The North practice kicked off at Ladd-Peebles Stadium following the Reese’s Senior Bowl weigh-in. The Tennessee Titans coaching staff conducted the drills and the participants were dressed in shells (shoulder pads, helmets and shorts), enjoying the sunny and unseasonably warm conditions in Mobile, Ala.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ full staff of coaches and scouts, including head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, were in attendance at the North practice.
Former Bucs offensive line coach Bob Bostad coaches the Titans offensive line and was in charge of the North team O-line. Bostad got his players started with some basic two-on-two combo blocking drills. Two linemen started off blocking one defensive players (simulated by another offensive lineman) and then releasing off of the double team to go take on a simulated linebacker.
Bostad had his guys going through the drill in rapid fashion but took time to offer up some pointers if not done to his satisfaction. One player who struggled with a few technique things was center Ali Marpet from tiny Hobart College. From his offset stance to hand placement, Bostad worked with him for a minute or so and Marpet seemed to be receptive to the coaching.
When the actual defensive linemen came over a little later in the practice to go one-on-one with the offensive linemen it was clear Marpet took the coaching to heart. It was also clear that Marpet is a scrappy prospect that wasn’t intimidated by some of the bigger named players at the Senior Bowl. Marpet stonewalled Stanford’s Henry Anderson and massive Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton during two of his reps. Marpet also had success earning a draw with Kentucky’s Za’Darius Smith. Other linemen who had a solid practice were Duke guard Laken Tomlinson and Florida tackle Trenton Brown.
Two big-name players who had an up-and-down day were Wisconsin’s Rob Havenstein and T. J. Clemmings from Pittsburgh. Some scouts have Clemmings going in the top half of the first round, but he’ll need to rebound on Wednesday to keep that impression. Havenstein, a mid- to late-round pick, had some issues with some of the quicker pass rushers in the drill, but should improve as the week goes on.
Defensively Utah defensive end Nate Orchard had a good day getting to the simulated quarterback, beating Havenstein on a rep. Havenstein was also beat by Smith on a pass rush later in the drills. Anderson also had two great reps beating Arizona State’s Jamil Douglas and later Tomlinson.
The quickest wide receiver at the Reese’s Senior Bowl is Duke’s Jamison Crowder. The 5-foot-8 speed demon won’t beat opposing defensive backs with his strength or length when going against press coverage. Instead, Crowder utilizes his lightning fast feet and to beat defenders with pure agility and athleticism.
Crowder and Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith were the two most impressive receivers during a “gauntlet” type of drill that the Titans coaching staff set up. The other receivers on the North squad lumbered through the drill when compared to Crowder and Smith.
Baylor wide receiver Antwan Goodley struggled with his footwork throughout individual work on Tuesday, which resulted in sloppy play and a lot of poor reps.
It’s a weak crop of senior quarterbacks this year and Baylor’s Bryce Petty was thought to be the best of the signal callers at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. The former Bears QB made some horrible decisions during the team’s 7-on-7 session, including two back-to-back throws into triple coverage. Petty has never played in a true pro-style system that forced him to drop back into the pocket, so it’s a big change for the Baylor quarterback. At media night, Petty said he has never taken a seven-step drop in his life.
Oregon State cornerback Steven Nelson, who is 5-foot-10, 199 pounds, showed his elite quickness during the first practice of the Senior Bowl. The former Beaver lacks size, but makes up for it with aggressive technique in press coverage, which he demonstrated during one-on-ones while mirroring the opposing receiver. At times, Nelson may have been a little too physical, and that will draw flags beyond five yards in the NFL. Nelson also showed fluid hip movement during 7-on-7 drills, changing positions and staying with the receiver.
Miami of Ohio’s Quinten Rollins also displayed an impressive skill-set during agility drills and seven-on-sevens. The former Redhawk plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 193-pound stature, and shows great physicality within five yards against bigger receivers. Rollins had a unique collegiate career, playing point guard in basketball for four seasons before playing one season of football last year. That experience could serve him well when it comes to surveying the field and having great awareness in the nickel spot.
USC cornerback Josh Shaw impressed enough people at the East-West Shrine to get an invite to the Senior Bowl, and the former Trojan continued to match up well physically. Shaw looks more like a safety with his well-chiseled technique, but has the natural technique of a cornerback. If he ends up playing safety, those cornerback instincts could serve him well in the Tampa 2 scheme where safeties need to have great ball skills.
Harvard’s Zach Hodges and Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha were edge rushers at their respective colleges and seemed out of place as outside linebackers dropping in coverage and doing non-pass rush linebacker drills on Tuesday. Neither appears to be big enough to be a defensive end for the Buccaneers, nor do they have the fluidity to play outside linebacker in Tampa Bay’s scheme.
The two best fits for Tampa Bay on the North squad appear to be USC’s Hayes Pullard and Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc and Bucs linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson was watching this squad intently. Pullard was a productive four-year starter for the Trojans and he is adept at dropping in pass coverage. Luc, is a squatty, muscle-bound player that is both physical in the run game and quick enough to drop into pass coverage. He would have to drop about 10-15 pounds in order to play in the Tampa Bay, but his power is intriguing.
In the 9-7 period, Luc threw his right shoulder into Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah and forced a fumble. However, the Titans linebackers coach ran up to Luc and yelled at him to wrap up next time.
Not to be outdone, Pullard had a physical play of his own on the next snap. Pullard ran into the line on a run blitz and laid into Marshall guard Chris Jasperse with a two-handed punch, instantly knocking him to the ground.
Luc had a nice pass breakup in the flat against Abdullah, who ripped off a nice run down the sidelines earlier in 9-on-7 drills. However, he did telegraph one of his drops in Tampa 2 prior to the snap by beginning to move down the middle of the field. He clapped his hands in disgust after the play was over.
The Senior Bowl game itself will feature no blitzing from the linebacker position, which hurts the stock of both Hodges and Kikaha. They will be forced to hone in on linebacker skills, especially coverage, this week in practice in order to be ready for Saturday. Hodges appeared to feel more comfortable in coverage as the practice went on and performed better in live action than in the individual linebacker drills.
Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack received many looks from quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Petty in practice. The 6-foot-4, 249-pound Koyack ran smooth routes and showed great body extension catching passes down the seam at the start of practice.
Next up, the tight ends grouped together with linebackers and safeties for a 1-on-1 coverage drill. The tight end that shined the most in this portion of practice was Delaware’s Nick Boyle. Boyle made an impressive catch on a comeback route to begin this drill with Penn State safety Adrian Amos draping all over him and then made another impressive grab against Hodges. Boyle finished out this period by making another great catch with full arm extension on a post route against Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond.
Koyack struggled the most out of the tight end group in this drill, dropping the ball on a stop route early on and then dropping another pass with Amos covering him on an out route later in the drill. Koyack did finish the drill on a high note, however, beating Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell on a post route for a big gain.
Kent State tight end Casey Pierce didn’t get as many opportunities in this drill, as one pass was thrown over the head of the 6-foot-3 pass catcher, but he did score a touchdown on a seam pass to the end zone, in which he made a great stretching catch on the play.
Besides covering tight ends, the safeties also got to play their hand at covering a couple of wide receivers one-on-one too. Arizona State’s Damarious Randall didn’t fare too well on an island, getting turned around on a double move by Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, but the play wasn’t too costly to Randall, as Montgomery dropped the pass. Drummond and Amos were both beaten on quick slants, but were in better position to make a play on their receivers after the catch.
In another 7-on-7 drill, tight end Nick Boyle was again the most consistent pass catch of the group. Despite his big 6-foot-4, 267-pound frame, the Delaware product moved around the field surprisingly well and showed that he can catch the ball as well as any tight end in Mobile thus far. Koyack did well working the short routes in this drill, but was still hit and miss catching the football, and Pierce also had the ball go through his hands on a post route towards the end zone.
The safety that fared the best in this period was Penn State’s Adrian Amos. Amos flew around the field all day on Tuesday and always ended up in near the intended pass target. On one play, Mannion tried to gun in a pass on a comeback route to Pierce, but the Nittany Lion product timed the route perfectly and jumped the pass, almost coming away with an interception. Ibraheim made the second best play out of his safety mates in the drill, knocking down another pass intended for Pierce.
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