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2011 Senior Bowl: Monday South Practice Notes

The South team held its first practice today in Mobile, AL as rain threatened. The Buffalo Bills coaching staff ran the practice efficiently as players quickly moved from drill to drill. Players weren't in full pads, so hitting was limited, but it was a great opportunity to watch skill positions and see players techniques. Here are today's observations

1. The star of the day was Miami WR Leonard Hankerson who made many difficult catches with ease. He showed hard effort the whole practice and had very quick hands. He even had a nice outstretched one handed catch showing good hand size. Downfield, he was a willing blocker and played to the whistle every play. Other receivers from the south also had good days, although not the production of Hankerson, including Greg Salas of Hawaii and Jeremy Kerley of TCU and TE DJ Williams. Salas was solid, although not specatacular. He caught everything thrown at him, and made the cuts, although they weren't sharp. He was good at using his body to shield the ball from the defender. Kerley made very sharp cuts and jumped to catch the ball at the highest point. He also had good feet and would settle into a spot quickly and the show a quick burst cutting away once he caught the ball. Kerley returned punts too, showing versatility and a willingness to be a playmaker. Williams was a pass catching beast showing good range and soaking up any ball that came near him. Edmund Gates of Abilene Christian and Courtney Smith of South Alabama looked a little out of place, likely still adjusting to the level of play here. Gates at times didn't seem to show the effort needed and looked a little too relaxed againt man coverage, but was excellent at attacking zones and finding the space and settling down.

2. The passing game of Greg McElroy from Alabama looked to be on par with Christian Ponder of Florida State, a definite plus for McElroy, but a negative on Ponder. Both made crisp throws of short and intermediate lengths and accuracy was good. McElroy showed the ability to read the whole field quickly, albeit with no pressure. He looked very natural in handing the ball off to running backs and moved nicely in the pocket keeping his feet under him. His stance was a little wide though which could cause issues. Ponder excelled at keeping his feet in position while moving in the pocket and threw a great deep ball down the seam between defenders. But neither really shined, although they are both far ahead Andy Dalton of TCU. Dalton's passes lacked the zip of McElroy and Ponder and he struggled making reads across the field. His footwork will get better, but right now he struggled when having to move, both in setting his feet and making good throws on the move.

3. The defensive backs had a great opportunity to shine and have someone move ahead of the pack. However, it was more about those that fell from the pack. Shareece Wright of USC struggled in the man coverage. He didn't flip his hips well and jammed a receiver late when the receiver was about to beat him. He wasn't quick to the ball and didn't seem to follow the ball. You could see Ahmad Black of Florida was struggling with the way the coaches were asking him to play, and he'll have to learn quick to make a good impression. Marcus Gilchrist of Miami showed excellent drive to the ball, but needs to track the ball better in the air. DeMarcus Van Dyke of Miami has good reach and is aggressive, but was also burned going for a ball. Johnny Patrick may have had the best day and showed excellent ability to stay low during his back pedal and then to drive quickly when the ball is in the air.

4. The defense worked their rush skills by testing their swim, spin and swat techniques. Defensive end Sam Acho of Texas showed good speed getting around the edge and has a high motor willing to go again and again. He was definitely better with his hand in the ground and lacked the burst needed when standing up. Pernell McPhee of Mississippi State showed excellent technique, using his hands well to both swim and disengage from the blocker to get at the quarterback. Brooks Reed of Arizona showed the best spin move of the day, flashing past his man to quickly be at the quarterback. His bull rush was lacking, he'll have to be a speed rusher at the NFL. Defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins, however, had a great bull rush and really drove with his feet. Chris Neild of West Virgina showed great improvement as the coaches worked with him. He'll need to use better techniques to be a starter at the next level. Cedric Thornton of Southern Arkansas looked much better lined up inside than out. He looked a little light to be a dominant tackle, but doesn't have the skills to be an end. Phil Taylor was garnering the most interest. The Broncos seem to be considering him for nose tackle, while the Saints were also paying close attention. He showed good hands with a passable swim move. His bull rush was very strong and he has the size and shape to become a force in the middle for years.

5. The lineman weren't completely ignored, although their evaluation is more on their hand technique and burst then their hitting since they weren't wearing full pads. Centers Jake Kirkpatrick (TCU) and Kristofer O'Dowd (USC) made good snaps but each struggled during blocking drills. Kirkpatrick showed a tendency to stand straight up instead of staying low and driving with his legs. O'Dowd was very quick off the snap but more held his blocks then drove with his legs. Guard Clint Boling of Georgia keeps good leverage and has the flexibility to handle both speed and strength. Offensive tackle Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State is very solid and strong but needs to stay lower and drive with his legs, however, he listened to the coaches and showed improvement. He needs to be a little faster off the snap, else he may begin to get false start penalties as he tries to predict the snap. OT James Carpenter of Alabama is a mauler and had the only pancake block of the practice along with repeatedly driving his defender backwards.

2011 Senior Bowl: Tuesday South Notes

In my personal first look at the South team, I was looking forward to seeing these quarterbacks and receivers for their first time this week, especially now that they had a day of chemistry and timing to work on for today.

A lot of impact receivers and tight ends here, but wasn't too impressed with the quarterbacks or the big name defensive lineman that I was hoping for.

Look for my Daily Notes later tonight after the Press Conference.

-The big story today was the battle between the top two receivers here. Leonard Hankerson has beena favorite of ours all year long, and I think he will step in and be a number two starter right away, with the first round not out of the question. He showed strong hands, explosive routes, and almost uncoverable at times. However, Courtney Smith was ultra-impressive considered he's a small school late addition, and his 6'4, 200 pound frame was dominate all day. Great focus in looking the ball in, was the main focus of the quarterbacks looking down field, and uses his body well to make a play. He's flying up my boards, but I have to go back and check the film to make sure he's legit.

-As for the quarterbacks, I am thoroughly disappointed with this crop. I loved Christian Ponder coming into this week, and while his injury checked out (see Monday's Daily Notes) and his velocity was there, he was a bit erratic on the outside. I still like his deep touch and quick release which he showcased today, and he's still the best QB on this South roster.

-I said via twitter a few days ago that I'm not on the Andy Dalton bandwagon, and it looks like all those that were on it should pump the breaks. He was very erratic with his passing today, and his release seemed slower than I remembered. One scout from the 49ers actually compared it's ineffectiveness to Tim Tebow's, which isn't good news for him.

-While Dalton struggled, his teammate Jeremy Kerley impressed today. He wasn't in Hankerson's or Smith's class talent-wise, but he's was very explosive in and out of his breaks, showed very consistent hands with this inaccurate quarterbacks, and a lot of teams really were impressed that I talked to.

-I took a quick peek at the offensive lineman today, and I did notice that Derek Sherrod did standout as I expected. He's the safest left tackle in this class, and the thing that stands out to me most is his focus on what he's doing. Never has sloppy technique, picks up blitzers well, confident in his slides to the outside, just a complete tackle. DeMarcus Love struggled mightily with inside rushers today, and Lee Ziemba looked solid played guard and was a mauler once he got to the 2nd level as a run blocker. Also, Danny Watkins moved well in space, and had a very nice block on a screen play that set Bilal Powell up for a big run.

-At tight end, Luke Stocker stole the show. He wasn't overly impressive in the blocking aspect, but the Bills staff was singing his praises the entire time the tight ends were pass catching. He runs great routes, soft yet strong hands, and could be a dangerous seam threat. Also, DJ Williams showed great ball skills and used his hands to rip the ball from defenders. He was tough to cover, but I still think he needs to play some fullback this week.

-Derrick Locke was explosive today and had some big plays in the open field. Noel Devine looked very small and struggled to get into open space.

-To wrap up the offense, Greg McElroy wasn't very impressive today...except when throwing to his Alabama tight end Preston Dial. They hooked up on a handful of pretty middle of the field plays, but that's my biggest concern with McElroy: he doesn't play well outside of his comfort zone. If he's with a team for 4-5 years with the same coach, he could be a solid backup quarterback, but otherwise, I doubt it.

-One note: Greg Salas is the best body catcher I've seen in a long time. He gets open very well, but almost everything is into his body. I'll give him one thing, he doesn't let them bounce out too often.

-I only saw the secondary for a little while, but I noticed Curtis Brown of Texas. He was very aggressive and made some good breaks on the ball. But against a good route runner like Salas or Hankerson, he was beat deep. Also, Ahmad Black was very instinctive out there, breaking up at least two passes that no other safety could have today just based on his reading of the quarterback. I wish Matt McGloin of Penn State was here, he could push Black to the 1st round. Also, Demarcus Van Dyke stood out to me, but not in a good way. He looks so skinny out there its unbelievable he can hang with bigger receivers. He'll need to bulk up, but he wasn't awful today.

-Another note: I saw two injuries today. Marcus Gilbert looked like he had a toe injury and was limping for a while, and Shareece Wright, who was playing well today and had good coverage on Hankerson, injuried his toe late in practice. No word on either yet.

-Finally, on the defense's front seven, Allen Bailey did not stand out at all. Comparing him to Cameron Jordan was way off on my part before I got to South practice, and he's now for sure out of the 1st round on my board. Great athlete (picture on twitter), but I question how he'll play at the NFL level. Could be a solid 5-technique though. Also, Cedric Thornton played fairly well today. He was quick off the snap and stayed low in his rush, and had a nice underneath move to sack McElroy.

-BIGGEST WINNERS: Courtney Smith, WR, South Alabama; Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami (FL); Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee; Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU

2011 Senior Bowl: Wednesday South Notes

It warmed up a bit from the morning practice, and the wind was sure not a factor in this afternoon practice and my second and final live view of these prospects on the South roster.

The quarterbacks finally seemed to be clicking, a defensive end got to show his stuff at outside linebacker, a few interior lineman played well, and the linebackers showcased their ability to blitz, cover, and their overall athletic ability.

-I got a chance to really watch Von Miller much of the day, and he showed why I feel he's a Top 10 draft pick in this draft class and the best prospect in Mobile. He's noticeably quicker than every linebacker or defensive lineman here, and his explosion laterally and his quick feet have really impressed. Plus, he looked like he had tons of experience dropping in coverage.

-Derek Sherrod did get beat by Von Miller twice in a row, one with an outside rush and one with a devestating inside move. However, the next series against Allen Bailey, Sherrod put Bailey right on the ground with his upper body strength and understanding of playing with leverage. I like that rebound attitude and the mean streak of Sherrod.

-All three quarterbacks looked better today, but I still think Christian Ponder had the best day. He showed very quick feet in drills and looked poised all day in throwing to his receivers. Andy Dalton showed he is a good athlete, and his feet were okay, but the long release was very prevalent, especially when I saw him under pressure. And, he didn't make very good reads again today. Finally, Greg McElroy had a very good day, with good medium to deep touch range and not just targeting his first option or Preston Dial. I would wager to say that he had a better week than Dalton.

-Derrick Locke has been the best running back of the bunch on the South roster, and maybe even of the whole game. He explodes so well into the whole and his low stature and his wiggle in the whole have allowed him big play after big play. He could have a great gameday.

-As mentioned before, Allen Bailey was put on the ground at least once. He did get a lot of coaching today and showcased his lateral quickness in drills today, and scouts took note. But he's definitly a project. Actually, the best place I saw him at today was playing defensive tackle as a 3-technique, which is where I think he maybe fits best based off of this week's practice.

-Texas defensive end Sam Acho got to play in coverage today, and looked surprisingly very comfortable. I talked to him after the practice and he said he was very excited and thought it was a fun experience, and as I mentioned before, he pointed out in the press conference that he played OLB in college in his first two years. He's definitely rising on my board.

-Charles Clay, who's size is very impressive for a tight end, fullback hybrid, really struggled today in pass rush pick-up, something that really frustrated me for his size and the position he plays. Also, Anthony Allen didn't win a single battle as a pass blocker, and Bilal Powell only looked decent in one or two.

-Noel Devine looked a little better today and had a few open field runs. There's no denying that he can beat guys to the outside or in the open field, but I just wonder that once linebackers track him, he probably can't burst away for a big play.

-Much to the frustration of everyone watching, Courtney Smith, yesterday's stud, had a bad case of the drops. Coach Chan Gailey mentioned yesterday that it was an issue, and today he had at least four, all of them his fault. If he's THAT erratic in catching the ball, then he could be a much later pick than I thought. Also, Leonard Hankerson "did work" once again today, continuing to look impressive.

-On the line, Jake Kirkpatrick really stood out to me. I saw him multiple times handle Phil Taylor and Jarvis Jenkins, two different style defensive tackle rushers. He and the North's Brandon Fusco are right in the mix for the Top 5 centers.

-Also on the interior line, Rodney Hudson looks very good. He moved and engaged well in space today, and has been opening up huge holes all week. He, Clint Boling, who also had a great day, and Kirkpatrick may be part of the reason why no defensive tackle has been able to shine.

-Colin McCarthy looked very smooth in all the drills he did today. He was smooth in his drop backs in coverage, showed fairly quick feet, good balance in his cuts, and overall looked about as complete of a linebacker I've seen here. Also, Kelvin Sheppard sure looks the part, and his explosive and range have really pushed him up my board.

-Two lineman that really struggled today were Pernell McPhee at defensive end and Lee Ziemba at guard. Both were beat up quite a few times that I saw, and I think both will be late round guys now.

-Danny Watkins showed good hands and quick feet for a guard today, stopping a few power rushers and forcing them outside. I would like to see him a bit more in space before he really moves up my board.

-Outside of Von Miller, I think KJ Wright and Nate Irving are the two quickest linebackers out here just based on their pursuit in blitzing drills, their ability to quickly get past running backs, and their foot quickness drills.

-The kick returners for the South squad were Ronald Johnson, Jeremy Kerley, Greg Salas, and Marcus Gilchrist.

-Kicker Josh Jasper was consistent today in getting the ball inside the 5 yard line on kickoffs. He and Alex Henery are the two guys I think should make it as rookies in the NFL.

-BIGGEST WINNERS: Derrick Locke, RB, Kentucky; Jake Kirkpatrick, OC, TCU; Sam Acho, DE/OLB, Texas; Colin McCarthy, OLB, Miami (FL)

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