January 27, 2011
As it was on Thursday morning, the last afternoon practice of the Senior Bowl week was all about special teams and quick situational football with less contact. Kick returns and goal-line situations were the orders of the day on both teams, and while the special teams stuff wasn't particularly transfixing, the goal-line stuff was - you get to see how players handle themselves in tight windows with slightly elevated blood pressure.
Among the quarterbacks of the South team, Florida State's Christian Ponder continued to impress with his sense of the little things - like how he'll shoulder-fake an oncoming defender and hit an accurate intermediate pass off his back foot. Ponder doesn't hit every target, and his arm isn't a howitzer, but the one thing I keep coming back to when I talk about his play this week is that he always seems to be under control because he has a solid grasp of the fundamentals. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said today that Ponder talked with him about the differences between throwing to his own receivers, and what he's doing here with a new set of targets. While he may have been directed to throw before a receiver makes his breaks under Jimbo Fisher, he might have to throw a laser in Mobile because he's been told to make his throw after the break.
II have seen a graphic difference with some quarterbacks this week in their abilities to get the ball to receivers on crossing patters, and the quarterbacks with less velocity on short and intermediate throws seem to be most affected by this.
TCU's Andy Dalton, who's used to the chuck-and-duck of the Horned Frogs' spread offense, can fling it deep, but that wasn't his issue today. Dalton was wild in tight spaces in goal-line drills - he was zooming the ball into the end zone, but it would scatter, and his timing on fades seems off. He puts an extreme arc on the ball at times with back-of-the-end-zone passes, which allow enemy defenders to converge and gain the advantage.
On the other hand, this was the first day all week in which I was impressed by Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy's ability to anticipate receivers coming into windows instead of throwing his receivers closed. He hit Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker with a nice, low throw under the goalpost in the end zone, and hooked up with Hawaii's Greg Salas on a deep end zone crossing pattern. McElroy also showed quickness when his coverage closed and he had to bail. I haven't been as impressed with McElroy all week as some analysts have, but I did see some things I liked today.
One player on the South team who desperately needed a turnaround was receiver Courtney Smith(notes) of South Alabama. Shutdown Corner readers will remember that Smith had been dropping passes frequently since Tuesday, and he managed to get things together today. Smith did drop another pass in warm-ups - a simple sideline route - but he made a couple of quick outlet passes, one with tight coverage.
Arkansas tight D.J. Williams(notes) is a very solid player on the field and a definite character odd it. The self-admitted Twitter addict doesn't possess amazing speed, but he shows a good ability to turn his body to get open, and he had excellent form when bringing the ball in. Legendary Raiders receiver Fred Biletnikoff always used to say that to catch consistently, your hands have to work together, and Williams has that ability. Stay tuned for a feature on him later.
Tomorrow morning, the practices wrap up with brief walkthroughs for both teams, and we'll be there for a final look at this year's Senior Bowl experience.
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