With temps rising in Mobile, so has the pace of the practices at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
The North squad took the field first, and I was determined to give the big hairy eyeball to S JEREMY CHINN, #22, from Southern Illinois. Most football fans are not familiar with this young man, and even fewer have actually seen him in game action. Count me among those in both scenarios. So for now, watching him in practice is step one. I should also note that he was hard to not pay attention to yesterday at the weigh in. He measured in at 6’3/219 lbs, reminding me of today’s hybrid Nickel-LB types that have become quite popular around the League these days. He has 9 1/2″ hands, 32″ arms, and a 77″ wingspan. And the best news of all is that he plays fast, tough, and smart. He is a smooth looking athlete when he runs. He’s also quite good at using his hands to shed would-be blockers and get to the ball. He was quite physical in coverage with Notre Dame’s man-sized WR, CHASE CLAYPOOL, defeating his catch attempt outright on one 11/11 occasion.
I am going to digress away from my normal format for these reports and talk about another small school player who is becoming a hot-shot draft prospect this week. In this case, he is South S KYLE DUGGER, from an even smaller school, Lenoir-Rhyne. DUGGER has been ranked by some as the best small school prospect for the 2020 Draft. DUGGER, #23, weighed in at 217 lbs, while standing 6’1. His hands are 10 1/8″, with arms of 32 3/4″. He is also adept at stopping the run and providing solid coverage against passing attacks. Early in the afternoon practice, he recorded an INT in a passing drill. He looks to be excellent in deep coverage, and is likely to run a solid 40-time at the Combine. He is very aggressive in run defense, penetrating into the backfield on several occasions during 11/11 work in the South practice.
I am at least a day early here, but I cannot believe that these two smaller school players will be ranked as the two best Safeties in the Senior Bowl talent pool. Who would have thought such pure gold would be mined from their respective schools for presentation here in Mobile. I cannot imagine both of these guys not being taken on Day 2 of the April Draft.
Now on to the North Practice session. TE BRYCEN HOPKINS from Purdue, #89, might be the star of the North TE group. He still has a lot of work to do in his blocking skills, but today’s NFL has lots of roster spots taken up by TE’s that are primarily receivers and seldom actually line-up to block inline. BRYCEN, whose dad was an NFL OT, BRAD, is a heck of an athlete. At the opening presser this week, JIM NAGY expressed his opinion that BRYCEN would open some eyes here, as well as at the Combine next month. He has shown himself to be a smooth pattern runner that can get separation from LB coverage and most S’s, and has a very good pair of 10 1/8″ hands. He’s established himself as a potential key weapon in the upcoming game. His 40-time at the Combine will be closely watched!
OG BEN BREDESON from Michigan, #74, has showed pretty well so far, but I feel that he has shown a tendency to stop running his feet once a defender locks up with him. Anchoring one’s feet in pass pro begs for the defender to let loose and sprint around the block, if they themselves have good foot speed. BREDESON has spent a good deal of time reaching with his hands to grab some cloth, rather than let his opponent get around him. I find this to be a point concern.
The preponderance of larger wideouts this year is astounding to yours truly. I saw it last week at the Shrine Bowl, and felt it yesterday at the weigh-in in Mobile. After a decade of seeing quick, little slot guys, they are now the exception to the norm. One standout receiver who seems designed for the quick, smallish slot role is JAMES PROCHE, #13, from SMU. PROCHE is almost 5’11, and weighs 196 lbs, so he certainly can’t be describe as tiny. I was impressed with 9 5/8″ hands on that frame and 30 1/8″ arms. I don’t think he’s slow, but he looks to me to be quicker than fast. He also showed elusiveness and scoring potential on a couple of punt returns in practice.
CHARLIE TAUMOEPEAU, #88, from Portland State, is slated for both TE and FB duty here when the game rolls around. However, the surprising aspect of his play thus far has been his speed. In Monday’s practice, CHARLIE was calculated to have reached 15-mph speed on 3 plays. He has shown good hands, (9 5’8″), and no fear of contact either, as a ball carrier or blocker. This young man looks like a nice surprise package, who could be on his way to earning a slot in the 2020 Draft over the next couple of months.
When the 2019 college football season began, I felt like Center was going to be a relatively weak position group. Then a funny thing happened on the path to the draft. Some underclassmen Center’s declared for the draft. TYLER BIADASZ/WISCONSON and CESAR RUIZ/MICHIGAN, both out of the Big Ten, are Juniors and can’t participate in these Star games. However, another declared junior already earned his degree and was permitted to join in Senior Bowl activities. His name is MATT HENNESSY, #58, from Temple. He has caught my eye several times already this week. He’s 6’4 and weighs 302 lbs. His 10 1/8″ hands allow him to get a good grip on the ball, and his snapping has been solid in practice. He is also athletic and Temple tough. He has more than held his own in blocking drills.
Today, I could not help but notice the explosive and elusive running of JOSHUA KELLEY, #2, from UCLA. KELLEY was a highly recruited prospect coming out of high school, but injuries slowed him down throughout his college career. He is going to require extra careful medical inspection at the Combine, but he has shown a combination of power for his size, (5’11/215), quickness in cutting, and explosion through holes. All-Star games aren’t usually a showcase for the running game, but you never know exactly what to expect.
A local guy from the Mobile area that went away to play his college ball at Florida has made a triumphant return to his roots. LAMICAL PERINE, #2, has been a Gator since leaving high school, and has really blossomed since DAN MULLEN took over the Gators football program. PERINE topped off his college career with being named the Most Outstanding Player in the Orange Bowl earlier this month. Scout’s opinions of him have escalated steadily over the course of the 2019 college season. PERINE is a power runner that has shown the speed to get around the edge. He can also plug his way through tight cracks along the line interior. He also has shown natural hands as a receiver. He’s shown a bit of everything in the first two practices. I expect he will make his mark on the game Saturday, and has a solid chance to be a second day draftee come April.
A pleasant surprise to my eyes along the OL has been Kentucky’s LOGAN STENBERG, an OG that’s wearing #71 this week. He’s a monstrous lineman at 6’6/317 lbs. He has 9 3/4″ hands and 33 1/8″ arms. I have been quite impressed with his 1/1 pass-pro matchups with a strong South DL group. He’s bigger than most of them, but his quickness in staying between them and his QB has impressed. He’ll be key to helping the South establish a running game on Saturday.
ROBERT WINDSOR, DT, Penn State, #54, has picked up right where he left off in Penn State’s Bowl win a few weeks back. He’s not a huge guy (6’4/287), but uses his 10″ hands, 33″ arms, and a non-stop motor, to wreak havoc in the pits during practices. He’s winning the majority of his 1/1, pass-pro reps. As I have stated before, he is a very active player that has a non-stop motor. Many of his blocking drill wins come from wearing down the blockers working against him. He’s also more athletic than many think.
ANFERNEE JENNINGS, a local favorite coming from the Crimson Tide program, has flashed his penetration skills already in practices. #33 was well known for his TFL totals, which included a generous sprinkling of Sacks while laboring in Nick Saban’s program. He’s a combination DE, Edge Rusher, and OB. He made several tackles after penetrating into the backfield today.
I perceive that we may have quite a surprise brewing when it comes to playing time for the solid TE corps of the South team. The highest regarded of the trio is JARED PINKNEY from Vanderbilt, #80. However, PINKNEY has very seldom delivered completely on his physical talent, and has yet to really find his way in practices here. The second ranked TE is HARRISON BRYANT, #40, from Florida Atlantic. BRYANT though is almost exclusively a receiving TE, with concentration issues sometimes catching up to him with dropped balls. Also, blocking is not in his tool kit right now either. That leaves their third TE, the least known of the group, LSU’s STEPHEN SULLIVAN, #81. From what I have seen in two practices, SULLIVAN is the man who can deliver the most for them out on the grass. SULLIVAN is known as a physical, solid blocker at 6’5/245, but he has used his 10 3/8″ hands and 35 1/8″ long arms to make some nice catches in practice. All three will see action, but SULLIVAN may get the most reps of all 3 because of his all around skills and athleticism.
As I wrap this report up to prepare for the final practice on Thursday, I wanted to send out a hello to sportscaster RICH EISEN, who does a lot of broadcast work for NFL Network during the Combine and actual Draft. RICH, you should feel proud and gratified tonight because during some DL bag work today, the Bengals coaches used one of your favorite practice devices… ‘football on a stick’ to emulate the snap of the football. I am sure they have made you happy and just a bit proud.
Goodnight from Mobile, land of the Senior Bowl.