At long last, the 2022 Senior Bowl is finally here. Day one of practice took place under mostly overcast skies with a consistent breeze blowing. The National team practiced first, being run by the New York Jets staff. The American team went in the afternoon, led by the Detroit Lions staff.
Below I drop some notes on both team’s practices, as well as, some notes from the opening press conference this morning.
2022 SENIOR BOWL: OPENING PRESS CONFERENCE
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy opened the press conference (taking no questions) and then introduced Pitt QB, Kenny Pickett. He said that Pickett has the aura and pull with his teammates like Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow does. Pickett made headlines yesterday after notably refusing to get his hands measured. There are reports that his hands are somewhere between 8 ¼-8 ½ inches. Refusing to have them measured essentially confirms that. Pickett said playing in the weather in Pittsburgh should ease concerns on his hand size.
Alabama DL Phidarian Mathis was up next. Nagy said he was the next in line of the great Alabama defensive linemen. Mathis said his versatility to play all over the front four is a plus and something he wants to showcase this week. The Crimson Tide star also had a great quote that can apply to other aspects of life. Mathis said, “why play the game if you aren’t going to have fun?”
NATIONAL TEAM PRACTICE
Before practice even started, I noticed that Baylor LB Terrel Bernard wasn’t in pads. It appears his week is over before it got started.
One of the biggest questions for me coming into this practice was: who would actually play center? There were no “true” centers on the National team roster. Zion Johnson (G/Boston College), Cole Strange (G/Chattanooga), and Luke Goedeke (OT/Central Michigan) all took reps at center. Unfortunately for Goedeke, his day ended after he sustained a hamstring injury, ending his week.
The National team ran out five different players to return punts and kicks. Among them were Khalil Shakir (WR/Boise State), Romeo Doubs (WR/Nevada), Bo Melton (WR/Rutgers), Braylon Sanders (WR/Mississippi), and Racaad White (RB/Arizona State).
Penn State punter Jordan Stoudt was absolutely bombing the football off of his foot.
Nevada TE Cole Turner has the size on paper you look for in a tight end prospect but his legs are noticeably small.
Since they weren’t in full pads today, I tried to put most of my attention on the WRs and DBs. Especially in the 1-on-1 portion of the drills.
Tariq Castro-Fields (CB/Penn State) gets a bit grabby out there. He did get an interception later on.
Cincinnati WR Alec Pierce showed off great separation skills in the 1-1s. North Dakota State WR Christian Watson looked phenomenal running routes. Watson took Gregory Junior (CB/Ouchita Baptist) to the cleaners several times.
Junior also got beat deep on a rep by Braylon Sanders. Sanders later tried to do too much dancing trying to separate from Coby Bryant but the former Cincinnati Bearcat was having none of it.
Khalil Shakir had a great rep on a comeback route, getting a good distance from Damarri Mathis (CB/Pittsburgh). Romeo Doubs beat Joshua Williams on a deep route that he has probably run a thousand times with his teammate Carson Strong (QB/Nevada). This was the only bad rep I saw from the former D2 corner Williams. His physicality showed nicely today.
During the full team portion of practice, Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning got a few reps at right guard. Later in the practice, Penning buried Oklahoma DL Perrion Winfrey on rep. Penning was the only player practicing his undertaking skills. Logan Hall (DL/Houston) destroyed Cole Turner on a “block” attempt.
Kenny Pickett was a bit indecisive during the drill, taking “sacks” from both Boye Mafe (EDGE/Minnesota) and Dominique Robinson (EDGE/Miami-OH). Illinois safety Kerby Joseph made a great play on a PBU of Colorado State TE Trey McBride.
As usual with quarterbacks that never take snaps from under center…there were issues. Desmond Ridder (QB/Cincinnati) seemed to have the most pronounced issues.
Watching Penning, Bernhard Raimann (OT/Central Michigan), and Matt Waletzko (OT/North Dakota) has been fun down here. I was not sure why they are repping Kyron Johnson (LB/Kansas) at the edge but Trevor Penning was not amused and it may have angered him at the mere insolence.
Oregon safety (and Shane P Hallam favorite) Verone McKinley III has been added to the National team roster and will join the team tomorrow.
AMERICAN TEAM PRACTICE
The American team practice got off to a slower pace. The first 25 minutes took place with no one wearing a helmet. Somehow, during this period of time with no helmets on, San Diego State edge rusher Cameron Thomas managed to hurt himself. Thomas eventually came back but didn’t participate. I would take that as a sign that one of the best pass rushers in the nation this year is done for the week.
Tennessee WR Velus Jones looks so sudden in his movements.
Defensive ends Amare Barno (Virginia Tech), Kinsley Enagbare (South Carolina), Jermaine Johnson (Florida State) and DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky) took reps at linebacker. I expect Malone to take more there this week.
Velus Jones, Calvin Austin (WR/Memphis), and Dontario Drummond (WR/Mississippi) took turns returning punts. Speaking of Austin, if Rey Mysterio were a football player and not a WWE superstar, he would be Calvin Austin. #Small
I managed to watch some pass-pro drills for the RBs and TEs. SMU TE Grant Calcaterra blocks like a tight end who never had to block.
Dameon Pierce (RB/Florida) stonewalled a couple of defenders, one of which was Nebraska LB JoJo Domann. Isaiah Likely (TE/Coastal Carolina) did a solid job on the few reps I saw of his.
During the WR/DB 1-on-1s, there were several drops by the receivers. Auburn CB Roger McCreary may have lost at the weigh-in but he showed today that the reason he was being mocked in the first round was his cover skills. He easily ran downfield with Jalen Tolbert (WR/South Alabama) and was in the hip pocket of Virginia Tech WR Tre Turner.
Danny Gray (WR/SMU) looked faster on the field than I thought he would be based on the tape. He struggled to separate from Zyon McCollum (CB/Sam Houston State) on one rep but the rest of the practice he won. Malik Willis hit him on a beautiful deep ball later in practice to beat Tycen Anderson (S/Toledo). More on Willis later.
Dontario Drummond ran a good route on a comeback pattern but was up and down the rest of the way. Jalen Tolbert made a great adjustment on an underthrown ball from Bailey Zappe (QB/Western Kentucky). Zappe has arm limitations but he made a perfect deep throw to Velus Jones beating Tariq Woolen (CB/UTSA). Jones had about one-yard of distance between himself and Woolen.
The best overall DB I saw today for the American team was Clemson CB Mario Goodrich. He didn’t lose a rep that I saw.
During the 9-on-7 drill, Devonte Wyatt (DL/Georgia) made a splash play.
Coming into the week, we knew that Luke Fortner (Kentucky) and Dylan Parham (Memphis) would be snapping the ball. Fortner is the only true center on the entire roster. However, Tennessee OL Cade Mays joined them taking center reps.
Jermaine Johnson looked like an unstoppable animal during the drills I saw of him.
The quarterback play on the American team seemed to be slightly better than on the National team overall. North Carolina’s Sam Howell was the most consistent of the six QBs at Senior Bowl practice. However, I think Joe Marino of The Draft Network said it best about Malik Willis:
The best way I can sum up Liberty QB Malik Willis’ performance today during #SeniorBowl practices is that he had the 5 best throws of the day and the 5 worst throws of the day. #NFLDraft
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) February 1, 2022
I will be back at practice tomorrow with coverage of day two of the 2022 Senior Bowl. That is of course if the weather allows it.