The dog days of Senior Bowl week are here, as both the North and South teams are 4 days and 3 practices into their week in Mobile. But that didn’t stop new developments from emerging on Wednesday afternoon at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, with the South team practicing for roughly 2 hours in a near perfect football climate.
One of the more entertaining developments was the emergence of a duel at RB. Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor is perhaps the most well-known runner on the South squad, having logged 3 straight 1,000-yard rushing and double-digit TD seasons. He was clearly his team’s best RB in Tuesday’s practice and has the kind of build you see in bell cow runners at the NFL level. But on Wednesday it was Florida’s Mike Gillislee who starred for the South. Gillislee broke free on the first play of 9-on-7 drills and then later in the practice he carried the ball on a draw play, burst up the middle and made a sweet cut to the right that allowed him to outrun the angle by pursuing LB Sean Porter. On that play, Gillislee’s burst was on display and it drew a reaction from the bleachers full of coaches and scouts.
I didn’t see Monday’ practice. On Tuesday it was Taylor who was better. On Wednesday it was Gillislee who was better. It’s an interesting duel between those two runners – a pair of runners with similar styles.
Rivera tops the TEs
I noted on Tuesday that the South team had an intriguing group of TEs and that I’d take a closer look at the group to try and discern among them. On Wednesday, a close look was not required in order to discern the talent. Tennessee’s Mychal Rivera was the standout. Granted, Rivera is the better pass-catcher of the group, and it can be easier to notice a pass-catching TE than one that excels in blocking. But, the bottom line is that on Wednesday Rivera solidified his standing as the group’s best pass-catcher. He didn’t drop a pass while I was watching him – both Vance McDonald and Michael Williams did – and he was constantly open. His best play came on a post route he ran while starting down the left seam. Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson stepped up into the pocket and fired a laser at Rivera, who leaped and hauled in the catch on a route that took him over the dropping linebacker and under a charging safety.
Rivera measures in at just over 6-3 and at 237 pounds. He appears to have a frame that he could build on, but that takes dedication and discipline, so teams interested in him will have to gauge his commitment. He did labor quite a bit in the late stages of a few periods on Wednesday, but you can hardly blame him considering how many routes he ran. Also, some offenses would prefer a TE with his build because they essentially use TEs as WRs. Regardless, Rivera clearly has pass-catching talent and has been one of the South’s most productive receivers this week.
3 CBs, 3 LBs stand out
The South defense had a spirited practice on Wednesday, and 6 individuals from the back end of that defense stood out. We’ll start with the CBs. The Detroit Lions coaching staff had the entire group of DBs go through drills that required them to sink and turn their hips quickly, and San Diego State’s Leon McFadden and Southeast Louisiana’s Robert Alford looked the most fluid during those drills. Williams & Mary’s BW Webb also looked good in this setting. A guy who flashed a bit on Tuesday – Cal CB Marc Anthony – flashed a bit once again on Wednesday. It should also be noted that Alford and Webb both took turns returning punts on Wednesday, and both fielded all punts cleanly.
For the LBs, Alabama’s Nico Johnson was all over the field, constantly in the middle of a play or the area of an incomplete pass. He lost a one-on-one every now and then during a pass coverage drill, but he was nearly flawless when pass rushing vs. the RBs/FB and he was solid during both 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 work. On one play, in fact, Johnson dropped into zone coverage and reached his depth quick enough to force a high incompletion on a pass from Oklahoma QB Landry Jones to Rivera – one of the few incompletions intended for Rivera on the day. Johnson was playing the MIKE (middle) LB in the South’s defense.
Playing one of the outside LB spots was Texas A&M’s Sean Porter, a 6-1, 231-pound defender who can run well and isn’t afraid to lay a big hit. While Gillislee did run away from Porter on one occasion, one must keep in mind that the Florida RB would run away from most defenders on the field. Porter is an athletic LB, and he made one of the better hits I saw of the week during an 11-on-11 period when he came downhill and blasted a ball-carrier on a good, clean hit.
Speaking of athletic LBs who can run, that’s exactly how one should describe Missouri’s Zaviar Gooden. He’s listed at just under 6-1 and at 233 pounds, and he can fly around the football field. At first glance, it’s even easy to mistake him for a safety. I’m not sure if it’s fair to categorize him as a tweener (that’s usually not a flattering description for a player), but I would categorize him as a LB who plays and looks like a safety.
– It would be fun to see a DT tandem that consisted of Georgia’s Jonathan Jenkins and North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams. Jenkins measures in at just under 6-4, 369 pounds, while Williams tips the scales at 6-2½, 313. Williams strikes me as being more capable of developing into a 3-down DT, but if a team had a Jenkins-Williams tandem at DT, something tells me they’d have success defending the run.
— The South offense tried a creative play near the end of practice, but a pair of South defenders were not fooled. The play was a fake handoff to the FB going through the A gap and then a pitch to the HB wide left. Clemson DE Malliciah Goodman and Alabama S Robert Lester were not fooled, though, as Goodman strung the play wide toward the sideline and Lester came downhill and finished off the ball carrier. Both players showed good athleticism and discipline on the play.
— Louisiana Tech P Ryan Allen got 4 punts off to close practice on Wednesday. On the 4 punts he had a gross average of 49.3 yards, with 3 of the 40 kicks going at least 50 yards. I didn’t clock the get-off time or the hang time, so perhaps Allen took a few liberties in those areas because there was no rush, which would result in better distances. But the numbers on their own were pretty impressive.
Tags: 2013 Senior Bowl
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