Senior Bowl Report: OffenseThursday, January 26, 2012
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Thursday's Senior Bowl practices were washed out by rain and tornado warnings, but many NFL front offices are already gone. Returning to War Rooms at their team facilities, club execs are now in a digestive phase and set to begin pre-Combine evaluation of underclassmen prospects. From the seniors, NFL teams gathered quite a bit of information over the past four days through player interviews and all-angle practice film. Last week's East-West Shrine and this week's Senior Bowl truly are the start of the “Second Season”.
Before my position-by-position offensive observations, I wanted to discuss the importance of understanding player strengths and how they might be affected in the Senior Bowl setting. Take, for example, Washington RB Chris Polk (5-10/224), Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard (5-10/203), and Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming (5-10/202).
For a patient runner like Polk, it is difficult to stand out in a situation where he is running behind new linemen. At Washington, Polk had tremendous success because he was comfortable following his blocks and used superb vision to weave in and out of lanes. Admittedly, he lacks the kind of explosiveness that would jump off the page in a limited or no-contact environment. Polk is a methodical, deliberate runner that bursts at the correct time off of blockers with which he is familiar. He possesses elite balance between the tackles and into the open field. Polk did struggle in pass-protection drills and looked a bit soft during the weigh-in, but watch his game film before knocking Polk for two practices. He will remain my No. 3 running back behind Alabama's Trent Richardson and Doug Martin of Boise State.
Dennard and Fleming are pure press corners, at their best getting physical with receivers. While South defensive backs coach Raheem Morris let his players play press in practices, the Vikings' North squad used off coverage. (Fleming and Dennard were both on the North.) On tape, it is obvious that Dennard and Fleming struggle in off coverage, having to anticipate a receiver’s route while backpedaling, then opening their hips and reacting to a receiver running at full speed. This all takes place beyond the five-yard contact window. Both senior cornerbacks favor pressing at the line even if they do not jam off the snap because they feel comfortable running alongside the receiver, staying in their hip pocket to slow them down, and reacting to the pass while keeping an armbar to locate the wideout.
Cornerback is one of the most scheme-specific positions to evaluate. It is heavily based on defensive type and assignments. In the heavily off-coverage setting, Dennard and Fleming's sample sizes were too small for effective evaluation. Only a handful of corners are scheme versatile, but since teams only scout for their particular systems, cornerback assessments are going to vary considerably. Dennard and Fleming’s strengths were not catered to in Mobile, so consider that when reading criticisms elsewhere.
Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson (5-11/203) looked poised with an upright posture in the pocket, and scrambled with appropriate timing. His high release helps him throw like a taller quarterback. Wilson also confidently reads coverage and calmly works through progressions. While Wilson lacks great arm talent, he is self-aware and does not stretch himself trying to fit too many passes into tight windows.
Even with my expectations low for Nick Foles, (6-5/244) the Arizona Wildcat's performance was uninspiring. His upper and lower bodies look unbalanced and uncoordinated while dropping back, with sloppy footwork while his shoulders twist. Foles took several “sacks” in 7-on-7 drills versus no defensive linemen, failing to make a throw in under five seconds and instead tucking and running. Some kind of throw must be made in those situations. Foles also lacks touch, choosing to throw bullets even to outlet receivers. He has done little to remedy his inconsistent label and resembles Kerry Collins.