MOBILE, Ala. – Tuesday at the Senior Bowl is always a fun balancing act.
We the draft nerds are here for 11-on-11 and pass rush reps. This is the only part of the draft process that actually involves real football, and it's a fun barometer for some of the draft's top talent.
At the same time, there are other duties to consider. The Cowboys' front office was in attendance, and chief operating officer Stephen Jones spoke briefly with reporters. That's all covered elsewhere on the site.
Anyway, when I wasn't stalking executives, I was doing my best to keep an eye on the actual football. Here's a handful of what jumped out to me, with more to come on Wednesday and Thursday.
1. Much like everyone else in the world, I was super high on the receiver talent coming to this Senior Bowl. I still am, for the record.
But after one day, I think I was more impressed by some of these defensive backs. Maybe it's because I'm expecting so much from these receivers, but some of these guys really managed to hold their own.
Pittsburgh cornerback Dane Jackson garners special mention. I didn't know much about him when I got here, but the guy grabbed eye balls right of the bat by swatting everything that came his way. By my count, he finished with 3 PBUs and just one completion allowed during the one-on-one portion of practice.
UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes also made a great first impression, as he made a couple really impressive coverage plays during the South practice.
2. A fun thing about the Senior Bowl is that you get to see guys try different things.
Heading into this week, my familiarity with Michigan linebacker Josh Uche was as a pass rusher. After all, the dude had 14.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss during his final two seasons with the Wolverines, mainly working off the edge.
On Tuesday morning, I heard Uche mention to reporters that he has played plenty of coverage as a 4-3 linebacker – and I firmly believe him. I saw Uche play well as a pass rusher on Tuesday, but I also saw him drop in coverage and handle his own. He was sticky and looked fairly natural, and he got his hands on a couple of balls.
For a tweener prospect, that type of versatility could be invaluable. I don't know yet if Uche is a guy the Cowboys like, but I'm interested to study his game further when I get home.
3. Javon Kinlaw is the guy everyone has their eyes on – and trust me, they should. This isn't about Kinlaw, so much as the smaller storylines that tend to get buried.
In this case, I want to know more about Kenlaw's South Carolina teammate, D.J. Wonnum.
Wonnum was one of this year's winners of the weigh-in – which is to say he impressed the hell out of people with his measurables. He came in just shy of 6'5 with a 247-pound frame, and he seemed to use it well during the South practices. He managed 4.5 sacks during his final season with the Gamecocks, and I'm excited to watch more of him later this week.
4. This is not exactly a novel concept, but I appreciated the Lions' coaching staff showing us a different side of these wide receivers.
Halfway through the North team practice, the Lions' coaches had their receivers go through extensive blocking drills. Essentially, each receiver would get a rep blocking a defender while a ball carrier took the play to his side of the field. It's something all receivers practice, but I don't remember seeing it extensively at the Senior Bowl.
Even in a few short minutes, you can get a feel for who relishes that aspect of their game. From my vantage point in the press box, I give that nod to SMU's James Proche and Texas A&M's Quartney Davis. On multiple reps, both guys seemed not just to get in the way, but to actually attack their target and drive them out of the play.
It's a simple skill set, but it's something that can go a long way toward helping you stand out in a crowded field.
5. It feels like the draft gods have it out for those of us who follow the Cowboys.
Dropouts are going to be part of the Senior Bowl. It happens. But this week has felt particularly cruel, because guys I'd love for the Cowboys to take a look at are unavailable for various reasons.
It started Monday when LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton pulled out for medical reasons. The star cornerback just finished a 15-game season, and he's been dealing with injury issues. But it's still a tough blow for a Cowboys team that may need to take a hard look at cornerback this spring.
Tuesday morning brought some more bad news. Cal safety Ashtyn Davis, Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu and Arizona State receiver Brandon Aiyuk were all flagged with medical concerns and won't be practicing this week. They're still hanging around and participating in the process, but we won't be watching them here in Mobile.
Ultimately, it's not the end of the world. Health is the most important thing, and all of these guys have a library of tape they've put together over their careers. But Davis was arguably the best safety here, while Fotu was on the short list for top defensive tackle. There were murmurs that Aiyuk could stake his claim as a first-round prospect with a good week here.
All of that could still happen, we'll see what their medical issues wind up being. But that's four top-flight talents, all of whom could potentially make sense for the Cowboys, that we won't get to watch. Bummer.