This is Charlie Campbell’s Tuesday 2018 Senior Bowl Practice Report for the North Team. Charlie is reporting live from Mobile, Ala., and he’ll describe what he sees at practice and whom certain prospects talk to all week.
The North team took the field of Ladd-Peebles Stadium for their first practice of the Senior Bowl. The Denver Broncos coaching staff ran the practice and will coach them all week. The Broncos staff had the players practicing in shells: helmets, shoulder pads, and shorts. Here is a run down of the noteworthy players.
Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield were the players under the biggest microscope at the Senior Bowl this week. Both are trying to prove to NFL teams that they belong as high first-round picks and are true franchise quarterbacks. Of the two signal-callers, Allen was the more impressive of the two and had the better practice to open the Senior Bowl.
Allen showed off his strong arm and clearly has the most arm talent of any of the quarterbacks in Mobile. He throws a tight spiral as the ball explodes out of hand. He has no problems throwing the deep out, as his passes could cut through the wind and get to this targets with ease. Allen showed some pocket presence with the ability to keep his eyes downfield as he scrambled in the team scrimmage. On one play, he moved around nicely before throwing a laser on a deep out.
There are areas where Allen needs to improve for the NFL. He needs to fix his accuracy issues, and it starts with his feet, as his footwork will have to get development for the pros. Allen’s feet can get out of whack and that leads to passes sailing for overthrows. Spending time with pro coaching, getting more comfortable being under center, and focusing on football completely should help Allen to improve his feet and accuracy.
After practice, I spoke with a general manager of quarterback-needy team. He asked me who I thought the best quarterback was in day one from both teams. I said Allen, and he agreed. Overall, this was a strong first practice, and Allen got his week off to a good start.
Mayfield wasn’t bad in his first practice, but playing next to Allen only serves to illustrate that Mayfield is undersized and doesn’t have big arm talent. His arm was fine, and that general manager said he didn’t have a problem with Mayfield’s arm strength. The ball just doesn’t explode out of Mayfield’s hand like it does with Allen. On the plus side, Mayfield did loft in some nice touch passes, and he throws a very catchable ball for receivers. Mayfield came to the Senior Bowl late, and he seemed to be thinking a lot on the field as he was playing catch up with the Broncos’ staff. Mayfield will probably be playing much faster and looking better as the week progresses.
Perhaps the most impressive player at the North practice on Tuesday was Texas-El Paso guard Will Hernandez. He was tremendous at the point of attack as a powerful blocker who got serious movement in the ground game. In the run blocking one-on-ones, Hernandez was moving defenders at the point of attack as he got the best of Ohio State defensive end Jalyn Holmes and bulled N.C. State’s Justin Jones out of his gap. On other plays, Hernandez rocked defenders out of their gap and tossed them away at the end of plays.
The one play that was ugly for Hernandez was when Fort Hays State defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd beat him with a speed rush in the one-on-ones. Coming from Texas-El Paso, it isn’t surprising that he is not used to as fast of defenders, so improving his ability to handle speed rushers will be his biggest area of improvement for the NFL.
Still, there is a ton to like about Hernandez. He has heavy hands, and once he gets a grip on defenders, they are done. His barrel-body chest and upper body strength allows him to sustain his blocks through the whistle. If Hernandez were an inch or two taller with longer arms, he would be a sure-fire first-round pick. As it stands, Hernandez could be a second-rounder who has a long career with Pro Bowl potential.
The player who had the worst practice for the North was Iowa State wide receiver Allen Lazard. The big wideout had an awful session catching the ball. Even in the individual period when there weren’t any cornerbacks to contend with, Lazard had multiple drops. In the team scrimmage, Lazard had an opportunity to make up for it, as he got between a corner and safety downfield, but he tried to do a one-handed over-the-shoulder catch, but dropped the ball. Lazard should have shown the ability to adjust and use some body control to turn toward the pass while using his big frame to make a two-handed reception. If Lazard doesn’t catch the ball a lot better on Wednesday and Thursday, this will be a disastrous week for him.
Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage had a good practice Tuesday. He had a very impressive play in the team scrimmage. Catching a pass in the flat, he dodged a tackler and then exploded down the sideline. About 20-30 yards downfield two defensive backs closed on him, but the big Ballage could have easily run through their tackles if this were a live game. In the receiving one-on-ones, Ballage juked Citadel linebacker Myles Pierce badly to get wide open, but Ballage dropped the pass after running a superb route.
Ballage also ran very well in the nine-on-seven run scrimmage session. He showed a nice jump cut in the backfield to dodge a tackler, and then had a burst to get downfield. On another carry, Ballage ripped off a good run, bouncing his carry to the outside to break into open field. Ballage had an impressive first practice showing surprising quickness to go with his size.
West Virginia safety Kyzir White had an interesting first day of the week. He won a number of reps going against Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli in the pass receiving one-on-ones. However, on three different reps, White had a lot of contact with Fumagalli running downfield, and there easily could have been some holding or pass interference calls if White played that technique in the NFL. In the seven-on-seven, White made a nice play cleanly, as he jumped a route to pick off Tanner Lee. It was a nice interception by White. Over Wednesday and Thursday, White needs to show an improved ability to run with tight ends without initiating a lot of contact that will draw flags in the NFL.
While Fumagalli could have drawn some holding or pass interference penalties from White, it was disappointing to see Fumagalli struggle to uncover and get open. It was an underwhelming start to the week, as Fumagalli looked slow-footed. Perhaps he is still dealing with the injury that slowed him down late in the 2017 season. Fumagalli needs to have better practices on Wednesday and Thursday to be a second-day pick in April.
Safety Armani Watts had issues in pass coverage at Texas A&M, but he always seemed to come up with some clutch plays, using his instincts to be in the right place at the right time. That was seen in his first Senior Bowl practice. Watts has some speed and athletic limitations, but he stayed around the ball in the team scrimmage. That led to him getting an interception on a tipped pass, as Watts reacted quickly to snatch the loose ball. Watts will have to continue to come up with some splash plays, as he doesn’t project as an impressive athlete with standout size, speed or tackling ability.
The catch of the day came from Miami wide receiver Braxton Berrios, as he made a diving catch, laying out for a well-thrown ball by Nebraska’s Tanner Lee for a reception deep along the sideline. It was a highlight-reel play for Berrios, as he laid out for the ball. He got open shortly later for a chunk gain, but Washington State’s Luke Falk missed him. Berrios doesn’t pass the eye ball test, but he’s a pure football player who finds a way to get the job done and is a competitive slot receiver candidate for the NFL.