Starring “Zach Thomas” and “The Maniac” headlining a dozen notable players catching Bramel’s eye.
Tuesday is Momentum Day at the Senior Bowl. Players who started quickly on Monday can build on their performance and generate a positive buzz that can last until the NFL combine and beyond. Players who disappointed at the weigh-in or during practice on Monday need a bounce back day to avoid having to face questions on why their play didn’t match their game tape. Aside from the usual grumblings about those who elected to decline invitations to Mobile, most Senior Bowl reports focus on players trending upward.
I expect this year will follow the same blueprint. Yesterday, every report – including mine – mentioned the dominant play of defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Today, three defenders were clearly better than anyone else in their respective huddles.
LB Chris Borland (Wisconsin)
Yesterday on Twitter, I was asked to provide an NFL comp for Borland. I responded that I expected to hear the name Zach Thomas invoked frequently due to Borland’s 5-11, 245-pound frame and well above-average instincts. That comp concerned me, however, since I wasn’t convinced that I’d seen enough athleticism and suddenness in Borland’s game film this year to ensure that he’d be able to take full advantage of his instincts and football IQ. I tweeted that Stephen Tulloch might be a better all-around comparison.
Shortly before the North practice this morning, I was comparing notes with CBS’ draft analyst Rob Rang and I asked him who he thought Borland’s best comp might be. He immediately said, “He’s Zach Thomas.” He made his case and I made mine. Then Rang brought up a player I hadn’t considered yesterday. A player with a similar build and instinctive skill set, but who wasn’t necessarily an quick-twitch athlete – Lofa Tatupu. I liked that comparison a bit better.
Until practice started and Borland did all the same instinctive and technical things I’d previously seen on film and in yesterday’s practice and then some. First, Borland dominated the back-on-backer pass rush drills. In addition to a lightning-quick spin move he showed in games this year, Borland won with quick feet and swim moves in space as well. Later, in 9-on-7 run drills, Borland showed a level of pop that I hadn’t seen much on film, driving an offensive lineman back on his heels on two consecutive plays that drew lots of approval from the scouts sitting around me. He then showed effortless footwork in scraping through trash and an ability to turn and run with a running back on a wheel route in team drills.
Borland carried a consensus third-fourth round grade entering this week, but he may be turning himself into a second day pick with his play here in Mobile.
DE Dee Ford (Auburn)
“You’re a maniac, Dee Ford.”
That line, overheard 20 rows up in the end zone during team drills, summed up 30 minutes of Ford dominance in 1-on-1 pass rush and team drills today. The South offensive tackles could barely get a hand on Ford’s edge rush, even when they cheated and moved a quarter step early. They were back on their heels helpless when he countered inside at full speed. When they did get close to enough to get a hand on Ford, he showed a well above-average ability to dip and lean without getting taken to the ground.
It’s these flashes of dominance – which Ford also showed in the first quarter of the SEC Championship Game vs Missouri and throughout the second half of the BCS Championship Game against Florida State – that stick out with Ford. But there are size issues (6-2, 243, though with a plus lower body), concerns about Ford’s ability to hold up against the run on early downs and worries over his best scheme fit.
Some of the same concerns followed the undersized Barkevious Mingo last year, however, and Ford’s dominant play today brought the former LSU defensive end to mind today. Put Ford in a system where he can play the run on the way to the quarterback and he could be a game changer in time.
DE Chris Smith (Arkansas)
The South started with defensive installation work today. Smith’s linemates on those reps – Brent Urban (6-7, 298), DeAndre Coleman (6-5, 315) and Dan McCullers (6-7, 348) – made his frame look almost hobbit-like by comparison. At a whisker over 6-1, Smith doesn’t fit the preferred 4-3 defensive end prototype. But Smith has the arm length and wingspan of a player three inches taller and a lower body reminiscent of a 5-technique.
Smith didn’t dominate on every rep as Ford did, but he won on the vast majority of his snaps. Smith featured a quick first step, a pass rushing lean that looked skinnier and longer than his frame would suggest and a nice complement of edge, power and spin rush moves. If he can more consistently play with the leverage his lower body should provide against the run, he could ride this week’s strong play into a second day grade.
Notes from the North practice
I watched the secondary players more closely today. In individual drills, all four safeties on the roster – Isaiah Lewis, Ahmad Dixon, Jimmie Ward and Deone Bucannon – looked fluid in the hips and comfortable getting in and out of a backpedal. When matched up against a receiver, however, all four struggled with technique and were slow to react to routes breaking in front of them.
None of the safeties jumped out in team drills either. All four were passable at the point of attack in Cover-1 and none of the four showed great anticipation and an early drive in Cover-2 situations.
One secondary player who did stand out with his quick hips and footwork in individual drills and success in press coverage in one-on-one situations was Utah State’s Nevin Lawson. Lawson got the call to come to Mobile after a strong week at the East-West Shrine game and will continue to get the attention of scouts with his strong play this week.
Notes from the South practice
McCullers and Will Sutton traded a string of pass rush reps midway through practice, each seemingly trying to beat their opponent more quickly with each successive play. Neither were as explosive as the North’s Aaron Donald, but both are as difficult to move against both single and double teams.
Telvin Smith had a shockingly slight frame at Monday’s weigh-in, but that didn’t hinder him much today. He played sideline-to-sideline, working through traffic well and held his own in coverage.
Jerry Attaochu remained outside today, in contrast to reports that he saw time as a middle linebacker yesterday. He looked athletic but didn’t make any splash plays. Montana’s Jordie Tripp ran the huddle in that group today. He was quick to diagnose running plays and looked comfortable playing downhill. Unlike Borland on the North side, however, Tripp didn’t shed or accelerate past blocks often enough. He looks like a much better fit as an outside backer.
Christian Jones had a strong overall practice. He was dominant at times in back-on-backer drills and showed more than one pass rush move in his few drills against the South offensive tackles. Jones was a little high in his pad level when scraping toward the ball carrier in team drills, but flashed good range.
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