January 22, 2014
2014 Senior Bowl - Wednesday South Practice
Scott Wright
President, Draft Countdown

   Technically the actual game is the culmination of Senior Bowl week but the Wednesday practice is kind of the unofficial finale since most of the front office people, scouts and coaches are already preparing to pack up and leave Mobile for another year. This session is also important because the players should all be executing at their highest level of the week now that theyíve had a chance to get accustomed to all of the different variables that come into play at an event such as this whether it be the playbook, teammates, etc. Who took advantage of this last opportunity to showcase their talents in front of literally hundreds of decision makers?

Interior Blocking

   Every year there are players who are much more highly-thought of in scouting circles than most realize and Nevada OG Joel Bitonio is a perfect example. A college offensive tackle who will most likely kick inside to offensive guard at the next level, Bitonio has been garnering a lot of positive commentary for his efforts both on and off the field all week long. One of the highlights of the day came when Bitonio put Tennessee DT Daniel McCullers on the ground despite giving up more than forty pounds in the matchup. At this point it may be an upset if Bitonio escapes the Top 100. Meanwhile Mississippi St. OG Gabe Jackson has impressed with his sheer size, brute strength and physical style. Jackson wonít be an ideal fit for every scheme but will surely be a target of teams that utilize a power, run based attack. Jackson is also benefiting to a degree from the struggles that Baylor OG Cyril Richardson has experienced at times this week. However, it should be noted that Jackson hasnít had to face the force of nature known as Aaron Donald like poor Mr. Richardson either.

McGill + Small School CB's

   Big cornerbacks have been a major storyline this week and the South certainly has their fair share. Utah CB Keith McGill may be the most fascinating. After battling injuries early in his college career McGill enjoyed a breakout senior campaign and shot up draft boards. In fact, McGill was already considered to be a strong Day 2 possibility heading into the week. McGill has had some ups and downs and there is still some question as to how smoothly he flips his hips and transitions but itís hard not to become enamored with that truly special combination of size and speed. McGill is exactly the type of rangy cover guy that the league is looking for these days, checking in at 6-3 and 214 pounds with ridiculously long 33-inch arms, and will likely be a hot commodity somewhere in round two or three. A couple of small school corners stood out today as well but for different reasons. Liberty CB Walt Aikens is a good athlete with terrific size (6-0 ⅝, 205) who has opened a lot of eyes in Mobile. Aikens does a nice job of pressing at the line but also showcased the ability to turn and run downfield with wideouts. Cornerback is a position where sleepers have a tendency to be major factors and teams will undoubtedly be going back to the tape and taking another look at Aikens after his performance this week. On the other hand Georgia Southern CB Lavelle Westbrooks had some difficulties today. Westbrooks also brings an exciting mix of size and speed to the table but needs to clean up some technical issues to compete against pro quality competition.

Solid But Unspectacular

   Coming into the week Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews was widely considered to be the top prospect at his position in the game with an outside shot at sneaking into the back end of round one. Matthews hasnít been awful by any stretch of the imagination but he hasnít had the type of big week that most were expecting either. The best way to describe Matthewsí performance might be solid but unspectacular. With that said itís not like Matthews has done anything to damage his stock either. Even though Matthews hasnít been a dynamic playmaker in practice he's still caught the attention of evaluators with his dogged work ethic. Not only did Matthews specifically request tape on the cornerbacks that he would be facing in Mobile before arriving but he has also been seen putting in extra work both before and after the practices. Itís not often that you see such a professional approach from a young player. With impeccable intangibles like that it should come as no surprise to hear Matthews' cousin is the great Jerry Rice, whose dedication to his craft is legendary.

Welcome to the Big Leagues

   Itís been a tough go for North Dakota St. OT Billy Turner, who is considered to be one of the premier small school prospects in this class. Turner is a very good athlete with a large frame and growth potential but needs to get stronger and clean up his technique. The biggest issue facing Turner is leverage as he has a tendency to bend at the waist and play tall but there are some footwork problems that must be fixed as well. After manning the blindside in college Turner has been seeing action at both right tackle and offensive guard this week and appears to be better suited for the interior. Could Turner now get bypassed by Dakota Dozier of Furman, a similar type of player who is coming off a very strong showing at the East / West Shrine Game?

Extra Points:

   Auburn DE Dee Ford once again put on a show and has been a revelation this week but his college teammate made a positive impressive today as well. Auburn CB Chris Davis will forever be best known for the infamous ďKick SixĒ play but it was his cover skills that were on display this afternoon. Davis was extremely aggressive and feisty despite giving up some size to most of the wideouts he faced. Davis may actually have been a little too physical for his own good but itís always preferable to have to dial back a players intensity rather than the other way around...Colorado St. TE Crockett Gillmore was added to the roster mid-week as an injury replacement following a strong showing at the East / West Shrine Game and wasted no time making an impact. Gilmore, who also saw action at defensive end in college, isnít an elite athlete and wonít run particularly well in workouts but looked smoother than expected and did a nice job as both a pass catcher and blocker...With the wind no longer a factor San Jose St. QB David Fales had his best performance of the week so far. Fales was reportedly battling an illness the first couple of days but is now feeling better so that may have played a role in his early struggles and recent improvement as well. Regardless of the reason Fales was finally able to make a get something going but might need to be in the right system to succeed at the next level due to an arm strength deficiency, a la Andy Dalton...There isnít a more imposing physical specimen in this class than Tennessee DT Daniel McCullers but the big guy has struggled a bit this week. Despite that rare size McCullers is awfully stiff and offers very little from a pass rush perspective, which could limit him to a two-down role and put a ceiling on how high he could potentially come off the board...Even though they havenít made a lot of big, splashy plays B.Y.U. WR Cody Hoffman, Tulane WR Ryan Grant and Texas WR Mike Davis have all had solid weeks. In most years all three might crack the initial few rounds but with so many underclassmen pass catchers coming out it could push them into Day 3 at which point they would offer excellent value...Underrated Louisiana Tech DE IK Enemkpali was added to the South roster as an injury replacement, presumably for Ed Stinson, and practiced for the first time today...Virginia DE Brent Urban was shut down for the rest of the week due to a sprained ankle while Florida CB Jaylen Watkins also suffered an ankle injury during practice and was seen limping around with it wrapped up afterwards.

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