With the absence of Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich
here in Mobile, Carson Palmer established himself as the draft's top pick
based on his performances this week. The
Heisman Trophy winner threw all the passes in a variety of offensive formations
and was right on the mark every day. Unfortunately
the rest of the signal callers did not really distinguish themselves.
Chris Simms only looks like a solid short-range pocket passer while his
South teammate Kliff Kingsbury did not dispel the belief that he lacks the arm
strength to play at the next level. For
the North Dave Ragone is still suffering from the case of cabin fever he came
down with last season and though Kyle Boller displays the top physical skills to
be a starter in the NFL, his game still needs both technical and mental
refinement. Seneca Wallace played
surprisingly well but his lack of height hampers his ability to see the field
and the accuracy of his throws was sporadic all week.
As for the running backs, Larry Johnson showed grit by returning to the practice field on Thursday after a serious case of the stomach flu landed him in the hospital, then went on to have one of his best sessions of the week. Multi-versatile, Johnson's running skills and ability to catch the ball impressed scouts yet his blocking prowess is the intangible that may move him into the top 12 choices of April's draft. Justin Fargas also greatly enhanced his draft stock this week with his ability to handle several responsibilities, proving he's more than just a power back. Artose Pinner and Cecil Sapp had their moments while the pass receiving skills of Earnest Graham and Domanick Davis were very impressive. Fullback Justin Griffith was another who displayed surprising ball handling skills and would benefit further from a solid game tomorrow.
The receivers did a good job all week but at no point did any pass catcher present big play abilities. Sam Aiken and Taylor Jacobs caught everything thrown in their direction while Kevin Curtis may have had the best practice of any wide out on Thursday yet none stretched the defense or made plays deep into the secondary. Arnaz Battle and Doug Gabriel flashed skill each practice while scouts were most intrigued by the size and speed Talman Gardner and Tyrone Calico offered. Should any wide out prove they could make plays down the field it would enhance their outlook in the eyes of NFL scouts.
A bright spot late in the week was the arrival of tight end Mike Pinkard, who replaced the injured LJ Smith. Naturally gifted, Pinkard's athleticism was apparent the second he stepped on the field and he immediately became the best player at his position after a pair of good practices.
The men on both sides of the trenches stood out for each team. The star of the offensive line for the North was Eric Steinbach, who switched between tackle and guard on the left side, displaying dominance on nearly every snap of the ball. Steinbach faces his toughest test yet Saturday when he must stop Miami's pass rushing terror Jerome McDougle and if successful, Steinbach stands to make a major jump up draft boards. Ditto for Torrin Tucker, who flat out was the South's best blocker and must now help in halting the very talented front four of the North. Like Steinbach, a good result could mean the difference of almost 20 draft slots for Tucker next April.
Most teams felt this was one of the better defensive line crops offered by the Senior Bowl in a while yet scouts will be looking for a few idiosyncrasies on Saturday. The North, coached by the Houston Texans staff, implemented a three-four defense late in the week and may do so during the game. This will give talented line prospects like Kevin Williams the opportunity to prove they can play in a two-gap system and offer undersized end Chris Kelsay the chance to stand up over tackle and play outside linebacker.
Finally, several defensive backs can continue the momentum they have built since stepping on the field Monday. Some considered Marcus Trufant the best player in Mobile this week period. His shutdown skills were evident every practice but stopping the likes of Taylor Jacobs and Sam Aiken will prove a worthy test for the cornerback. He will also assume duties as the teams punt returner and good results will only enhance his already skyrocketing ranking. Eugene Wilson displayed solid skills during the week but also had moments of weakness, which resulted in the cornerback getting beat. The contest Saturday could be a pivotal game for the Illini cover man.
Many have asked so here it goes. What was the difference between the practices run by the Texans coaching staff and the Lions last week? The answer; night and day.
The North, coached by Houston, ran organized, intense sessions where a lot got done and one felt they had their fill after a 90-minute practice. Leaving the practice field many felt they had a good handle on the prospects.
Not so with the Detroit coached South. Their sessions were loosely held to be polite about it. There was too much standing around and one did not get the feeling a whole lot got done. While the pace picked up Wednesday I don't think scouts got a much out of it and worse yet, neither did the players for the South squad.
Here's a perfect example; the pit is the place where the O-line and D-line knock heads, circled by scouts and coaches. The North's pit was intense with onlookers standing three deep and constantly on their toes for fear of being trampled. On the flip side when the linemen from the South got down in their three-point stance it was more like, "oh look, they are lining up." In fact at one point two scouts were leisurely talking about non-football issues while the linemen were duking it out.
Just one man's opinion.
Tony Pauline- TFY Draft Preview