The North team took the field first on Wednesday in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams and some from the Canadian Football League as well. A cloudless blue sky met the players as they trotted out on the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium for their second practice together as a team.
After some basic drills and then warmups the North team got things going in full pads for the first time.
Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton is a freak of nature. At 6-foot-1, 343 pounds, Shelton is a physical freak of nature because he is one of the quickest and most agile linemen – offensive or defensive – at the Senior Bowl. Shelton came to the Senior Bowl with a first-round grade and has solidified that evaluation and may have even increased his stock even more with an outstanding week thus far.
As one NFL scout told PewterReport.com, Shelton is an ideal nose guard for a 3-4 team, but he has the power and short-area quickness to also play in a 4-3 scheme because he can collapse the pocket and get to the quarterback, evidenced by his nine sacks and 93 tackles during his senior year. As the North offensive line worked on double teams on Wednesday, Shelton worked on beating them with his suddenness and strength and split the tandem of Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein and Tennessee State guard Robert Myers to beat them twice.
Pittsburgh offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings looks like a smooth, athletic player, but he lacks power and the lower body size to anchor effectively against powerful bull rushers. Clemmings is a very good technician, who was tried at both right tackle, which he played in college, and left tackle with mixed results. Utah defensive end Nate Orchard, who was second in the FBS in sacks with 18.5, gave Clemmings problems on both sides of the line. Clemmings is a good technician and might be better suited for a team that deploys a zone-blocking scheme, as he has not been terribly impressive during this week and could fall out of the first round.
The second-best looking defensive lineman on the North squad was Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis, who has an impressive mix of size, strength and suddenness at 6-foot-4, 321 pounds. Davis is a quick, one-gap penetrator and was giving the North centers and guard fits in one-on-one pass rush drills as well as splitting double teams.
Davis is an ideal fit in the Tampa 2 as either a three-technique or a one-technique. He is a feisty player that plays with a lot of aggression, shoving his opponent right at the whistle to let him know that he’s superior and won the down.
Arizona State guard Jamil Douglas was impressive, but didn’t consistently dominate during the Wednesday practice. One player who did flash was Penn State left tackle Donovan Smith, who has good size at 6-foot-5, 335 pounds. Smith plays with a nasty streak and finishes defensive linemen in both run blocking and pass protection.
Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes has decent size at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds and a really good motor. He was able to get around big tackles like Havenstein and Florida’s massive Trent Brown with little work due to his quickness, and was relentless in pursuit. Barnes isn’t a gifted athlete and he’s not as fast or fluid as Orchard is, but he’s got a good motor.
The slow-footed Brown really struggled against the likes of Orchard and Kentucky defensive end Za’Darius Smith. If he has a future playing in the NFL it’s on the right side.
It’s an extremely weak crop of senior tight ends this year. Minnesota’s Maxx Williams is hands down the best tight end in the 2015 draft class, but he’s a redshirt sophomore. After him, the door is wide open for a tight end to step up and make a name for themselves. Delaware’s Nick Boyle is a name that could start gaining momentum following two excellent practices.
Boyle is a savvy route-runner that finds holes in zone coverage quite easily. He has shown the ability to catch balls in awkward body positions and in traffic, which is good for a tight end who isn’t uber-athletic like the Vernon Davis’ and Eric Ebron’s of the world.
The Delaware product made a phenomenal toe-tapping catch after running a flag route to the left sideline. Boyle settled himself in between the cornerback and the safety, who were playing a cover two type of defense, and went way up to catch the ball at its highest point.
Boyle also showed off a strong base and upper body strength in pass-protection drills. He shut down Washington linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who tried to beat him with speed around the edge. Boyle looks like a solid all-around tight end with good size (6-4, 267) that could be a strong number two option for an NFL club. The Buccaneers could use some extra competition and depth at the tight end spot, and Boyle could be a day three option for the team.
Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond looks like a special prospect. He flies around the football field and has the instincts to make impact plays at the next level.
Drummond showed off those instincts when he came all the way up from his single high safety position to hit Boyle, who was running a short drag route over the middle. Boyle did a great job of bringing in the pass, but Drummond was right there and would’ve delivered a big hit if it were a live situation.
Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack had a rough first day of practice on Tuesday, dropping multiple passes and underwhelming as a pass-protector. He had similar issues with blocking one Wednesday morning during the one-on-one blitz pickup drill. The Notre Dame did a good job with the initial contact with defenders but he quickly was out muscled and tossed to the side.
On a rep against Utah linebacker Nate Orchard, Koyack nearly fell down upon first contact and then was thrown to the side by the edge-rusher.
Koyack arrived in Mobile, Alabama smaller than expected, which was disappointing. His blocking would greatly benefit from adding some extra bulk. Through two days of practice, the Notre Dame tight end hasn’t done much to help his draft stock.
The North team receivers started the day off with some agility type of drills early on Wednesday. The Tennessee coaching staff had some different stations set up for the receivers to work on, including a series of tackling bags set up that the receivers had to weave through. As they made their way in and then out of the bags, a coach would throw the ball. The first couple of reps were difficult for the group to handle, but as a unit they improved as it went on. Anther drill they ran consisted of five garbage cans turn upside down in a row, and again the receivers had to weave throw while looking for hard passes being thrown by the coaching staff.
Next up saw the receivers working with the quarterbacks but the play by both was somewhat sloppy by both. One receiver who was very consistent throughout the day was Duke’s Jamison Crowder. The small receiver showed a quick burst and great hands on a number of poorly thrown balls during the morning session. Crowder had to go up high and climb the ladder to bail out his quarterback. In addition to his display of very good hands, Crowder was blazing streak playing in the slot during team drills. The only issue he had on the day was getting off of cornerback who were able to get their hands on him at the line of scrimmage.
One receiver who started terribly was Ohio State’s Devin Smith. The former Buckeye couldn’t catch a pass during the first half of practice and also struggled with route running. But as Mobile temperature started to rise with the warming sun, so did Smith who looked like a completely different receiver during the last hour of practice. Smith showed the ability to separate and also good acceleration after the catch.
Bryce Petty continues to be the best quarterback on either team and was again decent on Wednesday, but that isn’t saying much as this QB class lacks major talent. While Petty most likely be the first off the boards later this spring, he is viewed as a day three pick in the draft.
The North team cornerbacks took the field for their second practice of the week on Wednesday morning, and their first practice donning full pads. After warm ups, the corners joined the rest of their defensive unit for a group installation period against their offensive opponents.
The most notable play in this period was made by Utah cornerback Eric Rowe, who slid over to the middle of the field and jumped in front of a sideline fade route that was underthrown by quarterback Sean Mannion, picking off the pass. The North squad went into a team stretching period afterwards, and then the defensive backs separated again to practice various coverages.
In the next period of practice, the corners worked on an individual backpedaling drill. Oregon State’s Steven Nelson appeared to be the quickest corner going in and out of his breaks, while the big-framed 6-foot, 204 pound Rowe naturally wasn’t the fastest player in this drill. The next two drills the cornerbacks practiced were squaring up their bodies to make tackles at various different angles and then high-pointing passes thrown to them by their position coach.After the team finished up with their individual periods, the defensive backs joined the wide receivers for one-on-ones.
In this session, Rowe got to display his long running strides and showed the ability to keep up with his targets on downfield passes. On one play Rowe was draped all over receiver Ty Montgomery down the field and had great coverage, but the quarterback threw a perfect pass and Montgomery was able to come down with the football in the endzone.Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs fared the best in one-on-ones on Wednesday. The 5-foot-8, 196 pound Longhorn showed off his physicality on two plays, blanketing Ohio State’s Devin Smith early in the drill to force and incompletion and then jamming Smith again at the line of scrimmage on his next opportunity.
Against East Carolina’s Justin Hardy, Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant ran step by step with the speedy receiver and didn’t bite on a double move, but Hardy was able to easily use his speed to gain separation from USC corner Josh Shaw on a fade route. Later on in the drill, however, Grant gave up too much cushion to Mongomery and was easily beaten on a quick slant. The most impressive play in the one-on-ones came from Miami of Ohio’s Quinten Rollins, who went over the top on a fade route intended for Smith to get a pass break up.
The following portion of practice focused on technique once again as the cornerbacks practiced getting off wide receiver blocks to tackle the ball carriers coming at them. All of the corners did fairly well in this drill disengaging from blocks. Rollins in particular did well in handling his receivers as he pushed them out of the way to find the ball carriers, and the only big loss of this drill came from Doran, who was pushed back by Washington State’s Vince Mayle and almost brought to his knees on the play.
Wednesday’s practice ended with a couple of seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 periods, in which the quarterback play wasn’t well enough for the most part to get a good feel of the cornerbacks, as most passes to receivers were overthrown aside any quick slants. Nelson, who looked good in individual drills, was beaten by Smith along the sidelines on a comeback route for a completion and then was beaten again by Smith toward the sidelines on an outside post route. Doran finally got his revenge on Mayle for embarrassing him in an earlier drill and pushed the Washington State product back to the line of scrimmage and out of the way then made a great tackle on the running back for a minimal gain on the play.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org