Senior Bowl: Day Two Skill Player Notables

Day Two of the Senior Bowl was packed with observations from both practices. This morning’s report covers wide receivers, quarterbacks, running backs, and tight ends. There are also some thoughts about drills and the Senior Bowl selection process.

A Senior Bowl tradition worth keeping is a writing roundtable at The Brick Pit. We'll have our own below. BYOB(BQ). Photo by MRak75.
A Senior Bowl tradition worth keeping is a writers roundtable at The Brick Pit. We’ll have our own below. BYOB(BQ). Photo by MRak75.

Plenty of highlights today, most notably a football roundtable with Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, CBS’s Rob Rang, Football Outsiders-Fifth Down contributor Andy Benoit, Yahoo!-Outsider’s alum Doug Farrar, and Footballguys-RSP guest writer Jene Bramel. The conversation was better than the barbeque and the `cue was no slouch. If you aren’t reading these guys, then you probably aren’t looking at this page. If you’re one of the lone exceptions, I highly recommend you start checking out their work.

Quick Thoughts

The more I watch pass protection drills between backs and linebackers the less I’m impressed by the design of these exercises. I have no coaching experience, but it fascinates me that teams don’t employ more diagnostic elements into the drills – especially for the pass protectors. Why not have a 3 (defenders)-on-1 (blocker) drill where the blocker has two or three possible options he has to read before the snap and then get into position after the snap to execute the assignment? At this point, I watch running backs in these traditional drills and often the only thing they really learn is to game the system of the drill rather than develop real pass protection skills.

The Senior Bowl has a tradition of inviting at least two players from a prominent Alabama institution. This year I believe the two players were Auburn back/return specialist Onterrio McCalebb and Alabama eight end Michael Williams. Both players have the skills to be in Mobile this week, but there have been times I thought some of the past players were a gesture of goodwill to attract in-state interest. From a marketing standpoint I get it. However, the changes Phil Savage is instituting with the structure of the week, scouting players, decreasing the turn-down rate of initial invitees, and even the limitations of field access to the general media to give the NFL Network room to roam, indicates that the Senior Bowl wants to increase its national prominence. Right now, having Alabama and Auburn players is often a no-brainer, but Alabama football doesn’t need to be thrown a bone to get here and one day this practice might prevent more deserving talents from participating.

North Squad Receivers

The Raiders dispensed with a few of Day 1’s drills and went right to the 5×10 cone drill versus cornerbacks. Today, the corners gained the upper hand and were far more successful with knocking the receivers outside the five-yard-wide boundary before they reached the second set of cones 10 yards down field. Unlike yesterday, no receiver from the North squad dominated this exercise against press.  However, some of these receivers who struggled in this drill turned the tables in scrimmages or one-on-one matchups.

Markus Wheaton: Wheaton had initial trouble getting on top of the defender with his first two reps in the cone drill. He also was a little rough through his breaks on an out-and-up, but earned separation with his speed up the boundary. Unlike several of the receivers on either squad, Wheaton has a knack for getting position on a defender after his break. He made a nice catch on a slant, got strong position on a hook after his break, and for the second time in two days, displayed good technique on a deep fade where he caught the ball over his shoulder at the boundary. On five-on-sevens, Wheaton engaged in some trash talking with Washington corner Desmond Trufant, who asked the coaches to allow him to cut in line and take on the receiver. Wheaton promptly spanked Trufant on a deep streak up the right sideline with a nice move early in the route to slide outside and then buy position. Mike Glennon made the deep throw, hitting Wheaton in stride.

Marquise Goodwin: Goodwin began the 5×10 cone drill with some success. When he can use his quickness to avoid the reach of a corner, he wins easily. However, the Longhorns receiver progressively allowed defenders to get the best of him with each rep because he didn’t flash the coordination or strength to keep hands off his body. Once the corners jammed Goodwin, he could never shake them from a position over the top and they rode the receiver down field. One thing Wheaton does well that Goodwin has to learn is to duck through contact. Goodwin gets too upright and presents a great target for his opponent. In the scrimmage parts of practice, Goodwin was up and down. He ran a nice curl and then a good out. Speed is sometimes a wonderful eraser of bad technique – he failed to execute a swim move against press but managed to  a sharp turn under the defender and get separation on an out. He still has to learn how to generate good position after his breaks. He was undercut on one target and then got open on a cross only to drop a good pass from Ryan Nassib.

Chris Harper: Harper got tied up on all three of his reps in the 5×10 cone drill. On two of the three reps, he managed to work free after an initial struggle, but the third rep was a complete failure – but he was far from the only receiver to have a failed rep in this morning’s drill. In scrimmage situations or one-on-ones, Harper looks good in the first half of his routes and will fight for the ball after his break, but actual breaks need improvement. I don’t see the speed to win the ball at the end of vertical routes and I’m not as impressed with him as some of my compatriots this week. I don’t know if anyone is comparing him with Juron Criner due to his build, but I’d much rather have Criner.

Aaron Mellette:  The receiver from Elon struggled yesterday in drills, but he improved today. Mellette won his matchups in two of his three reps in this 5×10 cone drill. Although he encountered some resistance that he couldn’t beat immediately on the third rep, he eventually got on top of the defender. It was good to see him make progress from one day to the next. I’m looking forward to seeing if that progress continues on Wednesday. He carried over that ability to gain separation into one-on-one’s, but dropped multiple passes. He managed to get deep at the one of the one-on-one portion. Unlike Brian Quick last year, there’s more football savvy to the way Mellette uses his body.  He also did a good job working back to the football today. Perhaps he has a fighting chance to develop into an NFL contributor. The athleticism is there.

Aaron Dobson: I love Dobson’s ability to adjust to the football with a defender on him, but he still needs to improve his techniques off the line of scrimmage. He had one bad rep, improved upon it with the next turn, and then failed to get separation on the third rep. He’s at his best when he’s a little more physical with the corners. The finesse moves just aren’t working for him right now. In one-on-one’s he got a quick release early and once again did a nice job of adjusting to the football just like he flashed on Monday. He didn’t see a lot of targets on five-on-seven or 11-on-11s today.

Denard Robinson: Robinson continues to wear the yellow, no-contact jersey and today the biggest takeaway was the amount of extra attention the Raiders receiver coach spent on the Michigan athlete’s stride. Robinson dropped several passes today in drills and one-on-ones. Still, there was a reminder of what Robinson could do if he can assimilate the techniques of playing receiver. The rep was an out-and-up versus a corner playing off-man technique. Robinson slipped during his initial out-cut, but his athleticism clicked into gear and he managed to stay upright and turn the corner on the defensive back swooping in for the kill on the initial break. Robinson shot up the sideline and beat the defender handily for a long play. It was an example of how athleticism can erase errors. Just understand that the eraser isn’t nearly as large at the NFL level.

Alec Lemon: Lemon was a late substitute for the North Squad. The Syracuse receiver made a sneaky-good impression today. Despite failing to win any rep in 5×10 cone drills versus the defensive backs, when Lemon was asked to run routes, he turned lemons into…okay, I won’t go there. Lemon demonstrated the savvy to turn a defender’s jam into his favor, consistently getting late separation and making catch after catch in tight quarters. He was smooth, in control, and unfazed by decent coverage.  I still have questions about his athleticism for the NFL level, but I he did a good job today.

South Practice Wide Receivers

Ryan Swope was on the sideline today and the Lions practice was far more equipment-focused for receivers than the Raiders. This was the case when they were here a couple of years ago. Detroit’s drills were different than the last time the team coached here. The staff employed trash cans and blocking dummies to emphasize angles of breaks and control with turns. The coaches used the dummies to emphasis intensity with strikes during the release phase of routes. If I were to compare the staffs, the Raiders focused more on releases during their drills and the Lions emphasized breaks. If I were a receiver at the Senior Bowl I felt the Lions staff had a more comprehensive approach to coaching the receivers on the field.

Quinton Patton: The receiver from Louisiana Tech was one of those cases where I saw more from him in practice than I saw from him in his games. Patton was really quick running through the gauntlet of cans and made tight turns on breaks. He practices fast.  In one-on-one’s Patton made a tough catch on a deep streak up the right sideline, fighting through contact late in the route. The defensive back pushed Patton late and the receiver managed to control his balance enough to get additional separation as he turned back to the ball and made the catch while falling backwards, losing his helmet in the process – one of the most impressive athletic displays among the receivers this week. Patton earned praise form the coaching staff in scrimmages for working back to the football and taking good position on a slant. He also was the on the receiving end of the most impressive throw I saw today (from Tyler Wilson – more on that later), catching a dig in stride.

Cobi Hamilton: Hamilton’s play wasn’t as consistent as Patton’s, but he had noticeable bright moments in practice. He has sharp with his breaks during drills, which earned him praise for improving during his reps. He dropped a dig route in 11-on-11 drills because he waited for the ball to arrive. He failed to extend his arms to the ball a few times on catchable passes and it’s a habit I’d like to see him address. One thing he did well was work back to the quarterback. If he can do a better job extending his arms, he’ll make more plays – especially in the face of contact. Hamilton blew by a corner on one deep target, but he failed to make the proper adjustment to the ball. Hamilton’s NFL athleticism is easy to see, but he needs to address the details of his craft or he’ll tease an NFL team. Think Mohammed Massoquoi or Reggie Brown.

Conner Vernon: The Duke receiver earned praise for his tight turns in drills, especially the angle of his breaks. Although he didn’t achieve strong separation versus man coverage, he was often in good position to make a play on the football. Vernon dropped two passes after encountering contact from tight coverage. He did make a nice catch at the sideline on an out after he was pushed in the chest while airborne to make the reception of an E.J. Manuel pass in 11-on-11 drills. It was too quick to call whether he was inbounds, but the effort was good. Vernon, like Alec Lemon, has to make up for his lack of top-end speed by catching everything in sight versus tight coverage. He didn’t do it today.

Terrance Williams: Williams had an up and down day. During route drills, he’d have a strong rep followed by a weaker one. When he put it all together on a rep, he drew a lot of encouragement from the Lions staff. You can see flashes of a pro receiver when those moments of technique and athleticism converge. It didn’t happen often enough today. Williams failed to get position or come back to the football in scrimmages and dropped a pass after contact from a defender. Like Hamilton, he’s an NFL athlete but not yet an NFL receiver.

Tavarres King: King wasn’t as athletic as Patton, Hamilton, or Williams, but he was more consistent than the last two. I liked his ability to break on the ball and he had a route up the left sideline where he told a good story with a couple of fluid moves to set up his break back to the quarterback at the left sideline in tight coverage. One of the better catches of the day was a dig route where he had to make a strong extension on a pass at shoulder level well away from his body, displaying the ability to “play long.” He had one drop on a low, but catchable throw during five-on-sevens with Landry Jones at quarterback.

North and South Squad Running Backs

Oregon running back Kenjon Barner has his fans here. Doug Farrar and Josh Norris believe he's a better prospect than LaMichael James. Photo by Wade Rackley.
Oregon running back Kenjon Barner has his fans here. Doug Farrar and Josh Norris believe he’s a better prospect than LaMichael James. Photo by Wade Rackley.

The only notable observations I have of North running backs came from pass protection drills. Before I give my takes on each player, I think it’s important to state that diagnosis is a key component of pass protection that these drills did not simulate. Personally, I’d love to see drills that send multiple defenders off an edge or flash three potential blitz types pre snap and force the running back to make a read based on what he sees from the opposition. This would tell me more than many of the drills I see in practices like these. I did see some runs in 11-on-11s from the South squad backs – worth noting, but nothing new from what I’ve seen from them this year in real games.

Kenjon Barner: Quickness abounds with Barner and I liked his ability to get into position and square-up the defender. He doesn’t deliver a punch and this is a key component to good pass protection. Otherwise, the blocker is more passive than active and he’s likely to be controlled rather than control.

Johnathan Franklin: Franklin got into position and stood his ground against pressure coming down hill at a good pace, but like Barner, he didn’t deliver a punch. Unlike the Oregon back, Franklin was just big enough and demonstrated good enough technique to anchor his legs and hold his ground on more of these reps. Once, again, it comes down to Franklin learning to punch.

Mike Gillislee: The Florida runner got duped on swim moves multiple times in running back versus linebacker pass protection drills. He’s quick enough and will punch and turn a defender if he gets good position, but he can telegraph his intentions. In 11-on-11’s he flashed his quick feet, side-stepping penetration up the middle to slip to an open lane off left guard for a nice gain. He caught the ball well on swing passes and he’s a player who should grow into a contributor. The better he gets at pass protection, the bigger the contributor he can be.

Stepfan Taylor: I profiled Taylor before the Senior Bowl, praising his leverage as a runner. He’s always running in a crouched position that gives him an advantage versus impending contact. He’s the most decisive, physical runner on Mobile this week. As much as I like Johnathan Franklin’s smarts and versatility, I think Taylor is the most NFL-ready of the Senior Bowl backs. I’d like to see him do a better job of delivering a punch in pass drills, but he also has the size to anchor against linebackers. It’s important to note that Taylor won’t get away with “catching” defenders in the NFL like he has in drills here. He has to shore up this deficiency.

North Squad Quarterbacks

According to former NC State Head Coach Tom O'Brien, Mike Glennon was the guy burning a hole in the bench behind Russell Wilson. Perhaps if his play involved matches, because he's not setting the Senior Bowl on fire. Photo by Football Schedule.
According to former NC State Head Coach Tom O’Brien, Mike Glennon was the guy burning a hole in the bench behind Russell Wilson. Perhaps if his play involved matches, because he’s not setting the Senior Bowl on fire. Photo by Football Schedule.

None of these quarterbacks pique my interest. I can offer a logical explanation as to why each one will succeed or fail at the next level, but there are far more possibilities why they won’t make a successful transition than I see from recent quarterback classes. The scrimmage drills highlighted more flaws than strengths for this North depth chart.

Zac Dysert: The Miami, Ohio quarterback is the most aggressive of the trio, but also the most reckless. He stares down his primary receiver too often – he threw an interception on an out doing exactly what I described. He’s the only quarterback I’ve seen on either roster attempt a shoulder fake to bait a defender down field. Dysert also floated the ball down field a couple of times on targets where I think more velocity was required for the pass to reach its receiver on-time. One his deep outs also sailed too high with too much air under the ball. I haven’t seen him really drive the ball yet.

Mike Glennon: The N.C. State quarterback got to show off a pretty deep arm on a sideline fade to Markus Wheaton in five-on-seven drills. He also stuck a slant to Chris Harper in traffic that drew an ooh from the crowd in 11-on-11s. This is Glennon’s appeal: big arm and tall frame to see over the defense without getting on his toes. To be nice, he’s everything Russell Wilson isn’t. To be accurate, everything is only one thing: tall.

Ryan Nassib: Optimum Scouting writer Eric Galko asked me what I thought about Nassib. I can see the case for him developing into an NFL starter one day, but I have reservations about his arm strength. I don’t put a ton of weight into arm strength when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. But if arm strength is missing from a quarterback’s game there have to compensatory factors that mitigate its absence: mobility, great anticipation, or hyper-accuracy. Nassib doesn’t have great arm strength, but I was encouraged to see an opposite hash throw where he drilled the ball to his receiver. However, his deep throws continue to lack either anticipation or distance and velocity. More anticipation would lessen the need for the other two qualities, but at this point he’s forced to try deep throws without this enhanced timing and he isn’t hitting the mark on time. Some of the plays I enjoyed most today where seam routes Nassib dropped into tight ends with excellent placement – even those his tight end’s dropped. He is clearly the best of the North trio of passers and probably the safest quarterback prospect in Mobile. It still doesn’t mean I would touch him in the first three rounds of the draft. I don’t care what the need is for a quarterback, if I have to pay him franchise money or show franchise patience then I’m throwing away two to three years and a shot at a better option. I think he’s a better prospect in theory than on the field.

South Quarterbacks

E.J. Manuel: Physically, he’s everything you want from a quarterback. Fundamentally, he needs work with his throwing motion and decision making. He can make every throw, but he has to learn better judgment. In scrimmages, he wasn’t pressed into a situation where he had to make a throw any more demanding than an out. The game is going to be the time where Manuel likely flashes the best and worst attributes. Stay tuned.

Landry Jones: He threw a nice swing pass to his full back early and got some help on a sliding catch of a crossing route by Cobi Hamilton in five-on-sevens. He was a little too wide for his receiver Tavarres King on an out, but King should have caught the ball inbounds despite the tight margin of error when not necessary. He did hit Terrance Williams on the move and the receiver worked back to the ball for once.

Tyler Wilson: He threw a pass intended for Mychal Rivera that was placed too far inside and the linebacker over top cut off the throw, tipping it, and a teammate made the interception. This was one of a few players where Wilson wasn’t especially sharp but didn’t get much help from his teammates, either. But here’s the kicker:  After this bad play, Wilson comes back and drills Quinton Patton on a dig route in stride with a laser beam while a defender is bearing down on Wilson from an already constricted pocket – the best throw of the week thus far. This aggressive, resilient nature is what separates Wilson from every quarterback in this class – junior or senior. This wasn’t the only good throw of the day from Wilson. He found Vance McDonald on a seam route 15-20 yards down field with good placement to the tight end’s back shoulder. Scott Linehan also praised Wilson for three quick reads in succession ending with a strong decision to hit Conner Vernon on a crossing route. He’s the only quarterback here I’d draft in the first three rounds and feel I got my money’s worth.

Tight Ends

Jack Doyle: The Western Kentucky prospect dropped multiple passes in five-on-seven and 11-on-11s today. There was a sequence where he dropped two in a row. He’s just fast enough to get down the seam and demonstrates just enough fluid athleticism to reach for a throw over his head or to his back shoulder. What he hasn’t done is hold onto the ball after contact or secures the ball on these adjustments. The Ravens Dennis Pitta is a great example of a less than stellar athlete with great ball skills and smarts in zone. Doyle is proving that he lacks the consistency to earn this kind of comparison.

Nick Kasa: The big Colorado tight end has been the best receiver and blocker of the North’s depth chart. He’s just fast enough to work the seam and big enough to get physical when needed. He catches the ball without fanfare and he’ll rumble through the open field for a bit if a defender isn’t disciplined with his tackling technique. He’s not an exciting prospect for the average fan, but as my colleague Josh Norris or Rob Ryan would say, Kasa will have a chance to playing the league for a while.

Michael Williams: Alabama’s tight end can block and he has soft hands. He’s a big, slow earth mover who welcomes contact from defenders in order to create separation as a receiver. As Doug Farrar and Josh Norris said tonight at dinner, he’ll have a long career as a No.3 tight end in the NFL.

Mychal Rivera: The Tennessee tight end is the smallest tight end in Mobile, but he’s one of the most athletic. He makes plays between defenders, extends well for the football and can make a move after the catch to create space. I didn’t get to see much from him as a blocker, but he projects as an H-Back.

Vance McDonald: One of the better catches of the day came from McDonald, who beat a safety with a nice move during his stem and then took the correct angle down field as he bent the route just enough to the outside to gain separation and run under a deep fade towards the pylon, making the catch with his hands over his inside shoulder in full gallop. He’s fluid like a wide receiver and because he’s so well put together as an athlete he doesn’t strike me as a 260-pound player. In terms of players with potential to be a consistent mismatch on every down, McDonald is the only tight end in this game that fits this description.

For more analysis of skill players, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available April 1. Prepayment is available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2013 RSP at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

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