Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio recaps the performance of the offensive skill players on the second day of Senior Bowl practices.
The second day of Senior Bowl practices typically ramps up the volume of meaningful reps. A well-prepared evaluator that has watched his or her share of tape on each player isn’t expecting massive improvement or decline.
After all, each technical skill often takes weeks — if not months or years — of practice to develop. It’s like watching grass grow and unless you’ve taken LSD, you’re rarely going to see it happen. If a player does exhibit improvement with a technique, expect that behavior to be inconsistent in game situations until there has been time and effort for the player to truly get it ingrained in his game.
If a player is learning something new in practice, expect mistakes or slower, measured execution. In theory, this is the setting for this to happen.
However, that’s a loaded statement for an event where players enter this week with the expectation of scrutiny that could raise or lower their draft value in many parts of the league and NFL media. As a result, some players are playing ‘not to screw up’ instead of taking chances with new ways of doing things — if the new way of doing things is simple enough to change in the first place (refer to the ‘like watching grass grow’ statement).
This is the perspective I encourage you to cultivate when reading the practice reports from Days 2 and 3.
For North squad coverage, go here.
Mike White is the most vocal leader of the quarterbacks at this event. After every positive play, he is making the effort to congratulate his teammate. He’s also made some plays worthy of those celebrations. He delivered a rope to Jordan Atkins in the back corner of the end zone on a red zone drill. Atkins made the better play with a one-handed grab in tight coverage, but the placement from White was only where Atkins could make the play.
This was a quick, aggressive decision from White and it wasn’t his last. He hit a receiver on a one-step fade up the left sideline later in practice and also fired a quick cross to Atkins for another strong gain.
Overall, White’s red zone work was the most successful of the depth chart on the South squad. He was decisive, accurate, and aggressive. The North squad didn’t do red zone work so there’s no point of comparison there. However, it takes nothing away from White’s performance. While it’s still early, this red zone session might have been the most impressive display from a quarterback this week based on the difficulty level of practice situations thrown at them.
Kyle Lauletta finished the day with an ill-advised throw to his tight end in tight coverage near the goal line that was knocked away by the linebacker to end the day. The linebacker mockingly chided himself for not making the interception by dropping to the ground and performing pushups. Earlier, Lauletta also had a curl knocked away from the four yard-line and took a hit while trying to deliver an open deep shot and the ball never made it past the line of scrimmage.
Lauletta and James Washington also got crossed up on a route where the receiver ran the deep cross and the quarterback threw the intermediate route. The ball sailed past Washington who didn’t even see the ball arrive because his head was still pointed downfield as he was midway through the stem of his deeper route.
Earlier in the day, Lauletta found Tre`Quan Smith on a deep post after displaying patience to let it come open. He also made several plays on first reads that were executed decisively. While I saw two throws with velocity, neither really confirmed what I need to see and additional film study on him is definitely ahead.
Brandon Silvers: The few plays I saw involving the Troy quarterback were targets that he either threw a little low or were accurate but dropped.
Kurt Benkert: The UVA quarterback got a throw off with pressure in his face and took a hit to complete the target to his second read late in the session. This is something he’s shown on tape. Otherwise, I saw a low throw over the middle and an outlet pass to Ito Smith in red zone drills where the linebacker nailed the back for no gain.
I watched this trio of backs but nothing notable stood out that a good film session wouldn’t exceed in terms of quality of information. Maybe that’s true of all players but I think you know by now that if there’s a smaller detail that’s notable, I’ll usually mention it.
James Washington: Only Jaleel Scott dropped more passes today — and it was a pretty close competition. However, Washington was still the most effective route runner at every area of the field during practice (with the possible exception of DaeSean Hamilton on shorter routes). After dropping two passes in a row — and he dropped at least three passes today — Washington delivered a sweet rocker step and blew by his defender for a touchdown catch up the right sideline.
His best play was three-step release ending with a chop, a stack of the defender, and a break to the inside for the catch. Washington’s ability to stack the defender shows up on tape and it was nice to see in practice — rarely have I seen a receiver do this during any Senior Bowl. Does it make him a star? No, but it’s a specific area of polish that many prospects don’t have at this stage.
J’Mon Moore has been slow in and out of breaks on most of his routes. He made one move today to break inside that was quick but it was the exceptional case.
Byron Pringle attacks the ball as well as any receiver in Mobile. I was impressed with a beltline catch where he took an active position with his hands when many receivers his age would attempt an underhand position and let the ball get into their bodies.
Pringle has been sudden through his breaks on intermediate routes and he later displayed sound boundary technique with his footwork while attacking the ball on an out. His best route was a shorter pattern breaking back to the quarterback set up with a five-step release and a strong sell of a vertical route downfield only to stop on a dime and work to back to the ball.
If I only had the past two days to pick my starting receivers from this group based only on practices, Pringle, Washington, and Hamilton would be my trio.
DJ Chark is at his best when he can run slower-developing routes where he can sell his opponent on deeper routes to one side of the field and bend back to another — think post-corners, sluggos, or crossers converting to sail routes. When he has to chop his feet or execute hard breaks, he’s not nearly as refined.
His hands are also inconsistent. He made a fine catch over his shoulder on a route breaking up the left sideline and a back-shoulder play earlier in the practice. However, he dropped a pass while using a passive/underhand technique that was unnecessary for the target and juggled another after setting up his defender with a good out route.
Tre`Quan Smith cannot execute a good chop move. On film and in practice, he continues reaching for the chop about 2 steps too early and the timing makes him look like he’s a blind man reaching for a familiar railing in his house. It won’t work enough in the NFL.
Neither will the passive hand techniques on throws where he has the opportunity to extend and attack with active hand position where the fingers are pointing skyward. This is especially the case on slants where the ball comes in hot with coverage tight.
His best route was a quick break off a slow release from the line but he dropped the target after trying to retract the ball to his frame. His best setup was an inside-out move at the top of his stem into his break against off-man coverage. As you can see, nothing about Smith’s practice was a demonstration of a complete play from beginning to end.
Marcell Ateman: Washington’s teammate rarely earned clean separation today. He tried with chops and rips but the burst and sale of the move weren’t enough.
Ateman high-pointed a curl route and later caught a slant after using a pair of moves in succession to work inside his opponent. Two of the next three notes I have on Ateman involved a lack of separation on routes that weren’t targeted. The third route was a reception in tight coverage where he was just quick enough to get inside his opponent.
He did get open on a slant for a touchdown in a red zone drill on a throw from Lauletta but I didn’t see his route before the break.
Jordan Atkins made the catch of the day that I described in the section about Mike White’s performance. It was almost rivaled by a high, back-shoulder catch on target thrown behind his break earlier in the day. He also made good grab along the boundary. I’m looking forward to seeing more.
Ian Thomas ran a better pivot route than I saw yesterday and got open on it early in the day. He also made a grab over Dorian O’Daniel on an over route.
More of Matt Waldman’s annual coverage of the 2018 Senior Bowl can be found here at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.