MOBILE, Ala. — Here are Arhur Arkush's Wednesday practice observations from a chillier day in Mobile, where prospects seemed to settle in after an opening session with some high notes but also some sloppiness and early jitters.
* When the South club’s TE depth took a hit with Dallas Goedert and Adam Breneman suffering hamstring injuries Tuesday that held them out of Wednesday’s session, UCF’s Jordan Akins became the No. 1 beneficiary. The 6-3, 246-pounder caught two touchdowns in live sessions, including a highlight grab in the red-zone drill.
“Attacked his leverage, came out downhill, looked up and saw the ball in the air,” said Akins. “It kind of reminded me of baseball — see ball, get ball — and just extended my body and came down with the catch. One handed, falling down, kind of like a centerfielder laying out in baseball.”
Akins, an ascending receiver whose numbers climbed in each season with the Knights, admits he can still get better blocking with a hand in the dirt. However, he was excited about what he called a “huge leap” from Tuesday.
"Two [teammates] went down, but like we say at UCF, next man up. And willing to showcase my talent. It's a huge privilege. It's an honor to be here representing the national champs. Go Knights."
* Penn State CB Christian Campbell enjoyed a strong practice Wednesday. He has 32 ½-inch arms, among the longest of his corner peers in Mobile, and he showed he can use that length to his advantage on a pass breakup early in 1-on-1 drills. Campbell’s ball skills translated in the team session, too, when he intercepted a Luke Falk rainbow.
* If Michael Gallup was the North’s standout pass catcher on Tuesday, a pair of Penn State products — TE Mike Gesecki and WR DaeSean Hamilton — took their turn in the spotlight Wednesday. Gesicki, whom we’ll have more on in our exclusive draft newsletter on Thursday, showed off his athleticism and fluidity in getting open on a downfield sideline dart from Baker Mayfield and again working over the middle for a chunk gain in team drills.
* Hamilton’s separation ability was spectacular in Wednesday’s session. His quickness in and out of cuts left multiple defensive backs grasping at air off the line, and at nearly 6-1 and 202 pounds, he presents an inviting target for his quarterback.
* Shaquem Griffin’s versatility has been on display often throughout two practices, and Wednesday he lined up as a deep safety in 9-on-7 drills. “We try to move him around,” explained South team coach, Houston’s Bill O’Brien. “I think that’s what the NFL wants to see, so we’re trying to do things that everybody can get a look at. Safety, linebacker, maybe even as a DPR (designated pass rusher) and then on special teams.”
Griffin’s speed and effort, as promised, have consistently shown up regardless of where he lines up, though he was particularly effective setting the edge as an outside 'backer in early team sessions.
* Oklahoma DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo took a big step forward Wednesday after he appeared to be a bit stagnant as a rusher in his first practice. With 34 ½-inch arms despite just a 6-1, 243-pound frame, the former Sooner who also has terrific first-step quickness seemingly has limitless upside. Okoronkwo was a menace in team drills and also had more success in his individual matchups than Tuesday.
* Mayfield has clearly established himself as the best quarterback in Mobile, and although inconsistent Josh Allen’s fastball is superior, the velocity behind Mayfield’s throws to the sideline really stands out. He also showed some significant juice when taking off as a runner in one team drill, a reminder of what he can do to defenses when their backs are turned.
* Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage is a really big back (6-2, 221), perhaps a little stiff, but he built on a nice opening practice Tuesday by showing off some surprising receiving ability. Ballage caught 20 passes for 91 yards as a senior, down significantly from his junior year (44-469), but he beat a linebacker on a wheel route Wednesday, then showed good body control and hands to adjust to the football and secure the catch through contact.
* Virginia DT Andrew Brown, a player our draft expert Greg Gabriel told me to watch closely Wednesday, didn’t disappoint. He has tremendous quickness off the snap to disrupt plays in the backfield and plenty of power to go along with his speed, snap reaction and, oh yeah, the longest arms in Mobile — 35½-arms.