The first North team Reese’s Senior Bowl practice of the week kicked off on Monday afternoon at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Led by Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith and the rest of the Falcons coaching staff, the North squad took the field in shoulder pads and helmets under clear skies and temperatures in the low 60’s
Buccaneers Director of Player Personnel Dennis Hickey and Director of College Scouting Eric Stokes were in attendance and watched practice from up in the bleachers at around the 40-yard line. The rest of the Bucs scouting department was spread out around the stadium, with some watching from the sidelines and some taking in a bird’s-eye view from the stands.
The North team started out practice in warm-ups with their individual position coaches and then went into their stretching period. After warm-up and stretching drills, the team went into an individual period and the quarterbacks and receivers separated from the rest of the squad to work on passing drills.
The quarterbacks on the North team considered of Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, and Miami’s Stephen Morris. All three quarterbacks were unimpressive and made more mistakes than good plays, but that’s typical of the first day as players are still developing chemistry with each other and are starting to get a grasp of the playbook.
Tajh Boyd, who stands at just six feet tall and weighs 222 pounds, looked inaccurate and consistently overthrew his targets on deep balls. The Clemson product also fumbled a snap while working on run plays at the beginning of practice.
Boyd has a lot of athleticism but wasn’t able to really show it off on the first day of practice. His struggles could be due to not having familiarity with his receivers on day one, so he may improve as the week goes on. The Clemson product is projected to be a second day pick, but some think with a good performance at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine, his stock could rise to the first round. He is a playmaker, very tough, and can take hits, which makes him a more attractive prospect.
Logan Thomas has by far the most impressive measurables of all the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl this year and it was immediately seen Monday morning at the weigh-in. Thomas stands tall at over 6-foot-5 and weighed in at 250 pounds. Those measurables, paired with a huge arm, make him an attractive prospect. However, his accuracy over his college career was poor, completing just 57 percent of passes and throwing 13 interceptions to go along with his 16 touchdowns passes.
Thomas looked okay to start off his first practice, completing two well-thrown deep balls to his receivers. But as practice went on, his inaccuracy started to show as he struggled to connect with receivers on a few plays. The Virginia Tech product will probably be a third day pick by a team looking to take advantage of his physical gifts and develop him into a more accurate passer and better decision maker.
Stephen Morris Miami started out on a bad note with that ball slipping out of his hands as he tried to throw to a receiver downfield and the Miami senior had the worst practice among the three quarterbacks. Morris was very inaccurate, consistently throwing behind receivers and overthrowing open targets on deep passes. He will need to perform much better over the course of the week if he hopes to save his draft stock.
Morris has a good arm and is very athletic and mobile, but his accuracy needs to drastically improve for him to be a successful quarterback at the next level. Morris is currently projected to be a mid-round pick.
After the quarterbacks warmed up with their new receiving targets, the receivers joined together with the defensive backs. The receivers worked on their separation while their opposing cornerbacks tried to run with them. The majority of the receivers had no trouble getting separation on their defender.
The next portion of practice consisted of one-on-ones with wide receivers going against defensive backs. First up was Boyd, who was the most impressive quarterback in this period. However, the main focus in this drill was on the wide receivers and this year’s group at the Senior Bowl started off on the right foot and rarely dropped any passes that were on target.
Oregon’s Josh Huff started off this drill by burning North Carolina State cornerback Dontae Johnson on a go route and hauling in a touchdown from Boyd. Later in this drill Huff had another great play on a stop and go route and beat Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis with about five yards of separation for a touchdown on a Boyd pass.
Boyd’s best play of this period was one where he should credit his receiver, Robert Herron out of Wyoming. Herron put a nice double move on Baylor safety Ahamd Dixon and was able to make a fingertip grab on a slightly overthrown ball from Boyd that resulted in a touchdown.
UCLA wide receiver Shaquelle Evans had the worst drop on the day and failed to haul perfectly placed ball by Boyd on a crossing route. Evans made up for his drop a few plays later though when he beat Wisconsin cornerback Dez Southward down the sideline for a touchdown. Southward had a rough day on Monday, starting at the weigh-in when he measured in at six feet tall after being listed as six-foot-two throughout his college career.
Northwestern wide receiver Kain Colter was up next and outjuked Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis on a double move for a touchdown. Colter’s great play was soon forgotten a few plays later however when the 5-foot-10, 199-pound receiver fumbled the ball after Lindenwood safety Pierre Desir jarred it loose and Desir outhustled Colter to recover the fumble.
The most impressive catch in this portion of practice came from Southward’s Wisconsin teammate Jared Abbrederis. The six-foot, 189-pound Abbrederis made a leaping grab on a Logan Thomas pass to pull the ball away from Wyoming cornerback Marqueston Huff, who had perfect blanket coverage on the play.
Next the North team went into a special teams period and practiced field goal kicking. Afterwards the team broke off into seven-on-sevens and offensive and defensive line one-on-one drills.
First up in the trenches was Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin. Martin had an excellent session of one-on-one blocking drills. Martin faced off against Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy on the first two repetitions of the session and dominated him. The Notre Dame product slammed Murphy into the ground on the first rep and stymied him on the second rep.
Later on in the drill, Martin did a great job of anchoring and stopping Louisville pass rusher Marcus Smith in his tracks. Martin had a great first practice and will look to continue his level of play tomorrow.
Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman had an up-and-down one-on-one session on Monday.
Towards the end of the session, Hageman was easily handled by Miami guard Brandon Linder who never gave him a chance. Hageman needs to work on his hand usage and his ability to disengage, but the athletic talent flashed throughout practice. The Minnesota stud used a strong bullrush to shove Linder into the quarterback at the end of the session.
Baylor guard Cyril Richardson had a poor session of one-on-ones against defensive lineman. Richardson was beaten like a drum by Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald all session long. On a rep at the end of the session, Donald went with a bullrush that knocked Richardson flat on his back. Richardson needs to make up for his terrible first practice, while Donald looks like he will make himself a lot of money this week.
The centers on the North squad had a rough session of one-on-ones. Colorado State’s Weston Richburg and Utah State’s Tyler Larsen were each beaten badly by nose tackles Da’Quan Jones of Penn State and Shamar Stephen of Connecticut.
During seven-on-sevens Boyd struggled at the start, throwing a pass behind his intended receiver, which ended up being intercepted by Dontae Johnson. Boyd then fired a bullet pass down the middle of the field that ended up slipping through the hands of Marshall tight end Gator Hoskins.
Thomas and Morris also had their struggles during seven-on-sevens. Morris overthrew his intended receiver on one play and was almost picked off by the safety. Thomas wasn’t as lucky as he had a pass go right out of the hands of West Virginia running back Charles Sims and into the hands of Wisconsin middle linebacker Chris Borland. Thomas showed his accuracy issues too throughout this part of practice.
The final portion of Monday’s practice consisted of an 11-on-11 team session. Defensive end Trent Murphy did a sensational job of setting the edge on a stretch running play early on in the session. Murphy engaged with his Stanford teammate Ryan Hewitt and shoved him back about five yards into the backfield before tackling Toledo running back David Fluellen for a tackle for loss.
Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederris performed very well at Monday’s practice, making numerous contested catches and showcasing his very strong hands. Abbrederris made a great catch after he ran a comeback route against Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste towards the end of practice. He’s a natural pass-catcher that runs crisp routes but won’t kill you blazing speed.
The North team will be back out on the practice fields of Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Tuesday afternoon and Pewter Report will be there to cover all the action in the team’s second practice of the week.
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