The North team took the field on Wednesday morning under sunny skies and frigid temperatures in the 20’s at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Atlanta head coach Mike Smith and the rest of the Falcons staff led the team in drills for the final practice in which the players donned full pads of the week. No roster changes for the North squad were made today.
Wednesday’s practice began with stretching followed by a few position group warm-up drills. The quarterbacks began by throwing passes to receivers running slant routes and the North receivers did not start out on a good note. Wake Forest receiver Mike Campanaro, Wyoming’s Robert Herron and Saginaw Valley State’s Jeff Janis dropped the first three passes thrown. Herron in particular had hands of stone in this drill, dropping one pass and then after the coaches gave him a chance to run the play again he still could not catch the football.
The receivers really struggled in the North practice. There were way too many drops, and the route running was just okay. Aside from Herron, who’s had a good Senior Bowl so far despite his bad day today, Oregon’s Josh Huff also had several drops on the day.
The cornerbacks then joined the receivers in one-on-ones. This challenged the quarterbacks a bit more, and it showed. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas tended to overthrow a lot of their targets, while Miami’s Stephen Morris was just consistently inaccurate on most of his passes.
The next drill ran in practice was pass rushing one-on-ones with linebackers and defensive ends going up against running backs and tight ends. West Virginia running back Charles Sims didn’t have a chance against his Mountaineer teammate defensive end Will Clarke, who used a spin move to get past Sims. Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey used a similar move to get to the inside past Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt a few plays later. Wisconsin’s James White fared the best out of his running back teammates in pass protection and pushed Illinois outside linebacker Jonathan Brown around the outside edge on his rep.
The blockers then became the receiving targets in the next drill and White’s Wisconsin teammate tight end Jacob Pederson could not get any separation on Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, who easily batted down the pass. Marshall tight end Gator Hoskins got a win for the offense however win he had a great cut to the inside on his route and got about 10 yards of separation on Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith.
The following period of practice was entirely dedicated to practicing onside kicks and recovering them on the kicking team and return team. After that the offensive line and defensive line conducted one-on-ones while the rest of the team ran a seven-on-seven period.
Once again, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald was the most dominant defensive player in this drill. Donald really put his power on display, dominating his opponents with his bull rush. The 6-foot, 288-pound Donald blew back Miami center Brandon Linder and Notre Dame offensive tackle Zach Martin about ten yards on one play. Donald also showed off his other pass rushing moves, using a swim move to get past Baylor’s Cyril Richardson on one play.
The offensive linemen who impressed the most on Wednesday were Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort and Utah State center Tyler Larsen, who put Donald on the ground during two of his reps and was the only player to give him a good challenge.
After this drill, two quarterbacks went to work on seven-on-sevens, while the other worked on run plays with the linemen and running backs. The quarterbacks rotated so each could work with the backs. Charles Sims was by far the most impressive running back in the North Practice. Sims showed great vision and shiftiness. He had good footwork and consistently found the open hole quickly. He also showed good hands when the quarterbacks later worked with him in the pass game.
Meanwhile, in the seven-on-seven drill, Boyd was definitely the most impressive quarterback of the bunch, but still struggled as he has been all week. He made a few poor decisions, including one that should have been intercepted in the middle of the field by cornerback Pierre Desir out of Lindenwood, but he couldn’t hang on.
Logan Thomas really struggled in this drill, as he has been unable to control his powerful arm, resulting in several overthrows when he has a receiver open. The receivers improved in this drill, especially Herron, who really struggled early on. Herron didn’t have any drops and made a couple fingertip catches. Josh Huff of Oregon continued his poor practice with another drop on a very catchable ball.
Huff continued to impress scouts and talent evaluators on Wednesday, making numerous acrobatic catches and showing nice quickness. Huff made a tremendous diving catch in the back of the end zone on a fade route to score a touchdown during the 7-on-7 session, beating Baylor defensive back Ahmad Brooks who had pretty good coverage on the play. Huff has a tendency to round off some of his routes and beating press coverage gave him some issues on Wednesday, but the Falcons coaches are doing a great job of helping the Oregon receiver’s technique. Huff (5-11, 201) has been a nice surprise this week and is without a doubt improving his draft stock.
Competing with Huff for the title of the North team’s best receiver is Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, who also had a wonderful practice on Wednesday. Abbrederis showed off his savvy route-running ability throughout practice, consistently creating separation from opposing cornerbacks. The Badger receiver made a tremendous diving catch over the middle on a 10-yard pass from Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. Abbrederis was particularly impressive during the redzone one-on-one session, where he was able to be jams and press coverage with ease. Despite his lack of top end speed, Abbrederis knows how to get open and has amazing hands, which will likely lead to an early day three selection.
Wide receiver Robert Herron from Wyoming has enjoyed a start to his week with back-to-back good practices on Monday and Tuesday, but did not perform well on Wednesday. PewterReport.com counted five dropped passes for Herron throughout practice, and that’s not including the many times he bobbled the ball. He’s a quick guy with above average route-running ability and separation skills, but his inability to catch the football on Wednesday left talent evaluators shaking their heads.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd continues to look like the best quarterback on the North roster, completing the most short and intermediate passes of the signal callers. That being said, Boyd made numerous mistakes, most of them coming in the team’s 7-on-7 session. The senior quarterback made a terrible decision on a passing play early on in the session. He tried to force the ball into an extremely tight window to a receiver running an in route and the ball was broken up by Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir, who had a nice practice on Wednesday. Boyd is wildly inconsistent, but his flashes of brilliance might be enough to prompt a team to take him on day two of the draft.
Good inline tight ends are always on the radars of NFL scouts and talent evaluators, and Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is a player that will intrigue teams looking for a reliable target in the passing game. The Hawkeye receiver had another good practice on Wednesday, performing very well as a receiver during the 7-on-7 session. He hauled in all kinds of passes, including one on the sideline where he had to tap his toes after running an out route to the left sideline. In addition to his receiving skills, Fiedorowicz is a willing blocker and has the necessary size (6-5, 262) to become a great blocker with some coaching. The Iowa senior is shaping up as a third or fourth-round draft pick.
The units then came together to practice their 11-on-11 drill. Boyd performed pretty well, while Thomas and Morris struggled mightily. Thomas made a very poor decision by throwing a pass to a receiver who was completely blanketed by linebacker Chris Borland, who easily picked him off.
The defense was by far the more dominant unit in this drill. The defensive backs covered the receivers very well, allowing little separation. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste made a great play in the ball in the end zone, similar to what Richard Sherman did in the NFC championship game for the win.
Defensive tackle Kareem Martin was also dominant in the drill, and would have ended with at least two sacks and a tackle for loss had they been playing a real game. The best offensive lineman in the 11-on-11 session was Notre Dame’s Zach Martin. Martin destroyed Virginia defensive end James Gayle as he did earlier in the day, but this time Gayle had to leave practice early after being pushed to the ground. The North team practice ended with the team practicing kickoff coverage.
The North team will be back out on the practice fields on Thursday for one final practice at Fairhope Stadium before a walkthrough on Friday. On Saturday evening, the North team will battle their South team opponents in the 53th annual Reese’s Senior Bowl and Pewter Report will have a recap and all the analysis of Saturday’s game.
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