2022 Senior Bowl: Practice Report

2022 Senior Bowl: Tuesday’s American Team Practice Report

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

The first practice of the American team in the Senior Bowl was held in Mobile, Alabama in South Alabama’s football stadium. The players were practicing in shells: helmets, shoulder pads, and shorts. The American team is being coached by the Detroit Lions coaching staff.

  • Similar to the midday session from the National team, this first practice was a little sloppy as the players shook off the rust of a layoff while adjusting to playing with new teammates. There were a lot of dropped passes, false starts, players jumping offsides, and missed timings between quarterbacks and receivers. The Lions staff, led by head coach Dan Campbell, put together a slow-paced session that included a lot of individual work with assistant coaches.

  • The American team features two noteworthy quarterback prospects, Liberty’s Malik Willis and North Carolina’s Sam Howell. The two are opposites in that Willis has the more impressive physical skill set while Howell is more polished.

    Of all the quarterbacks in Mobile, including the trio on the National team of Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Nevada’s Carson Strong, Willis clearly has the strongest arm. He is the only quarterback at Senior Bowl who has a legit power arm for the NFL. The ball explodes out of Willis’ hand, and with a quick flick of the wrist, he can fire a fastball. Willis has easy arm strength to go vertical, and his passes cut through the Mobile wind with no impact on his tight spirals. There is no doubt that Willis possesses a big-time arm capable of throwing frozen ropes and going downfield.

    Willis is powerful, but he needs a lot of work as a passer. His accuracy was very shaky in this first practice. He had consistent overthrows, with passes going far above the head of his target. Accuracy starts from the ground up, and Willis needs to improve his footwork significantly for the NFL. In the team-scrimmage portion, Willis threw a pass off his back foot that was far off the mark and hit Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt in the hands, but luckily for Willis, Taylor-Britt dropped the interception. That play was just one example of the obvious developmental issues.

    Willis needs to throw more touch passes and take some heat off the ball because some passes are coming in too hot for receivers, leading to drops or incompletions from the pass coming in too quickly. Willis’ pro coaching staff will need to work with him to throw a more catchable ball. Being on the short side, Willis also gets blinded in the pocket.

    There is no doubt that Willis has a big-time skill set with a powerful arm and good running ability. He still needs a lot of development, however, and will enters the NFL as a real project to become a consistent passer and starting caliber player.

  • Howell throws passes more instinctively than Willis and is a more innate passer with accuracy. In the one-on-one receiver-vs.-cornerback portion, Howell threw some beautiful deep balls downfield, dropping in precision passes with good placement. He had some pretty passes dropped even though he threw a very catchable ball. Howell missed some throws from not being on the same page as his new receivers, but that could be cleared up over the next few days. Howell does not have the skill set of a the typical high first-rounder, but he does have some natural passing ability.

  • Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter had a good first day for the American team. He showed nice speed off the snap to fire into the backfield and knife behind the line. Carter did well in the pass-rushing one-on-ones and made a superb play in the team scrimmage where he exploded through the line for a tackle for a loss. Carter got off to a nice start with his Tuesday practice.

  • Carter wasn’t the only Gator to have some impressive moments. Florida running back Dameon Pierce ran hard, and in the team scrimmage, he showed nice quickness on a run to get to the second level and then accelerate downfield for a gain of about 30 yards. Pierce is a big, physical runner, so showing quickness could really help his draft stock.

  • Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin put together a productive opening session. He ran good routes and showed the quickness to generate separation. Austin is a sleeper receiver who could be a nice value pick on the second day of the 2022 NFL Draft or in the mid-rounds.

  • To close out the practice, Kentucky right tackle Darian Kinnard got a few wins in a one-on-one, stuffing a bull rush and riding a defender around the pocket. Kinnard’s win forced all the defensive players to do pushups. In the pass-rushing one-on-ones, Kinnard had some up-and-down plays, but he is a fighter who is strong and displays surprising athleticism. He could be a productive value pick on the second day of the 2022 NFL Draft as a plus starting right tackle or guard.

  • WalterFootball.com will have more recaps from the Senior Bowl practices later in the week along with a run-down of the post-practice team interviews. Follow @walterfootball for updates.

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    2022 Senior Bowl: Wednesday's American Team Practice Report
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    2022 Senior Bowl: Tuesday's American Team Practice Report
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