as much more than a special teams ace after the week he had at the Senior Bowl.
Edoga did more to benefit his draft stock than any other offensive lineman on the North squad this week. Despite his lack of size and traditional offensive tackle weight -- he measured in just under 6-foot-4 and at 303 pounds -- the long-limbed USC product not only handled strong edge-rushers with ease all week, he looked comfortable at left tackle after playing right tackle for the Trojans in 2018.
As I wrote yesterday, he glides in pass protection, and while he wasn't perfect Thursday, he dealt with power and speed rushes from a variety of defensive ends very well for the third straight day.
More notes from Thursday's practice
- TCU edge-rusher L.J. Collier was the most consistent pass-rusher on the North squad all week. At 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, he has a compact built but is fully aware of how to utilize his tentacle-like, nearly 35-inch arms to his advantage. His straight-arm move sent every offensive tackle back during the week, and he can counter off that initial move to the inside or outside thanks to loose hips.
- Missouri's Drew Lock was the best quarterback on the field for the North on Thursday, but that isn't saying much. Duke's Daniel Jones, Penn State's Trace McSorley, and NC State's Ryan Finley had problems fitting the football to their receivers even at the intermediate level during team drills. Lots of checkdowns.
- Wisconsin's Michael Deiter simply could not anchor early in the week, and his lack of point-of-attack power was on Thursday. He needs to get more "sand in his pants" to be able to halt bull-rush attempts at the NFL level.
- After two days with up-and-down play, especially against power, NC State's super-athletic center prospect Garrett Bradbury was much more effective battling in one-on-ones and opening running lanes in team drills on Thursday than he had been on Tuesday or Wednesday. He played with a lot more pop on contact.
- Western Illinois' Khalen Saunders was the most consistent interior pass-rusher all week, and he needs to be taken seriously as a Day 2 prospect. His burst off the ball at 6-foot and 320 pounds is tremendous. He's incredibly strong and has the athleticism and polish to counter off his initial rush. He crushed the week of practices in Mobile.
- Karan Higdon from Michigan and Notre Dame's Dexter Williams ran well on Thursday, especially later in practice when the offensive line started to get into a rhythm after the defensive line controlled most of the first two practices. Both were quick to find cutback lanes then explode through them, and Higdon was a brick wall in a one-on-one pass-protection drill.