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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Senior Bowl Update: Getting Settled In Mobile

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 24, 2012 – 6:12 am

As I sat at my gate inside the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport early Monday morning, a blizzard was pounding the Twin Cities, a band of thunderstorms was battering Atlanta (where I was to pick-up a connecting flight) and parts of Alabama (my final destination) were under a tornado warning.

Now, about 24 hours after escaping another Minnesota blizzard and heading to the Deep South, all has calmed down. I’ve settled in at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and I’m set for an exciting week with the North squad. Here are a few observations and thoughts from my first day at the Senior Bowl…

– After a delayed departure from Minnesota, I arrived a touch behind schedule in Atlanta and then patiently waited out another delay before boarding a puddle-jumper to Mobile. After arriving in Mobile, I hopped into a cab and made my way to the North team hotel – the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza. Accommodations are great here, there is plenty of space for both the North and South teams, and I had no trouble getting a fast sleep after a long day of travel.

– Before I went to bed, though, I wandered up to the 2nd floor of the hotel, where the nation’s top senior football players mingled with representatives from nearly every NFL team. It was like an NFL convention, with coaches and scouts wearing their official team apparel while trying to track down players to conduct what is essentially a job interview. Coaches and scouts consider these private sit-downs with players as important as practice tape and game performance.

– The players loaded into buses at about 6:00 p.m. and headed to a mandatory media dinner, while at the same time a Senior Bowl Kickoff Reception was held at a neighboring hotel. Following those events, teams continued to meet with players at the hotel.

– While that was going on, I took a seat at the hotel bar and enjoyed dinner and drinks while watching some college basketball. New Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams swung by to grab a quick dinner on his way to meetings, so I introduced myself to him and also welcomed him to the team. Vikings TEs coach Jimmie Johnson also pulled up a chair next to me for a quick bite to eat before heading to meetings.

– Finally, after a long day of travel and the hectic environment inside the hotel, the day was over and it was time for rest. I retired to my hotel room, flipped back and forth between the Republican debate in Florida and a rerun of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines (Tiger Woods won in a playoff over Rocco Mediate), and eventually fell asleep while the endless cycle of SportsCenter played on the television.

Practice #2 for the North squad – being coached by the Vikings coaching staff – is set for 9:30-11:00 a.m. this morning. I’ll be sure to watch, take careful notes and report back to you later this afternoon.

Following practice, the North squad will have lunch back at the hotel and then will break out into defense, offense and special teams meetings. The rest of the day will be composed of events setup by the Senior Bowl staff.

That’s it for now, but stay tuned to and the Blog for more updates throughout the week. You can also receive updates from me during Senior Bowl week by following me on Twitter (@wobby).

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