Final Senior Bowl Thoughts

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 31, 2012 – 7:21 am

Everyone from the Vikings staff has returned safe and sound from a week-long stay in Mobile, Alabama at this year’s Senior Bowl. All-in-all, it was a successful week for the Vikings. Head Coach Leslie Frazier and his staff had a good week with the North squad that culminated in a 23-13 victory. All the while, the Vikings scouting and personnel staffs were also on-hand to get a close look at some of the nation’s top senior football players.

We had coverage of the Senior Bowl all of last week, and if you missed it I recommend going back through the Blog and through the Media Vault to check it out. Today I’ll provide a few final Senior Bowl thoughts before we move on from the 2012 Senior Bowl and begin focussing on the next phase of the offseason.

Here are a few final thoughts…

– The culture of college football in the Deep South is fun to experience and it’s quite a shift from what I’m accustomed to living here in Minnesota. I’d characterize Minnesota as a state that pays more attention to pro sports than to college sports. That is not the case in Mobile and in most places in that part of the country. They are significantly more passionate about their college sports. There were thousands of fans at the game on Saturday evening, with many of them tailgating before the game. Fans were at the North and South team hotels all week seeking autographs and opportunities to interact with the players. It was a festive, football-loving atmosphere.

– One of my favorite moments included arriving at stadium before the game on Saturday and walking from the bus to the locker room. The whole time, fans lined our path to the locker room and were hoping to grab just a peek at the players. The enthusiasm these fans have for the college game and for the players was awesome to experience. Credit also goes to the Senior Bowl staff for making Saturday evening feel like a regular season or even a postseason football game.

– I think it’s fair to say that the South was a more talented team, which makes the North’s victory all the more impressive. I didn’t watch any of the South’s practices live, but I will say that the North’s practices were well organized and the North’s performance on Saturday evening reflected that. I thought the Vikings coaching staff worked hard all week, took the job seriously, and ultimately took big-time advantage of their opportunity to be around these players all week to see how they’re wired and what makes them tick.

– While I was exposed to the North team for most of the week, I must say that I couldn’t have come away from the week more impressed with South DE Quinton Coples, who is a product of the University of North Carolina. This kid already has an NFL-looking body, measuring in at 6-6, 281 pounds, and he plays angry and hard on every snap. Maybe he’s not a candidate for the Vikings if they keep the 3rd overall pick, but if a scenario unfolds where the Vikings trade back to the middle of the 1st round or even in the later part of the Top 10, I would not be disappointed if Coples was the pick. He has the look of a real game-changer at the NFL level. We’ll have to wait and see how he tests out at the Combine, but right now I’m saying Coples will be one of the best players in this year’s draft class.

– The most impressive players all week for the North, in my view, were DE Cam Johnson from Virginia, WR Brian Quick from Appalachian State, LB Bobby Wagner from Utah State and QB Russell Wilson from Wisconsin. I also thought that kicker Carson Wiggs from Purdue was impressive all week and during the game.

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North Squad Players To Watch During Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 27, 2012 – 4:06 pm

After spending about a week with the North squad in this year’s Senior Bowl, including observing 3 practices and a walk-through, I’ve compiled a list of players who’ve stood out and who you should keep an eye on during Saturday’s game.

The list is limited to players from the North squad only, but keep in mind that several players from the South squad merit attention as well. In fact, NFL Network and Vikings preseason TV analyst Mike Mayock, who will serve as a game analyst on Saturday, has said that the South’s DEs may be the best position group in this game.

For now, though, we’ll focus on the North players and they’ll appear below in alphabetical order…

OL Mike Adams (Ohio State) – Listed at 6-7, 323 pounds, Adams has prototypical size for an NFL LT and I believe he’ll be playing LT during the game. With Mayock suggesting that the South squad’s DEs could be the best position group in this game, it will be interesting to see how Adams fares in pass protection. USC’s Matt Kalil, Iowa’s Riley Reiff and Stanford’s Jonathan Martin are considered by many to be this class’ top LTs, but a good showing by Adams in the Senior Bowl followed by a good week at the Combine could cause some to start shuffling their LT rankings.

DL Jack Crawford (Penn State) – I believe Crawford will play mostly DE in this game, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Regardless, Crawford appears to me to have an NFL-ready body and it won’t surprise me if he’s a 1st-round pick in April. He stood out more early in the week than later, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a monster in the game on Saturday. He’s the type of player who could have an MVP-type of performance on Saturday, and he’s going to instantly make an NFL team’s DL better in a few months.

WR T.J. Graham (NC State)– While not the best WR on the North team, in my opinion, I do believe Graham has as good a chance as any player on the North team to wow those who watch the Senior Bowl. I believe this because he has great quickness and is a consistent “hands” catcher, which means he doesn’t typically catch a pass by trapping it against his body. He’ll play mostly in the slot, and I think he’s one to keep an eye on during this game.

DE/LB Cam Johnson (Virginia) – One of the North defense’s stand-out players this week, Johnson will likely play DE in this game. He’s listed as a LB, but I’ve seen him lined up as a DE most of Senior Bowl week. I believe he’s displayed the traits of a player who could be an effective base DE and a productive pass rusher at the NFL level. He does have some “hot-and-cold” to him, meaning he’s a streaky player, but it’s not a bad thing to have a streaky player on your team, especially during those times when he’s on fire.

CB Leonard Johnson (Iowa State) – Guys such as Morris Claiborne and Dre Kirkpatrick have gotten the most attention, but Johnson is a player who merits serious consideration once we get past the 1st round of the draft. He’s listed at a smidgen under 5-10 and 198 pounds, but I believe he’ll play a bit bigger than that because of his willingness to be physical and because of his tackling ability. He’s a feisty and emotional player, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him have a monster game on Saturday.

DL Shea McClellin (Boise State) – A gritty, hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone type of player, McClellin has impressed during the week of practice. He’s listed as a DL and primarily plays DE, but he has also demonstrated the ability to stand up and play OLB. I’m guessing that he’ll have his hand on the ground as a DE in this game because the Vikings run a 4-3 defense, but I believe he’s gritty and talented enough to develop at either position. He’ll be around the ball a lot during the game.

WR Brian Quick (Appalachian State) – In my view, Quick is the most talented WR in the North team’s deep WR corps. He’s certainly a raw player in terms of ability and he has a lot to learn before he can play the WR position at the professional level, but from an ability and potential standpoint I think Quick is the North team’s best WR. He is a great leaper, has good speed, measures in at 6-3½, 222 pounds, and is a well-spoken individual who is quick to credit his teammates. He may play at a small school, but I think Quick has big-time ability and I’m excited to watch him play in the game after a great week of practice.

DB Harrison Smith (Norte Dame) – I’m a big fan of Norte Dame, but even with that bias set aside I believe Smith is a player who could wow some people during the game. He’s a long, rangy safety who doesn’t necessarily fit the traditional NFL mold, but he’s a good team player who could excel at the NFL level if he lands in the right environment and is asked to play the right role. He’s got some grit to him, and I think he’ll be an aggressive player against the run and against pass catchers coming across the middle. Smith is listed at just under 6-2, 212 pounds.

QB Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) – He’s shorter (5-10) than you’d like your QB to be, but there’s no denying that Wilson is a playmaker. And for what it’s worth, I’ve heard several of Wilson’s North squad teammates talk him up big-time during interviews here in Mobile. Wilson has charisma and the ability to make those around him better. We saw Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave use a lot of moving pockets with Christian Ponder during the 2011 season, and I think you’ll see something very similar with Wilson on the field and Musgrave designing and calling players for the North. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Wilson plays more than the other North squad QBs, and I believe Wilson could have an MVP-type of day.

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Teams Make Final Preparations For Saturday’s Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 27, 2012 – 3:37 pm

Friday was a fairly light day in terms of on-field work for both the North and South squads in Mobile, Alabama, as the teams began making final preparations for Saturday’s Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Both teams had an hour-long walk-through at the stadium in the morning, returned to the hotel for lunch, and then players from both teams visited a local children’s hospital. While the players visited to the children’s hospitals, coaches stayed back at the hotel to make final adjustments to the game plan and meet with NFL Network for production meetings.

NFL Network will broadcast the game on Saturday, with kickoff slated for 3:00 p.m. CT. Paul Burmeister will have play-by-play duties, Mike Mayock and Charles Davis will handle the game analysis, and Heath Evans and Rebecca Haarlow will report from the sidelines.

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Three Who Stand Out For North Team During Senior Bowl Practices

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 26, 2012 – 1:48 pm

We didn’t get a great look at the North team on Thursday because inclement weather forced practice indoors. But the North team had a week full of rigorous practices before Thursday, and I thought I’d point out three players who’ve stood out at times over the course of the week.

DE/LB Cam Johnson
Listed on the Senior Bowl roster as a LB, Johnson has played a lot of DE during Senior Bowl practices and he’s been a standout performer. He does a great job of setting the edge on the outside, is rarely pushed backward or out of the way, and he’s often times penetrating the offensive backfield to be a disruptive force. I know Vikings coaches have been impressed with his week, and both Mike Mayock and Charles Davis of NFL Network have confirmed to me that they think he’s had a good week as well.

Johnson is listed at 6-4, 267 pounds, and he’s a product of the University of Virginia.

CB Asa Jackson
A product of Cal Poly, Jackson is a small-school CB but he displays big-time ability. More importantly, perhaps, I’ve noticed big-time hustle from Jackson over the course of the week. I’ve noticed that he’s a player who is constantly around the ball, and there was an instance on Wednesday that really stood out to me. It came during 7-on-7 drills, and he was playing on the opposite side of the field to where a pass had fallen incomplete. As the pass hit the ground, Jackson sprinted across the field toward the ball, scooped it up, and then sprinted to the end zone. That’s the type of hustle play that might seem innocuous, but I believe it’s the type of hustle play that many coaches and scouts notice, and I also believe it’s the type of attitude a small-school player should display while trying to prove he belongs playing at the professional level.

Jackson is listed at 5-10, 193 pounds.

CB Leonard Johnson
Johnson makes the list mainly for a simple reason – he passes the eye test. He’s a smooth-looking athlete with good speed and quickness. He looks the part of a solid cover CB in the NFL. He’s listed as 5-10, 198 pounds, but I think he plays bigger than his listed size. We don’t see a lot of press coverage from CBs at the Senior Bowl, but I’d be interested to turn on the tape and watch him play that style because he has the appearance of a guy who would excel in that type of scheme.

Johnson is a product of Iowa State University.

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Inclement Weather Forces Senior Bowl Practices Indoors

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 26, 2012 – 1:34 pm

A nasty thunderstorm complete with tornado warnings swept through the Mobile, Alabama area on Thursday morning and ultimately resulted in both the North and South squads moving their practices away from Ladd-Peebles Stadium and to the indoors.

The North team has the morning practice each day and this morning everyone had arrived at the stadium in anticipation of trying to squeeze at least a portion of the workout in before the storms arrived. But only moments before practice was set to begin at 9:30 a.m. CT, Vikings and North team Head Coach Leslie Frazier wisely decided to move practice back to the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center, which is attached to the hotel in which both teams are staying.

Credit goes to Frazier and to the Senior Bowl operations staff for a smooth and timely transition from the stadium to the convention center while a violent storm began to bear down on the area. The North team arrived inside the convention center and the coaching staff took the squad through a thorough walk-through before breaking for lunch and then team meetings.

It was announced around 12:30 p.m. CT that the South team would also be holding its practice indoors.

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Senior Bowl Update: Vikings Coaches Taking Advantage Of Opportunity

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 25, 2012 – 4:55 pm

All of the attention this week in Mobile, Alabama during Senior Bowl practices is on this group of senior football players, as it should be. This is their time to shine, in front of hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts and GMs, and with no underclassmen present to steal the spotlight.

But given that Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and his staff are heading up the North squad this year, and given the intensity with which the Vikings staff is coaching, I wanted to take a quick moment to acknowledge the effort and hard work Coach Frazier’s group has committed to this week and to this North squad.

I wrote a full piece on this subject, which you can view by clicking here. But I also wanted to share one highlight of the story here with Blog readers.

An example of a Vikings coach taking advantage of the opportunity to coach in the Senior Bowl and get the most out of these senior football players with the NFL draft just 3 months away is DBs coach Joe Woods, who has been with the club since 2006. Some coaches motivate and instruct subtly, some are more vocal and boisterous. Woods doesn’t blur the line – he’s one of the team’s most vocal coaches, and that makes it easy and fun to watch him at work with his players.

Woods actually was in quite the fish bowl during Wednesday’s practice as he worked with the North squad’s DBs during the individual drills portion of the workout. He was working with his players on changing direction, especially on the art of players shifting their body weight from one direction to the other as they responded to instructions from Woods during the drill. As Woods barked out instructions and his players labored through the drill, a rather large crowd of distinguished NFL personalities gathered to watch.

To one side was Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who worked with Woods in 2006 on the Vikings staff and before that in Tampa Bay. Standing next to Tomlin was Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff. On the other side of the drill was Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll, a former Vikings defensive backs coach as well. And standing behind the drill watching from the NFL Network set was Mike Mayock, a former defensive back himself and one of the top NFL draft and college football analysts in the country.

Certainly these individuals were not gathered to watch how an assistant coach conducted the drill, that’s not the point. They were gathered to watch the talented crop of individuals that comprise the North squad’s DBs group. But while Tomlin, Dimitroff, Carroll and Mayock watched those players, they were also subjected to the passionate style with which Woods coaches, not just here in Mobile but also back with the Vikings on a daily basis during the season and during the offseason program.

I’m not the only one noticing the excellent job Frazier and his staff are doing with this year’s North team.

“The Minnesota coaches are real,” Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Denard told the Star Tribune’s Dan Wiederer earlier in the week. “Coach Frazier put a lot of fire in our eyes. I like the way he talks. He let us know this was a big step and that we need to go hard every play all day long to stand out.”

The North squad players are not the only individuals standing out. Frazier and his staff are standing out as a passionate and talented group of coaches. Coming off a 3-13 season, the Vikings have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and a lot of improvement to make overall during the offseason.

If their performance during Senior Bowl practices this week is any indication, the Vikings coaching staff is already hard at work.

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The Sporting News Names Jared Allen Defensive Player Of The Year

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 25, 2012 – 1:44 pm

The post-season awards continue to roll in for Jared Allen following the best season of his career and a season in which he set a new Vikings single-season record with 22.0 sacks. His latest honor is a significant one, as the fine folks at The Sporting News have named Allen their Defensive Player of the Year.

This is not the “big” defensive player of the year award – that is the AP’s version of the award – but this is still a signiciant award because The Sporting News collects votes from players, coaches and executives in doling out post-season honors. Here is part of what The Sporting News wrote about Allen in making the announcement:

“With 22.0 sacks, the Vikings end was just one shy of breaking Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5, and a panel of 632 NFL players, coaches and executives chose him as Sporting News’ defensive player of the year by two votes (113-111) over second-place DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys.”

We’ve made the case in the past here on the Blog that Allen should be named the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year, but we won’t find out if the AP’s voters correctly voted him as such. Other players across the League certainly had standout seasons, but I continue to think that no NFL defender played consistently at a higher level than Allen in 2011. There were only 3 games this season in which Allen did not register a sack, and he also had 6 multi-sack games and 3 games with 3+ sacks. Adding to his impressive season is the fact that Allen also had 4 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries and 1 INT. He was consistently the Vikings best player all season, and opponents had a hard time stopping him even though it was their #1 priority coming into the game.

The Sporting News Defensive Player of the Year award is just the latest post-season award to come Allen’s way. He was named a Pro Bowler and is currently in Hawaii preparing for that game, he was named to the AP’s All-Pro team and he earned another defensive player of the year honor from the prestigious 101 Awards.

Another interesting aspect of The Sporting News’ announcement that Allen was named Defensive Player of the Year is that the publication shared comments they’ve gathered from players around the League regarding the season Allen had. Here are a few of them:

Bryan Bulaga, RT, Packers: “If you just watch him—his motor and effort and the way he plays—it’s intense. It’s hard to say anything bad about the guy because he does everything well. He plays the run well; he has a good motor against the run. His whole game is built on his intensity and motor. And he’s deceivingly quick. He’s got good hands, so in the pass rush he’s able to get around guys by continually working his hands and doing that kind of stuff.

“Obviously, he’s one of the best pass rushers in the game. If you look at what he ended up with—what, 20 (sacks)?—he just missed (the record). Wow. That kind of just shows you the type of guy he is. He’s a great player. I think he plays the game properly. He plays hard, he’s intense, doesn’t give up on plays. When his team is down, that’s the last guy you’re going to see giving up on a play. As a coach, those are the type of guys you want. No matter what the situation, he’ll continue to work and work and work. That’s what he does.”

Dominic Raiola, C, Lions: “He’s a relentless competitor. There’s no secret why he’s so good and why he gets paid that money and why he’s been around for so long. He’s somebody you’ve got to account for. You’ve got to include him in the game plan just because he does get after the quarterback. … He’s relentless. When you’re relentless, you’re going to get to the quarterback.”

Tyler Clutts, FB, Bears: “Jared Allen is a motor guy who just goes and goes and goes and goes. He’s a guy who you can’t ever not account for—even when the play looks like it’s done. You have to always get help on him. He’s just a slippery defensive end, which makes him dangerous to every quarterback.”

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Fast Facts From The 2012 Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 25, 2012 – 7:10 am

Yesterday I explained how an influx in underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft has added significance to the annual Senior Bowl. Today I thought I’d pass along a few interesting facts provided by the Senior Bowl that further illustrate the influence of this week and this game on the draft process.

– A total of 12 first-round draft choices played in the 2011 game and 83 players off of last year’s roster were drafted.
— The 2011 Senior Bowl featured two Top 10 picks (Von Miller and Jake Locker).
— The Senior Bowl has had a Top 10 pick for 15 straight years and double-digit 1st-rounders for 7 consecutive years.
— The 2012 Senior Bowl rosters include 20 All-American selections and countless All-Conference picks.
— The South won the 2011 contest 24-10 behind Florida State QB Christian Ponder, who was named the game’s MVP after throwing for 132 yards and 2 TDs.
— More than 250 media members have been approved for credentials to cover the week’s events and the Senior Bowl game.
— The South leads the all-time series in this matchup 30-26-3.

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Senior Bowl Update: Observations From Tuesday Morning Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 24, 2012 – 3:04 pm

It was an early rise here in Mobile, Alabama as Senior Bowl week rolls on and the North team continues its preparation for Saturday evening’s game against the South squad. Breakfast was available from 7:15-8:45 a.m. in one of the hotel ballrooms and then the team buses departed for Ladd-Peebles Stadium promptly at 8:45 for a 9:30 practice.

The ride from our hotel to the stadium is quick, and once we arrived on site the players quickly dressed and headed onto the field for warm-ups, stretching and then a 90-minute practice. Temperatures were in the mid-60s, it was mostly cloudy, but then the sun found a way to shine through the clouds for about the last 45 minutes of practice, making conditions ideal for coaches, players and observers.

Here are a few observations from my morning at the North team’s practice…

– I stood with NFL Network and Vikings preseason TV analyst Mike Mayock along the sidelines while the team went through stretching drills. We talked about various North-team related topics, but I found it interesting to note that he expressed excitement about watching the South team practice later in the day because he estimates there will be a handful or so of 1st-round picks among the South’s defensive linemen. Just something interesting to watch as the week goes on and we play the game on Saturday evening.

– The North team QBs are names even casual college football fans should recognize: Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, Boise State’s Kellen Moore and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson. I’ll withhold much judgment on them until we get later in the week when they get better timing established with receivers, but I will say that Moore and Wilson are much smaller than you’d imagine; both are less than 6 feet tall. According to the roster sheet distributed by the Senior Bowl, Moore measured in at 5-11¾ and Wilson measured in at 5-10 5/8. This doesn’t spell doom for their pro prospects, but obviously NFL coaches and scouts prefer QBs with some height so they can see over the offensive line and so defensive linemen don’t have such as advantage in batting balls down.

– I had one Vikings assistant coach mention to me after practice that Virginia LB Cam Johnson has had a good couple of days. This coach mentioned something to Johnson as he entered the locker room after practice and made reference to being anxious to watch the film of the day’s work. Johnson took the compliment well, kept walking into the locker room, and then paused before walking back toward us. He asked the coach when the film would be available. That’s a good sign to see from a player…wanting to watch film of practice at the Senior Bowl. You’d think if he wants to watch film of practice at the Senior Bowl then he’ll definitely be into film study when preparing to face a division rival during the regular season.

– One defensive lineman who constantly stood out to me was Penn State’s Jack Crawford. When I was observing him, he lined up exclusively at left DE and did a good job of both penetrating the line of scrimmage on some plays and staying home on other plays. An interesting note about Crawford is that he was born in London, England, and moved to the United States in high school with a dream of playing basketball. He didn’t play football until his junior year of high school.

– Another player standing out to me is Iowa WR Marvin McNutt. He’s a smooth runner, has the build and desire to be a physical receiver, and he didn’t drop a ball all day that I saw. He catches a lot of passes during team and 7-on-7 drills, which tells me that he’s either playing more than the other WRs and/or the QBs feel comfortable throwing him the ball.

– A few other WRs impressed at times, too, including Appalachian State’s Brian Quick during 7-on7 drills. Quick measures in at 6-3½, 222 pounds, giving him prototypical size for an outside WR in the NFL. This seems like a good group of WRs, but I’m looking for a little bit more out of Ohio State’s Devier Posey. I also like what little I’ve seen of Arizona State’s Gerell Robinson (6-3 1/8, 223 pounds).

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Influx Of Underclassmen Increases Importance Of Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 24, 2012 – 2:36 pm

More underclassmen have declared for this year’s NFL draft than in any year prior, and in fact the number of underclassmen who’ve declared for the NFL draft has increased steadily since 2009. It’s been reported that 65 underclassmen have been granted eligibility for this year’s draft, which is an increase from 56 in 2011, 53 in 2010 and 46 in 2009.

On top of that, the players expected to be taken with early 1st-round picks this year are mostly underclassmen. Players such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon, Morris Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick and Trent Richardson are all underclassmen.

So with more and more underclassmen declaring for the draft, the importance of the Senior Bowl only increases. The Senior Bowl is now the most important moment for the nation’s top seniors because it’s their opportunity to showcase themselves to the NFL at a time when the NFL is not otherwise concerned with underclassmen.

Even more important than the actual game, though, is the week of preparation leading up to the game. NFL coaches and scouts will cram in as many interviews off the field with these seniors this week because when NFL teams descends upon Indianapolis in late February for the Combine, much of their focus when it comes to the all-important interview process will be on underclassmen.

Yes, the fact that so many underclassmen are declaring for the draft does take some attention away from the nation’s best senior players at times such as the Combine, pro days and even draft day. But that just makes this week’s event – the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama – even more important.

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