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2014 SENIOR BOWL GAME REVIEW

    by Colin Lindsay, Editor and Publisher, Great Blue North Draft Report
    January 28, 2014

    That’s a wrap… Another Senior Bowl is in the books after Saturday's game capped off activities in Mobile. And while most NFL teams generally place far more value on what the players do in practice than in the game itself, it's more than likely that this year NFL personnel people were hoping to get some answers from the game itself on a number of players about whom they have lingering questions. And while some questions were answered, others weren't, or at least had pro teams wanting to see more. So its back to the tape for them ... orat least on to Indy for next month's scouting combine.

    Interesting from this year's actual Senior Bowl game was the fact that during the week, the offenses generally had the upper hand, however, for the most part, the 2014 game was a defensive slug-fest. Indeed, the South team which kind of ran away and hid on the way to a 20-10 win actually had only 12 first downs on the day and barely averaged 2 yards per rush with both their TDs coming on broken plays.

    It is also likely that pro personnel people won't get as much out of the game as they maybewould have liked as both teams did a lot of dinking and dunking with very few throws going downfield. The QB play was also very spotty, although that is often to be expected in an all-star game where they are asked to work in un unfamiliar scheme with unfamiliar receivers. Fresno State's David Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, the two top-rated passers in Mobile this week, for example, combined to complete just 13 of 23 pass attempts, although neither likely did anything in the actual game to hurt their resepctive grades. Indeed, both showed live arms and quick releases, although as noted, pro scouts likely hoped to see a little more accuracy downfield.  In fact, San Jose State's David Fales put up the best numbers on the day as he completed 6 of 7 passes for 104 yards and a score as he generally did a nice job of reading the field and distributing the ball. However, Fales looks at times like he has a hint of a hitch in his delivery and really didn't get much realvelcity on his throws. At the same time, the actual game was probably something of a missed opportunity for Miami's Stephon Morris, Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Virginia Tech's Loga Thomas to make up some ground on the rest of this year's top QB prospects. Each threw the ball relatively well at times, but just weren't consistent enough with Morris throwing two interceptions and Boyd one as he completed just 7 of 16 passes and had several batted down at the line of scrimmage, while Thomas was sacked 5 times.

    Meanwhile,  there wasn't a whole lot to get excited about  among the other skill position players during Saturday's game. Colorado State TE Crockett Gilmore, a late addition to the roster, had a strong game as he blocked well, while catching 5 passes for 61 yards including a TD pass. Same story for Wisconsin TE Jacob Petersen, who blocked surpringly well for an H-back type. Meanwhile, Badger teammate James White broke off several nice runs as he showed good vision and nice acceleration in the hole. White also caught 5 passes, but wasn't as explosive after the catch and was run down after picking up only 15 yards on those questions. At the same time, West Virginia RB Charles Sims, who was consideredto have had the strongest week of practice among the backs, but looked a little slow and tentative during the game.

    Getting defensive .... Bottom line on Saturday was that the South defense was just too quick for the North offense. and nobody in this year's Senior Bowl was quicker than Auburn DE/OLB Dee Ford. Indeed, Ford looked like he was offside every second play as he had the snap timed almost perfectly and just exploded off the line of scimmage. Indeed, the North team paid Ford the ultimate compliment for an all-star game participant as they started having a back line up on his side of the field and chip him if he turned the corner. However, there was something of a one dimension to Ford's game. He really didn't show much in the way of pass-rushing creativity other than taking the great circle route around the edge and in the process ran himself out of a number of running plays as the back took off through the gap he left as he headed up field.

    It was also tough to get a true read on Arkansas DE Chris Smith, the South's other quick-twitch edge rusher. Like Ford, Smith was very quick off the snap and also showed a couple of nice spin moves, but he disappeared for long stretches in the game and had a tendency to stop his feet when he wasn't able to separate off his initial step. On the other hand, there was no slowing down for unheralded Louisiana Tech DE IK Enemkpali who may not be a household name in his own home. But the energetic Enemkpali reminded observers a little bit of former Georgia DE Cornelius Washington who went 100 miles an hour for 60 minutes in last year's game. Enemkpali also showed maybe the best spin move of any of the defensive linemen in Mobile this week, although it was not always clear he actually knew where the ball was at times.

    In the end, a pretty good case can be made that the two most impressive players in the actual Senior Bowl when breaking down the tape were Notre Dame LT Zack Martin and Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald. And that shouldn't be too much of a surprise as they were also arguably the best players during the week of practice. Martin, for example, was everything one wanted to see in a potential future left tackle at the next level. He was quick off the snap, very smooth in his back peddle and effortlessly was able to plant and change direction; he also showed great balance and the abiltiy to sink his hips and eep his pad low. And despite those short arms, Martin showed a solid punch and almost flawless hand-technique.  Martin did get called for a hold late in the game, but the game tape showed all that he did was successfully ride a South defender under the pocket and drive him to the ground. It also wasn't hard to note that while the South's Ford bedevilled the other North OTs, he barely got off the line of scrimage in the half dozen or plays he worked against Martin.

    For his part, Donald continued to make the case that size really doesn't matter all that much in the Senior Bowl game as he had all week during the practice sessions as he spent the better part of the afternoon in the South backfield. And while, he measured in at barely 6-0, and 288 pounds at Monday's weigh-in, he's very thck through the lower and really launches off the snap. He was also able to consistently get his hands into the blockers pads before the latter could get  his arms extended and knock him off balance; Donald also showed exceptional latter agility for a big guy, as well as pretty good strength as he also wasable to collapse the pocket on a straight bull-rush.

    However, Donald was the only North defensive lineman who had more answers than questions on the day. Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, perhaps the top-rated non-QB at the Senior Bowl who had a strong week of practice, looked rather disinterested on this day. Hageman was able to collapse the pocket on one play when he literally picked up big Virginia OT Morgan Moses and literally deposited him in the QB's lap, but otherwise didn't do much than and push his way up field on just about every play. And, of course, that's always been the rap on Hageman in that he doesn't always play to his potential. Of note, though, Hageman did line up most of the day outside at DE rather than inside at DT, however, pro scouts likely wanted to see more sizzle from a guy projectedto be a top 25 pick.

    It was also a frustrating day for Stanford DE/OLB Trent Murphy showed pretty good agility and was able to spin open on several rushes when he played with his hand on the ground, but he lacked the strength to maintain leverage as he tried to turn the corner, as well as the burst  to keep the advantage. Same story for North Carolina DE Kareem Martin, who used his hands effectively at times to power his way past opposing blockers, but didn't appear to be particularly quick or explosive. On the other hand, Missouri DE/OLB Michael Sam looked quick enough, but really struggled to get off  blocks when he didn't beat his man to the edge on his initial step.

    Back on the South side, Arizona State DT Wll Sutton was one likely one of those players who left scouts wanting to see more. Sutton started the game very strongly with a series of disruptive plays on which he showed nice quickness off the snap, good lateral aility, as well as the ability to use his hands to effectively negate the reach of the offensive lineman in front of him, however, his production dropped as the game progressed. Same story for BYU DE/OLB Kyle Van Noy who powered his was to a sack of a nice oustide-in spin move, but too often looked tentative. At the same time, neither of DTs Daniel McCullers nor Cal's Deandre Coleman got off the line of scrimmage much, although the massive former Vol did a nice job holding the point of attack when double teamed.

    No such problems them for Princeton DT Caruan Reid who may have done as much for his gradeas any player in the actual Senior Bowl. Reid appeared to be a vey good, active athlete with good balance and nice lateral agility. He also used his hands well to shed blockers and showed good closing speed as he racked up a couple of sacks. Reid, though, looks like he needs to add some strength as he struggled at times to anchor especially when double-teamed.

    Back on the other side of the ball, maybe the most solid group in the Senior Bowl game were the Cs as Arkansas's  Travis Swanson, Weston Richburg of Colorado State, Utah State's Tyler Larsen and Florida State's Bryan Stork all more than held their own, although at the same time no one in that group appeared to scream out 'take me first!' On the other hand, the one C/G prospect who appeared to struggle at times was Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma who gave up a lot of penetartion and just did not look all that strong or agile.

    At the same time, each of  G/Ts Jack Mewhort of Ohio State, Brandon Thomas of Clemson, Michigan's Michael Schofield, Joe Bitonio of Nevada, Tennessee State's Kadeem Edwards and North Dakota State's Billy Turner all played consistently enough that they'll be getting second look from pro scouts as at least potentially useful NLF offensive linemen, although Thomas, Turner, Bitonio and Edwards did have some issues with speed rushers and might be better suited to play inside at the next level. Same story for Boston College OT Matt Patchan, the one-time former Florida DT who battled injuries much of his career in Tallahasse before transferring to BC for a 6th season in 2013; Patchan, another late game addition who made the best of his opportunity, wasn't particularly pretty or athletic playing on the right flank in Mobile, but was feisty and never gave an inch.

    At the same time, pro scouts had to be disappointed by what they saw from highly rated OGs Cyril Richardson and Gabe Jackson  in the Senior Bowl game. In fact, it was probably a bad week all-around for Baylor's Richardson who was strong enough at the point of attack, but just didn't sustain blocks and was hurt by a lack of real lateral agility. Plus, Richardson looked totally lost in space when asked to make a block on the move.  Same story for Mississppi State's Jackson who likely grumbled all the way home about "the guy that invited #97 to the dance" as he is likely still trying to figure out which way Pitt's Donald went. Like Richardson, Jackson got some decent push when drive blocking straight ahead but showed limited athleticism, lateral agility and balance especcially in pass protection where he appeared to set up too high and just didn't keep his feet moving. Worse for Jckson he also gave up way too much penetration at times when Donald didn't domuch more than come straight at him.

    It was also a disappointing week for huge Miami OT Seantrel Henderson, at one-time the top recruit in the country who had an up-and-down career with the Hurricanes. In fact, Henderson would probably have settled for an up-and-down week in Mobile, but it was mostly down. Agfain he's a huge guy with long arms and a wide wingspan, but struggled to keep his pads down did not move well to the point of almost appearing clumsy. Henderson really struggled both to cut off the edge on quick outside rushes, as well as to plant and redirect on cutback moves. Big Virginia OT Morgan Moses also had some issues on plays when he played too high and failed to recover when knocked  off balance; Moses backpeddle was also a little choppy; however, on plays when Moses sunk his hips and kept his feet alive he really locked on and was almost impossble to get around.

    Wisconsin MLB Chris Borland also had a strong game after an impressive week of practice. Borland led all tacklers in the Senior Bowl with 8 and got credit for a pass break-up when he closed on a screen pass and really crunched the receiver. All game, Borland showed excellent instincts and surprising range and slid easily through the traffic.  Unfortunately, though he wasn't tested that much in coverage. Arguably, the most impressive LB in the actual Senior Bowl game was Florida State's Telvin Smith who was flying all the field. And while undersized, Smith also impressed with his abiltiy to take on and quickly shed blocks in traffic. Smith's former Seminoles' teammate Christian Jones also showed plenty of range and energy, but did not appear to be always playing under control. Montana's Jordan Tripp was also quietly efficient as he did a decent job taking on blockers at the point of attack and showed pretty good range. ame story for Christian Kirksey of Iowa.

    <>The Senior Bowl environment is a tough one to get a read on the DBs as they are somewhat limited in what schemes they can play, however, CBs Keith McGill of Utah and Auburn's Chris Davis appeared to stand out on the day.McGill was the most consistent of the several big tweener CB-safeties in Mobile this week, while Davis was beaten badly early n in the game whenhe bit of a pump-and-go fake, but otherwse was fiesty in coverage and came up to make a couple of sure tacklers against the run. It was even harder to guage the overall efficiency of the safeties but LSU's Craig Loston, Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois, Jemea Thomas of Georgia Tech and Washington State's Deone Bucannon all made impact plays as did Wyoming CB Marqueston Huff..

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