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.
South Practice Notes
RB Rashaad Penny (San Diego St): Penny is a smooth runner for his size and as colleague Cecil Lammey noted, he understands how to give his opponent a shoulder — something that many coaches teach defenders to key on — break opposite of that move. Penny shook a linebacker on an angle route during drills and appeared comfortable with lateral footwork and slalom drills.
TE Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State): After two strong reps against linebackers as a receiver where he got open quickly, Goedert suffered a hamstring injury and sat out the rest of practice.
TE Ian Thomas (Indiana): The Texans staff had the tight ends run pivot routes early in the practice session. The pattern requires a sudden change of direction, acceleration, and weight drop to execute to perfection — a difficult test for most tight ends. No one on the South depth chart executed the route with a notable amount of skill. Thomas plodded through it but he demonstrated quick hands when attacking the ball in the shallow zone and snared incoming targets with a little extra heat on them.
TE Jordan Akins (UCF): See above.
WR D.J. Chark (LSU): When called to get vertical, he earned separation twice on deep routes up the right sideline — catching one over his inside shoulder for the touchdown and the other overthrown. His short and intermediate routes offered mixed results. When given a shot to work away from the cornerback’s leverage he got open but when forced to work into that leverage position, he didn’t have a plan or the tools to manipulate the defender. He was late using his chop to get inside of a defender and wasn’t prepared to work across the face of the opponent once he reached the top of his stem. He also dropped a target against tight coverage that was catchable.
Tre`Quan Smith (UCF): Similar to the film study I’ve done on Smith, he was slow and too early with his chop move against man coverage. Although he worked through the defender to earn an early position on his opponent, he could have earned much more with better timing and snap. Smith’s method allowed the defender to recover fast and gain optimal position to defend the route. Smith’s rip to get outside his opponent on a later rep was much better. Smith’s hands were a mixed bag today. He let a target bounce off his hands early, caught a curl in the middle of the session, and dropped the third target later on. He used the appropriate hand position techniques but must refine that position so both hands strike the ball in unison.
WR Marcell Ateman (Oklahoma St.): His first catch was a nice display of active hands (attacking the ball at the earliest window and with appropriate hand position for the location of the target). Near the end of the session, Ateman executed an effective chop to work inside his opponent for a catch. In between, he couldn’t earn enough separation on the vertical routes to maintain position to the target or even reach some of the throws. Overall, Ateman looked smooth but his lack of deep speed was notable today.
WR Byron Pringle (Kansas St): This was my first exposure to Pringle and he made a good first impression. Pringle scored multiple times on vertical routes against press coverage on one-on-one drills. He earned early separation with an effective chop and stacked the defender fast enough to own the flat and fade to the boundary as the ball arrived — giving the quarterback plenty of room to deliver the ball. The other target was a double move where he earned immediate separation and then crossed up the defender with a third move late up the field to sell a potential break of an out or comeback before continuing upfield. His footwork off the line was also sharp — getting free with and inside-out stutter and chop to work free during his stem for a catch over his inside shoulder.
WR James Washington (Oklahoma State): Pringle and Washington were arguably the best performers of the receiving corps today. Washington made plays all over the field. He began with an excellent head fake to the inside to work free from the line of scrimmage for a big lead up the sideline for an over-the-shoulder grab deep. When his opponent stayed tight with Washington on the next rep, the receiver easily attacked the ball with his long reach and corralled the ball on a short route breaking inside and back to the quarterback. He later beat a defender with a smooth outside-in set up but that target was overthrown. Whether it was deep or short, Washington won the ball and glided by his opponents with smooth execution of releases.
J’Mon Moore (Missouri): He had difficulty working past his opponent during his first two targets — both vertical routes — and either the pass was overthrown slightly or his initial difficulties kept him from reaching the ball. I’m betting on the latter. He dropped a tightly covered target later in the one-on-one session and his double-moves and stutters weren’t sudden enough today. When he ran a shallow route, he tipped off the pattern with a stem that veered inside before breaking further inside. If not for the off coverage feeling out the player with a cautious approach, a veteran defender anticipates this break.
Quarterbacks: I didn’t see anything notable from my watchlist items about these players. I will spend more time examining quarterbacks on this squad tomorrow.
More of Matt Waldman’s annual coverage of the 2018 Senior Bowl can be found here at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.