The football gods were teasing us as we began the first practice of the 2019 Senior Bowl, Tuesday afternoon with the SOUTH squad. The sky was overcast and the air was damp and cool and the omni-present Ladd-Peebles wind was picking up a bit. But the promised/threatened rain deluge had still not begun.
I always like to look at players I am not familiar with, and/or guys who really stood at the morning weigh-in. And in this year’s game I wanted to get an idea how the players “promoted” from the Shrine Game last week looked up against the deeper talent pool in Mobile.
MONTEZ SWEAT, ER/Miss State, was a clear winner at the morning weigh-in at his 6’6 and 252 lbs. His 35 5/8″ arm length and 84 1/2″ wingspan were put to good use as drills began. By and large, I would say he could not be blocked. He ran around people, and pushed them away with long, strong arms. Somewhat surprisingly, he faired well in hand-to-hand combat with blockers who had a 50 lb. plus advantage on him. Everyone here is in consensus that SWEAT is a first round talent, and he went two for two in confirming that today.
Another big winner in the early going was ANDRE DILLARD, OT/Washington State. His morning numbers were impressive at a sculpted 6’047″/310 lbs. His arm length was not elite, at 34″, but I did not see any issues that they were not long enough to fend off defenders in pass pro during practice. What surprised me most was the reality that he was strong enough to control and even move big DL opponents. His feet looked very agile, and he clearly excels in pass-pro, which should be no surprise coming from a Mike leach Offense at Pullman. I think he looks like a solid first rounder, and could be the first OT taken overall in April.
I want to give credit where credit is due. During the 2017 college season I thought DEMARCUS CHRISTMAS, DT FSU, looked like a better pro prospect than line-mate DERRICK NNADI, who the Chiefs grabbed in Round 3 of the 2018 Draft. But he looked downright miserable in 2018 under the new coaching staff of Willie Taggart. When he got on the playing field he looked lethargic, out of shape and even disinterested. When I heard he had gotten a late invite to the Senior Bowl I rolled my eyes. But in the morning he weighted in at a fairly solid 302 lbs. And in drills at practice he made some of the blockers simply look bad, with a combination of power and quickness off the snap. I want to see more, but it was a surprisingly good start to the week in my eyes.
A good athlete, and productive college player to me is CARL GRANDERSON, DE/OB Wyoming. He got my attention in the morning when he weighed in under 250 lbs, at 246. On an almost 6’5″ frame he looks slim and trim. His 34 1/2″arm length is impressive as well. He showed some serious get-off and quickness eluding blockers during practice. I had questioned his likely NFL position fit previously, but if his weight is dropping then I will watch him to see if they given any reps as a LB this week, or maybe even in the game. He could be headed for a likely shift to primarily a LB prospect come the Draft.
I am hearing lots of miscellaneous buzz already about the less than stellar group of QB candidates this season. Most everyone seems to be assigning the top QB draft positions to DWAYNE HASKINS and KYLER MURRAY. Now the questions center around, who if anyone else, has a chance to be a first round QB selection in the 2019 Draft. Let me start by saying the group assembled here this week contains the next highest eligible players for that status. But opinions vary wildly. I try not to judge the QB group too harshly during early practices at Star Games. Lots of learning and acclimating going on the first couple of days at that position. As practice wore on it was clear the wind down on the field was an issue. Passing drills in general left a lot to be desired.
Just an early observation that the two guys I felt who handled it all the best for Day One were DANIEL JONES and TYREE JACKSON.
On another QB note I have some serious concern about the pro future for TRACE McSORLEY of Penn State. I luv the young man as a competitor and field general. But his size is going to be an issue, IMO. At 6’002/200 lbs. I have a hard time believing he will hold up under an NFL pounding. I believe that to be especially true because he relies on his legs as such a big part of his tool kit. When things start to break down in the pocket he takes off very quickly knowing that it is his best option to gain yardage. That is not a recipe for long term life as an NFL QB. I expect the coaches to work very hard with him to stay in the pocket this week.
One of the winners on Tuesday had to be LB TERRILL HANKS from NEW MEXICO State. He won in the morning when my notes on his 6’2/234 body said purely, ‘really ripped’. And he practiced really ripped in the afternoon. He was like a pain machine out on the field. He closed holes with such velocity and ferocity that I would suspect offensive skill position players had to looking to avoid him. He may have hit harder, for a day one practice than most of the coaches would have preferred. If this keeps up we are going to start seeing and hearing BOBBY WAGNER comparisons before game day rolls around.
If you read my practice notes from Shrine Week then you already know I have a thing developing for DT DAYLON MACK, who got a call to join the guys in Mobile late last week. He had dominated OL and plugged the middle of the line-of-scrimmage last week. He started out here, right where he left off last week. His big bubble butt, and nimble feet grab your attention. He is punishing OL already down here.
Another DL who really impressed me, even though I was skeptical of his desire and effort previously, was DONTAVIUS RUSSELL, DT Auburn. His 6’3/319 weigh-in was imposing. And he was popping people and chasing the ball in practice. I had pegged as a somewhat lazy player last season, but he was anything but that Tuesday. He has grunting and hustling in line drills with the OL group. I am anxious to see if he can sustain this performance throughout the week.
The last half-hour of the South practice was miserable with cold conditions featuring wind, on/off rain and a damp cold. The rain pretty much let up but the North practice was played in constant windy conditions and was significantly colder throughout. I always luv to talk about my Special Teams guys, but I will leave them alone ’til Thursday, given all of them struggled against the elements.
I spent a good deal of time in the North practice watching OL and DL drills and matchups. I like the North OL, but they were really dominated as a group by the North DL Tuesday. They were often beaten right off the snap of the ball. They were beaten on edge speed around the outside and spin moves inside. At least several guys took getting their butts kicked seriously and played beyond the coaches shouts to stop action. For my taste the most physical and aggressive OL was CHRIS LINDSTROM OG BC.He was downright nasty at times in shoving matches, but did not cross the line to dirty. At least not too often.
One of the constant abusers of the OL in pass-rush one-on-ones was #91 L.J. COLLIER DE from TCU, who I think is going to generate more praise as the week goes on. I know he caught my eye last season in several TCU games. He is a bit short for a DE slot, at 6’022, but weighs a solid 280. He reminds be a tad of another short edge-rusher named ELVIS DUMERVIL who played at the Senior Bowl. I can still recall being in the stands and hearing TED THOMPSON ask one of his scouts how long DUMERVIL’s arms were, even though he only measured a touch over 5’11” tall. I do not recall the exact answer, but it was an impressively long number for such a short guy. And man could Elvis bend. Well, COLLIER can bend as well, and his arms are an impressive 34 3/4″ long. If you are looking to watch a “sleeper” this could be one of your guys.
One of the toughest, must physical dude I saw in practice action was Texas CB KRIS BOYD #2. He played press-cover as often as the coaches would let him, and he put some licks on receivers, over and over. He was admonished several times to tone it down a bit with the hits. He lifted one receiver up on this should and then dumped him to the ground in early action. He has that RICHARD SHERMAN tough guy attitude. OH by the way, he’s not too shabby in coverage either.
One of my favorite all-around LB at this venue is GERMAINE PRATT from NC State, #3. He’s a former S, who bulked up, but shows uncommon balls skills for his size (6’025/240) and runs well. He showed off his athleticism in LB group drill work. He’s not a household name partly because he had to wait his turn behind some very talented guys on that Wolfpack defensive unit. Watch him and I guarantee he will grow on you as a player.
KHALEN SAUNDERS, DT, Western Illinois #97 had a most impressive day during interviews and practice, while his girlfriend was giving birth to a daughter Tuesday. I thought he was very impressive on the podium during Media lunch sessions. He has a lot more on his menu than just football. But he was also pure dynamite in on-field drills just whipping up on the interior OL. He is a lot quicker than you might expect at 6’005/320. He is just naturally strong, and surprisingly quick in a short area. To end practice SAUNDERS performed his famous standing back flip to the cheers of his new teammates. This guy could be special and a fan favorite with the right team, in the right city.
One player that I had never watched in game action was ANDY ISABELLA, record setting WR from UMASS. But with more and more small wideouts making NFL rosters and operating in the slot quite often, I know that a lot of folks here in Mobile this week want to see this guy in action. The word on the street is that he plays beyond his size (5’9/186). After watching him run patterns and waiting for some CB to break an ankle trying to react to one of Isabella’s cuts, I can say that he has both the speed and quickness to make it in the NFL, ala guys like AMENDOLA & WELKER in their prime. I can’t wait to see even more of him as the week goes on.
Again, I am hesitant to spout off too early about a QB in a star game, but I thought DANIEL JONES, DUKE #17 looked the most poised, confident and relaxed taking snaps, reading he field and making throws. He clearly passes the eye test.
The QB with the most personality and pizzaz appears to be the “local guy” GARDNER MINSHEW, who has moved on from the Burt Reynolds ‘bandit-stache’ to a full, but nicely trimmed, beard.
So long for now from Mobile.