Under the guidance of the NFL’s most enthusiastic coach, the Jags’ Gus Bradley, the Senior Bowl South team took the field at Fairhope High School just outside of Mobile, Ala. for their first practice of the week. The annual tradition of Alabama head coach Nick Saban showing up to support his former players happened again on Tuesday and the shorter than you would think coach came in with an Elvis Presley like entourage and fanfare from the mostly pro Crimson Tide fans who packed both sides of the stadium.
The offensive line for the South team started their day off with the most basic of drills – firing off the ball. After several reps the group went to one-on-ones with each other, then to combo double team work. Later the group was joined by the defensive linemen and end zone was where the action took place was packed by media members, scouts and onlookers who witnessed some of the best action of the day. Alabama’s Arie Kouandjio was the standout player among the South offensive linemen on Tuesday. The former Crimson Tide star looks nearly NFL ready with a long wingspan, swallowing pass rushers. Early projections have him as a day two selection, but with a week like Tuesday that maybe changes and maybe fits into the Bucs plans.
A player who did tell PewterReport.com that he would love to play in Tampa Bay was Florida State’s Tre Jackson. The former Nole isn’t as athletically gifted as Kouandjio but did have a solid day on Tuesday for the South team. Jackson tended to lose his balance at times while pass blocking, but is a powerful run blocker who has a good lower body drive.
Another player that would be an upgrade on the Bucs roster is La’el Collins. The former LSU tackle could be moved inside to the guard position or even to the right side as a tackle. Collins had a good day at Fairhope on Tuesday and showed a willingness to listen and absorb the coaching from the Jaguars staff. At officially 6-foot-4, 308 pounds, Collins was a little smaller than originally thought.
Missouri outside linebacker/defensive end Markus Golden had a good day and was probably the standout pass rusher for the South team on Tuesday. Golden won the majority of his reps, but is a bit undersized to be an every down defensive end. Still, for a 4-3 team he could be a third down pass rusher, but maybe fits better in a 3-4 scheme, although he has spent his college career in a 4-3m system.
Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates certainly has all of the tools needed to be a stud wide receiver at the NFL level. Early on in practice, Coates was roasting defensive backs with pure speed and quickness rather than route-running. As practice moved on, Coates made a handful of catches in traffic that wowed the audience in attendance.
Just when the doubts of Coates’ consistency started to fade away, the Auburn product dropped a perfectly thrown pass that would have gone for a 60-yard gain. Consistency and overall effort will be a big question mark for scouts and talent evaluators as the draft nears. He will have to prove to teams that he is worth a day two draft selection. With that being said, it was an impressive first day for the high-upside receiver.
At 6-foot-3, UNLV wide receiver Devante Davis looks the part of a number one NFL receiver, but his play on Tuesday left a lot to be desired. The Jaguars wide receivers coach was on Davis all day, correcting his route-running and technique throughout practice. He’ll need to show improvement at practice on Wednesday.
Miami wide receiver Phillip Dorsett did a great job of getting separation at Tuesday’s practice. His smooth route-running got him wide open against Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepard on a dig route over the middle.
The South team quarterbacks struggled getting the ball to their targets. Alabama’s Blake Sims and Colorado’s Garrett Grayson both threw very bad interceptions at Tuesday’s practice, but it’s only the first day of practice using completely different terminology than they are used to.
For the South team, TCU’s Kevin White stood out. His footwork was fluid during backpedaling drills, and he showed his athletic ability while changing positions mid-air to catch a deep ball. The former Horned Frog’s most notable game was against West Virginia when he kept (the other) Kevin White – a projected first rounder – in check for just 28 yards on three catches. At 5-10, 180 White’s clearly more fit for the nickel spot, but as we know, that’s a key position in the Tampa 2 defense. And the TCU product doesn’t lack confidence in his ability to fill the roll. When ask if he felt he could transition into a nickel corner, his answer was a simple; “yes.”
D’Joun Smith from FAU looked to be the most fierce hitter of the South team’s cornerbacks. The former Owl had great initial burst during one-on-one wrap up drills, and also showed his willingness to play in run pursuit during 11-on-11s. Smith also had great footwork during agility drills. His best play came when he defended a quick inside slant pass, getting his inside arm in front of the wide receiver.
Ladarius Gunter from Miami possessed great size at 6-0, 200. Although he appeared more like a safety, he showed his ability in one-on-one coverage, especially on deep routes.
Ole Miss’s Senquez Golson (5-8, 178) looked the part of a nickel corner. Golson didn’t quite outshine his teammate, Cody Prewitt, who plays safety, but the former Rebel had some noteworthy moments during one-on-ones and 11-on-11s. He mirrored any receiver he faced and followed through on one particular play with a nice breakup over the middle.
The tight ends and safeties of the South team started off Tuesday afternoon’s practice with a group installation period before a long round of special teams work that led the players up to individual drills. The safeties worked on backpedaling and pass catching drills, while the tight ends received technique instruction from their position coach.
The next drill that the safety group worked on was high-pointing the ball and ball tracking. The defensive backs coach yelled to his group, “flip and find it,” referring to the safeties being fluid with their hips and catching the ball at its highest point. Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt made an impressive one-handed over-the-shoulder grab in this drill, but it was the Ole Miss product, Cody Prewitt that really stood out on the Fair Hope Stadium fields in these drills. Prewitt had the quickest feet on the field and showed his quick-twitch athleticism all day long.
The South squad safeties then worked on their pass rushing skills in a one-on-one pass rushing drill against tight ends and fullbacks. The best pass-rushing safety on Tuesday was UCLA’s Anthony Jefferson. The 6-foot-1, 194 pound Jefferson effortlessly blew by BYU tight end Devin Mahina to beat him inside to the quarterback and then used another swim move to beat LSU fullback Connor Neighbors later in that drill. Jaquiski Tartt had similar success using a swim move to beat Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah.
UCF safety Clayton Geathers struggled the most with the pass rushing one-on-ones. On one play Geathers initially got around Miami tight end Clive Walford, but was immediately panckaged by the former basketball player. On Geathers’ next try, the UCF product was held up and neutralized by Uzomah.
The South team players then got to put all of these other drills to the test in seven-on-sevens. The quarterbacks of the South did not really feature the tight ends in this drill, as they felt more comfortable testing the cornerbacks and throwing to the outside instead of taking a middle of the field check down. When those signal callers did test that area of the field, however, they certainly paid for it.
The three safeties that held their own in this drill were Prewitt and Tartt again, and then Geathers, whose coverage skills made up for his poor performance in pass rushing today. Taratt showed his aggression, closely covering his receivers and cleaning up any intended passes in his area. Geathers also had a couple of pass break ups in coverage and ended Tuesday’s practice with a big-time hit on fullback Jalston Fowler, that knocked the Alabama product on his back after catching a pass in the flat.
But the greatest performance of the secondary came from Prewitt, who also put his ball-hawking abilities on display. Prewitt, who models his game after Troy Polamalu and practiced that way on Tuesday, used his athleticism to go over the top to break up a pass intended for Auburn receiver Sammie Coates. A few plays later he got his hands on a pass from Blake Sims intended for Mahina, but this time the Ole Miss stud picked off the ball and returned it for 30 yards.
At 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, Norfolk State outside linebacker Lynden Trail is an absolute beast. Trail has the range and athleticism to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 like he played for the Spartans, but he could also play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, especially since he is bigger than most of the defensive ends on the South squad.
The Jaguars coaching staff spent a good deal of the practice time on blitzing and blitz pick-up on Tuesday. Trail excelled in blitz drills against running backs and tight ends, using his enormous wingspan to swim around blockers and get to the quarterback. LSU fullback Connor Neighbors was absolutely terrible in pass protection and got beat on nearly every snap.
Clemson middle linebacker Stephone Anthony was the best looking player on Tuesday out of a group that included Miami’s Denzel Perryman, who played a lot of weakside linebacker in the initial South practice. At 6-foot-2, 242 pounds, Anthony has very good size for the position.
Perryman is similar to Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc in that he’s short and squatty, but very physical. The Miami star loves contact and on the first snap of 9-on-7 drills he exploded into the offensive line, plugged his gap and stopped Northern Iowa’s David Johnson.
Johnson appears to be the most talented running back on the South squad. With a 6-foot, 224-pound frame, he’s a big, physical back with an all-around game. He was clearly the best at pass protection among the running backs, and he also displayed good hands catching the ball out of the backfield.
Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne, the South’s other running back, isn’t afraid of contact and is a physical runner. He isn’t as smooth or as nimble as Johnson is, but he had a productive day running behind the massive South offensive line.
Johnson and Artis-Payne are the only running backs on the South squad, which also features two fullbacks, so they will continue to see plenty of action this week carrying the ball.
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