Senior Bowl Double TakeWednesday, January 25, 2012
Senior Bowl practices are a small part of the evaluation process. They should supplement prior game-tape assessments, not determine grades. Game film always takes precedent. But the Senior Bowl is effective in showing strengths and deficiencies between players who are now forced onto a more even competitive playing field.
The following players flew under the radar a bit entering Senior Bowl week and were not mentioned in my preview article. Through the first two days of practice, however, they've shown enough for me to go back and review more of their tape.
Michigan DT Mike Martin (6-1/307/4.98) - Martin predominately played nose tackle in college and failed to consistently win against double teams. His anchor was suspect when he failed to gain leverage, often showing unsound hand placement. Martin did display balance and flexibility, likely due at least in part to his wrestling background, which he coupled with a quick first step on passing downs at three-technique. I initially pegged Martin as an early third-day nose tackle prospect, but in Mobile he has been a force away from the nose. When taking snaps shading the guard, Martin has an effective first punch and takes a forceful first step to penetrate quickly. Guards have had a tough time stunting his momentum, and when they do Martin’s persistence acts as a counter move to continue upfield. Martin will face far fewer double teams at three-technique tackle and has handled individual assignments well. He's shown significant improvement in an altered role.
Boise State S George Iloka (6-4/222/4.50) - A massive safety with vine-like arms (33 7/8 inches), Iloka was the focal point of Boise State's secondary. In my film evaluation, Iloka seemed best as an in-the-box defensive back that took himself out of plays at times due to poor angles or tentativeness. Iloka did not shy from contact while closing the line, but had hitches in his initial angle rather than reacting and flowing. He also failed to consistently wrap up. Iloka always has been physical versus receivers with enough speed to cover a large area. This week, Iloka has looked far more impressive and instinctive. Rather than confining Iloka to the box, the Vikings' coaching staff has put him in space and even as a single safety. He has looked natural, backpedaling until recognizing the direction of the throw and displaying disruptive closing burst. Iloka’s angles have been far more aggressive. He has undercut routes and hauled in an interception in Tuesday's practice.
Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green (6-6/237/4.64) - Green was a glorified wideout in college, lining up as a slot mismatch for smaller corners and slower linebackers. His athleticism is commonly praised, but I never felt Green played to that ability in games. He rarely created separation and had inconsistent hands in traffic. Above all, Green lacked blocking technique, relying strictly on length to slow his opponent. Green has not suddenly become a dominant blocker, but with the Redskins' coaching staff running two-tight end sets, he has been forced to get physical as an in-line player and responded. The effort is certainly there. More impressively, Green has looked fluid in his routes, admittedly after a free release. His steps and angles are smooth, which has created more separation than I saw on tape. Green's hands are strong, catching darts from strong-armed throwers Nick Foles and Ryan Lindley. Green will be a Joker/Move tight end at the next level, but he is flashing improved physicality at the line and better route running.
Florida WR/RB Chris Rainey (5-8/178/4.36) - Rainey had most of his success in Gainesville on swings and screens in space and runs to the outside. Rainey has world-class straight-line speed and a bit of a wiggle in the open field with lateral hops. But he rarely broke tackles at Florida, looking frail on the field. He tried to bounce every run to the sideline, and NFL backs must run between the tackles. I think everyone expects Rainey to be a factor as an NFL return specialist, but the South coaches lined him up at wideout on Tuesday and Rainey excelled. He blew by the first few corners he faced and progressed into cutting routes back toward the line of scrimmage, even showing the ability to adjust his body positioning for the catch. His hands will be inconsistent and we have seen this experiment fail before (Trindon Holliday, Dorin Dickerson) but Rainey has left a good impression.