January 21, 2014
2014 Senior Bowl - Tuesday North Practice
Scott Wright
President, Draft Countdown

   The North squad hit the field for their first full pad practice of the week on Tuesday morning. Unfortunately the weather wasnít nearly as idyllic as the day before, with brisk winds blowing in at more than 20 miles per hour. This is football though so a little inclement weather certainly wasnít going to deter anyone from the task at hand. Many of the standouts from yesterday continue to perform well but some new names also jumped to the forefront and made their presence in Mobile, AL known.

Zach Thomas v.2.0

   For the second day in a row Wisconsin LB Chris Borland was one of the most active players on the field, seeing action both inside and outside. It appears as though this is going to be one of those classic battles between physical tools and the tape. Even though Borland lacks the prototypical height that you look for and has short arms he compensates with instincts that may be unparalleled in this class. With Borland making such a positive impression in Mobile you have to wonder if Shayne Skov of Stanford is regretting his decision to the decline the invitation and compete. Borland is even drawing comparisons to Zach Thomas, who faced similar concerns when he was coming out of Texas Tech. Despite an extraordinarily productive college career Thomas slipped to the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft before going on to play thirteen years in the league, garnering 1st Team All-Pro honors five times and making seven Pro Bowl appearances. Something tells me Borland wonít have to wait nearly as long to hear his name called on Draft Day. On average there are usually just five inside linebackers selected in the top three rounds per year but Borland seems to have locked up one of those spots at this point. In fact, Borland could conceivably be the second or third player off the board at the position.

Sims Running in the Lead

   At one point this was shaping up to be the most talented group of Senior Bowl running backs in recent memory. Unfortunately the position lost a lot of star power with Carlos Hyde of Ohio St., Andre Williams of Boston College, Marion Grice of Arizona St., Tyler Gaffney of Stanford and Trey Millard of Oklahoma all turning down their invitations. Hyde by choice and the others due to injury. That left Charles Sims of West Virginia as the clear-cut top prospect in Mobile and so far he is taking full advantage of the opportunity. As expected Sims is showcasing his all-around skill set, impressing not only as a runner but as a pass catcher and blocker as well. Donít underestimate the value of versatility! On display today was Simsí outstanding quickness and burst through the hole as well as his incredible feet and balance. With so many underclassmen running backs coming out Sims has become the forgotten man to a certain degree. However, Sims has been highly-thought of in league circles for quite some time, dating back to his days at Houston, so donít be surprised if he comes off the board ahead of some runners with higher profiles and a lot more hype.

Michael Sam to OLB...Or Not?

   Every year one of the most intriguing aspects of the Senior Bowl is the chance to see Ďtweeners work at their potential new positions. At times itís quarterbacks playing wide receiver or cornerbacks at safety but more often than not itís college defensive ends attempting to make the transition to outside linebacker. Sometimes it works out (i.e. DeMarcus Ware) but in the case of Missouriís Michael Sam the early returns have not been overly positive. Despite racking up 19.0 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks as a senior Sam does not have the type of length that you look for in a stud pass rusher, checking in at 6-1⅝ and 260 pounds. Sam just did not appear to be very comfortable playing on his feet in space, looking stiff while struggling in coverage and having trouble getting off of blocks. With that said Sam is still relatively new to the position and should continue to improve with time and additional reps. On the plus side Sam did look considerably better when he began working with the defensive lineman. Overall itís been a rough start to the week for Sam and the concerns that people had about his game have only been magnified. That could make it more difficult for a team to justify investing a premium draft choice on a player with some serious physical limitations despite an impressive college rťsumť.

The Safety Dance

   For the most part defensive backs donít stand out at a weigh-in but Washington St. S Deone Bucannon was an exception thanks to a chiseled 6-0⅞ and 216 pound frame. If Bucannon wasnít the most feared safety in the country this past season that honor might go to Ahmad Dixon of Baylor, who earned a reputation for being borderline dirty due to his aggressive, hard-hitting style. That physical nature was on full display for both Bucannon and Dixon today but each struggled with coverage responsibilities. That isnít necessarily a surprise but the NFL is undeniably a passing league and these days there isnít a lot of room for defensive backs who are a liability in that aspect of the game. Dixon and Bucannon are two of the players jockeying for position behind Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville and whoever emerges from the pack and establishes themselves as the third safety in this class will likely find a home somewhere in the second round. There is still a long way to go but so far Dixon and Bucannon have shown that they are going to be a factor in that competition right to the very end and workouts (i.e. speed) may play a key role.

Extra Points:

   It was another ugly day for the quarterbacks as Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech, Tajh Boyd of Clemson and Stephen Morris of Miami (FL) all struggled, although Thomas flashed at times and seems to be emerging as the clear front-runner amongst the North's disappointing group of signal callers... Colorado St. C Weston Richburg doesnít get a lot of attention for someone who could be a Top 100 pick but is one of the few blockers who has held his own against Aaron Donald and RaíShede Hageman. Richburg is making a strong case for why he should be the first pivot off the board...Kain Colter of Northwestern appears to be making a seamless transition to wide receiver after playing mostly quarterback in college...UCLA LB Jordan Zumwalt was the unheralded member of the Bruins outstanding linebacking corps and is an underrated prospect who could project inside or outside at the next level. Today Zumwalt drew notice for his intense and passionate play, looking like a man possessed at times and even being asked "politely to dial it back"...In a rather lackluster grouping of tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz of Iowa has jumped to the forefront due to his imposing size and excellent blocking skills...There is an undercurrent of buzz building around Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir, who is very raw but a rangy physical specimen who also shined at the East / West Shrine Game last week...Notre Dame OT Zack Martin, Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman and Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald were standouts yesterday and all three continued to put on a show in Mobile. In fact, Martin is arguably the best player in attendance and could very well be the first 2014 Senior Bowl participant selected on Draft Day.

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