Jene Bramel From the Trenches: Senior Bowl Day 1

Photo by National Library of Scotland.
Photo by National Library of Scotland.

Senior Bowl Defensive Notes – Day 1

The Senior Bowl schedule changed this year. Traditionally at mid-morning on Monday, the weigh-in was pushed back to Tuesday this year. It was also scheduled nearly two hours earlier, with bleary-eyed scouts and team personnel making up the bulk of a standing room only crowd.

It didn’t take long for Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage to wake the crowd up, however.

Savage Defends Senior Bowl Week

After a warm welcome and quick discussion of the weekly practice and interview schedule, Savage went on the offensive. Pulling no punches, Savage pointedly divided the healthy players who declined invites into those who did so “the right way” and those who teams may want to “dig a little deeper” on to determine why they chose not to come. His comments drew a few “Daaaamn’s” from the team personnel in the room and more than a few heads nodding in agreement.

There were high profile defensive prospects included in both categories. Savage listed Clemson defensive end Corey Crawford, Kentucky edge rusher Bud Dupree, Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, and UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks as players with unexcused absences of sorts. Clemson edge rusher Vic Beasley was among those who Savage felt respectfully declined an invitation to come to Mobile.

We’ve heard disappointment from Savage before each of the past two weigh-ins, but there was no mistaking his tone this year. Savage obviously wants the best available players here in Mobile, but it’s also clear he believes this week provides valuable competition and experience in talking to NFL teams for those players invited.

Savage also listed Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett, TCU linebacker Paul Dawson, Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson, Virginia safety Anthony Harris, and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu among those rehabbing injuries.

Weigh-In Notes

I understand why the weigh-in is important. NFL teams need accurate measurements and very much want to get a sense of a player’s body type and build. Some players are “undersized” but have a clearly maxed out frame. Others will appear more projectable. Still, I can’t get away from the single, all-important question to be answered between now and the draft itself, “Can he play?”

You’ll see notes from others on the cut physique of Owa Odighizuwa (it was impressive) and the shorter-than-hoped measurement for Denzel Perryman (closer to 5’10” than 6’0”). What won’t be as widely reported is the “hang loose” hand gesture Washington edge rusher Hau’oli Kikaha flashed after turning the wrong way on the stage or the “that can’t be right” glance LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins shot the scale after he weighed in at just 308 pounds.

It’s easy to focus on hand sizes, wingspans and body type. But it’s neat to see these young players show their personalities – if only for a moment – during what amounts to a very intense group interview in underwear.

North Practice Notes

I focused on the front seven today, watching individual linebacker drills, the pit drills between the defensive and offensive line, and the team drills.

Overall, it was an unimpressive day of practice. In past seasons, the North had a standout talent like Aaron Donald or Lavonte David or a quietly and immediately impressive debut from a player like Bobby Wagner. Today’s practice was notable to me in that there were no notable performances.

From my notebook…

Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha and Harvard’s Zach Hodges are going to primarily line up at strong side linebacker for the North this week, while Utah’s Nate Orchard will line up at defensive end. All three will likely be drafted into an edge rusher role. Kikaha and Hodges are good athletes, but I thought both were fighting their footwork during linebacker drills. They looked much more comfortable in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 situations.

Kikaha didn’t make many plays against the run in team drills, but consistently set the edge. That’s something I felt he showed on tape frequently. He’s stiff in coverage and struggled to stay low and flip his hips in drills, however. He projects more as a strong outside linebacker.

Washington’s Danny Shelton is the only clear Day 1 prospect among the front seven players on the North squad. He flashed quick feet and a good base in the pit, but don’t mistake him for Aaron Donald. Shelton beat his opponents today with a strong rip and shed movement, but his strength is run defense not pass rush.

Orchard was the most consistent pass rusher for the North today, but he wasn’t dominant. There were times when his opponents – including small school prospect Ali Marpet on one rep – controlled his edge rush and pushed him past the pocket with relative ease.

Stanford’s Henry Anderson saw reps both inside and outside on the line. He plays high at times, but consistently got the better of the interior linemen he faced in the pit. If he continues to show he can be successful inside, his versatility will move him up draft boards.

Iowa defensive tackle Karl Davis was quietly the most consistently disruptive player in the pit. He played with leverage and flashed a strong rip to beat his opponents. He’s already considered an early Day 2 prospect by some.

I’ll be watching the North linebacker coverage 1v1 drills tomorrow and take a closer look at the run defense of the North middle and weak side backers. Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc and USC’s Hayes Pullard are the starting middle linebackers, Texas’ Jordan Hicks and Penn State’s Mike Hull playing weak side. None drew my attention during team drills, but Luc, Hicks and Hull flashed some athleticism during individual work.

See RSP Senior Bowl Central for more reports from Jene Bramel and me on this week’s events.

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