Like any other sporting event that spans a full week of activities not everything that is observed and/or experienced fits into neat little categories like All-Practice teams. So I’d like to share with you some opinions and observations that came out of the weeklong extravaganza in Mobile.
1) The effort by PHIL SAVAGE, his staff and the army of volunteers that help make this event special revolves in great part around trying to meet the needs and expectations of all parties involved. SAVAGE has clearly displayed an attitude of openness to a myriad of folks wishing input, and at times expressing differing agendas and desires. SAVAGE is a local boy, who clearly still sees this as a community event. It is in fact, the biggest event in Mobile, other than Mardi Gras celebrations, which are already underway. SAVAGE has been around the business side of sports long enough to realize how important his major corporate sponsors are, and not to slight the others, the game is officially called the REESES SENIOR BOWL these days. REESES hands out what seems like a limitless supply of their candy products all week long. The NFL is a close second on Phil’s “make happy” list. I have felt for a long time that a major factor in the dominance/longevity of the Senior Bowl amongst All-Star games is the fact that NFL coaching staffs actually coach the teams. Scouts and Personnel people know they will see pro level prep work being conducted on the practice fields.
2) A lot of effort goes into accommodating the “business” needs of the NFL and the media, while at the same time efforting to make the Mobile Bay area residents feel included in the process. The ending of a tradition, by canceling the Fairhope Monday South practice session, had to be a tough call for Savage. But the community’s failure to help cover the growing added expenses for transportation and security for that event was the final mortal blow this year. And I can tell you that clearly the move was welcomed by NFL people and the media, because of the travel and inconvenience of traveling roughly 50 miles round trip just for that one practice on the East side of the bay.
3) This was my 20th consecutive Senior Bowl. Back when I first attended the venue, in 1998, most of the top prospects were in this game. Underclassmen, unless they have earned their degree and been out of High School for at least 3 years, are not eligible to play in the Senior Bowl. Phil Savage has stated specifically that he is not of the mind to transform this game into the Junior Bowl (and I am sure he has concurrence from the NFL itself & the NCAA). About 10 years ago a group of us draftniks, at a pre-game party of our own, on Friday night, agreed to what we optimistically called the Scott Wright rule. Basically, it was an agreement that every year the Senior Bowl rosters would surely contain at least 10 potential First Rounders. Back then about 30 underclassmen were declaring for NFL Draft inclusion each year. Today roughly 100 players declare and most of them are not even eligible to be invited to the Senior Bowl, or any other All-Star game venue, for that matter.To be honest the Wright Rule is now obsolete. But the fact that the game gets the vast majority of top seniors each year is still valid.
The GBN just published an updated prospect Big Board for the 2017 Draft in which almost half (48 to be exact) of the top 100 prospects are underclassmen, with only 5 of those being eligible to be invited to an all-star game. There were 13 eligible players who declined Senior Bowl invites, because of injury situations. Ten other top senior invitees officially declined to participate (usually agent advise). So that’s 61 of 100 not going to be in Mobile, leaving 39 potential Star game participants. Of those 39, 34 prospects were in Mobile. My point is, of the realistic “gets”, the Senior Bowl still features a lot of NFL hopefuls.
4) Another small change this year was the elimination of daily Press Conferences during the week. In the past, at the conclusion of daily practices a presser was held back at the Convention Center. Both coaches appeared and a couple of random players also attended. I do not remember, in the past 10 years, ever having more than 2 dozen media members present, usually heavily weighted toward media from the cities of the 2 coaching staffs. I don’t ever recall any deep dark secrets being revealed in those pressers.
5) As the week progressed the daily dread became incredible as players dropped like flies, with injuries. Most of them were not serious long term hurts that would require surgery. But I cannot recall such a rash of player replacement announcements. Based on the team rosters on Monday of practice week, 15 players had to be excused and replaced. Oddest of all was that 13 of those injuries came on the BROWNS coached South team.
The amount of time PHIL SAVAGE & ROB LEHOCKY must have spent calling in replacement players had to be overwhelming at times. Both those guys looked frazzled by Friday, and they were still finalizing physical results for the latest player arrivals.
6) There are almost as many “stories” at Senior Bowl week as there are total players, which officially is set at 110, by the way. But two guys impressed me the most, and I wanted to be sure to mention them and tell you why I loved their stories. CLEMSON’s ARTAVIS SCOTT/WR/RS, was an eligible underclassman because he spent 3 years at Clemson and completed his degree. I was mightily impressed that he was able to complete that degree in 3 years, while carrying the extra work load of being a scholarship athlete. One of the best CB prospects at this year’s game was RASUL DOUGLAS, of West Virginia. He played hard and well all week and remains a potential late First Rounder, IMO. We found out from SAVAGE, that DOUGLAS spent Tuesday & Thursday mornings of game week having root canal work performed by a local dentist, then participated in afternoon practices both days. I’m impressed by that toughness as well! Kudos to you guys.
7) One of the best things about being involved in the local radio broadcast of the game the past two years has been attending a pre-game, production meeting on Friday with Phil & Rob, and my broadcast partners LEE & RANDY. PHIL gives a roster breakdown, in as much detail as we request, and then shares a few tidbits from behind the scenes. Last year he revealed to us that a big replacement player tool is having a ready list of “tank of gas” guys. This literally means players who are eligible to play and either live or are working-out within a tank of gas of Mobile.
8) It is a well known reality that agents are constantly contacting SAVAGE to get more of their player/clients into the Senior Bowl. Phil’s advice to them has been to have their players training in places that allow them to be a Tank of Gas guy. Expedience is a high priority when replacement players are needed. This year 3 replacement players arrived on Friday, to play on Saturday. It’s also a lot less expensive to pay for a tank of gas than a last minute airline ticked from the West Coast to Mobile. It should also be noted that having played the previous week at the Shrine venue in Florida is additionally helpful. If you look in the game program from this year’s Senior Bowl game and peruse the depth charts you will find 9 names of players who were at this year’s Shrine venue listed for game action in Mobile.
9) Ladd-Peebles Stadium holds about 40,000 on game day. One of the most amazing phenomenon’s for my money is the RV village that sets up for the event starting Thursday morning. All manner of cooking devices are set, college flags are unfurled and flown, music tents are erected. License plates can be found from about a dozen states, as the “party” that is the Senior Bowl takes place. I have often felt that several thousand fans never leave the game day parties to actually attend the game in the stadium. And by the way, more than a few of the folks at these private RVs and tents will invite you to grab some barbecue or piece of chicken at no cost as you walk by.
10) I have been fortunate enough to be on the pre-game party tent guest list for sports radio station WNSP for multiple years now, even before joining the game day broadcast crew. After a half-hour on air for their pre-game broadcast I head into the tent to sample a pre-game feast. For entertainment they had a solid, local country rock/blues band playing and a host of Hooters Girls handling beer distribution this year. I was “working”, so no beer for me. I cannot remember all the food options in the tent when I was there at 11:30 AM, but I do remember pizza, fried chicken, oysters on the half shell (grilled out front), chili, gumbo, bakery items, baked beans, pulled pork, and more. I know full well lots of the folks in that tent were not going into the stadium unless food and drink ran out, which is never allowed to happen.
You gotta luv this event if you are a football fan. You also have to luv the Mobile Bay area which hosts it. In fact I strongly recommend this game as a bucket list destination for hard core football fans and/or Draftniks. Football, food, entertainment and maybe even a Mardi Gras parade might await you in Mobile. A good deal of the event activities are free of charge including practices and a Friday Fan Fest/Meet the PLayers at the Convention Center. In fact game day tickets range from $10 to $30. And NO, I am not on the payroll for the Mobile Chamber of Commerce. But it’s a great, affordable vacation option for a Draft Fanatic.