MOBILE, Ala. — Day 1 of the Senior Bowl got underway Tuesday with practices from both squads, the South Team (coached by the San Francisco 49ers) and the North (coached by the Oakland Raiders).
It’s one day, so we’re not going to overreact to what happened out there. But bad news for you and us: It might be the final “real” day of practice the media — and even scouts — get to view live.
Some serious weather appears headed this way early on Wednesday, and if there’s as much heavy rain and lightning as is being forecast, the plan is to move the practices indoors at the University of South Alabama campus. The facility there is just too small to house hundreds of players, media, scouts and the NFL Network, so the Senior Bowl staff would be closing it down to the outside if that weather comes as feared.
So we’ll go off a few observations we saw on Day 1 hoping it’s not our final day of live viewing but also fearing for the worst-case scenario.
With that in mind, let’s roll …
· You want an amazing story from Day 1? Hard to top that of Western Illinois NT Khalen Saunders, whose life literally changed after practice today. We told his incredible story here.
· As for the quarterback observations, we are going to leave most of that to our resident QB guru Mark Schofield, who broke down all eight of the passers’ performances after one day. Here’s a brief primer: Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson and Mizzou’s Drew Lock are on the early rise, while Duke’s Daniel Jones and West Virginia’s Will Grier still need some work. Plenty of time for that to happen, of course, but Mark gives us an excellent view at this first practice session from the QB standpoint.
· UMass WR Andy Isabella was a buzz player entering the week, and measuring in at 5-8 7/8 and 186 pounds did match with scouts’ fears about his frame in the NFL. But once he got on the field, it was a different story. Even with a few early drops in the North Team practice, Isabella’s burst, shiftiness and playmaking ability make him look like a — scans brain for all known white slot receivers — bit of a Taylor Gabriel clone. Ha, fooled you!
But seriously, Isabella can flat out fly. He once beat Cleveland Browns CB Denzel Ward (last year's No. 4 overall player in the draft) in a 100-meter race in high school, if you're not convinced of Isabella's raw, straight-line speed.
· Another receiver, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel, said this morning he views himself as a Golden Tate clone, and it showed on Day 1. He’s got some quickness that stands out, but he also moves very efficiently — “like a running back” is what I jotted down, but one who catches the ball naturally with good, strong hands. Samuel adjusted to a few off-target throws (dropping one from Jones) and made some eye-opening plays early.
Last receiver we’ll mention today: Ohio State’s Terry McLaurin. A really nice first day from a player who was overshadowed with the Buckeyes and known a bit more for his special-teams prowess there. But McLaurin has deep speed, catching a go route in stride from Lock (“he put it right in my hands, beautiful throw,” McLaurin said), but let’s also credit the way he dusted Washburn CB Corey Ballentine off the line in what was supposed to be press coverage.
“Going up against the best press corners every day in practice,” McLaurin told us this afternoon, “has made be better at getting free releases. That’s four years of going up against first-round talents every day.”
· If you like mauler, run-blocker types, then Boston College OG Chris Lindstrom is your guy. He pancaked a few defenders in the 9-on-7 portion of practice and continued his strong work in full-team drills. I was impressed with what I saw: power, technique and hands.
· Another big interior blocker, Jacksonville State’s B.J. Autry, stood out, too. He didn’t look out of place against bigger-school competition and will be a nice fit for a man-blocking team that favors size and power in their linemen. He could really make himself some money if he keeps this up.
· Penn State CB Amani Oruwariye also opened eyes. He showed really nice technique in mirror coverage of North Carolina State WR Jakobi Meyers on one rep I saw up close and was impressed with his work all practice. The Raiders’ assistant coaches also appeared to consistently enjoy Oruwariye’s work, from what I could see and hear. Wouldn’t shock me if he leaves the week higher on their board.
· Mississippi State EDGE Montez Sweat barreled through some poor soul in one-on-one pass-rush drills like he was a blocking dummy. (Didn’t catch the license plate number, sorry officer.) It was just one of a few eye-opening plays that built off his impressive weigh-in this morning at 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds with nearly 36-inch arms. The guy passes the eye test with flying colors, but he also is passing the football test, too, so far. If you have him going below the 20th pick, you might want to adjust your mock drafts accordingly. He’s not going to last, folks.
· Texas A&M DT Daylon Mack put Alabama’s Ross Piersbacher on his tail on a gorgeous bull rush in one-on-one drills, showing terrific drive and power. Mack is a low-center-of-gravity rusher who doesn’t mess around, and it appears the Senior Bowl got a gem in this East-West Shrine Game call-up.
· Personal draft crush alert: West Virginia FB-TE Trevon Wesco. He’s a mean blocker and a more natural receiver than I realized after watching him here today. A really interesting piece who checked in at a whopping 6-3 ½ and 270 pounds with 34 5/8-inch arms. He played in-line, in the backfield and as a “ghost” tight end (lined up behind the offensive tackle) for the Mountaineers and might be a scheme-specific fit for the NFL, but the team that drafts him with a plan in mind might be getting a fun, useful player. “I like to bury people,” he told me with a smile before practice. “I try to play mean.”