Because of the fact that the South team players were in shells (helmets, shoulder pads and shorts), the Jacksonville coaching staff used Monday’s practice to do a lot of special teams installation. The Jaguars coaching staff spent the first 30 minutes of practice time doing various special teams drills, such as punt protection, punt coverage and punt return, and field goal and field goal block. That frustrated a lot of coaches, scouts and personnel men in attendance at Fairhope High School, as the North practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. overlapped the South practice and left a lot of talent evaluators wishing special teams would have taken place at the end of practice instead.
The South defensive line was coached by former Bucs defensive line coach Todd Wash, who came to Jacksonville from Seattle with head coach Gus Bradley. Virginia defensive end Brent Urban is one of the most physically imposing players in Mobile at nearly 6-foot-7, 298 pounds. Urban is chiseled and resembles former Senior Bowl participant Margus Hunt, a defensive end from Houston, who was drafted by Cincinnati in the second round last year. Urban has some explosiveness to his game, but must do a better job sinking his hips and becoming a more fluid athlete.
Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers is also nearly 6-foot-7, but weighs 348 pounds and carries it extremely well as he is a massive man. However, McCullers is almost too tall as he struggled going through the bag drills due to the fact that he could not bend his knees well. Leverage becomes a big problem for McCullers, whose stiff hips were on display in the bag drills, if he gets off the ball late.
During the bag drills the most talented defensive lineman, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, got very fatigued, which caught the eye of NFL scouts. Sutton, a two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, has the quickness and agility to play the three-technique position in the NFL, but lacks the stamina as he put on an extra 20-25 pounds of bad weight during his senior season for some reason. He was much more effective at 295 than he is at 315 and needs to drop another 10-15 pounds to improve.
California defensive tackle DeAndre Coleman is a big athlete at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, but lacks a special quality. He’s a good, jack-of-all trades, master-of-none-kind of player, who had a pretty good initial practice in Mobile, Ala.
Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid is a well-conditioned athlete, who resembles Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins physically. Reid looks the part of a three-technique tackle, but has the stout frame to play nose tackle and the quickness and athletic ability to play defensive end at 6-foot-2, 301 pounds.
Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith is a muscle-bound, ripped athlete with big arms and legs, but a short frame. Listed as 6-foot-3, 268 pounds on the roster, Smith actually weighed in at 6-foot-1, 266 pounds. The good news is that Smith plays with great leverage and can easily get under the pads of opposing offensive tackles. The bad news is that he has problems disengaging from blockers and finishing the play by making the sack or tackle. Smith has a good motor, speed and athleticism. He just needs to work on his balance and his hands to get tackles off him.
Auburn end Dee Ford was the fastest and most athletic of the defensive linemen, but at 6-foot-2, 243 pounds he lacks the size to mix it up with some of the better offensive tackles and chose to try to run around them with a speed rush. Ford will have to bulk up at the next level if he wants to play end in a 4-3 defense.
In the run-blocking 1-on-1’s, Sutton beat Florida guard Jon Halapio easily off the snap, followed by Coleman beating Arkansas center Travis Swanson and Reid beating Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson. Urban easily beat Vanderbilt tackle Wesley Johnson like a drum in the 1-on-1’s. At 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, Johnson doesn’t have the strength or size to hold up at tackle at the next level.
During the 7-on-7 drills, Johnson inexplicably attempted to cut block Reid, which caused some scouts and coaches in attendance to gasp. "Cut blocking in shells? That's a first," said one scout.
The recurring theme of the defensive line dominating the offensive line continued as Ford got around Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard, and then McCullers beat Florida State’s Bryan Stork, who was overmatched physically.
Smith easily beat North Dakota State right tackle Billy Turner, who got yelled at by the offensive line coach for not getting his hands on the defensive end and punching him.
While waiting for his turn, Ikard shared with Sutton that the offensive linemen were gassed after doing what he called, “a summer-like workout” that involved them doing footwork drills for minutes at a time without a break. The Jacksonville coach overdid it and didn’t do his players a favor as they were auditioning in front of NFL scouts for the first time and looking bad in the process after a training camp-like workout, which seemed unnecessary for the Senior Bowl.
The defensive line’s domination continued until Halapio beat Smith. Then Ikard rolled his hips and shut down Reid as the offensive linemen got their second wind with the exception of Turner, who was beaten by Sutton on an outside move after not putting forth much of an effort with his punches.
Jackson began to win some 1-on-1 battles, but McCullers beat him with an effective push-pull move. Urban beat Halapio to the inside on a bull rush after the Florida stopped his feet for a brief second.
Overall, Halapio and Jackson performed the best on the overmatched offensive line, while Sutton, Reid, Urban and Coleman were the most impressive defensive line.
The South team has three interesting quarterback prospects with Fresno State’s Derek Carr being the most well known. While Carr had a solid day, it was Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo who really stood out in the first practice of the week. Garoppolo spent last week at the East-West Shrine game and ended up the MVP for the all-star contest in St. Petersburg, Fla. then immediately flew to Mobile to participate in the Senior Bowl this week.
Garoppolo began the postseason all-star circuit as a middle-round draft prospect, but after the week of practice and the East-West Shrine game his stock is rising fast. So fast in fact some feel he could be the E.J. Manuel of the 2014 Senior Bowl. Manuel took his 2013 Senior Bowl week and game performance and turned it into a first-round paycheck with the Buffalo Bills after entering the week as a second- or third-round pick.
As noted by PewterReport.com last week in its practice reports from the East-West Shrine game, Garoppolo’s passes have a high velocity and get to their target in a hurry. One coach commented on the tremendous RPMs that Garoppolo's throws possess. Garoppolo isn’t polished, and admitted he needs to work under center and on his drops after playing out of the shotgun on an almost exclusive basis in college.
“Just the footwork in the pocket, the three, five and seven step, I wasn’t asked to do that in my offense,” Garoppolo said. “Just getting used to that and transitioning to that. It is really just repetition. You have to get your body acclimated to that, and every day it gets easier and easier for me.”
During the drills on Monday, Garoppolo was the most consistent of all the quarterbacks and earned praise from the staff of Jacksonville coaches. The Eastern Illinois product showed off his strong arm and great accuracy for the most part, but, in addition to his footwork, he also needs to display better touch on short throws. His quick release is something the scouts love, but it also sometimes causes him to rush throws and put to much steam on his passes.
Carr was also solid on Monday, but struggled with an early footwork drill. The coaches had the quarterbacks weave through a series of blocking dummies lying on the ground, and Carr’s coaches had to remind him to push off his back foot and to keep his eyes up and scanning the field. Carr got away with a lot in college based on sheer athletic ability, but won’t be able to at the next level. It was good to see the South team coaches really harp on the fundamentals right from the first drill in practice. Carr was also reprimanded a couple times for not following through after releasing the ball on a roll out drill.
San Jose State’s David Fales was the most disappointing of the three South team quarterbacks. While his mechanics were solid overall, Fales' arm strength and velocity were called into question. On a number of throws, Fales' passes seemed to die in midflight, and clearly lack the velocity of the ones thrown by Garoppolo and Carr. Fales did show a nice touch on short throws, and surprisingly throws a good deep ball.
The South team receivers overall are remarkably shor this year. The small receivers were dominated for the most part by the cornerbacks in the one-on-one drills, especially on the short routes where the cornerbacks were able to get their hands on the receivers and be physical. Part of the problem could be the lack of chemistry between the quarterbacks and receivers.
In one-on-one drills Oklahoma’s Aaron Colvin had the best defensive play of the day by the DBs, making a high-point leaping interception on a go route. Florida’s Jalen Watkins also performed well on Monday, especially when going against his Gators teammate Solomon Patton. Watkins shadowed receivers well and showed nice recovery the few times he was out of position.
BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy looked the part of an NFL linebacker with his physicality at the line of scrimmage in the run game as well as his drops in pass coverage. He made a very good first impression in front of NFL scouts.
Texas wide receiver Mike Davis, Oklahoma wide receiver Jalen Saunders, Auburn cornerback Chris Davis and Patton all spent time returning punts for the South squad.
– Mark Cook contributed to this report