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Rivalries quickly forming on Senior Bowl fields

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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By Eric Edholm

MOBILE, Ala. — The Senior Bowl players will spend a week together preparing for the NFL. Some will make it. Some won't. And some might never cross paths again.

But there appear to be some budding rivalries that you think might last past this week.

For instance, given the way Boise State CB Kyle Wilson and Clemson WR Jacoby Ford have played this week, bright NFL futures await. In fact, their one-on-one sessions have been among the highlights of the North team practices.

On Tuesday, Ford — who Lions WR coach Shawn Jefferson said had 40-yard-dash speed in the 4.2-second range — got over the top and ran past Wilson for a would-be touchdown in one-on-ones. Then on Wednesday, Wilson got his revenge, locking down on Ford nicely. In individual drills, the two have gone at it with the battles coming out about even through three practice sessions. Wilson was the first defensive back Ford mentioned as his top competition, and Jefferson has seen it play out that way.

"That's the guy that has been a pain in my (rear) all week," Jefferson said. "He can cover. He's got the speed to stay with the receivers and the lateral movement in his hips and all that, and good change of direction."

"I introduced myself (to Ford), and his first words to me were, 'We're going to cook you up,' " Wilson said. "I've been wanting to get at him since we first got here."

Wilson says the best part of this week has been the individual battles, which suit his style just fine.

"I take pride in one-on-one matchups. You versus me, and it's going to be me," he said. "I don't have a competition problem. I love to compete and win."

Of course, some of the best battles here come in the trenches. The offensive and defensive linemen go head to head all week, individually and in the team formats. And two guys who have bumped heads plenty of times over the years — continuing their battle this week — have been Ole Miss OL John Jerry and Tennessee DT Dan Williams.

They haven't always lined up opposite each other in SEC competition, meeting only once in their four-year careers. But they have run into each other several times this week. And on Tuesday they had two epic showdowns. Williams got penetration on Jerry in one-on-one drills to tackle USC RB Stafon Johnson for a hit in the backfield. Later, though, Jerry exacted revenge by standing Williams up with his long arms.

"He's one of the best players in the country," Williams said of Jerry. "We make each other better. I got him once, he got me once, and we've had a few (stalemates)."

Jerry repaid the respect Williams' way.

"Dan and I have had some battles this week," Jerry said. "We went at it when we played in the regular season, and we went at it here today. It's great competition. I love it. We're really cool, we're tight.

"You have to get that hand placement with him. He's a strong boy. He gets low; he has those big legs and just drives you. It's not easy."

The 6-foot-2 Williams has played almost exclusively inside, but he has played the zero-, one- and three-techniques, and the 6-foot-5 Jerry has moved from guard to tackle, and he played left tackle for the first time in his life in practice this week. They might not line up across from each other on the next level, but whether it's on a defensive stunt or an offensive double-team, Williams and Jerry have slugged it out this week and expect to see each other going forward.

"I know I am going to see that guy again," Williams said. "I just have a feeling. This week is getting me ready for him."

Oklahoma State CB Perrish Cox had to miss the team's bowl game because of missing curfew, but had he played in the game, he likely would have matched up against Ole Miss WR Shay Hodge. Instead, they have battled for the first time this week. Consider Cox, who has been one of the best corners on the South team, impressed.

"I finally got the chance to go one-on-one with him, and he can catch the ball," Cox said of Hodge.

Of course, with praise comes a nice little dig. After all, when was the last time a cornerback gave a receiver too much credit without a little jab thrown in.

"I really haven't seen his speed yet," Cox said with a laugh, "but he can adjust to balls that are underthrown or overthrown."

Hodge, who quietly has made a name for himself even as he's being shown up by college teammate Dexter McCluster, has shown nice hands and has the size to be a factor in the NFL. And though he knows that former Ole Miss teammate Mike Wallace — a standout rookie with the Steelers last season — could "destroy me" in the 40-yard dash, Hodge showed he's no slowpoke by beating Cox off press coverage for a post-pattern touchdown.

Without prompting, Hodge mentioned Cox as the guy he has been most impressed with.

"I saw the way he plays and knew I was in for a battle," Hodge said. "Sure enough, he was good. I got him that one play, but he's tough. He stays with you. There's no room for (error) with him."

These three pairs of players are running out of time this week to get the best of each other before they turn their attention toward their opponents on Saturday in the Senior Bowl. But the way they have gone at it this week, you just get the feeling they'll get another crack at each other — somehow, some way — down the line in the NFL.


Watch for multiple postings each day this week from the Senior Bowl, including blogs and our prospect of the day.


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