Funny how time just slips away. I first heard those words in a country song when I was very young. They mean more to me today and especially during Senior Bowl week. Here we are about to begin Thursday practices, which are the last before the game on Saturday.
Our last chance to see all the QB out on the field today. During practice word was being circulated about the stadium that BAKER MAYFIELD would be leaving Mobile soon, not to play in the game on Saturday. In today’s sports world it came as no surprise to me. All things considered we should be thankful he was here to participate in all three practices. And as he whipped the ball around with more spin, and speed and accuracy than anyone else here this week it was clear that he’s the top QB in Mobile. Which also means the only two draftable QB we still need to compare him with are guys named ROSEN and DARNOLD. At the end of February we will get a chance to compare those three guys at the Combine. Until then, thank you Baker for showing up and giving us a clear picture of what you can do, and who you are, especially in interviews with NFL team reps.
Some of the young men who have been brought in to replace injured players have made their mark, with some very good work in practice. I have heard a lot of praise in the past two days for the steady and smart play of WR/DaeSean HAMILTON who came over after a very solid week of work at the Shrine Game last week. He is earning high praise for his route running and his near flawless catching ability. He has nice size at 6’006″ and 202 lbs. And he also has surprising speed, which creates separation once into the secondary. Steady and dependable are words used often in the same sentence with his name. It seems to me he is perched on the cusp of moving up into late Round 3 come April.
I have been a strong supporter of CEDRICK WILSON/WR/Boise State since watching him in several mid-season games. But overall his competition down here is a bit stronger than that of the Mountain West Conference. He has confirmed his excellence here this week against a potpourri of DB. WILSON was making catches all over the field today, and found the end zone on several occasions. He’s a bit wiry (6’017″, 194) but makes very good use of his 9 3/4″ hands and long striding speed, to get open and then pull away from defenders. He also looks to have a good vertical and comes away with more than his share of jump balls and high throws. Expect him to be a Top 100 prospect with a chance for a Round 2 selection.
Staying with the outstanding North WR group a bit longer let’s focus for a moment on ALLEN LAZARD/WR/Iowa State. He’s a big guy (6’042″/227) with nice big hands (9 7/8″) and better speed than you might imagine at his size. He has demonstrated good catching ability this week and enough speed to get separation on a regular basis. Under the principles of scoring wins ball games in any sport, LAZARD finished practice today with 3 TD catches in various drill situations. He is part of a very strong WR Draft Class that might see a dozen wideouts taken in Rounds 2/3.
The North squad is working with at least two players who are caught in no man’s land when it comes to the vanilla nature of defenses allowed in the Senior Bowl game. GARRET DOOLEY/Wisconsin #55 and EMOKO TURAY/Rutgers #58 are both listed on the roster as OB, but for them to be allowed to edge-rush they will have to put their hand down as a DE. They have been splitting their practice time between the DE and LB drill groups. They have shown incredible quickness and pass rush moves as DE, but also have the quickness to stand up and work on some LB sills. While they are caught in a bit of a quandary here, their versatility may end up being a very enticing quality for NFL teams come Draft Day. Let us just say for now, that I have found their work here quite exciting.
I grabbed the Pigskin Paul stop watch again today, this time to check distance and hang time of North Punter JOHNNY TOWNSEND/Florida #19. TOWNSEND had little trouble hitting the 55-yard length mark of SCOTT yesterday. But he also showed some ability to pin the ball inside the 20, without producing a touchback. TOWNSEND had a hang time range of 4.40 – 5.47. I found it quite a coincidence that they tied for a long time of 5.47 seconds. But TOWNSEND had several short times of 4.40, while SCOTT’s low was 4.50. In reality, my final conclusion is that we have a virtual tie between the two, and they are both draftable.
All-Star Games are not typically kind to RB trying to show their value. Four days is a very short time to pull together 10 OL who have never played together before and mold them into a cohesive run blocking unit. So even though I do not anticipate anyone running wild I would like to praise the overall work of both ARUM WADLEY/Iowa #24 and KEVIN BALLAGE/Arizona State #27. The best feature of each player’s sill set is ability to act as receivers, and I do not mean just dump-off throws. They are certainly capable of taking throws that are basically long hand-offs, but they also can run patterns. They are both natural catchers and can separate from underneath LB coverage.
DUKE DAWSON/CB/Florida #24 was not around on Monday because of illness, but was back yesterday on the practice field, and looked very healthy in pads today. Even though he’s about 5’10” tall he weights a bit over 200 lbs. and is a big hitter, which often surprises receivers. He also shows good ball skills and can turn an interception on occasion. His all-around play reminds me of BRIAN POOLE, another former Gator, who was an URFA in 2016 and has become the primary Nickel CB for the FALCONS Defense.
To wrap up our day, and practice week, the South took the field at 3PM.
It seems to me that the best all-around RB in this game will be RASHAAD PENNY/San Diego State #20. The 5’11/224 lb. PENNY is a solid power runner, who breaks tackles but also has a knack for seeing a running lane and bursting past the line-of-scrimmage. He has shown excellent hands and great run after catch work, due in great part to very good balance. PENNY rushed for over a thousand yards as a Junior, while backing up the record setting DONNEL PUMPHREY for the Aztecs. That went somewhat unnoticed and many wondered what the Aztecs would do without PUMPHREY. PENNY went out in 2017 and rushed for over 2,000-yards as his replacement. Did I mention PENNY is a record setting kick returner as well/ He has looked solid this week practicing as the South’s main Kick-Return option. Balance, power and speed add up to a young man who I feel is a fast Combine 40-time away from being a First Round Draftee in April. Watch for him to do some magic with the ball on Saturday.
Folks I am about to be somewhat of a killjoy relative to all the talk of MARCUS DAVENPORT/DE/Texas-San Antonio DE/ER being a sure thing first rounder in April. I even mentioned the comp to ZIGGY ANSAH a couple of days ago. He’s a great looking athlete and a very nice young man, but despite potential he is not that great of a prospect right now. He measured 6’057″/259 lbs. on Tuesday morning. He also has nice 34″ long arms. But his strength is sadly lacking and despite a few flashes this week he is not practicing like a first rounder. He has the potential to be great, but he has a lot of work to do on nutrition and weight room work, not to mention technique, before he even starts in the NFL, never mind stars. I like him, but there is a lot of molding to be done with this big pile of clay.
One of he great one-on-one matchups out on the practice field today was between OG/ISAIAH WYNN/Georgia, at 6’024″/308, and DT/POONA FORD/Texas, at 5’115″/306. They matched up several times mano-a-mano and the ground shook as these relatively short, hulking men pushed each other around. I watched FORD push OL around all last week at the Shrine venue. But not today! FORD won a few match-ups, but overall WYNN stoned him most of the time. It was a great exhibition of power and will. FORD will be an inside force in the NFL. WYNN will also excel after playing out of position to help the UGA OL which was a bit shy at OT talent the past couple years. But he is too short in height and his arms are a bit short at 33 1/8″ for the NFL OT spot. He has shown with his excellent work in Mobile that he will likely start on the interior of the OL, while being available as a competent back-up at OT.
The South also features a very strong and talented WR group this week. And one of the best has been little known WR TRE’QUAN SMITH from the self-proclaimed National Champion, undefeated UCF Knights squad. SMITH has led the Knights in receptions the past two seasons. He was also busy attaining his degree despite technically being only a junior from an eligibility perspective. He is a great hands catcher, with 34 4/8″ long arms. He is also a great leaper and he makes some very acrobatic catches. He’s caught a lot of balls, and run some excellent routes this week. He was in the end zone multiple times today. Expect him to have an impact in the game Saturday.
The South has not had the luxury of having a BAKER MAYFIELD or JOSH ALLEN on their roster. And so it has been a battle royal the pasty three days between 4 good college QB. And they will all more or less play one quarter in the game come Saturday. But if you were to ask me which QB of the 4 has been the most impressive and should have the honor of starting, I would say to you KYLE LAULETTA/Richmond, who has made some amazing throws at times and has kept out of harm’s way as well. He can move a bit to extend the play. He is far from a finished product but has the size (6’025″,217) and enough of an arm to perhaps play in the NFL.
That’s about it for this year’s practice observations from yours truly. Friday I will publish my All-Practice squad. And of course I’ll hang around to watch the game and participate in the WNSP Radio broadcast of the game. This is my 21st year at the Senior Bowl and I still consider this to me the most enjoyable week of each year.
Cheers and good night from Mobile!