Billboards surrounding Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., are advertising Saturday's Senior Bowl as possessing even more talent than the BCS title game.
Considering that the Senior Bowl is the preeminent all-star in college football, it should. However, the same formula the two-time defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide used in steamrolling Notre Dame -- dominant offensive line play -- was a clear storyline during the South team's Tuesday afternoon practice.
Offensive linemen rarely get the attention they deserve and that is likely to be the case this week, as well. While the South's quarterbacks and "skill position" players were showered with interview requests following practice, most of the offensive linemen were quickly ushered off the field toward the buses. This, despite the fact that many of them have proven to be some of the more impressive prospects on the field. The physicality shown by Virginia tackle Oday Aboushi, among others, certainly captured the attention of NFL talent evaluators in the stands.
Asked to alternate between left and right tackle throughout the day, Aboushi protected his quarterback and consistently cleared lanes for the South's running backs. The 6-5, 310 pound Aboushi is surprisingly athletic, demonstrating enough lateral agility and flexibility to handle the South's top pass rushers. He surrendered just one "sack" throughout the entire practice, when Georgia defensive end Cornelius Washington beat him with a quick inside move after initially lining up quite wide. Washington, however, might be the closest thing the South defense has to a true speed rusher. Aboushi's best traits -- his physicality and aggression -- make him a better fit on the right side. Here, he consistently controlled BYU defensive end Ezekial "Ziggy" Ansah, NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated defensive player playing in the Senior Bowl. And this, was against the pass. When run blocking, Aboushi's powerful hands and relentless consistently knocked defenders off the ball. He also showed better than expected quickness in releasing off of double teams and getting to the second level.
"One of the reasons why I play this game is because you get to beat up on people without getting into trouble," Aboushi told NFLDraftScout.com. "I love finishing plays, I love dominating opponents, I love making opponents give up and surrender to your will."
Considering that power football is the recipe that helped Alabama win the national championship and has pushed the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens into the Super Bowl, every team in the league is looking for physically combative blockers with this type of mindset.
--It is the nature of the position for offensive linemen to be a bit anonymous but this is even moreso the case with small school prospects. Chadron State's Garrett Gilkey, however, is quickly forcing scouts to pay attention. The 6-6, 314 pound Gilkey was twice recognized as an All Rocky Mountain West Conference pick while at tackle, but his work this week has been inside at guard. Despite playing a new position, Gilkey was impressive, showing strength, toughness and flexibility handling the massive Jenkins and quicker defenders like Florida State's Everett Dawkins. He was beaten on a spin move by Jenkins early on but rebounded to enjoy an impressive practice, overall. Considering the jump he's being asked to make from the Division II level, that's quite a statement.
--The South's most consistently disruptive defensive lineman was also the biggest, Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins. The 6-4, 359 pound Jenkins is simply bigger, stronger and -- as shocking as it sounds -- quicker than virtually any other lineman on the field. His girth and long arms allow him to hold up well at the point of attack against double-teams, something he did with great effectiveness when playing inside or out as part of Georgia's three-man front. Jenkins is proving this week in Mobile, however, that he has the athleticism to also play well in a traditional four-man front, making him a potential top 20 prospect.
--While Jenkins has shown the ability to dominate lesser opponents, California center Brian Schwenke has proven surprisingly effective when taking on the massive defender. While perhaps not the most aesthetically-pleasing blocker, Schwenke shows good quickness, functional strength and understands leverage. He sinks his hips on contact, anchoring well despite being significantly lighter at 6-3, 307 pounds than many of his opponents.
--While focusing on the South's offensive and defensive linemen this afternoon I couldn't help but peek at the wide receivers. Just as they did yesterday, Georgia's Tavarres King and Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton each enjoyed very strong practices. The same, however, couldn't be said for Baylor's Terrance Williams, who repeatedly dropped passes. One longtime NFL scout commented that Williams, NFLDraftScout.com's No. 52 rated prospect overall, appeared to be much more comfortable tracking passes over his shoulder rather than passes facing him.
Rob Rang is a Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.