Jene Bramel gives you his takes on the defensive side of the ball this week at the Senior Bowl.
Day 2 Defensive Notes
Both teams were in full pads today and the practices were crisp and physical. That was a welcome contrast to the sometimes sloppy Day 1 North team practice, which left something to be desired as players seemed to tentatively feel their way through individual and team drills.
Though each side had its share of standouts on Day 2, there are no truly ascendant defensive talents asserting themselves here. If you’re waiting to hear more about this year’s Aaron Donald or Lavonte David, you’ll be disappointed. I’m not certain there’s a second tier prospect moving up draft boards as Bobby Wagner, Dee Ford, Brandon Thompson, Deone Bucannon, Johnathan Cyprien, and others have done over the past three years.
For me, Day 2 is about seeing which prospects play faster and more confidently than they did on Day 1 and noting which players follow up a strong first practice performance with more of the same on the second day.
North Defensive Notes
The Tennessee coaching staff asked Nate Orchard, Za’Darius Smith, and Deion Barnes to run through the majority of individual linebacker drills on Day 2. None of the three looked comfortable in bag drills and when asked to change direction. Orchard had the most fluid hips and moved laterally the best, but he struggled to stay low in his movements. I don’t see any of the three as clear fits at outside linebacker, but Orchard would have the best chance to succeed.
All of the North linebackers looked good in 1v1 pass protection and run blocking drills. Unfortunately, that had more to do with the ineffectiveness of the backs and tight ends they faced rather than technical skill. Orchard repeatedly showed the ability to set the edge, then shuck and shed in these drills. Later, in the pit, Orchard beat T.J. Clemmings on an edge rush and showed a strong bull rush and use of leverage on later reps. I felt he was the best all-around front seven talent on Day 2.
Za’Darius Smith had a strong week of practice last week in Tampa in preparation for the Shrine Game. He’s carried that forward to this week. On Day 2, he won in the pit with a speed move off the edge, a quick spin move, and successfully took advantage of an inside lane with a swim move when given the opportunity. He’s winning over scouts.
In my film study, I noted Hau’oli Kikaha seemed to struggle to get skinny at the top of his edge rush and bend the corner. This was evident throughout practice on Day 2. Kikaha’s first step is projectable, but he seems to focus so intently on flattening and limiting the surface area he gives the offensive lineman to engage that he slows down and loses momentum when turning the corner. This is a coachable point, but something he must improve to be successful at the next level.
This is my fourth season watching these practices from the sideline. Each year, one linebacker seems more impressive live than on film and pushes me to take a second look at his college tape. That linebacker this year is Jeff Luc, who has been consistently quicker to the ball and looks more fluid in coverage than I saw on film. It may be that Luc is standing out due to the relative lack of upside among his position group here. And I’m nervous about his durability at 263 pounds. But Luc has drawn the praise of numerous evaluators I trust and has earned a second look.
Danny Shelton continues to impress, but I’m not buying comparisons to Dontari Poe. Though he’s winning one-on-one reps in the pit here with a quick first step and rip move, I’ve not seen that translate to the team drills. He may impact the pocket at times in the NFL, but I think he should be considered primarily a run defender.
Unlike most coaching staffs, the Titans did not include one on one coverage drills between linebackers and running backs and tight ends today. Hopefully, we’ll see those on Day 3.
South Defensive Notes
It was a pleasure to watch Jacksonville defensive line coach Todd Wash run drills on Day 2. He ran a crisp practice, actively coached the South defensive linemen on technique, and had his players laughing at (often unheard) one liners. Wash needled the offensive linemen and offensive line coaches endlessly, frequently asking if they “needed help” or had “gone on vacation” if they didn’t get to the line fast enough for him in combined drills.
Each South defensive lineman seemed to respond to Wash well. In particular, Markus Golden showed improvement in his hand placement and edge setting technique after Wash’s instruction. If I was able to take note of the coachability of the South defensive linemen, you can be sure those NFL personnel watching did, too.
There isn’t a clear edge rushing prospect on the South roster, but Golden and Owa Odighizuwa each flashed the ability to win off the edge. Odighizuwa has a good first step and uses his hands well, but struggles to keep momentum off the edge in the same way Hau’oli Kikaha does. All of the South ends, especially Trey Flowers and Preston Smith, consistently showed good edge setting technique in individual drills. Smith and Flowers carried that forward into team drills. Odighizuwa had more difficulty anchoring and staying on his feet in those team situations.
Denzel Perryman didn’t practice with an abdominal strain on Day 2. That’s disappointing, as he was the consensus best off the line of scrimmage prospect here this week. I heard scouts and evaluators praise Stephone Anthony, but he didn’t flash to me as much as Jeff Luc did for the North.
I haven’t watched the defensive backs critically yet, but multiple evaluators have expressed disappointment to me in Cody Prewitt, who was a consensus second day pick for many. One secondary scout said he hasn’t seen much to like from the safeties on either roster.