FRISCO, Texas –We talk about it all the time as it relates to the Cowboys, and it obviously applies to the rest of football, as well.
There's practice, and then there's the game. That's part of the fun of the Senior Bowl. We get to see some of the best players in this year's draft practice for three days in Mobile, Ala., giving us an idea of who to watch as we inch closer to the NFL draft.
But practices are one thing – taking that progress to a game is another.
With the Senior Bowl wrapping up on Saturday evening, I decided to sit down with the game tape and take a look at some of the standouts. Some guys continued to build on a strong week, while other guys couldn't maintain that momentum from practice. And then of course there were several guys who failed to make an impression in practice – who jumped into the spotlight once the game began.
Here's my breakdown of this year's Senior Bowl, which should help us get a clearer picture of what we're looking at as we continue this draft cycle.
- Outstanding day receiving by LSU receiver D.J. Chark after a week where he was up and down during practices. Chark was able to put everything together for five receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown was a 75-yard pass from Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta off play action, where Chark was able to rub Dubuque cornerback Michael Joseph off on UCF tight end Jordan Akins. It appeared that the play wasn't designed for that to happen, but it worked out. Penn State safety Marcus Allen was sitting in the middle of the field and was late to react, which affected the angle he took to try and cut Chark off. Chark showed nice body control and balance along the sideline to outrun Allen into the end zone for the touchdown.
- Big time awareness by Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert to have presence of mind to avoid the rush of Oklahoma pass rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis. In buying time, he found San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny up the sideline. Benkert appeared to being on the verge of getting sacked but was able to slide forward in the pocket to avoid the rush. What was even more impressive that he was able to stay behind the line of scrimmage, all while keeping his eyes on Penny. Benkert then managed to flip the ball to Penny before BYU linebacker Fred Warner had a chance to react. Penny took the pass, and, with one cut back to the inside, made Hawaii safety Trayvon Henderson miss to finish the 73-yard touchdown run. It was Penny's only reception of the day but it was a huge play.
- It wasn't a great week of practice and a struggle at times during the game, but South Carolina cornerback JaMarcus King made a nice play to force an interception. King was locked up in coverage on Oklahoma State receiver James Washington. Kurt Benkert tried to hit Washington on the fade but his pass was short. King, playing underneath Washington, was able to hold him off with his left hand and knock the ball back toward the middle of the field. Marcus Allen was chasing the play from the inside but just happened to be at the right place at the right time for the interception.
- My gut feeling is that the Dallas Cowboys will look at this Oklahoma pass rusher, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, as an outside linebacker. He doesn't have the height to play end but his length would give him a chance off the edge. In the game he had two sacks, which capped off a week where he applied some type of pressure each practice. On one of those sacks in the game, he just blew past Humboldt State offensive tackle Alex Cappa before he had a chance to get out of his stance. Kurt Benkert never saw him from the backside and Okoronkwo was able to finish the rush.
- As a whole, the tight end group was impressive on both squads. The one guy that I really liked was UCF's Jordan Akins. At 6-3, 246 he looks the part with the athletic ability to match. There is a real smoothness to his game in the way he releases off the line and gets into routes. He gets his eyes around quickly for the ball. His hand placement is right where it needs to be and once he gets the ball in his hands, he shows the ability to finish. As a blocker, he can get the necessary movement at the point of attack to keep his man from the play. In a deep group, I believe Akins has the tools to be special.
- I was expecting more from New Mexico State receiver Jaleel Scott, and with only one reception for the game, that was disappointing. Scott had a chance to take a well thrown slant from Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield to the house -- but he dropped it. Instead, of extending his hands to meet the ball, he let it get into his face mask and it bounced off him. As dynamic as Scott might be with his circus catches, there were those moments during the week where the concentration was not where it needed to be. I was hopeful that he would have been able to rise to the occasion on the big stage but that wasn't the case. Overall, it was a missed opportunity for him.
- Give some credit to UT-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport for his sack of Baker Mayfield. Davenport beat Pittsburgh tackle Brian O'Neill, who is one of the better tackles in the draft. Davenport set O'Neill up with an outside rush, then quickly adjusted back to the inside which put O'Neill off balance. Davenport was at the proper level with Mayfield and when he tried to escape from the pocket, Davenport was right there to finish the rush. Earlier in the week, I thought that Davenport had not practiced well, but in studying the practice tape, that wasn't the case at all. There were several snaps where he was held and in a game it would have been called.
- Really nice play by the hometown guy, South Alabama safety Jeremy Reaves, on Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki. Baker Mayfield had his eyes on Gesicki the entire time up the seam and initially appeared to be open, but pressure forced him to step up in the pocket. It was just that extra second which allowed Reaves to drive on Gesicki to knock the ball away with his off hand to get the defense off the field. In practices, Gesicki was rarely covered in those situations and had a chance for a big catch if not for Reaves.
- On "The Draft Show," we talked about players that we needed to do more film work on. After studying this game, I need to do more work on Utah defensive end Kylie Fitts. I was surprised how many time Fitts was able to break his man down in order to capture the edge. It didn't matter what side he was rushing from, he was able to make things happen to create problems in the pocket. I liked the power he was also able to display when defending the run. He wouldn't allow these tackles to wash him out of the play or control him at the point.
- Penn State receiver DaeSean Hamilton was one of the better practice players during the week, but it didn't carry over into the game. He and Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen failed to connect a couple of different times. Allen missed him on a "9" route with an overthrow. Then a little later, Hamilton dropped a slant that should have been caught with North Carolina cornerback M.J. Stewart in coverage. Hamilton is an outstanding route runner and does a nice job of getting open, but it was a shame to not see things go better for him. I still see him as a solid fourth-round player on the board.
- I ran into several scouts during the week that had a mixed bag on Virginia defensive tackle Andrew Brown. Some really liked him and others were worried about his consistency. It was my first time to see him and I came away impressed with the way that he practiced and how he was able to carry it to the game. At 6-3, 294, I liked the power he played with. He did a nice job of getting rid of blockers quickly and getting to the ball. He played with some violence and when it came to finishing the play he was right where he needed to be. I saw a hard guy to move. When put on the same side as Marcus Davenport, they caused problems in the pocket. I need to dig a little deeper, but I saw a guy that you could play at the nose or under-tackle and be stout at that spot.
- Someone is going to get a really good player in USC linebacker Uchenna Nwosu. There are a lot of things that you can do with him scheme-wise. He is not just an edge rusher, there is much more to his game. He will surprise you with his power, like he showed when taking on Central Michigan tight end Tyler Conklin on a fourth down stop. He drove Conklin back into the backfield, which forced Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage to have to bounce the ball to the outside. When Ballage did that, Jeremy Reaves and Kylie Fitts where waiting for him for no gain. As I mentioned, I could see Nwosu playing as a drop linebacker in coverage due to his athletic ability and rushing the passer in some sub package downs. He could be one of those guys that never comes off the field for your defense. That's a valuable player to have on your roster.