IRVING, Texas – Having had a chance to digest the tape of the Senior Bowl, here are some of my biggest impressions from the tape.
- In the practice sessions leading up to this game, I was impressed with the way Quinten Rollins of Miami-Ohio carried himself and was expecting him to have a big game. But if you asked me of all the North cornerbacks, which one played the best in the game, it was Steven Nelson of Oregon State.
Physically, Nelson doesn't appear to have the same size as Rollins but what he does have is acceleration with an extended burst and body control. His key and diagnose were outstanding, whether he was lined up tight or off. There just wasn't much room for the receiver to work. He showed catchup speed and positioning on the deep routes, and when the ball was thrown in front of him, you would see him plant and explode forward.
I thought his best trait was his ability to deny the ball. His tackling in the open field was good and he appeared to play the entire game with a chip on his shoulder. It was as if he was challenging these receivers to beat him and they were struggling to do just that.
- If there was a player who disappointed me in the Senior Bowl, as opposed to the quality of his tape from the season, it was Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers.
Just from what I had seen from Flowers, his ability to not only play the run with power but capture the corner as a pass rusher was impressive. But on this game tape I didn't see that same player. North tackles Donavan Smith of Penn State and Rob Havenstein of Wisconsin did a nice job of shutting him down to the point that he was not a factor at all. He didn't play with his normal power and quickness as well as with that desire to get to the ball. He was just very average overall.
It was usual to see him struggling to win one-on-one battles in this game because there were so many snaps where he was winning those matchups with tackles that were better than what he faced in Smith and Havenstein. I am going to chalk this up as a bad day at the office for Flowers because I know he is better than what he showed.
- I believe this is the first time in my time with DallasCowboys.com that I have ever devoted a mention to a player from Hobart College in Geneva, New York, but guard Ali Marpet deserves that.
The first time I noticed Marpet was when he was working during the North practice and he was matched up against Washington's massive defensive tackle Danny Shelton and he was able to hold him off in the one-on-one pass rush drills. At 6-4, 307 he physically doesn't appear that powerful, but in the game he was able to handle some players with size such as Gabe Wright of Auburn and Joey Mbu of Houston.
Where Marpet is able to get these defenders is with his leverage. He does a really nice job of getting his hands inside, then he bends his knees to sit down and this puts him in a leverage position to control. What I liked the best about his game was his ability to finish. There is a nasty side to his game and from his first snap to the last one, he was not one bit scared of playing against the bigger school defenders.
- Of all the edge players that played in this game, the one that had the best burst to capture the edge wasn't Nate Orchard, Za'Darius Smith or Markus Golden but Hau'oli Kikaha of Washington.
It will be interesting to see how much different Kikaha looks physically when we go to the Combine next month. At 6-2,245, I am curious if 4-3 teams will tell him to put on weight and see if they can make a defensive end out of him -- or do 3-4 teams tell him to maintain his current size and they make him a rush outside linebacker?
There were very few opportunities where I saw Kikaha rushing the passer, but in the final quarter of this Senior Bowl game the Titans coaches had his hand in the dirt coming off the edge in an attempt to provide some four-man pressure because they were not allowed to blitz. I will say that there is no question that he has the physical talent to rush the passer. His first step explosion and body control were impressive. When he came off the ball he was on the tackle before he really had a chance to get out of his stance. He had a wide range of pass rush moves with the lower body bend and flex to get around the corner. His motor, effort and pursuit were outstanding.
You could see in his play that his sole purpose was getting to that ball. Regardless of what direction he might go scheme-wise in the NFL, this player has a chance of affecting the outcome of a game with his play.