If it's true that the NFL is now a passing league more than ever (and it is), the six quarterbacks practicing and playing during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Alabama were a little late to the memo. In a senior class perhaps strongest on both sides of the line, the three North team quarterbacks (Washington's Jake Locker, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, and Ricky Stanzi of Iowa) and the South team trio (Christian Ponder of Florida State, TCU's Andy Dalton, and Alabama's Greg McElroy) went through the week of practice with a hodge-podge of occasional efficiency and frustrating inaccuracy.
That continued for all six signal-callers through Saturday's game - or, at least most of it - until Ponder finally separated himself from the pack when he made the throw that clinched the game for the South team in a 24-10 victory. Ponder zipped a 23-yard pass to TCU receiver Jeremy Kerley with 3:04 left in the game, throwing with the great velocity and timing he often showed through practice week but generally failed to do through the game itself.
Ponder finished the game with seven completions in 13 attempts for 101 yards and two touchdowns, but the real star of the South's offensive team was Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson, who came back on a serious early Ponder underthrow to make a game-high 48-yard play. As he did through practices, Hankerson's great route discipline and toughness in coverage stood apart. Hankerson, projected by many as a second-round pick, helped his stock as much as anyone in Mobile. His final stat line - five catches for 99 yards and a score - was the icing on the cake.
For the other quarterbacks, the results were far more mixed. Locker, who came to Alabama as the event's marquee star, struggled with accuracy and mechanics early on, recovered to have a better second half, and went six of 10 for 98 yards in the game. Stanzi, who didn't show too much during practice, got off a couple of decent throws but remained unspectacular. Teammate Kaepernick showed the most development through the week, but managed only four completions and an interception. Dalton and McElroy were equally underwhelming.
The line on the North side was equally confounding. Boston College's Anthony Constanzo struggled mightily in pass protection as the South's defensive line brought the hammer all day. Constanzo looked especially vulnerable on a sack of Stanzi by Arizona's Brooks Reid. On the other side of the ball, the South's primary left side -- Mississippi State left tackle Derek Sherrod and left guard Danny Watkins from Baylor - showed strength and agility on play after play.
Sherrod and Watkins were two primary reasons that Kentucky running back Derrick Locke was able to impress, especially between the tackles. Setting his game off a stellar practice week in which he was trying to show that he doesn't run like a small back, Locke shot through gaps and brought to mind players like Steve Slaton(notes) and Justin Forsett(notes). On the South's second drive of the first quarter, Locke ripped off runs of six, nine, three, and 15 yards before the offense got bottled up.
On defense, several practice standouts managed to make an impact in the game. Linebacker/end Von Miller of Texas A & M, the highest-rated player in Mobile by the scouting cognoscenti, had four total tackles (2.0 for loss) and got to Kaepernick on the edge despite schematic limitations. Miller was named the Defensive Player of the Game.
And while Locker didn't live up to expectations, Washington teammate Mason Foster finished a nice week by leading all defenders with eight tackles. And North Carolina cornerback Kendric Burney, who was near the ball all through the week, showed great closing speed and finished with seven tackles for his trouble. He was named the North team's Most Outstanding Player for his efforts. South linemen Sam Acho (Texas, who was named the South team's Most Outstanding Player) and Reed also displayed pursuit ability, each picking up quarterback sacks.
Perhaps no defensive lineman on either side was more impressive in the game than Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, who absolutely abused Arkansas right tackle DeMarcus Love for a sack and three tackles for loss. Kerrigan, who spent some practice time experimenting with zone drops in practice, should be of great interest to teams looking for game-breaking 3-4 ends. And the defensive star of practice week, Cal's Cameron Jordan, had five tackles of his own (and one for loss).
Other offensive stars: Louisville running back Bilal Powell led all running backs with 50 yards on 10 carries ... Dwayne Harris (East Carolina) and Titus Young (Boise State) got off decent returns for the North team ... Dane Sanzenbacher (Ohio State) led all North receivers with five catches for 62 yards, and San Diego State's Vincent Brown built on a great practice week with four catches for 43 yards.
Now that this week is over, these draft-eligible players will lead back to their respective training centers and get ready for the 2011 Scouting Combine, which takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis from February 24-27.