FAIRHOPE, Ala. – Notes from the first day of Senior Bowl practice, during which I checked out the South team’s work from field level at a high-school stadium that was once the home field of former Denver Bronco Leon Lett:
RANKING THE QUARTERBACKS: If the Broncos went searching for quarterbacks in this draft, the pickings would be slim, and Brock Osweiler would be a potential top-10 pick had he opted to return to Arizona State last year. The depth simply isn’t where it was last year, and the three South team quarterbacks reflected that. Only one of the trio appears to have a plausible chance of being taken in the first round
1. TYLER WILSON, ARKANSAS: Some quarterback-needy team will fall in love with him enough to try and add a pick at the end of the first round in order to select him, and he looked the smoothest of the bunch. His transition was eased by the presence of college teammate Cobi Hamilton, who caught Wilson’s first pass in seven-on-seven work. But he was intercepted by Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox in a team period and brings the ball back a bit farther than is ideal in his windup.
2. LANDRY JONES, OKLAHOMA: Until you see where the football ends up, Jones looks the best. His delivery is crisp; his passes usually are tight spirals. But during an early seven-on-seven period, he completed 50 percent of his passes and missed some makeable throws down the seam. What made Jones’ day more alarming was the absence of a pass rush, as the practice was conducted in shorts; his struggles under duress are what caused his gradual descent in the first place.
3. E.J. MANUEL, FLORIDA STATE: Because of his raw athleticism, he has the most to gain and could rocket upward with improved play this week. But he looked too willing to settle for the checkdown during team and seven-on-seven drills and struggled to show consistent touch with a delivery that is awkward and herky-jerky in nature.
NAMES TO NOTE:
WR CONNOR VERNON: Vernon played for Peyton Manning’s mentor, David Cutcliffe, at Duke, and projects as a potential slot wide receiver. His cuts weren’t as sharp as they could be, and at one point he was castigated by Lions wide receivers coach Tim Lappano for tipping off his changes of direction. “I don’t want to see turn signals!” barked Lappano.
WR RYAN SWOPE: The Texas A&M product is another potential slot receiver, but had a bad day, dropping three passes in individual drills and another in seven-on-seven work.
WR TAVARRES KING: Along with Hamilton, King, of the University of Georgia, was arguably the most impressive player on the South team and was the most effective downfield receiver on the field, playing much larger than his 6-foot, 192-pound frame would indicate.
CB LEON McFADDEN: A product of San Diego State, McFadden showed more aggression in press coverage than any of the other cornerbacks in one-on-one drills. He needs to improve at finishing the play; on one duel with Vernon, he deflected the pass upward instead of down, allowing Vernon to reach back for the reception. McFadden did have an interception during another one-on-one duress.
CB ROBERT ALFORD: One of a handful of players from non-FBS schools here, the Southeastern Louisiana product is fast enough, but needs to do a better job maintaining his balance, as he was prone to stumbling when he tried to change his direction.
S BACARRI RAMBO: The University of Georgia product looked slow in reacting to changes of direction in coverage, as running backs catching passes out of the backfield easily got separation from him in one-on-one drills.
Rambo added after practice that coaches have also told him to work on taking better angles in tackling.
TE VANCE McDONALD: Easily the best pass-catcher among the three tight ends on the South team roster, McDonald easily changes direction and got separation from linebackers. But the 6-foot-4, 262-pounder needs to be more aggressive off the line of scrimmage in run blocking. His size and body type indicates that he has the ability to block if he can be more assertive and hone his technique.
TE MICHAEL WILLIAMS: From Alabama, Williams has the opposite conundrum to McDonald; the 269-pounder struggled to change direction and gain separation downfield. He looked a bit like former Bronco Richard Quinn, which isn’t a positive for his draft stock unless someone else overvalues all-blocking, infrequent-receiving tight ends.
BITS AND PIECES: Former Broncos general manager Brian Xanders was on hand for the session. He has yet to catch on with another team since he was dismissed by the team last May … A common sentiment among running backs here this week is an emphasis on catching passes out of the backfield. Florida’s Mike Gillislee and Clemson’s Andre Ellington both mentioned it specifically when asked about what they had to work on this week. “Being a running back is natural. It’s how we’ve been since we were kids,” Ellington said. “But now, you’re in this league, and guys are a lot faster on defense, so you have to throw it and get it out there in space.”
COMING TUESDAY: Notes from the North and South team practices.
MORE FROM THE SENIOR BOWL: