The North squad took the field for practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday and worked for roughly 2 hours under the direction of Dennis Allen’s Oakland Raiders staff. I sat in the bleachers behind one of the end zones, so my observations for Tuesday’s action will focus on the drill work and 11-on-11 action that happened right in front of me.
For Wednesday’s North team practice, I’ll be sure to spot myself in an area that will give me good vision to positions that are not covered in Tuesday’s notes…
The star of the show for the North team on Tuesday was clearly North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams. He displayed a combination of size, strength and quickness that could make him a dominant player in the NFL. In a one-on-one drill with Kent State G Brian Winters, Williams used a quick rip move to get past the blocker and find the QB. Then moments later in a drill where the defensive linemen were working against double-teams, Williams split the two players blocking him with ease to make a play.
Williams, who goes by “Sly” instead of Sylvester, measured in at the Senior Bowl a touch over 6-2 and at 313 pounds. He has a solid base and good upper body strength, which allows him to anchor well and also fend off blockers with his arms so he can penetrate the backfield to make a play or force a play the wrong direction so a teammate can make a play. There were a couple of times when Oregon RB Kenjon Barner was able to dance around Williams in the backfield, but I think you have to give the defense a break there because players don’t tackle to the ground in these practices and because Barner is a great player in his own right.
Another impressive part of Williams’ game is his ability to anticipate snap counts. I’m not sure if this was a strength of his during actual games in college, but during practice on Tuesday he was able to anticipate a few snap counts, which made his already explosive first step even more explosive and his already dominant performance even more impressive.
One to watch
One of the first players I noticed at practice on Tuesday morning was Texas DE Alex Okafor. Maybe it was because he’s the 1st string left DT. Maybe it’s because of his build – 6-4½ , 261 pounds. I’m not exactly sure, but you can see the potential this player has as an edge rusher for a 4-3 defense.
Okafor’s best season at Texas was his last, when he registered 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks along the way to being named 1st-Team All-Big 12 and an AFCA All-American selection. Also, his best game at Texas may have been his last game, as he collected 4.5 sacks in his team’s bowl game.
I like Okafor a lot as a left DE in a 4-3 because he appears stout enough to hold his own in the run game as well as be a productive pass rusher. He didn’t win every matchup on Tuesday – Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher stonewalled him twice in a row during one-on-one drills – but he displayed a nice combination of brute strength and pass-rushing ability.
Before we move on to another position, it should also be noted that Penn State DT Jordan Hill flashed some ability on Tuesday by using a bull-rushing technique to overpower both Notre Dame C Braxston Cave and West Virginia OL Joe Madsen.
A few offensive linemen were good, too
It wasn’t all defensive line for the North team on Tuesday. A few of the offensive linemen stood out, too.
I already mentioned Fisher from Central Michigan. The 6-7, 305-pound OT looked good a couple times against Okafor, and overall had a solid practice. I noticed on several occasions great hand placement and hand fighting by San Jose State G David Quessenberry. And finally, I heard before practice that Illinois G Hugh Thornton had an up-and-down day on Monday, and then I saw him have an up-and-down day on Tuesday. Thornton dominated an opponent in one-on-ones, but then lost badly his next time around to UCLA DE Datone Jones.
Denard doesn’t steal the show
So often during his career at Michigan, Denard Robinson stole the show. He hasn’t been able to do that at Senior Bowl practices. But you can hardly blame him.
After playing QB at Michigan, Robinson is at the Senior Bowl as a WR. He did have a nice up-and-out pattern today that resulted in a TD, but overall he looks like just a face in the crowd. I’m sure he’ll become much more than a face in crowd if he can ever adjust to the intricacies of playing the position. He is too athletic and too good with the ball in his hands to not have a place in the NFL.
The Raiders coaching staff also had Robinson back to catch punts today, and it wasn’t a great display. As he does with the details of playing the WR position, Robinson has much to work on when it comes to fielding punts. I think he’ll get there, though.
– The LB from Illinois that we put on the “10 Players To Watch” list earlier in the week – Michael Buchanon – recovered a fumble on Tuesday and returned it for a TD. Sweet.
– I counted 5 fumbled center-quarterback exchanges for the North team on Tuesday. Those are to be expected early in the week of an all-star game, but 5 seems a little over the top. That will be a point of frustration and discussion in meetings tonight, I bet.
– There were a couple of times when UCONN DE Trevardo Williams impressed me on Tuesday with his movement skills in space. He contained a screen pass and a swing pass – both to RBs – nicely during Tuesday’s practice and it was all because of his discipline to stay home and his ability to react quickly in the open field.
– Tuesday’s practice concluded on a play that saw Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib connect with Cincinnati TE Travis Kelce for a deep pass down the left seam.
Tags: 2013 Senior Bowl
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