Senior Bowl 2018: Observations from the first two practices in Mobile, Alabama
Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen took the field, but RBs and defensive front seven players stole the show
The week of Senior Bowl practices are finally underway, and both the North and the South clubs took to the field Tuesday afternoon in Mobile, Alabama, to show their skills to scouts, GMs, head coaches, and draft analysts like yours truly.
Practices will take place Wednesday and Thursday with walk-throughs on Friday before the game on Saturday afternoon.
Here are my observations from the first two practices of Senior Bowl week.
- Clemson linebacker Dorian O'Daniel looked comfortable handling all his duties in the first practice of the week. Early in the session, he flew past a running back in a blitz-pickup drill. After that, he defended two passes and air-tight coverage forced another incompletion. In 11-on-11 drills, he filled his run fits quickly and had a few tackles near the line of scrimmage. O'Daniel has the athletic makeup and the nuanced skill to thrive in today's NFL.
- James Washington had a near flawless practice. In the one-on-one drills, he caught every pass thrown his way, including a diving grab over the middle on a dig route and a long score on a go route in which he had to release to the outside to gain separation. He made everything look easy.
- San Diego State runner Rashaad Penny had his issues with his blitz pickups until he drove back Virginia linebacker Micah Kiser when the defender tried a spin move.
- Byron Pringle showcased his deep-threat ability on two long touchdowns in one-on-one drills. He didn't blow past Alabama cornerback Levi Wallace on the second score but smartly reached for the football at the last second to avoid the potential of a pass breakup.
- Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford is under 6-foot, but his smaller stature and quickness off the ball were on full display against the South offensive line. He consistently found himself in the backfield after the snap in team drills. In the one-on-one portion, he unsurprisingly struggled without a gap to explode through.
- Southern Mississippi running back Ito Smith's agility may lend credence to an idea that he's an outside speed runner. That's not exactly where or how he wins. His cutting ability is apparent on inside runs, and he demonstrated the subtle elusiveness on two nice between-the-tackle scampers.
- Da'Shawn Hand won a few battles against Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, but the latter had the strongest rep of the one-on-one drill in the trenches, as he almost sent Hand into their teammates watching the drill.
- Indiana tight end Ian Thomas repeatedly got separation from linebackers at the intermediate levels, but had a pair of drops.
- Overall, the quarterbacks from the South Team -- Troy's Brandon Silvers, Western Kentucky's Mike White, and Virginia's Kurt Benkert -- struggled with timing and accuracy. LSU wideout D.J. Chark was targeted often but only had one long touchdown to show for the attention, which came on a perfectly thrown ball from Benkert.
- The biggest pad-pop of the day came via Auburn linebacker Tre' Williams who flashed through the A-gap untouched and unloaded on Penny, which led to a fumble.
- Virginia defensive lineman Andrew Brown and North Carolina cornerback M.J. Stewart had fantastic practices. Brown lived in the backfield on run plays in team drills and Stewart was glue on wideouts in one-on-one drills.
- Josh Allen started with a bad overthrow against air as the practice began, and during one-on-one drills, a few of his passes were behind and low, particularly one on a dig route to Colorado State wideout Michael Gallup. However, it wasn't a wildly erratic day for the Wyoming quarterback. Many of his accurate passes were dropped, as it appeared the sun cutting across the field was a problem for some receivers at the outset of the practice, most namely DaeSean Hamilton of Penn State and Iowa State's Allen Lazard.
- Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield threw well behind his intended target on an in-breaking route and a throw toward the sideline, and it appeared as if he was fading away from both passes. Other than that, his tosses had plenty of zip and accuracy.
- Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage was the best offensive player on the field for the North squad on Tuesday. He shook The Citadel's linebacker Myles Pierce in a pass-catching drill and was amazingly fluid in his cuts and acceleration as a runner. On one play, he smoothly bounced to the outside then outran South Carolina cornerback Jamarcus King around the corner. He ended practice with an outstanding juke on a defender who got penetration quickly after the snap.
- Boston College cornerback Isaac Yiadom put his length to use with a fine pass breakup on a deep shot from Mayfield.
- Oklahoma outside linebaker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo utilized his length often in one-on-one drills, not allowing offensive linemen to get into his frame. He set the edge well in team drills and played a pitch perfectly later in the session.
- Michael Joseph, the Division III player from Dubuque, was scorched by Gallup on one go route. He was stellar in one-on-one drills beyond that.
- Texas A&M safety Armani Watts had back-to-back solid reps against Notre Dame's large tight end Durham Smythe. On the first, he had tight coverage on a pass that was ultimately overthrown. On the second, a throw from Mayfield, his timing was perfect on the pass breakup.
- UTEP guard Will Hernandez dominated in one-on-one drills. It didn't matter who he faced. He's wide, strong, and has deceptive movement skills to drive back the opposition. He certainly did that on Tuesday.
- Ohio State defensive linemen Jayln Holmes used his hands well in one-on-one and team drills. For someone without tons of production on his resume, it was a good for him to show that polish.
- Nathan Shepherd from Division II Fort Hays State showcased his explosiveness on more than one occasion. He devoured a run play before it could materialize and held his own in one-on-one drills.
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