Matt Waldman compared his notes from the North practice with the tape he reviewed of the session late last night and provides some clarity to the first session of the Senior Bowl Week.
I’m Watching the Practice Tape This Year
Readers of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication have afforded me this luxury. I’m betting many of you have read at least someone else’s practice reports before checking for mine. And with each report you read, you’ll find significant similarities and differences based on several factors:
- Observations made at practice or from tape.
- The physical perspective of the observer from practice.
- The experience and knowledge of the observer.
Because the Senior Bowl staff closed Wednesday’s practice due to the lack of space at the alternate facility, we had to wait for the tape as our means of practice observation.
If you’re new to the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, I primarily study offensive skill prospects. These are the only player’s you’ll read about below. However, Jene Bramel is studying defensive players and will have some insights as the week unfolds.
Day 1 is what I call a Baseline Session. I don’t get too excited or crestfallen about performances because as with many journeys, it’s not how you start but how you progress. Not all players will be mentioned because not all of them did notable work.
Day Two begins the process of noting the consistencies and differences from the first two days. Because we’re analyzing a small sample size, these changes from day to day aren’t all significant. Many will be more or less significant than we think.
For Day 2, I’m returning to report formats I’ve written in previous years due to logistical difficulties of the weather-related practice closure.
The North’s Day 2 Practice
Daniel Jones and Trace McSorley once again made mistakes working from center. Jones fumbled two snaps in 9-on-7s and McSorley fumbled one. After Jones made the exchange with his running back Karan Higdon, Jones kicked Higdon’s foot and the quarterback stumbled to the ground while finishing the fake.
Jones lacked immediacy and confidence with selected decisions this afternoon. This interception on an attempt to check the ball to the flat is the result of Jones not acting on a seam route that has the advantageous leverage as Jones finishes his drop. I froze the action at the top of Jones’ drop and circled the route, coverage, and safety’s positions to illustrate this merits an anticipation throw.
Instead, Jones hesitates and that lack of confidence forces the quarterback to check down. The intended receiver falls and the coverage cuts off the target.
The interception may not be completely on Jones, but the unwillingness to make the aggressive decision is something Jones has displayed at various times on film. The top NFL starters make bold decisions with good data. This play above had good data but Jones didn’t trust it.
To be generous with Jones’ decision, the Senior Bowl is a setting where many quarterbacks play it conservative during practice due to this event’s function as a job fair. This decision above required some guts. However, it’s the kind of boldness that defines the top prospects.
It’s one play but it’s indicative of several others that fail the litmus test for future franchise quarterbacks.
Drew Lock has been touted as one of the top quarterbacks in this class. I’ve been told that Daniel Jeremiah and Todd McShay have compared Lock to Patrick Mahomes. I don’t know the details of the comparison, but it’s not one that I would make in any significant manner.
The best play Lock made today was a slick play-action fake leading to a boot right and short toss to the tight end. Lock extended both hands to the runner, pulling the ball hand to his stomach while keeping the free hand to the runner’s chest. Even the practice cameraman initially followed the runner.
Lock is one of a few less-experienced workers from center at the Senior Bowl, so the play-fake in this setting was a good thing to see. However, his inexperience showed later when he dropped the ball after turning to approach the exchange point with his running back during 9-on-7s.
During 7-on-7’s Lock had a pair of two-man route combinations on each side of the formation, each pair working together against a perimeter and flat defender. With one safety playing high over top and shaded to the right, Lock did not recognize the pre-snap opportunity to hold the safety to the right and begin his progression with the pair on the left.
Instead, he focused only on the right side of the formation that lacked a numbers advantage and missed a chance to hit an open receiver up the seam for a long play. Lock wound up throwing the ball away to his right.
This was not an egregious mistake because one could debate that Lock took the safest side based on the placement of the ball on the right hash and the specific route combination of the pair of receivers on the right side. However, it was one of those plays where Lock had the opportunity and the arm strength to hold the safety and make a big play and he wasn’t confident in going for it.
It’s the kind of play Philip Rivers made when he was in Mobile several years ago.
Dexter Williams is the best interior runner on either squad and no worse than the second-best player at his position in Mobile. He continues to demonstrate his prowess for exploiting small creases, finding optimal daylight while in the hole, and reading and executing the quick cutback opportunity.
Williams also showed off his route running and hands in one-on-ones with linebackers. He repeatedly got open against his opponents, executing flat breaks with the same type of hip-flipping cuts he uses as a runner. He also got open on an angle route breaking inside thanks to a slick juke outside-in on the linebacker. Williams caught the ball with his hands and could secure the ball at a variety of angles near and away from his frame.
Tony Pollard hasn’t stood out as a runner but he’s doing a workmanlike job of hitting the correct creases, even when there’s little yardage to mine. He’s quick-footed, has the acceleration and cuts to bounce runs outside, and he can use these skills to set up linebackers as a receiver in two-way go situations. Pollard caught the ball consistently, including a wheel route that he tracked over his shoulder.
Karan Higdon Not an oft-targeted receiver at Michigan, Higdon showed off his routes and hands in one-on-ones with linebackers this afternoon. He executed some flat breaks that he set up with a good shake or three-step releases. Higdon caught the ball with his hands and could do so on targets that required an extension from his frame or a turn towards his back shoulder while working away from the pass.
As with Williams and Pollard, Higdon found the correct creases. He got skinny on a run towards a tight crease during 11-on-11s and he showcased dynamic cutting ability at the line of scrimmage. If his pass catching in Mobile and workouts remains good, it could help his cause come spring.
Penny Hart has been one of the more impressive receivers after the first two days. He’s one of the quickest and shiftiest receivers in Mobile, but he knows how to incorporate these skills efficiently into routes and even vary that quickness with pace variation that throws off his opponents.
Here’s a play where Hart stacks his opponent but inadvertently gets tripped before what might have resulted in a long completion.
What’s most notable is his work against tighter coverage. He showed skill later in the one-on-ones against Nasir Adderly, who got physical with Hart and wound up victimized in short order.
Andy Isabella also continued earning separation on multiple routes today. Although his layers of movement to work his way open concerns me, he showed that he could run an efficient out-and-up without emptying his entire library of footwork and shakes to get it done.
After Tuesday’s “Shake and Break” display, I hoped Isabella would face tight and physical coverage. He only earned one rep of this type but the physical play might have distracted Isabella into a drop.
Hopefully, he’ll earn more tight coverage as a test of his focus and toughness off the line and at the catch point.
Keelan Doss plays a little bigger than his size, displays quick hands off the line, and sharp breaks back to the target. He can catch the ball with his hands but also tight to his frame and at angles that are a little awkward for a receiver. After two days of practice, Doss has shown that he belongs at this event. His routes have been consistently productive.
Alex Wesley hasn’t emerged the same was as Doss. His quickness is notable and he catches the ball with his hands. However, his routes are less refined than Doss and he’s getting manhandled by cornerbacks during the first two days.
During his first one-on-one, Wesley worked too far to the outside of his opponent while releasing from the line of scrimmage and this gave the defender room to read Wesley’s break and anticipate the arrival of a pass. Wesley’s break on the play was also off-balance because he failed to drop his weight with a flat and upright back.
Wesley has made some plays on short passes but his calling card has been the vertical game and he hasn’t shown the acumen to earn separation one-on-one on routes beyond the short range of the field.
Jakobi Meyers has made some solid plays during the past two days — especially on digs and slants where he can use his initial quickness to set up his breaks. Meyers must refine his footwork off the line.
Today, he lost his balance working through tight coverage at the line and he also failed to drive directly downhill once he worked outside the defender. This failure cost Meyers early separation on the opponent.
Jaylen Smith made a few catches with a sound attack of the ball with arms extended and hands in the proper position. He also impressively dug out a low throw on a crossing route. He also had another day with multiple drops of passes of no worse than moderate difficulty, each target striking his hands in optimal position for a catch.
Drew Sample had another day of fluid routes that included tight breaks, efficient footwork, effective hand usage and good ball-tracking on routes up the seam and breaking inside or outside the hash. A decent blocker at Washington, I’ve been pleased with his work in the passing game in Mobile.
Tommy Sweeney caught the ball better on Day Two than Day One. He had multiple catches working across the field on short and intermediate routes. His best catch of the day came on a bootleg throw from Daniel Jones in 11-on-11’s. He had to make a sliding catch on the play.
His best route came in one-on-one’s when he sold the corner route with a subtle lean before his break to the inside with good hips to execute the flat turn.
Bookmark the RSP 2019 Senior Bowl Page to find practice reports, videos, and podcasts covering the practice week and the players.