Senior Bowl Notebook: Surprises, Disappointments From Final Practices

MOBILE, Ala. – One final time, we had an opportunity to get an impression of these Senior Bowl players.

It’s a strange quirk of the process. The entire NFL world descends on Ladd-Peebles Stadium for this week, but nobody stays for the game. General managers and decision-makers have other concerns to tend to, and most teams don’t keep their full staff around.

By Thursday’s practices, this stadium was perhaps a third as full as it was at the start.

That’s just the nature of the business, though. Thursday was still an opportunity for these draft prospects to show us something on the field.

So here’s my final look from Mobile:

  • It’s interesting that the Bears coaches are playing USC tackle Zach Banner on the left side and not his normal right. I have some questions about his foot quickness to begin with, so playing him on that left side will either expose him or give scouts the idea that he could handle it there. Game time will test him with the South team's rushers: Texas A&M’s Daeshon Hall and Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon coming off the edge.
  • Michigan receiver Amara Darboh sure catches the ball easily. I like how, when defenders play press coverage on him, he physically throws them aside. He is able to create separation with power, which allows him the space necessary to make the reception. Something else to note: the coaches have Darboh on the kickoff team playing as the force position of L4 and left tackle on the kickoff return.
  • One of the more difficult linebackers for these North running backs to deal with one-on-one has been Temple’s Haason Reddick. What makes Reddick so tough is the violence with which he rushes. He never stops attacking with pass rush moves. The one guy that has handled him well has been Toledo running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt has figured out that to stop Reddick you need to attack him quickly before he has a chance to get going. Hunt was able to control him each time with that plan.
  • I thought it was an up-and-down day for East Carolina receiver Zay Jones. What is very evident about his game is that when he has space, he can make catches all day. When he has to fight for the contested ball, those opportunities become more difficult for him. There were several snaps where he was battling West Virginia cornerback Rasul Douglas for the ball inside and he was unable to come up with the catch.
  • You can't draw them up physically any better than Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu. Measuring in at 6-4, 219 pounds, his size is rare for the position and historically that doesn't translate well for the position due to the length. Long-legged defensive backs tend to struggle quickly turning and adjusting to routes. Melifonwu doesn't appear to have that problem. He is smooth in his pedal and doesn't labor in his transition. His size and length keeps him from getting bullied down the field.
  • Really surprised at the lack of power that Pittsburgh tackle Adam Bisnowaty plays with. Normally, he lines up at tackle, but on Thursday he lined up at guard and it was a terrible struggle for him. Charlotte defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson knocked him around pretty good. He didn't get much movement in the running game, and he was only able to make some positive snaps when getting to the second level. Coming into the game I had the impression that he was a mean, nasty player but didn't see that in this practice.
  • Been waiting for LSU wide receiver Travin Dural to show up during these practices, but it just hasn't happened. Dural hasn't been able to separate, and when he has -- he's misplayed the ball. His lack of consistency has been alarming and to be honest I didn't expect that. He has really gone unnoticed in these practices and with a large group at the position for the draft -- that's not a good thing.
  • Watching Villanova pass rusher Tanoh Kpassagnon run the "Circle Drill" with a backside chop on the quarterback's arm, you notice there is some stiffness to his game. He has rare height and length, but you don't see that natural bend that the great edge rushers have. He's a quicker rusher when he can go inside than when goes on the outside. That was opposite of his film, where it appeared that he needed to be lined up wider in space than the inside. I have him in the third round currently, but he will likely be over drafted and go earlier.
  • The most confident returner in these practices has been San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey. He tracks the ball well, puts himself in position and finishes with a secure catch. I am not saying this because of his lack of height and physical stature, but he has that Darren Sproles quickness to his game with the ball in his hands. He has that ability to make one or two defenders miss -- which Sproles has.
  • I need to study the tape on Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware before I want to make some comments about his game. I will say that I am impressed with his ability to be around the ball and then put himself in position to make plays. My favorite short linebacker in previous drafts was Matt Borland from the San Francisco 49ers. Just on the eyeball test, I don't believe that Boulware is Borland -- but I will surely work to find out. 
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