Day one of the 2013 Senior Bowl is in the books and it was an exhausting one. Don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly fun, but it’s was a ton of work. We already spoke about the weigh in earlier, so we’ll cut ahead to the afternoon practices.
Normally, the day is split into two practices—one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with a split about noonish for lunch. Monday is always a little different though, as the weigh in throws the schedule off. Instead of a morning practice of one squad and an afternoon practice of the other, both practices take place at virtually the same time at two locations nowhere near each other.
For the Bleacher Report crew, we had two camera crews so we could split up. Matt Miller, the NFL Lead Draft Analyst and Mike Schottey (one of our Lead NFL writers) went and covered the north practice and I headed over to watch the south squad.
I hadn’t ever been to the alternate location at Fairhope Stadium, but I actually enjoyed the experience. At the main stadium—Ladd Peebles—you have to stand behind a fence about ten yards from the field.
Not a big deal. It’s not too far away and you can just sit in the stands as well and get a bird’s eye view of the proceedings.
At Fairhope, we were almost on the field, maybe a couple of yards off the sideline. Close enough to where I had to watch for incoming players and dodge one once.
I much prefer that experience to be honest.
The south squad is coached by the Detroit Lions and they ran an up-tempo, energetic practice. They kept the players moving, kept teaching them the NFL way of doing things and had the players moving at quite a clip.
They made the guys practice hard, even in what was basically a light, non-hitting initial practice.Of course, it wouldn’t be Alabama if Nick Saban didn’t show up and get mobbed.
You could tell who the local media were by how fast they ran to pay homage to The King when he showed up.
I said this last year but it is worth repeating—it is very hard to gauge anyone on the line in a practice like this in shorts and shells. You can’t really block and you sure as hell can’t tackle.
So today was a day to watch the skill players and there were some standouts and some letdowns in that group.
First. we’ll talk quarterbacks. Miller and I shot a video today about the six quarterbacks in Mobile and it was hard for me to be excited for anyone off the south squad. All three—Landry Jones, EJ Manuel and Tyler Wilson—were inconsistent and struggled. None stood out.
That said, there were some bad moments.
That would be damning with faint praise, I suppose.
Jones threw with power and drove the ball well but overthrew his receivers too often and stared them down a few times as well. Do that in the NFL and the ball will get picked off.
A lot of the same can be said of Wilson’s efforts, made worse by an awful interception late in practice. I’m not sure what Wilson thought he saw—I had a clear look at the pick from across the field, but at the angle I stood at, I couldn’t tell if the defender came out of nowhere or if Wilson flat out didn’t see him.
Either way, it was a bad interception and Wilson nearly followed that up with a second pick, which ended up just as a deflection.
When I write up my notes during practice, I write a player’s number down and a quick note after it.
Too many of my notes on Wilson were negative. The Arkansas quarterback has the skills to play well—he just needs to settle down. He can easily recover this week and after a rough first day I am looking forward to seeing how he attacks day two.
Manuel is a project, pure and simple. He looks to have the arm strength you want in a quarterback, though he threw late or too slow at times and had balls batted which wouldn’t have been had he thrown with more authority.
He seemed to be aiming the ball not throwing it, and yes there is a big difference between the two. Some people have pointed to Manuel’s footwork as a problem but I didn’t see anything too horrific. He’s a project—if someone takes the time to bring him along slowly, he may have a ton of upside.
For running backs, the standout player was far and away Florida’s Mike Gillislee. The former Gator showed excellent speed and elusiveness as well as great vision. I was also impressed with his receiving skills. At 5’11″, 207 pounds, Gillislee looks like he could be an every down back. I’m very excited to see him the rest of the week.
None of the other backs stood out all that much. Andre Ellington looked slow to hit the hole and while I saw Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor make some nice moves, I didn’t see anything about him which popped out at me.
All that said, someone could very well step up when contact kicks in over the next day or so.
For the receivers, three guys really stood out for me.
First was Terrence Williams. The coaches loved ‘T’ and it’s not hard to see why. A tall, fast and athletic player who alternately outran coverage and overpowered it also adjusted on some bad passes to bail his quarterback out. Williams was definitely the cream of the south crop of receivers.
The other two are more along the lines of ‘dark horses’. Ryan Swope was someone who I was tipped to keep an eye on after the weigh in. I was pretty impressed with what I saw, and heard as well.
During positional drills, Swope excelled. He made some excellent cuts and showed some soft hands. During a footwork drill you could see his ‘sewing machine’ legs churning away—his quick steps were very impressive.
One of the knocks on Swope are his small hands and he definitely struggled a few times with hauling the ball in. This mostly happened when he was covered. While he can haul in virtually any pass when uncontested, he struggled a bit when the defensive backs were against him in drills. He dropped two passes he really shouldn’t have and the coaches got on him about it.
On the other hand, he did a great job on some other catches and showed the ability to be coached. I didn’t see the following but Yahoo Sports’ Doug Farrar relayed this tale:
There was one pass which was thrown well behind Swope who tried, but failed, to make the catch. The receivers coach lit into Swops, telling him he has to make that catch and pointing out what he did wrong.
On the very next play, the throw was once again behind Swope. This time though, he made an amazing fingertip grab.
I really liked most of what I saw from Swope, but need to see more before I get too excited. I want to see him overcome some of the drops in Day two, so you know I’ll be watching closely.
The last receiver to note was Duke’s Conner Vernon.
Yes, Duke has a player in the Senior Bowl and he is worth noting.
During individual position drills, Vernon didn’t look sharp. He didn’t look bad, he just didn’t look as good as Swope.
Then the defensive backs stepped in and Vernon woke up. Vernon made some incredible grabs, ran outstanding routes and just flat out muscled the ball away from the defenders on a consistent basis.
Of the receivers, he was the most surprising to me and the guy who got me most excited on offense.
One more player of note, especially to Packers fans, was Vance McDonald, the tight end from Rice. McDonald is a beast of a tight end with great hands, fantastic size (6’4″) and good speed. He can also block (as much as one blocks during this practice).
There are some questions about Jermichael Finley’s future with the club—McDonald is an intriguing prospect who, while he doesn’t have the upside Finley does, is very reliable.
We’ll see if he keeps it up during the week.
Tomorrow I’ll get my first look at the north squad and another day to evaluate the south. I’ll have much more stuff from the Senior Bowl practices in Mobile and if you want more up to the minute updates, follow me on twitter as well.
I’ll also have some media night recap in the morning as well.
We’ll see you tomorrow. Now I have to fall into a BBQ food coma.