January 26, 2011
MOBILE, Ala. -- As Senior Bowl week rolls along, certain patterns begin to emerge. Some players will rise up, having helped themselves to a great degree, and others will unfortunately exhibit tendencies that put them in a lower tier among scouts and personnel executives. So it has been for the South team, especially among the receivers and running backs.
The biggest standout among all the South receivers has been Miami's Leonard Hankerson. I profiled him for Yahoo's Tale of the Tape series, and I'm even more impressed with him in person. Hankerson goes through his routes with a smoothness and precision that will serve him well. He doesn't look as fast as he is because he does run so well, he manages to avoid the jerkiness you'll see from less practiced route runners. He's good on routes where he needs to come back or turn inside after faking an out, but he's not a guy who will blaze off a cornerback when he's running a crossing route. He's a bit slow on those types of routes - when he hits a hard cut, it takes him a second to get back up to speed. But he is a good lanky strider with excellent hands (after solving a drop problem earlier in his collegiate career) and he doesn't back off in traffic. If you want a player who understands route complexity and can execute it, Hankerson's a good place to start ... though I thought the same of Ohio State's Brian Robiskie(notes), and Robiskie hasn't shown a lot just yet.
I thought Hankerson was most effective outside, with a smaller, faster slot guy inside to take potential zone problems away with inside routes. Two of those players were Greg Salas of Hawaii and USC's Ronald Johnson. Johnson impressed me with his pure quickness on quick slants and crosses. He knows how to get into zones and create yards after catch, and he could make a career out of his ability to get the quick sideline pass and peel off the defender - it was driving the guys covering him nuts. Salas also showed a nice burst after catch, and he's a slightly bigger guy.
West Virginia's Jock Sanders was a late add to the South roster, and for a while there, I was under the impression that DeSean Jackson(notes) put on a Senior Bowl uniform and had taken the field. The 5-7, 180-pound receiver/running back hybrid showed amazing burst off the line when split wide - when he hit a stutter-go and blasted off, no cornerback could keep up with him. He's a good receiver in short spaces, but the speed is what shows up when you see him on the field. Hs size will put some people off, but he is the team's all-time leading receiver and it's easy to see why. Very impressive and I am looking forward to seeing more from him.
One receiver who hasn't done much for himself this week is Courtney Smith(notes) from South Alabama. Maybe he's nervous playing so close to his alma mater, but Smith has dropped several passes that could have impressed and put him on the map. Christian Ponder threw an absolute rainbow yesterday that Smith couldn't come up with, and there were more issues today. He had trouble bringing in quick sideline passes (USC's Shareece Wright jumped a quick out to Smith that looked as if it would have been a catch with a little more fight), he dropped a comeback on a three-vertical formation from TCU's Andy Dalton, and he just hasn't shown the type of play you'd want to see from a small-school player. Maybe Smith will impress as the week goes on, but he'd better hurry up.
One player who had no trouble raising his stock today was Kentucky's Derrick Locke. For his size (5-11, 182), be flashed some real toughness in early blocking drills (Georgia Tech's Anthony Allen and Tulsa's Charles Clay, not so much - guys were getting by them), and then really surprised with his ability to blast through the tackles. Locke told me after practice that he feels he always needs to prove that he can run inside; it's a point of emphasis for him and he likes LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) as a role model because of that ability. He also got some great yards after catch from quick passes because he's able to turn on the jets down the sideline after catching any kind of outlet pass. He has a good bounce outside and reminded me a lot of the North's best runner of the day, Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter.
That's the thing about the kids who show up to play - they're pretty easy to spot.
Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod talked to me about being moved around from the left to right side during practice week. "It's been really good; a great learning experience. I'm just trying to get a little more versatile. There aren't many differences; you just flip the technique and flip the plays. You use the basics either way - you have to be quick on your feet and have a good punch and fire out strong at both positions."
TCU's Andy Dalton, on what he helped the Horned Frogs do by bringing non-automatic qualifying teams to the NCAA's forefront over the last few seasons: "I just feel blessed to be in the position that I was - to get the opportunity to play at TCU. And it was cool to see all the changes that were made while I was there, and to be a part of that whole thing. I feel like we were able to accomplish a lot, and that had a lot to do with the senior class that I had - the guys that I came in with."
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