2009 Combine Review

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The 2009 NFL Combine is now in the books with 331 invitees, over 600 NFL talent evaluators, and over 400 credentialed members of the media heading home.  Sure the combine is the only week where the NFL epicenter revolves around players working out in t-shirts and shorts plus we all know that game footage matters more, but the event is huge (NFL Network had over 25 hours of Live Coverage) and can help or hinder a prospect.  The NFL combine is one of the four major steps of the post college football / pre NFL Draft process — Bowl Game, All-Star Games especially the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and Pro Day/Private workout – that are vital for building a powerful resume for the upcoming April NFL Draft.  However the NFL Combine with signing bonuses and draft positions changing on the merits of a good or bad forty times does accentuate the fact that the overall draft process is not an exact science. “It’s an inexact science, if you can call it a science” said Colts General Manager Bill Polian during a combine interview.

Prospects and their agents also seem to understand the importance of the NFL Combine — 66% of all positional players selected at the 2008 NFL Draft participated in the combine — as more than half of the players attended “cheat-sheet” preparation camps in place like California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas.  Practice made perfect, as several players were familiar enough with the drills to produce noteworthy results from this year’s event.  

Now that the weighing, timing, questioning, reviewing of injuries and backgrounds of the invitees is over and before we move onto Pro Days, here are some of my observations, news, and notes from the 2009 NFL Combine.

High Participation – With over 600 NFL talent evaluators traveling to Indianapolis, the combine is the one place where all NFL talent evaluators converge on one place for a week just to look exclusively at prospects.  Because of the high volume of evaluators, prospects knew that being on sidelines and waiting for their Pro Day would raise a red flag that could cost them millions — Top 10 picks are expected to receive $30 Million dollar signing bonuses.  With dollars fresh in their mind, prospects at the 2009 NFL Combine continued the trend of high participation by invitees (top prospects and lower level players) that has grown with the past five drafts.  It was reported that close to 95% of the 331 invitees took part in some portion of the combine process (drills and/or interviewing).  Potential Top 10 picks Virginia OT Eugene Monroe, USC QB Mark Sanchez, Baylor OT Jason Smith, Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry, Georgia RB Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, and others all showed their stuff at Lucas Oil Stadium to the liking of the NFL personnel evaluators.  However the event didn’t go by without some high profile guys like Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford (ran and interviewed, but didn’t throw as he wanted to work with his own receivers), Alabama OT Andre Smith (Interviewed then disappeared…more on this later), USC LB Rey Maualuga (apparent leg injury after forty caused him to skip drills), Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree (foot injury caused him to skip his forty and drills catching the ball), PITT RB LeSean McCoy (Didn’t run because of the flu) and others forgoing some or all drills while waiting for their Pro Days.

Event Risers – These were players that we believe increased their value in the Combine.

Maryland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey – A very interesting young receiver, who has a passion outside of football for film making, Heyward-Bey (6’2, 195) thrilled scouts in Indy.  He was as good as advertised on tape running the forty in a combine-high 4.30 seconds and excelling in receiving drills.  The former Terrapin was fluid and consistent in his route running and catch the ball well while running the receiver gambit.  Heyward was considered a Top 50 player, but he may go as high as the mid-first round now.

Top offensive tackles Virginia’s Eugene Monroe and Baylor’s Jason Smith – Trying to become this year’s version of 2008 first overall pick Jake Long, Monroe and Smith locked horns in an effort to impress the Detroit Lions and other Top 10 teams.  Helped by Andre Smith’s issues and an inconsistent showing by Ole Miss’ Michael Oher (bench press and some drills), Monroe and Smith clearly separated themselves from the pack (two pass blockers and the most impressive physically of all the offensive tackles).  Monroe, who learned in practice from 2008 first rounders Chris Long and Branden Albert, put aside a disappointing bench press (only 23 reps) to excel in the offensive lineman drills.  Monroe seems to be a natural day one left tackle starter in the NFL with his superior hand placement, agility, and footwork.  Equally impressive was Smith, who is a former tight end out of Baylor.  J. Smooth, as Smith is nicknamed, had probably the best interviews of any of the potential first round draft picks, was athletic in running (5.22 seconds forty), showed strength in banging out a tackle-high 33 reps on the bench, and showing the best agility in the O-lineman bag drills. Everyone was talking about Smith’s tough-guy attitude as displayed by his quote, “I take a lot of pride in physically assaulting somebody when I’m on the field.”  The superior crop of offensive tackles (eight selected in the first round of the ’08 draft) prompted Lions head coach Jim Schwartz to say, “Left tackles get paid a lot of money not because it looks real pretty on TV, but because what that does for an offensive coordinator and (protecting the quarterback).”

Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry — Seen as draft’s ‘safest pick,’ going into the combine, Curry lived up to his billing as the next playmaking linebacker in the NFL.  The 2008 Butkus award-winner blew away his linebacker competition especially in the forty where he ran a blazing 4.56-second time and in the change of direction drills. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of Curry, “You’re going to hand him $30 million or $40 million guaranteed and he’s going to be like Matt Ryan,”. “He’s going to put it in the bank and … go to work.” Mayock added, “You could insert him day one and he’s a starter and your defense is better and you don’t have to worry about him getting in trouble.”  After a terrific 2008 season (105 tackles, including 16 for lost yardage and 2½ sacks, and three fumble recoveries) and a great combine expect to see Curry off the board by the seventh pick of the draft.

USC QB Mark Sanchez — When fellow quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t throw, Sanchez took center stage.  After impressing scouts during interviews, the former USC triggerman showed in passing drills that he was clearly the most technically sound of the quarterbacks in his group. Sanchez hit all of his throws long and short plus he ran a decent forty in the 4.8 range.  What really sent a buzz around Lucas Oil stadium was his efficient footwork and ability to throw on the run.

Boise State RB Ian Johnson – The player best remembered for proposing to his future wife after winning the Fiesta Bowl in 2008 delivered again. With many scouts figuring that Johnson was a “Mike Hart” type of player (high-character late round pick in ’08), the Boise State record setter showed he could be a featured back in the NFL.  First he measured in at a solid 5-11 and 212 pounds then displayed high character in all of his interviews, but it was his drills that opened some scout’s eyes.  Johnson ran a 4.46 in the 40, did 26 reps of 225 pounds, and showed great agility and catching ability in drills.

Florida WR Percy Harvin – With everyone wondering if National Champion Florida’s version of Reggie Bush was the “real deal”, Harvin delivered.  He measured taller than expected at 5-feet-11 ¾ plus he also exhibited top speed recording 4.41 in the forty. The only disappointment was that Harvin decided to wait for Florida’s Pro Day on March 18 to do his positional drills.

West Virginia QB Pat White – Just like at the Senior Bowl earlier in the draft season, when the lights come on White (6’0, 196) answers the bell every time.  Going into the combine the big question was whether or not White would still be converted to receiver at the next level. First the 2009 Senior Bowl MVP measured over the magical six-foot mark then working out with the quarterbacks, White displayed a strong accurate arm and excellent footwork. Hopefully the former WVU star put a rest to all the conversion talk, but I doubt it as several people were buzzing about his 4.55 second forty-time.  White’s father, Bo, said his son’s mindset is on playing quarterback until the right team tells him no. However the younger White said that he would workout at quarterback and receiver at his Pro Day on March 12th.  It will be interesting to see if White ultimately is converted (1 out of 3 black quarterbacks drafted have been converted), but right now it looks like he will be the next Slash playing Wildcat QB/Slot Receiver/Backup QB/KR.  I say, “Give the kid a chance at quarterback first”, because he is a winner as shown by him being named the co-winner along with Ohio State WR Brian Robiske of the General Motors Top Combine Performer present by the NFL Network.

Others deserving players mention:  Ohio State RB Chris “Beanie” (posted a 4.59-second 40-yard dash while weighing 239 pounds), Ohio State LB Marcus Freeman (good strength and agility), USC LB Clay Matthews (showed with his 4.65 speed that he is a better athlete than expected), Hampton defensive lineman Chris Baker (answered all character questions, weighed in at 6-2, 308 and jumped 35.5 inches in the vertical jump), UConn RB Donald Brown (Was among the top five RB’s in the 40-yard dash (4.51 seconds), broad jump (10’5″) and led the vertical jump (41.5 inches), Georgia Tech DE/OLB Michael Johnson (showed great athleticism in the DE/LB tweener drills), Stillman College DT Sammie Lee Hill (This big 6’3, 329 pound HBCU product showed he is explosive with 30-inch vertical jump), Kansas State QB Josh Freeman (The 6’6, 248 pounder continued moving up draft boards by throwing well and broad jumping 9-11 inches to lead all QB’s), South Carolina TE Jared Cook (6’5 and 256 pounds, but looked like a receiver in pass catching drills. Also ran a 4.5 forty and had 23 reps of 225 pounds), South Carolina OT Jamon Meredith (The 6’5, 304-pounder ripped off 31 reps of 225 and ran a fast 5.04 forty plus looked good in drills), and Clemson DB Chris Clemons (An underrated player, the former Tiger ran the best safety time at 4.41 in the forty).

Event Maintainers – These were players that we believe were solid and did not hurt their value at the Combine.

Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew — The consensus No. 1 tight end prospect, Pettigrew was big (6-5 and 263 pounds) and ran a solid 4.85 in the forty.  Pettigrew also impressed with 22 reps of 225 and producing a 9’10 Broad Jump plus exhibiting soft hands and footwork in drills.  With many teams looking for the next Antonio Gates, look for Pettigrew to come off the board possibly in the first round.

UConn OT William Beatty – While everyone was talking about Smith, Monroe, and Davis, Beatty quietly moved into the conversation as a top tackle prospect.  The former All-Big East offensive tackle measured 6’6 and 307 pounds after suffering from the flu at the Senior Bowl and only weighing 291 pounds. Beatty ran an exceptional 5.12 forty and had a very good 33.5 vertical jump plus he showed good  feet and athleticism in the o-lineman drills.  The only area where he will need to get better by the draft is his strength as he failed to put up 30 reps. Looks like a solid  left tackle prospect, who probably be a late round draft pick.  

Florida TE Cornelius Ingram – The former Gators underclassman had a bull’s eye on him as he entered Indy after missing last year with a torn-up knee.  To everyone’s surprise Ingram looked like he was back to his old form showing quickness and athleticism.  At 6-4 and 245 pounds, Ingram ran an eye-popping 4.68 in the forty and 7.12 in the 3-cone drill.   He caught the ball well and the sky is the limit as the draft approaches.  This former quarterback should definitely be a first day pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Cincinnati DE/TE Connor Barwin  — College Football’s latest player to being a possible two-way iron man maintained his high standing with scouts.  Barwin was the highest rated D-lineman in the vertical (40.5), 3-cone (6.87), and broad jump (10’8) plus he was second ranked in the forty with a time of 4.66 seconds.  Now the fun begins is Barwin a workout warrior or can a team find a position (TE/OLB/DE) use for him on Sundays. 

Notre Dame DB David Bruton — The only former Notre Dame player in Indy put forth a very good effort running a safety second-best time of 4.46 in the forty and looking smooth in drills.  Several scouts said that Bruton maybe the number one special teams coverage prospect in the draft.

Hawaii DE David Veikune  — After a solid performance at Senior Bowl week, Veikune helped himself by maintaining his status in Indy.  This high-motor player showed speed running 4.87 and strength (35 reps) while looking like a future pass-rushing specialist.  Veikune is a hard worker and some team will find a spot for him on special teams and on 3rd downs.

Others either maintaining or moving up boards from Indy include: Boston College NT B.J. Raji (The 337-pounder looked like a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle doing 33 reps, but he also blazed to a 5.2 forty time), Tennessee DE/OLB Robert Ayers (Maintained his standing as a highly coveted hybrid combination defensive player at 6-3, 272 pounds), Michigan DT Terrance Taylor (The fire hydrant NT type ran a 5.3 in the forty, did a D-lineman high of 37 reps, and looked very quick in agility drills), Florida State DE Everette Brown  (ran a 4.73 forty while looking like an angular rush end prospect – 6’1 7/8, 256 pounds), Texas DE Brian Orakpo (before leaving with a hamstring injury, he ran a 4.7 in the forty and did 31 reps), Oregon S Patrick Chung (ran in the 4.6 range in the forty and was very determined in drills), USC LB Brian Cushing (recorded a 4.74 forty and did a linebacker-high 30 reps plus looked good in change of direction drills), Ball State QB Nate Davis (Threw a very nice long ball and had good footwork), Illinois DB Vontae Davis (One of the best corners in the 2009 draft looked good in drills and ran a 4.49 in the forty), UConn DB Darius Butler (Super-smooth corner, who trained at Prime U turned in a 43-inch vertical) and LSU G Herman Johnson (Nicknamed “House” actually looked smaller at 6’7, 364 lbs with a 36 1/2 inch long arms)

Event Crashers – These were players that we believe hurt their value at the Combine and will need to make up ground going into the draft.

Alabama OT Andre Smith  — Clearly the “Biggest Loser” at the 2009 NFL Combine as he showed up at a beefy 6-4 and 332 pounds and then things got even worse. Smith, who already had a red-flag against him after being suspended for the Sugar Bowl for alleged dealing with an agent, reportedly scored low in interviews and then inexplicitly disappeared from the Combine without telling anyone.  Smith’s desire to play football has already been in question by many evaluators as he has been heard saying, “He is only about the “Benjamin’s”, now has a couple of months (Pro Day is March 11th) before the April draft to save his Top 10 status.  Smith was clearly passed by offensive tackles Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher in draft position and he may have even lost the opportunity to get Jake Long type money ($30 Million dollar signing bonus) in the draft. 

Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree – The number one receiver going into the combine was diagnosed at the event with a slight stress fracture in his foot that will require surgery.  It is an unfortunate situation for a solid player, but it is not the end of the world for the explosive redshirt sophomore.  Unlike Andre Smith, Crabtree did himself a great service by hanging around to catch every pass thrown to him in a stationary position and interviewing well.  Though he did not reach his advertised 6-foot-3 inch height at 6-1 3/8, Crabtree drew comparisons to Larry Fitzgerald by weighing 215 pounds with 9½-inch hands and 34¼-inch long arms. Though there was crazy talk of the Red Raider vertical threat running at his Pro Day on March 26th, cooler head prevailed and Crabtree will have surgery that should keep him out until training camp.  Injury or not Crabtree is still the best receiver and his tape backs it up, so expect some team to still look at him as a Top 10 prospect (watch for the Raiders at the 7th spot in the draft).

Missouri TE Chase Coffman – Another injured player who revealed at the combine that he needed surgery to repair the foot previously fractured in the Alamo Bowl.  The 2008 Mackey Award winner didn’t participate in any drills and now he looks like a late round draft pick.

Penn State WR Derrick Williams – Maybe it was the flu, but the former Nittany Lions star did not look like a polished NFL receiver. With Williams measuring in the 5’11, 197 range, you though he would run better in the forty than the 4.6 to 4.67 range. He also looked like a body-catcher and more of a kick returner type than NFL receiver in drills.

Others needing work before their Pro Days included: Virginia Tech DB Victor “Macho” Harris (could not break 4.6 in the forty leaving some to wonder if he will have to play safety in the NFL), Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins (ran like a safety in the very disappointing 4.6+ range), Oklahoma LB/S Nic Harris (worked out with the DB’s and looked slow (4.8), leading many to believe he will have to be a LB and special teamer in the pros), North Carolina WR Hakeem Nicks (pulled up during receiver drills with a strained hamstring), Florida OT Jason Watkins, (ran a calendar slow time of 5.54 in the forty),  USC LB Rey Maualuga (ran a 4.8 forty then had to withdraw from the combine after suffering a leg injury near the end of his 40-yard dash), Penn State DE Maurice Evans (this underclassman should have stayed in school as he failed to break the 5.00 barrier in the forty), Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno (ran a slower than expected 4.62 in the forty) and Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee (looked like a conversion candidate running a 4.66 in the forty and not throwing the ball well).

Lloyd’s Leftovers

Speed not as prevalent at Lucas Oil stadium – After a year where everyone seemed to run sub-4.4 at the RCA, the 2009 only produced four sub-4.4 forties.  Surprisingly there were no DB’s under 4.4, but the receivers represented as Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey (4.30), Ole Miss’ Mike Wallace (4.33), Abilene Christian’s Johnny Knox (4.34) and Penn State’s Deon Butler (4.38) burned up the track.  Another thing regarding speed that needs to be fixed by next year is that the NFL Network’s times are way off and unofficial.  Some how the NFL Network needs to coordinate with the three official times clocked by National Football Scouting (two electronic and one handheld). Anyway I think people put too much emphasis on the forty anyway as one draft evaluator said at the event, “Larry Fitzgerald ran more than 4.6 when he went through the draft process and I don’t hear too many people now talking about what he ran Pre-Daft”

Podium time for the Coaches and GM’s – For the second year in a row, the combine had a full slate of GM’s and coaches holding their own press conferences at the event.  The media could go from hearing new Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz to new Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris to Texans GM Rick Smith without missing a beat.  Though you know the evaluators are not going to tip their hand, it is always good to get some insight.

Players could be evaluated with the ‘Wildcat’ solely in mind – We all know the NFL is a copy-cat league so a lot of the buzz around Lucas Oil Stadium was on finding players who could run the “Wildcat” formation.  Evaluators were asking running backs and receivers whether they had been a high school quarterback (ex. Derrick Williams).  Plus mobile throwers like Pat White and Stephen McGee were definitely looked at as potential future Wildcat signal-callers.  Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, who unveiled the formation in the NFL in ’08 said,  “I’m sure there are some people who are looking at (the Wildcat) right now. I know that as the season went on, more teams tried it. There’s a lot of those types of players out there – potential Wildcat guys.”

Hey Let the Media in…What’s the big secret – Even though there is a ton of media now attending the combine, reporters are only allowed into the quarterback throwing sessions of the event.  The whole thing makes you wonder what is the big deal when the NFL Network shows it live and other all-star games like the Senior Bowl allow the media to watch practices. In fact, the best place to watch the combine is probably in front of the television.  The whole clandestine atmosphere prompted National Football Scouting president Jeff Foster say, “Maybe the media wants access because it doesn’t have access — I think that’s an important element to evaluate. Is there really some value in it or is it just perception? And if it’s just perception, then are we compromising the working environment for the sake of perception or is there really some value? It’s something we need to collectively discuss in the off-season”.

What You Benching?? – I would love to see a 225 bench press lifting contest head to head of this year’s champ Louis Vasquez (39 reps) and current NFL strongman Eagles defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (44 reps back in 2006).  Of course we would need loud mouth Arizona Cardinals Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott as the moderator – “Come on Meat, HUP, HUP!!”.

Who needs the Combine?? – Usually when a player is not invited to NFL Combine, they are dismayed.  But Wyoming RB Devin Moore, who wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine made the most of NFL team officials being in Indianapolis  The all-time leading rusher in Wyoming history, who grew up in Indianapolis, held his own private “Pro Day” at a sports-training facility in front of 14 teams.  Moore (5-9, 190 pounds) didn’t disappoint running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds (would have been the 5th best at the combine), jumping 35-inches in the vertical jump and doing 27 repetitions on the bench press.

Combine discovers unfortunate health risk – The NFL career of Northeastern TE Brain Mandeville, one of the top small-school prospects in the 2009 draft class, appears to be over before it got started.  Mandeville (6-7, 253) it seems may have to give-up the game after doctors at the scouting combine diagnosed him with an issue with one of his heart valves. Mandeville caught 24 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns last year for Northeastern despite missing four games with a knee injury.

How Awesome is NFL Network !! – Again NFL Network brought the combine to the masses by providing the aforementioned 25 Hours of original programming of the event and all 331 hopefuls.  I could listen to draftniks Mike Mayock and Charles Davis all day breaking down all of the players.  Mayock and Davis can rattle off an NFL prospect’s bio, college football honors, and combine times/numbers/figures before you can say, “Jack Spratt” (Sorry Mel, but these guys are the best)

Sorry Underclassmen — Of the 46 underclassmen granted special eligibility for the 2009 NFL Draft, just two, Michigan TE Carson Butler and Arkansas TE Andrew Davie were not invited to the Combine. The youngsters should not feel bad as former college football powerhouses Notre Dame and UCLA only had 1 player invited to Indy, which is less than HBCU school Tennessee State (2 players).

St. Elmo’s Steak House is the place to be —  A Detroit Lions contingent of GM Martin Mayhew, president Tom Lewand, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, head coach Jim Schwartz, and new player personnel executive James “Shack” Harris were seen having dinner with Georgia QB Matthew Stafford.  You have to wonder if Stafford and his agent were just trying to get a free meal or if the Lions really are interested in taking the former Georgia star with the first overall pick.

The official workout results of the top performers at the 2008 Scouting Combine times are now posted at http://www.nfl.com/combine/top-performers

That is a wrap and Taking It to the House will definitely be there next year to cover the Combine, which is now a major happening as seen by the over 400 credentials handed out this year.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Advertisements

2009 Senior Bowl Review

 

patwhite

West Virginia quarterback Pat White was one of many stars from Senior Bowl week.  You can read more about White’s performance in Taking to the House’s 2009 Senior Bowl Review 

(Mobile, AL) — Every NFL GM, head coach, and their staffs were in Mobile, Alabama the week of January 19th as the 2009 Senior Bowl took center stage on the NFL Calendar.  Though the first week of the two week lead-up to Super Bowl is supposed to be quiet, the future was on the minds of every NFL team as they sent their scouts and talent evaluators to Ladd-Peebles Stadium to prepare for the upcoming 2009 NFL Draft.  The teams had the right idea in going to Mobile, because the Senior Bowl is the top place to view players “in pads” before all of the t-shirt and shorts workouts start in February leading up to the draft in April.  Senior Bowl week is a special event unto itself as shown by the extensive amount of coverage on NFL Network, but this year’s event had even greater significance as some of the lower tier College Football All-Star Games were cancelled due to the economy.

Even though many of the top players in the 2009 NFL Draft will be underclassmen, the good news was that several top-level senior players (USC LB Maualuga, Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew, USC LB Brian Cushing, Ole Miss OL Michael Oher, and others) did chose to participate in the Senior Bowl’s week long activities, probably to the chagrin of their agents.  However the bad news was that several high profile potential 2009 first-round picks did decide to stay away from this year’s event including Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins and LB Laurinaitis, Baylor OT Jason Smith, Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson, Wake Forest OLB Aaron Curry, Virginia OT Eugene Monroe, and Texas DE Brian Orakpo. Overall, several scouts that I talked to that were in Mobile indicated that this year’s senior group was a little more talented than the 2008 group.  But don’t expect to see this year’s group reach the heights of the 2006 Senior Bowl class that produced 14 first-round picks.

Hopefully the players were relaxed, because the Senior Bowl is a week-long blur of Weigh-in’s, NFL level practices, competitive “Live” one-on-one drills, interviews, and of course Saturday Night’s game under the lights all under the supervision two NFL staffs (North: Bengals and South: Jaguars).   You can have the lesser All-star games (East-West Shrine, Hula Bowl, “Favor of the Year” All Star game) and the NFL Combine, because the Senior Bowl is the place where “football” players get to show off their skills in front of the entire NFL.  The scene is really incredible, because everyone understands that the Senior Bowl is almost like the NFL’s yearly open scouting clinic.  Also several new and old head coaches use the Senior Bowl as an opportunity to interview potential coaches to fill their vacancies on their staffs before hunkering down for the draft.  Make no bones about it, everyone in Mobile was starting the long pre-draft scouting trek that will end at Radio City Music Hall, but I am sure some of the talent evaluators present were there to start their draft cajoling and smoke-screening too.  The crazy thing about the event is that every team for the most part is open to talking to other NFL staffs, you could even see division rivals like Bill Parcels (Dolphins) and Bill Belichick (Patriots) sitting in the stands next to each other talking shop at morning and afternoon practices.

As for the game, Ladd-Peebles Stadium was packed with 38,796 fans looking to see the nation’s best seniors battled it out in the 60th annual Senior Bowl.  The storyline going into the game may have been a supposedly stacked North squad, but it was a day of redemption for West Virginia senior quarterback Pat White.  The former Alabama high school quarterback that was not recruited to play the position locally returned to his home state leading the Jacksonville Jaguars coached South team to 35-18 victory over the favored North squad.  White (4-10, 95 yards passing and 1 TD with an additional 31 yards rushing), who was incorrectly assumed to be automatically converted to receiver by many evaluators, showed that he could make it in the NFL as a passer too.  The NCAA 1-A level all-time leading rushing quarterback showed off his stronger than expected arm while leading the South squad on two scoring drives plus looking very comfortable in the pocket. White showed what he could do early in the second quarter, leading an eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Quinn Johnson of LSU. The drive also included a 33-yard pass from White to North Carolina State running back Andre Brown.  However White’s best throw of the game and possibly of the week came on a 3rd quarter 39-yard touchdown strike to Ole Miss WR Mike Wallace in the corner of the end zone.

After the South’s victory, White said of his performance, “I’m just happy I had the opportunity. This was a great coaching staff that taught me a lot in a week, I’m looking forward to keeping working, trying to get better.”  White even outshined more heralded University of Alabama homeboy quarterback John Parker Wilson, who was named the Offensive Player of the Game after completing 7-of-13 passes for 56 yards and rushed for the game’s opening score on a short 4-yd touchdown run.  The South had a 21-10 halftime lead and they never let up as their coach Jack Del Rio was looking for the win.  Coach Del Rio was impressed by his squad and said of their efforts,  “We had a good week of practice, the guys really worked hard and had fun. We got after it pretty good, especially early in the week, came out tonight and kind of let it all out and had a good time competing”.  One of the players that the South staff and everyone else here in Mobile were high on after the game was Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers, who completed a very good week by winning the Defensive Player of the Game after producing 3 tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss, and 1.5 sacks.

The North squad coached by the Cincinnati Bengals staff tried to play catch-up all night in Mobile even narrowing the score to 28-18 early in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard run by Eric Kettani of Navy and a 2-point conversion run by Oregon’s Jeremiah Johnson. But it was not meant to be as the South pretty much closed out the game when University of Mississippi All-American defensive tackle Peria Jerry fell on a fumble in the North end zone for the South’s final score about midway through the fourth quarter.

Now that the weighing, practicing, questioning, and playing is over for the Senior Bowl, we have some observations, news, and notes from the 2009 Event.

Event Risers – These were players that we believe increased their value in at the 2009 Senior Bowl.

USC LB Rey Maualuga – The player that everyone came to see in Mobile didn’t disappoint.  Maualuga (6’3, 250) may need to tighten up a little after hitting the banquet circuit in the postseason, but in practices and in the game he flashed often.  He was very aggressive and all over the field in Saturday’s game producing 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and forcing a fumble. You could see all week that #58 was the leader in almost every linebacker drill and Maualuga showed a “Can-Do” attitude when receiving coaching.  The USC intimidating linebacker was definitely in his comfort zone and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his Top 10 status through Pro Day workouts and the Combine. 

West Virginia QB Pat White – After arriving in Mobile with many talent evaluators still wondering when he would make the jump to receiver ala Antwaan Randle El in 2002, White continued to prove his naysayers wrong.  More known for his running in college, the former WVU star took control of the huddle in practice and looked fluid in his drops and throws.  The 6-foot, 190-pound lefthander had a lot of zip on his throws and clearly outplayed Alabama’s John Parker Wilson and Clemson’s Cullen Harper.  In the game, White showed that he is more than capable of continuing as a passer and we maybe seeing the maturation of a future NFL difference maker.  White will now have to continue to impress at the combine where the scouts will be looking to see him throw deep out patterns.

Penn State WR/KR Derrick Williams – After being a highly heralded recruit, Williams may not have had the dominating college career once predicted for him, but he showed in Mobile that will be a solid pro prospect.  The former Penn State utility player was good coming out of his breaks, showed strong hands, and had a good burst in separating from DB’s.  The area where I really think Williams will shine is in the return game where he looked fluid catching kickoffs and punts while not wasting effort getting up the field.  In the game Williams led the North team with 124 all-purpose yards from 5 yards rushing, 19 yards receiving, 89 yards on kickoffs, and 11 yards on punt returns.  I like that Williams has great value as a “football player” where he should be able to be a contributor on specials teams and trick plays (former HS quarterback) at the next level.

Southern Miss. TE Shawn Nelson – This H-back type receiver/tight end really had his stock rise in Mobile.  Though not built like a pure tight end or wide receiver, Nelson surprised many in the stands with his sure hands and his willingness to block. With a height of 6’5 and a weight of 239 pounds, the best hope for Nelson would be that he turns into a Chris Cooley type at the next level.  Nelson in drills and practices was explosive out of his stance and was good running in space.  Though he didn’t have any catches in the game, Nelson had a very nice week to build upon at the NFL Combine and on his Pro Day.

Northern Illinois DE Larry English – Though overshadowed at times by higher profile guys, you could not help but follow this high-motor defensive end from a non-football factory.  English was explosive in his first step and showed good closing speed to the ball in drills.  However being a smaller school prospect, you hoped that English would flashed more in the game as he only produced 1 tackle.  Going into the combine and his Pro Day workout, English will need to get stronger at the point of attack and cut down on his head faking.

Event Maintainers – These were players that we believe were solid and did not hurt their value at the 2009 Senior Bowl. 

Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew – One of the top-rated prospects overall at the 2009 Senior Bowl, the big tight end (6’5, 265) from Oklahoma State didn’t disappoint.  The North starter at tight end didn’t have a catch in the game, but he shined in practices and drills.  The All-Big 12 tight end in practice blocked well with a solid anchor and showed a nice ability to find holes in coverage.  Though I wouldn’t categorize him as a burner, Pettigrew showed good speed, but he will need to find his 2nd gear on seam routes.  At the combine he will need to prove that he has the speed and strength to be considered a first round pick.

Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher – Another player that came to the Senior Bowl with high expectations maintained his first round standing with a solid showing.  Oher (6’5, 318) showed an ability to be a dominant run blocker, used his hands to get a good punch, and had a nice nasty streak in drills.  The area the All-SEC offensive tackle will need to work on is his pass-blocking skills, as he sometimes reached and didn’t play with leverage in drills.  He maybe a better suited for right tackle than left tackle, but his strength and good feet still make him a first-rounder.

Hawaii DE David Veikune – A classic tweener (6’3, 265) this possible 3-4 outside linebacker showed good quickness and determination in drills.  I liked his explosive first step and ability to play with leverage against larger men in drills.  The question though is, “Can Veikune continue to play with his hand in the dirt at the next level?”  I am not sure if we got our total answer in Mobile, but I did like what I saw in this high-effort player as he produced 2 tackles and provided pressure for the winning South team.

Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias – After coming into Mobile as one of the receivers from Heisman-winner Sam Bradford’s high-powered offense, Iglesias continued to shine.  In the game, he was the North’s leading receiver catching six balls for 90 yards and in practices, Iglesias (6’0, 202) showed good speed, an ability to make catches in traffic, and good separation.  I thought Iglesias, Williams, and Ohio State’s Brian Robiske were the strongest receivers in Mobile.  It will be interesting to see at the combine if Iglesias can show his reported 4.4 speed to maintain his first-day status.

Event Crashers – These were players that we believe hurt their value at the Senior Bowl and will need to make up ground at their Pro Days and the Combine to get back up in the mix by the NFL Draft.

LSU offensive guard Herman Johnson – The player known as being the Biggest Baby Ever Born in the State of Louisiana (15 pounds, 14 ounces) did not help himself in Mobile.  Johnson who is for lack of a better word “huge” measured out at 6-7 ¾ and 382 pounds, as the ballroom was abuzz by his girth.  Unfortunately all of his size was not that impressive to the coaches and personnel evaluators that I talked to.  At Johnson’s size you would think he would be an ideal tackle, but his conditioning, footwork and questionable effort have placed him on the inside at offensive guard rather than at offensive tackle. Johnson struggled in one-one drills and at times got lost in practice.  You could clearly see that he was not explosive out of his stance and quicker players were able to beat him.  Johnson will need to work on his conditioning and footwork before the combine and his Pro Day.

Missouri S William Moore – Probably one of the most heralded players coming into the Senior Bowl, probably wished that he had stayed home.  After an injury-plagued season and USC’s Taylor Mays surprisingly going back to school, the former Tigers star hoped to shine in Mobile.  Unfortunately nothing seemed to come together for this David Fulcher sized (6’1″ 230) hitter. Moore didn’t look the part of a centerfield safety as his deep coverage was not there.  He may have been slowed by an ankle injury, but he was constantly beat by small quicker players.  He only had one tackle in the game and one scout that I talked to said that he went from an almost-certain first-rounder to a possible late second-rounder. Now there are even questions about whether Moore might make a better weakside linebacker instead of safety in the NFL.  Moore was clearly outplayed by Western Michigan FS Louis Delmas, Alabama FS Rashad Johnson, and Oregon’s Patrick Chung.  Moore like fellow safety David Bruton of Notre Dame will need to pick-it-up at the combine and on his Pro Day.

Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell – Oh no…. I think we have another quarterback with inflated stats from Mike Leach’s high octane Texas Tech offense.  Harrell looked like the second coming of Kliff Kingsbury as his arm was a disappointment in practice and drills.  Harrell (6’2, 205) did show nice touch and pocket awareness, but he didn’t have the arm the pros love and he struggled at moving under center, which is essential for an NFL quarterback.  Harrell’s passes didn’t have zip and you have to wonder in cold weather cities if he might struggle.  In the game, Harrell was only 4 for 13 passing for only 40 yards and 1 INT.  Harrell along with fellow unimpressive quarterbacks Sam Houston State’s Rhett Bomar (fumble in the game) and Clemson’s Cullen Harper (inaccurate in practice) will need to find a way to shine at the combine.

Cal Poly WR Ramses Barden – Sometimes it is hard for smaller school guys to make the transition against higher competition and that is exactly what happened to Barden.  Everyone liked his size at 6-6, 227 pounds, but he was far from the stud receiver that his numbers showed (broke several of Jerry Rice’s lower level records).  Barden had trouble getting off the line of scrimmage and his speed/quickness, all ready a question mark given his size, was not that great either.  Barden will need to fix his problems quick, because in the NFL he will not make a roster with just his route running and hands.  It will be interesting to see if he gets faster and stronger by the combine, because his stock is currently suffering.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

Defensive Tackles were impressive in Mobile — Going into the Senior Bowl, most people thought that the O-linemen would dominate the D-linemen in drills.  However led by Boston College DT B.J. Raji, was the best player at almost every practice seeming to be unblockable, the defensive tackles shined.  . Raji was joined on the Stock Up List by fellow space-eaters Ole Miss’ Peria Jerry (maybe a first rounder after manhandling several O-lineman in drills and recovering a fumble for a score in the game), Georgia Tech’s Vance Walker, Missouri’s Ziggy Hood, Georgia’s Corey Irvin, Purdue’s Alex Magee and USC’s Fili Moala. All of the defensive tackles listed showed a good anchor and were stout at the point of attack in practices and in the game.

Running Backs struggle again – I don’t know if it is the All-Star setting or that most of the best runners are clearly underclassmen (Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State’s Beanie Wells, Iowa’s Shonn Green, Uconn’s Donald Brown and others).  But the running back group at the Senior Bowl was not that impressive. The fact that little known Rashad Jennings of Liberty College in Virginia (South) was the game’s leading rusher with only 41 yards on nine carries tells you everything you need to know about this group.  I guess the two standouts of the weak group were North Carolina State’s Andre Brown and Tennessee’s Arian Foster of Tennessee (hamstring) with both displaying good vision and cuts in practice.  Brown did display some nice hands receiving the ball catching two passes for 41 yards in the game.  It will be interesting to see how this group fairs once they are tested at the combine against the underclassmen standouts. 

Corners came to play – With the NFL going to more spread formations putting four and sometimes five receivers on the field, teams are looking for cornerbacks that can cover and tackle on draw plays.  This year I would have to say that the featured group in Mobile.  Led by sure first rounder Wake Forest’s Alphonso Smith (1 pass break-up in the game), this group was physical in press coverage, showed a good backpeddle, and an ability to break on the ball.  I was also impressed with Smith’s fellow corners Virginia Tech’s Victor “Macho” Harris, West Virginia’s Ellis Lankster (had the game’s only interception), Jackson State CB Domonique Johnson (4 TKLs in the game), Oregon State’s Keenan Lewis of Oregon State, Uconn’s Darius Butler of UConn and San Jose State’s Coye Francies. 

The Trojans come marching in – As if the USC Trojans’ Rose Bowl thumping of Penn State wasn’t enough, head coach Pete Carroll for the second year in a row sent the most players to the Senior Bowl with six players.  Of course everyone knew about Maulaga, but the Trojans also sent his partners highly touted linebackers Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews.  Cushing had one tackle in the game, but all week everyone was impressed with his size, recognition skills, and downhill playing style.  Matthews — son of Cleveland Browns legend Clay Matthews Sr. — proved that he was more than a pass rusher by showing that he also had the feet to dropback in coverage, so look for him to be a steal on someone’s draft board.  Other members of the Trojans contingent included wide receiver Patrick Turner (had some drops in practice, but the big 6’5 receiver led the South with three catches for 30 yards), rangy defensive end Kyle Moore (had a sack in the game), and defensive tackle Fili Moala (described as the strongest man in Mobile and had one tackle in the game).

That’s a wrap for the 2009 Senior Bowl and now the NFL’s attention will shift to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa between the Steelers and Cardinals.

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)