Copyright 2008

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The North and South teams conducted their first practices of Senior Bowl in Mobile Ala. on Monday afternoon. Which players might have caught the Bucs’ eye? takes Bucs fans inside both practices in this Pewter Insider article.

The Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers conducted the first practices of Senior Bowl week for the North and South teams, respectively, in Mobile Ala. on Monday.

The Oakland Raiders-coached North team held their first practice at Ladd Peebles Stadium under sunny skies and temperatures in the 40s.

There weren’t a lot of NFL coaches or scouts at Ladd Peebles Stadium for the North’s team’s workout, which had the players in shells (helmets, shoulder pads and shorts) due to the fact that the South team’s practice at Fairhope Field features an incredible, on-the-field perspective that allows spectators to watch the workout from literally a few yards away from the football field.

The North team is stacked with talent, particularly at the wide receiver position, where the likes of Adarius Bowman (Oklahoma State), Jordy Nelson (Kansas State) and Dorien Bryant (Purdue) were showcasing their abilities for the NFL coaches and scouts on hand.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Bowman might have been the most intriguing wide receiver on the field today. He has great size and good hands. Bowman ran solid routes, but he appears to be lacking top-notch speed, which is a concern for the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay has invested a first- and –third-round draft pick in wide receivers Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall over the past three years. Both players have good size, but neither one of them has the ability to gain tremendous separation from defensive backs on a consistent basis because they simply do not have that extra gear.

With Bucs WR Joey Galloway scheduled to turn 37 next season, Tampa Bay is in the market for not only a wide receiver, but also one that has speed. There’s no doubt that Bowman is a gifted player and talented athlete, evidenced by his ability to catch a pass while slipping on the grass during individual drills today. However, Bowman may not have the speed the Bucs are looking for at the wide receiver position.

Nelson (6-2, 216) also caught the eye of some NFL people today. He’s got good size, and while he doesn’t appear to be the fastest guy in the world, Nelson is a long strider and uses that to his advantage in terms of separating from defensive backs.

There were a lot of dropped passes during the afternoon practice, but Nelson was quite consistent in terms of hauling in the ball. One player that flashed a good combination of size and speed was New Mexico WR Marcus Smith (6-1, 210). Smith did, however, have some trouble catching passes.

The same can be said for Bryant (5-10, 172), who was extremely productive at Purdue, but could be considered too small to be successful at the next level. Bryant had some trouble getting off of press coverage during this afternoon’s practice.

The one player that really stood out for the North team and might have been the most impressive player overall during Monday afternoon’s practice was Virginia Tech WR Eddie Royal.

The 5-foot-10, 192-pound Royal doesn’t have great size, but he’s big enough to play wide receiver at the next level. In fact, he’s only one inch shorter than Galloway. He’s probably not as fast as Galloway, but Royal likely is the fastest receiver on the North squad.

Royal displayed impressive speed, solid hands and sharp route-running ability on Monday. He also managed to use his hands and speed to get off of press coverage, which was something some of the other smaller receivers had some trouble doing.

In addition to those attributes, Royal is also a return specialist, which is another position the Bucs likely will attempt to upgrade this offseason. Royal, who made a name for himself as a punt return at Virginia Tech, was one of three players fielding punts for the North team this afternoon. That package could make Royal a very attractive player to several teams, including the Buccaneers.

With John Wade and Matt Lehr scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on Feb. 29, the Buccaneers will also be in the market for a center this offseason.

The Buccaneers could sign a free agent or move Dan Buenning, who started 17 games at left guard as a rookie in 2005, to center, but he’s unproven at the position and was inactive for all 16 games last year due to the knee injury he sustained in November of 2006.

Tampa Bay isn’t opposed to drafting a guard and moving that player to center, which could make Ohio State G Kirk Barton a player to watch. Barton (6-4, 308) stood out in 1-on-1 drills today. While he displayed tremendous power, Barton might not be considered athletic enough to play the center position for the Buccaneers.

Notre Dame’s John Sullivan is a true center, and he took the majority of snaps at that position for the North team today. Sullivan (6-3, 305) held up well vs. bull rushers and showed the ability to get up field as a blocker. He’s far from being a finished product, but Sullivan could be prove to be a good player in the NFL, especially if he can be afforded the opportunity to be groomed by a veteran center for a year or two.

Arizona State C Mike Pollak (6-3, 293) had a tough time holding bull rushers off in 1-on-1 drills today. Tampa Bay is looking to get bigger at the center position, which would basically rule out the possibility of the Bucs investing a draft pick in Pollak in April.

One center the Bucs apparently have their eye on isn’t in Mobile this week. He was, however, in Houston for the East-West Shrine game last week.

Sources informed Pewter Report that the several Bucs scouts spent a significant amount of time interviewing Florida center Drew Miller (6-5, 304) in Houston last week.

Speaking of the centers, there were several quarterback/center exchange mishaps during the afternoon practice. That can be somewhat expected since these players are not used to working with each other. It will be something that needs to get cleaned up throughout the week leading up to Saturday’s Senior Bowl game.

Getting timing down with receivers is something North team quarterbacks Chad Henne (Michigan), John David Booty (USC) and Joe Flacco (Delaware) will need to work on as all three of these signal callers had accuracy issues on Monday.

East Carolina running back Chris Johnson (5-11, 192) is as fast as advertised, but he did not get the opportunity to showcase his catching and blocking ability much on Monday. He didn’t have great holes to run through, but Johnson was indeed quick.

California RB Justin Forsett displayed consistent pass-catching ability, especially across the middle of the field. He also showed impressive acceleration. However, Forsett (5-8, 183) might be a little too small for the Bucs’ liking.

USC RB Chauncey Washington (6-0, 220) stood out due to his frame, but he runs too upright and lacks top-end speed.

Speaking of USC, several of their players stood out on defense for the North team, including defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (6-1, 307) and linebacker Keith Rivers (6-3, 237).

The practice for the San Francisco 49ers-coaches South squad, which is deemed to be the lesser talented team, according to most NFL scouts, was held at the Fairhope Field under cold and windy afternoon conditions. The sidelines were packed at the South practice with coaches, scouts, media members and NFL types looking for coaching gigs.

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden and senior executive – and former Bucs quarterback – Doug Williams watched the quarterbacks intently. Tennessee’s Erik Ainge and Hawaii’s Colt Brennan had their moments, but Kentucky’s Andre Woodson appeared to be the best pro prospect out of the trio. Woodson is expected to be a first-round pick, likely in the second half of the first round. He looked the part at 6-foot-4, 234 pounds, while Brennan shocked everyone by carrying just 185 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame.

Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Bill Muir watched the offensive linemen, naturally, paying particular attention to the center position where Wake Forest’s Steve Justice was clearly the better prospect over Texas A&M’s Steve Wallace and Bowling Green’s Kory Lichtenstieger.

Because the access for the South practice at Fairhope on Monday is always fantastic – you can literally stand a few feet away from individual drills on the field – the highlight of the day was watching the offensive linemen square off against the defensive linemen. Maryland defensive tackle Dre Moore made a very impressive debut at the Senior Bowl, showing great explosion off the snap of the football and great power. Moore and Justice, who is the best center on the South team, took turns getting the better of each other. Moore destroyed Wallace on a couple of occasions, quickly driving him backwards with a bull rush on one play and then using a swim technique and a spin move to get into the backfield on another.

Arkansas defensive tackle Marcus Harrison also had a pretty good showing, demonstrating some quick feet on more than one occasion. Harrison has good size at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds and showed the ability to penetrate the backfield on Monday.

Hampton’s Kendall Langford, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive end, showed a really nice mix of speed and power coming off the edge in pass rush situations. Hampton has done a nice job of putting out good pro prospects over the last few years and Langford is the next in line to make it to the NFL.

Justice performed well in individual drills, pancaking defensive end Andre Fluellen. The other two offensive linemen that really stood out were Vanderbilit left tackle Chris Williams, who looks every bit of 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, and Newberry College right tackle Heath Benedict, who is 6-foot-5, 321 pounds. Williams did a very good job in both run blocking and pass protection and Benedict showed some toughness and a nasty disposition by driving Alabama defensive end Wallace Gilberry to the ground and then shoving him again after he was down.

Kentucky running back Rafael Little was impressive catching the ball and running it Monday afternoon. He showed a nice spin move on one run and finished off the play with some contact, demonstrating great pad level. Because he is a multi-purpose back in the same vein as Mewelde Moore, expect Tampa Bay to be interested in Little.

Little’s teammate, Kentucky tight end Jacob Tamme looked very small and unimpressive at just under 6-foot-4, 234 pounds. The opposite could be said of Tennessee tight end Brad Cottam, who was a beast at 6-foot-8, 268 pounds. Cottam lacked quickness and agility, though.

Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice surprised scouts and coaches with his burst to the outside.

The quarterbacks and receivers had a very mediocre outing as several passes were dropped. Florida’s Andre Caldwell and Louisville’s Harry Douglas might have looked the best, followed by LSU’s Early Doucet, Texas’ Limas Sweed and Houston’s Donnie Avery, who showed off his speed on a couple of reverses. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Sweed was seen talking to Bucs scouts after practice.

Keep an eye on Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He was the best athlete on the defense for the South squad on Monday. The 6-foot-2, 181-pounder had a nice interception lining up at free safety and demonstrated great speed. The Brandenton, Fla. native is projected to be a second- or third-round pick and is the cousin of San Diego Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who led the NFL in interceptions in 2007 with 10.

The funniest play of the day had to be when Tulane running back Matt Forte ran into a pile of South defensive linemen who tackled him by grabbing his shorts and yanking them down to his knees, which drew laughter from the crowd.

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