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Senior Bowl notebook: Monday

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By Mike Wilkening

MOBILE, Ala. — NFL business moves quickly. The league crowned conference champions Sunday ... and by Monday, a healthy portion of the league was looking forward to April's draft.

Welcome to the Senior Bowl, where practices kicked off Monday. With the North and South clubs practicing at the same time but at different locations, I was only able to observe the North club on the first day of practice. Here's what I saw:

• Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins looked to have the strongest arm of the North quarterbacks. He threw the day's best pass, an absolute rope to Arizona State WR Geren Robinson on a deep in-route. I liked Cousins' sense of anticipation: He threw the ball to a spot, and it hit Robinson just as he came out of his break.

• Boise State QB Kellen Moore had an up-and-down practice and really seemed to struggle to drive the ball on downfield throws. Having never before seen Moore in a workout setting, I'm not going to overreact to one so-so practice on a drizzly afternoon with new teammates, and I look forward to seeing how he plays the next two days.

• Ohio State WR DeVier Posey had a couple of drops, including one where Cousins threw a beautiful deep ball to his back shoulder, but overall, he looked like he belonged, in my view. This is an important week for Posey. He gets to meet with teams, a golden opportunity after he missed 10 games in 2011 because of rules violations. Also, he gets a chance to put some of his work on tape.

• Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard's biggest strength, as he sees it? "What I do best is get in a receiver's face and be physical with him," he said Monday night. He caught my eye in the first practice, playing like the North's top cornerback. That physicality was apparent, and he also showed good ball skills.

• Just an observation, but I would guess whoever drafts Cincinnati RB Isaiah Pead will work with him to strengthen his lower body. He has relatively skinny legs compared to the other North RB prospects.

• California WR Marvin Jones had a solid day. He consistently got open and caught the ball well. Afterward, he gave me a brief rundown on each of the North quarterbacks: "Kirk, he blazes the ball, and he puts it on the spot. (Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson), you've seen him hitting a lot of seams. He can telegraph where the receiver's going to be and the ball's spot on. And Kellen, we both had an opportunity to complete a lot of deep balls, and his deep ball is perfect."

• Another pass catcher who had a good first day: N.C. State WR T.J. Graham. Good quickness.

• I focused mainly on the North's quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs and cornerbacks on Day One. I'll likely have a similar focus in the South's first practice Tuesday. I am very interested to see North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins, the ex-Florida standout, and Georgia CB Brandon Boykin.

 

Monday observations from associate editor Kevin Fishbain

The most notable thing I took from the Senior Bowl's media night on the USS Alabama had nothing to do with the players, but the media. With the NFL's popularity at such a high right now and the proliferation of draft-dedicated websites, it was a packed house of journalists — many more than last year.

I talked to Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins, and the thing that you will continue to hear about Cousins throughout the pre-draft process is his intelligence and candor. He's extremely well-spoken and is well-aware of how he is perceived as a quarterback. His arm strength and on-field abilities will be closely monitored by teams that become enamored with his personality.

Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden attracted a big crowd. With Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill out of the Senior Bowl, Weeden has a great chance to shine and is considered the top signalcaller in Mobile.

A few things I'm looking forward to seeing this week at practice:

1) The QB position is more intriguing than usual because of what happened with NFL rookie quarterbacks in 2011. Christian Ponder was the MVP of last year's Senior Bowl, saw his draft stock skyrocket and became the Vikings' starter. Andy Dalton, on the other hand, didn't make much of an impression in Mobile, yet he started all 16 games for Cincinnati. None of the quarterbacks here will be among the top three taken — assuming Tannehill goes third behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III — but that doesn't mean a 2012 starter isn't in Mobile. Can Kellen Moore and Russell Wilson make up for what they are missing in size? Can Weeden set himself apart from the group? Do Nick Foles or Ryan Lindley have the qualities to be a sleeper choice?

2) Unlike last year, there is a strong group of running backs in Mobile, with Chris Polk, Vick Ballard, Terrance Ganaway and Doug Martin among them. With Trent Richardson likely to be the first back off the board, it will be interesting to see if any of the seniors can put together a big week to get some attention early in the second round.

3) Can Courtney Upshaw be this year's Von Miller? Miller was the clear-cut top prospect last year and had a very strong week. This year, it's Upshaw who could be the first pass rusher off the board in April's draft. All eyes are on the Alabama product. We'll see how he handles the pressure against some top offensive tackles.

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