The North team took the field of Ladd-Peebles Stadium for their first practice of the Senior Bowl. The Oakland Raiders coaching staff ran the practice and will coach them all week. The Raiders staff had the players practicing in shells (shorts, shoulder pads and helmets). Oakland's staff kept them going at a good pace and at a physical level.
In the warmups to begin practice and to close practice the special teams units received some work. A number of players fielded punts, but perhaps the most interesting was Michigan quarterback turned wide receiver Denard Robinson. The former option runner had serious problems fielding punts and fumbled four of his catches. Robinson deserves time to develop, but he is going to need a lot of work to be a punt returner in the NFL.
For a lot of the practice the North team had the offensive linemen and defensive linemen battling in one-on-ones. The defensive linemen that really stood out the most were Texas defensive end Alex Oakfor, Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, UCLA tackle/end Datone Jones and Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill. All had excellent practices. The offensive linemen that performed the best were Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher and Oregon tackle Kyle Long.
The beginning of the one-on-ones were for run plays where the defensive linemen were trying to hold their ground at the point of attack. Long had an impressive play where he rode North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams about 10 yards towards the sideline. Long got into Williams pads and had him on roller skates. In the pass rushing one-on-ones Long had another win against Williams to stop cold a pass rush.
Long and Fisher had impressive wins against speed rushes from Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan. They both showed nice length and quick feet on those reps. It wasn't all good for Long in the team scrimmage as a few defenders pushed him into quarterback Ryan Nassib to blow up a screen pass. The ball went straight into the back of Long's helmet.
Okafor beat Long on a run rep as he held his ground and shed him to the side quickly after the initial contact. Long came back to get a draw with Okafor. In a pass rushing one-on-one, Okafor burned Long at right tackle with a speed rush and while slapping Long's hands away.
Okafor used his speed to beat Illinois guard/tackle Hugh Thornton. Going against Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner, Okafor had a draw. The former left tackle looks like he will have to play right tackle in the NFL. To finish the one-on-ones, Okafor beat Fisher with a speed rush.
In the team scrimmage Okafor used some power and quickness to blow up Wagner into the backfield and start a tackle for a loss on Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse. On a run to the right side Okafor and Short met in the backfield for another tackle for a loss. It was a very impressive first day for Okafor. He is a natural upfield end that is going to put a lot of pressure on tackles to keep him out of the backfield.
Short used a bull rush to blast through Thorton in a run scrimmage one-on-one. Against Kent State tackle Brian Winters, Short used a speed rush to get to the quarterback landmark. Notre Dame center Braxton Cave struggled with Short in their regular season matchup and that was replayed on Monday afternoon. Short beat Cave on multiple reps in the one-on-ones on speed rushes up the middle. The speedy Short showed nice explosion off the snap and the power to keep linemen from sustaining contact on him.
Cave had a rough first practice of the Senior Bowl. Not only did Short give him trouble, but other tackles did as well. He was tossed aside and a convoy of defenders had a tackle for a loss in the nine-on-seven scrimmage. Cave needs to play a lot better on Tuesday and Wednesday.
One of the players that had success against Cave and the other interior linemen was Hill. He displayed a powerful bull rush to get numerous wins. One came against San Jose State's Dan Quessenberry. A bull rush went through Thornton and Wagner for two more wins for Hill.
The powerful Jones was disruptive at the point of attack and was extremely physical. He tossed aside the bigger Thornton for two wins in the one-on-ones. In the nine-on-seven scrimmage, Jones fired into the backfield to get a big hit on Oregon running back Kenjon Barner.
Sylvester Williams had moments where he would flash a great play followed by other reps where he didn't look good. He had some struggles with Long, but had success against Cave. In the team scrimmage Williams broke through the line to record a tackle for a loss.
SMU defensive end Margus Hunt was one of the stars of the weigh in, but overall he had a quiet first practice. Hunt lost on some one-on-one reps, but did beat Wagner for a likely sack in the team scrimmage. It is easy to get wrapped up in the great physical skill set of the 6-foot-8, 277-pound Estonian, but he is still a work in progress as a football player. He needs to work on staying low and not standing up too high. Offensive linemen get under his pads and neutralize him when that happens.
One linebacker really stood out on Monday and that was North Carolina's Kevin Reddick. On an end around Reddick ran to the sideline and pounded Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton to force a fumble. Reddick's hit made a loud thud. On a trap run up the middle Reddick read the play well to stuff Barner in the hole for no gain. On a short dump off throw by North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon, Reddick almost caught an interception, but managed to slap the ball away. It was an impressive first day for Reddick.
None of the three quarterbacks stood out with a good practice. Glennon, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib and Miami of Ohio's Zach Dysert showed some nice arms, but none of them were particularly effective. Glennon has the strongest arm of the bunch. He can really spin it. Nassib is the most polished and makes the least mistakes. Dysert had some of ugliest mistakes and some of the prettier completions.
Glennon threw an interception on a bad overthrow of Western Kentucky tight end Jack Doyle who was wide open, by NFL standards, running down the middle seam. The ball sailed into USC safety T.J. McDonald's arms.
Dysert threw an ugly interception on a pass with terrible ball placement. His receiver was to the outside but the pass was off the mark and flew directly to the defensive back. It looked like it was Connecticut's Blidi Wreh-Wilson who caught the ball. Scouts had a chuckle at Dysert's expense.
There a few other low lights for Dysert. He threw another interception on a short slant during seven-on-sevens. It looked like Connecticut corner Dwayne Gratz grabbed that one. While practicing roll outs without any defenders or offensive players, Dysert tripped over his own feet rolling out to the perimeter. It was a funny looking blooper that had some of the Oakland coaches chuckling. It is pretty clear that Dysert needs to work on his accuracy.
Dysert came back to throw a nice ball down the seam for Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, but the big tight end couldn't hold onto the ball out in front of him. To close out the team scrimmage Dysert lofted in a nice pass down the deep sideline to Wheaton who made a superb leaping catch. Aside from the fumble, Wheaton had a good practice.
In the college All-Star games it is normal for quarterbacks to struggle on the first day. They aren't used to their centers or receivers, so this trio will probably look better on Tuesday and Wednesday. Scouts understand this trend and don't rush to judgement.
The passing game featured some solid performances in the first day from the secondary. Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant played well and had tight coverage. Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer had an exceptional pass break up with good closing speed to slap away a short slant. At the end of practice Poyer was beat by college teammate Wheaton deep down the field for a leaping reception. Generally, Poyer had good coverage. Poyer did muff punt at the end of practice.
Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor had a solid first practice aside from a muffed punt. Some scouts told Walter Football that they look at Taylor as a fifth-rounder.
Of the running backs, UCLA's Johnathan Franklin had the best run with a great cut back to burst down the field for a gain of about 30 yards. Rouse had nice run on a cut back as well.
There were some interesting interactions on the sidelines of the practice. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had a lengthy conversation with new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. The Dolphins contingent of head coach Joe Philbin and general manager Mike Ireland chose to watch the North over South, as did Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik.
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