January 28, 2011
After five days of practice leading up the Senior Bowl game, most of the coaches and media are gone, and it's time for the players to put their game faces on one more time at the NCAA level. The players listed below are not rated for their collegiate performances or how we think they'll do in the actual Senior Bowl game; there are the guys who looked best to us through the practice week. Of course, we'll have a full Senior Bowl recap as part of Yahoo! Sports' draft coverage. Here are our practice standouts for the North team, the South team is soon to follow.
Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick, Nevada - The six quarterbacks trying to outdo each other during Senior Bowl practice week have been a general hodge-podge, with a different quarterback looking best nearly every day. But Kaepernick, who played in the Pistol formation under Chris Ault, showed that he could throw under center and in true shotgun with no trouble whatsoever, and he was the one quarterback who seemed to display consistent development every day - he threw some gorgeous passes on Thursday. Kaepernick's throwing motion needs some help (he's got a hitch that causes a slight delay), but he's gained a lot of interest in these practices.
Running back: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma - Nothing against Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter, who ran well all week, but Murray was as impressive as you'd expect from his game tape, and he had a few surprises in store. We saw the ridiculous burst and downfield speed he's always had, but he also caught passes and proved to have an understanding of short routes, and he was tough down the sideline, dragging tacklers with him as he steamed downfield. If an NFL team with a zone slide blocking scheme gets a hold of this guy, watch out - we may have the next Jamaal Charles(notes) on our hands.
Receivers: Vincent Brown, San Diego State/Austin Pettis, Boise State - Brown was probably the most consistent receiver in a practice system that has wideouts taking passes from quarterbacks they're never seen before in round-robin fashion. Not that San Diego State is a "small school", but if there's one guy under the radar who could come out of this week with a stock increase it's Brown, whose skill set reminds some of Keenan McCardell.
Pettis is more the pure possession receiver ,and as much as everyone was talking Miami's Leonard Hankerson up on the South team (you'll be hearing more about Hankerson late), I thought Pettis possessed a similar skill set, and he was a little quicker off the line and in his cuts.
Tackles: Anthony Castonzo, Boston College/Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin - None of the North tackles were consistent from day to day, but I thought that Castonzo, who struggled a bit early on and flashed dominance at time later in the week, and Carimi, who impressed with a lower base early on and got abused at points as the week went on, were the best of the bunch. Castonzo is a pure tackle - he looked really rough when asked to line up inside at guard - and Carimi has left questions about his footwork for all his recently improved technique. No tackle in this draft class has set himself apart as a dominant force.
Interior Lineman: Stephen Schilling, Michigan - This was a tough position to grade on the North team. Schilling got bulled over a few times, but he showed good fight and hand punch. I've seen Wisconsin's guard Jonathan Moffitt's name come up with a positive grade in a few reports, but I thought he really struggled staying in his base and blocking defenders out with any kind of agility.
Defensive Linemen: Cameron Jordan, Cal/Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue - With the increasing preponderance of NFL teams playing 3-man fronts, it's interesting that the two best North ends fit well into most 3-4 schemes from a size perspective, Jordan continued the recent trend of outstanding Cal defensive linemen established by Brandon Mebane(notes) and Tyson Alualu(notes) and showed up strong in Mobile. He's impressed at both end and tackle, making me think that teams looking for Justin Smith(notes) hybrid defender who can line up all over the place would be well-served by taking a good hard look at Jordan.
Kerrigan showed up at 255 pounds, about 10 pounds under his standard playing weight, and he seemed to be looking at a position change to 3-4 "endbacker" in the right system by dropping into coverage at times.
Linebackers: Casey Matthews, Oregon/Mason Foster, Washington - Matthews picked off a pass in goal line practice in mid-week, trying to show that he can do more than rush the passer - it's important to remember that as much as brother Clay has been a dominant pass rusher in the NFL, his rookie year was marked by as much coverage as anything else. Foster, who would fit very well in any kind of Cover-2/Tamps-2 system in which rangy linebackers rule the day, was a whirling dervish through practice week. Foster's challenge at the next level will be to prove that he can add a physical presence when tackling to an overall skill set that looks more and more impressive the more you see of him.
Defensive Back: Kendric Burney, North Carolina - it's hard to pick out defensive backs who stand out when teams are limited to Cover-1 and Cover-3 schemes, and quarterbacks are throwing to receivers they've never faced before. To make an impression at that point, you'd better be near the ball all the time, and Burney did just that. His highlight day was Thursday, when he picked two passes and almost had a third, but he looked very good all week. Thought to be a high-caliber nickel back because of his size (5-9, 181), Burney did everything he possibly could to increase his stock during practices.
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