Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio recaps the performance of the offensive skill players on the first day of Senior Bowl practices.
Setting the baseline is the key phrase for anyone analyzing practices at a college all-star game. While there are no exotic concepts in these offenses, the players have had at least 2-3 weeks away from a regular practice schedule and most of them have no experience performing together. They’re also learning the ins and outs of a different practice format with new leadership personalities delivering some unfamiliar exercises.
These are factors that even veteran reporters and football analysts forget from time to time. This bruhaha over Derrick Henry’s footwork during a new drill is an example.
It’s why I often give less weight to the first day of practice. If a player makes mistakes or shows rust on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will indicate if it’s a trend or a Day 1 adjustment. On the other hand, if a player looks good from the jump and continues looking good the rest of the week, he deserves credit for starting fast and building on it.
Before delving into the details of notable performers on each roster, it’s clear that the Senior Bowl administration heard criticism of the practice habits of the previous coaching staffs that didn’t feature enough one-on-ones, scrimmage conditions, or drills illustrative of its players’ abilities. Although the Texans and Broncos performed some necessary special teams installations, the sessions were more time efficient with its planning and execution. Both teams’ practices were a lot closer to the expectations of those in attendance.
North Practice Notes
In contrast to the Texans, the Broncos featured a lot of short-session skills early in practice before settling into scrimmage-like settings. Cecil Lammey, who has been covering Denver practices for years, told me that this was the first time, he had ever seen the team use many of these drills, which was in part due to staff turnover and the fact that the team’s plan for the event differed from its normal practice work.
Quarterbacks: Like the South, I focused more on the North wide receivers and running backs today. However, the I saw enough of the North’s quarterbacks to share some baseline notes.
- Baker Mayfield began the session with multiple throws of general accuracy that allowed the receiver to adjust to the ball and still make the catch. However, these were uncovered routes and he repeatedly failed to hit his receivers in stride, often throwing too far behind, ahead, or above the receiver’s break to hit him pinpoint. This is important because throwing windows are consistently tighter in the professional game and require a higher frequency of pinpoint targets. As the practice progressed, Mayfield’s accuracy sharpened as the session progressed and a few of his final throws were pinpoint. The fact that he measured 6’0″ will mollify lingering concerns from some but height has never been a concern of mine.
- Tanner Lee exhibited deep accuracy on multiple throws but also delivered two interceptions where he misread the underneath zone. Lee’s decision to leave Nebraska was met with a lot of skepticism — and even dismissive snickering from some parts of the media. Despite his mistakes, Lee made some confident throws today and enough good decisions to at least give those observers some pause.
- Josh Allen put the gun on display with a deep out to Cedrick Wilson after sliding a step to his left from pressure. It was a fine play and one of the first times I’ve seen him slide with a controlled movement so he could remain in a throwing position to deliver an accurate ball. If he does this repeatedly this week, then my task between now and April will be the following:
- Find enough tape that shows this behavior consistently despite not seeing it from multiple exposures thus far.
- Exhaust the tape without seeing this behavior and narrow the behavior to one of two causes: Either he’s improving or he’s often displaying this behavior in practice but not during games.This will require some digging from contacts who might be able to relay practice behaviors.
The other side of Allen’s game also appeared this afternoon — staring down coverage and rushing throws into bad situations. We’ll see if he curbs this behavior as he develops greater comfort throughout the week.
WR Cedrick Wilson (Boise St): Although he led off with a drop, Wilson showed what I’ve seen from multiple exposures to his film. He can tell a story and get open with his routes against off-man coverage and if he can fool his opponent with rocker step, he can beat press coverage. However, he’s still not selling his other release moves with the same convincing refinement as that rocker step. While he got open on an out route during a one-on-one with a cornerback, he failed to sell a compelling three-step release and chop and had to get clean with a second move during the stem. I like Wilson but the sooner he can become more versatile against press coverage, the more immediate upside he can offer.
TE Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin): He began the session with a smooth and quick overhead snatch of the target on an over route in stride. Later, he let a target bounce off his hands on a hook with tight coverage to his back. I’m seeking opportunities to see him reach for targets that lead him outside his frame so he can demonstrate better balance that I saw on film.
WR Braxton Berrios (Miami): The slot man was a little out of control today in a variety of ways. The Broncos staff told him to drop his weight more into a hard-breaking route early in the session and a player later advised him to get his eyes around to the quarterback when he snapped his turn on a speed out. Berrios threw his body around the field today when targets weren’t pinpoint and took some punishment from defenders. He’s always had a scrappy attitude on film. He’s also rarely earned true separation on vertical routes and that didn’t change today, either.
WR Daeshawn Hamilton (Penn State): If it was a short or intermediate route, Hamilton got open early and often. He owned his opponents repeatedly on slants, curls, and other short targets. Getting deep separation was another matter.
WR Michael Gallup (Colorado State): One of Mayfield’s best throws today was a skinny post late in the session to Gallup. He also did well to work back to a target on an inside curl. The Ram was smooth but like Marcell Ateman, he didn’t earn separation very often this afternoon.
WR Justin Watson (Penn): My first impression of Watson was my candidate for Day 1’s Play Of The Day, a one-handed grab over his inside shoulder on a nine-route with coverage at his back hip for the touchdown. The quarterback authoring that target was none other than Tanner Lee. Watson also worked back to the football on a shorter route showing a strong attack from his break. He consistently earned separation and if he earned better targets on those deep routes, he might have earned top billing alongside Byron Pringle and Joe Washington.
WR Jaleel Scott (New Mexico St.): He consistently earned separation off the line but could not increase it or maintain it into his stem and break on vertical routes. He came back to the ball on shorter routes and was willing to win the target against physical play. Scott’s best opportunity for a big play was a skinny post that Baker Mayfield threw a little too far behind target. Allen-to-Scott was the connection in two unfortunate targets — a route over the middle leading Scott into a hit that undercut his legs and a decision to hit Scott without noting the underneath coverage that cut off the throw for an interception.
RB Jaylen Samuels (NC State): The H-Back earns a full-time look at running back this week and he displayed notable burst up the middle on two runs. While I’d love to tell they were good decisions, the crease appeared rather large on one tote and the other was difficult to see from my vantage point. Other than Rashaad Penny — and moments from the back listed below — these players appeared a step slower than their tape as they acclimated to the conditions of the practice.
RB Akrum Wadley (Iowa): As Wadley gained comfort with the early footwork drills, he added some of the signature moves I’ve seen him deliver on film at the tail-end of the hole, including a nifty spin around the Broncos’ running back coach. Otherwise, the most notable run from scrimmage earned good penetration up the middle from the defense and a stuff in the backfield.
RB Kalen Ballage (Arizona St.): The Sun Devil made a quick bounce to left end that helped him outflank two good angles from pursuing defenders for a long gain up the sideline. He also caught the ball well and worked deep into the line.
More of Matt Waldman’s annual coverage of the 2018 Senior Bowl can be found here at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.