Considering the fact that he started 48 games at the University of Washington, it might seem strange that a few days of practice could vault cornerback Desmond Trufant into the first round but after two impressive days at the Senior Bowl, that is precisely where some believe the athletic pass defender could be headed.
Trufant, currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 5 rated cornerback, demonstrated great quickness, anticipation and competitiveness in Tuesday's practice, allowing just two receptions despite often drawing the toughest assignments the North team had to offer. He showed the ability to handle pure speed, running stride for stride with Oregon State speedster Markus Wheaton and size, as well, handling Marshall's 6-3, 205 pound Aaron Dobson, the two most impressive receivers for the North team during Tuesday's practice.
Trufant, the Huskies' only First Team All Pac-12 selection this season, could be mirroring the success his older brother, Marcus, had in Mobile, Alabama back in 2003. Like Desmond, Marcus entered the senior all-star game having earned second round grades from a number of clubs. A terrific week of practice, however, vaulted the Washington State prospect into the first round, where the Seattle Seahawks made him the No. 11 pick of the 2003 draft. Isaiah, another Trufant brother in the NFL, did not play in the Senior Bowl after starring at Eastern Washington.
Of course, NFL talent evaluators knew of the terrific Trufant bloodlines long before Tuesday's practice. That didn't stop them from buzzing about the Washington defensive back in the stands as the session went on.
"I've always believed that the Senior Bowl and other all-star games like it serve as more of a confirmation of a player's ability than a reason to push them up the board," new Kansas City Chiefs' general manager John Dorsey told me as practice was wrapping up. "He [Trufant] had a strong practice yesterday and another strong practice today," Dorsey said.
Demonstrating the physicality to disrupt receivers while in press as well as the quickness and fluidity to turn and run when playing off, Trufant was effective both inside and out. He was frequently challenged by the North quarterbacks but closed quickly on the ball, breaking up several passes.
Wheaton, whose instant acceleration made him arguably the toughest draw for any of the North's talented defensive backs, called out Trufant at one point early in skeleton drills. Another defender appeared to be next in line to cover Wheaton on the next play but demonstrative pleading by Trufant caused the Oakland Raiders' coaches to allow the two Pac-12 adversaries to go at it for a memorable one on one battle.
Lining up inches from the Oregon State speedster, Trufant easily turned to run with Wheaton. A subtle pause from Wheaton caused the Washington cornerback to anticipate a shallow route and he slowed. Wheaton hit the gas and broke free for a moment. Trufant showed impressive closing speed as the ball arrived. Wheaton caught the ball but his momentum carried him out of bounds for a play ruled an incompletion from both Trufant and an applauding Washington defensive backs coach.
Asked about the jawing with the defensive back and Wheaton, specifically, Trufant showed off the spirit NFL coaches love.
"We were just competing. He [Wheaton] is one of the best out here. You're only going to prove you're the best by beating the best," Trufant said.
- While Trufant won most of the battles, Wheaton and Dobson certainly enjoyed their moments against he and the rest of the North defensive backs. The 5-11, 183 pound Wheaton has excellent straight-line speed and the agility to make defenders miss in the open field. He showed the ability to set up defenders with subtle double-moves, beating talented Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor for a long touchdown on one memorable play. Dobson lacks Wheaton's rare speed but is a savvy route-runner whose body control and reliable hands made him a standout throughout practice. He made arguably the catch of the day early on, leaping high and contorting his body to haul in a difficult deep pass over tight coverage and came up limping. Dobson was held out of much of the remaining one on one drills but showed his toughness in returning during the 11 on 11 scrimmage towards the end of practice. Dobson hasn't generated as much attention as many of the other receivers in Mobile but impressed me with his attention to detail. He sets up defensive backs well, selling his routes to push defensive backs deep even on running plays and showing off strength and determination as a downfield blocker. He also consistently worked his way back to the quarterback, drawing praise from the Washington staff.
- While Wheaton and Dobson certainly boosted their cause Tuesday, the same couldn't be said for Michigan's Denard Robinson, who struggled Tuesday in his attempt to prove he could make the transition from quarterback to receiver. As expected, Robinson showed less than ideal attention to detail as a route-runner. It was his struggles simply catching the ball, however, that was the real problem. Robinson caught only approximately half of the passes thrown his way. Many of those he did catch, he allowed to get into his pads. He also struggled fielding punts. Some question if he's fully healed from the nerve damage that caused him to switch positions at Michigan.
- The injury concerns aren't limited to just the North wideouts. Linebackers Arthur Brown and Trevardo Williams from Kansas State and Connecticut, respectively, were sidelined Tuesday.