I’ve grown to view the first day of the practice as a stage-setter for the rest of the week. With new teammates, new coaches, and a new city with a schedule packed with team and media events, expect players to be thinking a little more and maximizing their athleticism a little less when they take the practice field for the first time.
What I’m saying is that from my vantage point, the opening practice for the North squad at Ladd-Peebles Stadium lacked standout performers from the offensive skill positions. For the running back position, it’s difficult to say. Cecil Lammey says that David Cobb’s burst is the best of the backs on the North roster.
That may ultimately prove true, but let’s keep in mind that each back is learning the ropes with his new teammates, his new scheme, and performing in a new environment. If Cobb appeared to be the quickest today, it might be more accurate to say that Cobb is the quickest to pick up the new environment.
This is especially true of the North receivers. None of them performed at a high level today. However, I don’t want to condemn them after one introductory practice. Each showed something, but none integrated their positives into consistent, winning plays.
I’m not even addressing tight ends and quarterbacks today. The first group dropped too many passes. The second group didn’t have significant scrimmage time to simulate game conditions.
Before profiling individual performances, I have commentary on the Senior Bowl weigh-in and Phil Savage’s introductory remarks. Since Savage took over the event, there has been a steady growth of sponsorship of the event, better marketing and communications through the website and social media, and a major encouragement top players to compete in the event.
Savage’s team has tightened up the ship and has refined the presentation of the event. As a result, the perception is that the Senior Bowl has gained more attendance while the other all-star games are stagnating or scaling back.
However, drawing top talent remains a challenge and Savage has constructed a good enough system and environment during the past few years that one could sense he felt ready to use his role as a bully pulpit when it comes to players who did not accept an invitation to the event.
To his credit, Savage emphasized the positive and asked teams to thank the players in attendance for their willingness to do what it took to compete this week. He also did a good job of categorizing those not accepting the invitation:
- Players who handled their business well.
- Players who were injured a while back and handled their business appropriately.
- Players injured during the bowl game and didn’t feel ready to compete after such a recent game.
- Players that Savage asked teams to fully research why they didn’t accept an invitation.
It’s the last group that Savage made a strong point to underscore their absence without saying anything specific that was negative.. He did a good job of accounting for the possibility that some of these players will have reasonable explanations, but my take on his request is it was a “nice guy way” of what Bleacher Report columnist Mike Tanier sitting next to me referred to as “slut-shaming.”
There was one player where Savage removed the gloves and slapped the player in the face with them: Brett Hundley. Savage told the audience of media and scouts that he knows for a fact that Hundley received the invitation months ago and never responded.
For those of you familiar with Savage’s tenure, the issue of drawing top talent has been his most passionate aim. Missing the likes of Hundley, Rashad Greene, Kevin White, Cam Irving, and Bud Dupree (among those nine on “The Savagery List”) is a significant chunk of roster talent that would have enriched this event. The fact that Savage didn’t include them on the list of players who handled their declining of the invitation “the right way,” is a statement I think he’s been looking forward to making for some time.
Missing the Senior Bowl without declining the invitation appropriately isn’t a huge mark on a player’s character, but I understand Savage’s perspective and why using it as an interview point will also be helpful to scouts. Some will magnify the importance of this point, others will find it far less meaningful. It all depends on the rest of the information that teams have with each individual player.
On to the practice . . .
The Titans coach the North squad and they used an up-tempo beginning to practice with a lot of dynamic stretches, followed by brief drills to the blood flowing the and coordination working. The wide receivers coach incorporated cones, trash cans, standing bags, and ground pads into a series of drills with no more than 3-4 reps for each player.
The trash cans were a combination of a gauntlet drill and a technique exercise to maintain an athletic position through the catch point where the player should keep his pads low with each turn and catch of a thrown ball. The standing bags were used for practices hand strikes for releases as well as a shoulder dip. The small orange cones set the stage for a footwork exercise.
My favorite was the ground pad. A pair of receivers stood at either side of the pad with their backs to the coach with the ball. At the whistle, the receivers turned towards the coach, released to the end of the pad and fought for the ball thrown towards them. A fine exercise for working back to the quarterback, attacking the football, and winning the ball from an opponent.
Overall, I’m giving the receivers a bit of a pass today–pending that I see improvement from most of them in subsequent days. That said I am noting some positives and negatives I’ve seen on tape that also showed on the practice field:
Ty Montgomery, Stanford: A fine athlete, but a player I’ve long wondered why he was a receiver. I have remarked in the past that he’s built more like a young DeMarco Murray than a wide out. Mongtomery had issues with every release exercise against press coverage. When a corner didn’t restrict Mongtomery, the Cardinals’ wide out has enough speed to earn 2-3 steps on any defender on the North squad. Unfortunately he failed to close the deal and make the catch on any of these vertical plays I mentioned. Tracking the football was the most common problem. Catching after the contact was another.
Justin Hardy, East Carolina: He slipped at least once during a rep in at least 4 of the first 5 drills. He also dropped the ball during some of these exercises. He improved as practice wore on, including some smooth routes with catches against tight coverage.
Antwan Goodley, Baylor: If there was a player who surprised me in a good way on first impression, it was Goodley. He was smoother than I’ve seen on film. He still struggled against press coverage and displayed rough technique with his hands and feet in situations where he was required to win, but he moved well for a receiver, who like Montgomery, looks more like a runner than receiver. If he can gain more consistency throughout the practice, I’ll need to incorporate what I’ve seen in my initial film analysis.
Tony Lippett, Michigan State: I loved his energy and intensity. He fought hard, played fast, and demonstrated enthusiasm with drills. However, Lippett’s skill at earning separation was inconsistent and he often veered way outside the proper boundary in release drills against press-man. He also fell during a shorter route. On a longer route, Lippett tracked a ball well out of bounds and nearly hit a steel barrier. I’m interested to see his progress this week.
Jamison Crowder, Duke: Like much of this list of receivers, Crowder had an up-and-down day. There was burst and a willingness to mix it up against press, but he had issues working free on half of his reps. When he did work free, he was often even with the defender and not clearly ahead. One of his out routes was particularly smooth.
Vince Mayle, Washington State: I like his strength, but he needs to get better at finishing his plays. He had difficulty tracking two passes–one of them due to Mayle spending too much time frame separation with his back arm when he had more than enough room to turn and run to the target. He also slipped on a comeback against tight coverage.
Devin Smith, Ohio State: He seemed disjointed with his hand-work and he didn’t get free often enough. When he did on a slant, he didn’t turn fast enough to track the ball.
Day Two will feature more info on multiple positions, but I’d rather withhold judgement on most of today’s work given what I thought was a sloppy day overall.
See RSP Senior Bowl Central for more reports from Jene Bramel and me on this week’s events.