2022 Senior Bowl: Wednesday’s American Team Practice Report
By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell
The second practice of the American team in the Senior Bowl was held in Mobile, Alabama in South Alabama’s football stadium. The players practiced in full pads. The American team is being coached by the Detroit Lions coaching staff.
In the rainy conditions, Liberty quarterback Malik Willis had a mixed session, but his combination of a powerful arm and dangerous running ability produced some impressive plays. In the team-scrimmage 2-minute drill portion of practice, Willis made two excellent plays on one drive, including running for 20-30 yards to get in striking distance. Shortly thereafter, Willis rolled to his left and laid out 30-yard touchdown pass to UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich. It was a pretty pass that Dulcich led to the end zone for the score.
On Willis’ next two-minute drive, however, he put together an ugly possession. Willis fumbled a shotgun snap, which probably would have turned into a sack in a game. He also held onto the ball too long and looked blinded by the line on another play and ended up taking a sack. To conclude the possession, he threw a deep ball to a blanketed receiver in double coverage that fortunately for Willis fell incomplete.
Overall, Willis has the skill set to make some game-changing plays with his cannon for an arm and his running ability. He needs a lot of work, however, in terms of his mechanics, accuracy, and field vision. The team that drafts Willis needs to have a developmental plan and not force him onto the field too soon.
Team sources were impressed with Florida running back Dameon Pierce during Tuesday’s practice, and he was even better on Wednesday. Once again, Pierce ripped off some chunk runs, showing his burst to hit the second level and using his powerful frame to run through arm tackles. He ripped off multiple nice runs in the 9-on-7 run scrimmage.
In the pass-blocking/receiving one-on-ones with linebackers, Pierce was excellent. He got started by stonewalling a bull rush and holding his ground to win a blitz-protection rep. Then he got open on a few routes, including a wheel route that was overthrown and an out route to the flat that he caught. Pierce did have a drop, but there were lot of dropped passes on Wednesday in the downpour. To conclude practice, Pierce won a one-on-one blitz-protection block that left his entire offense shouting and celebrating.
Pierce has definitely made himself some money in Mobile this week. He has been a tough runner, displaying power, quickness, and decisiveness. His work on Wednesday suggests he has third-down ability to contribute as a blocker and receiver. If Pierce runs well at the NFL Scouting Combine, he could end up being a valuable second-day pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson has had a solid week of practice, and he showed well in both phases on Wednesday. In the pass-rushing one-on-ones, Johnson had a few wins, including an impressive rush on which he beat Tulsa’s Chris Paul with a hard chop to get free and then a dart to the inside. In the 9-on-7 run scrimmage, Johnson did a nice job of getting off his block and flowing to the inside to stuff the back for a minimal gain. Johnson has been consistent with his 2021 season, when he was an impactful pass rusher and run defender for the Seminoles. This week of practice should help solidify Johnson as a first-round pick this April in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Kentucky offensive tackle Darian Kinnard has had a mixed week, notching some impressive wins and some losses in the one-on-ones. He had some tough battles with Jermaine Johnson on Tuesday, with each getting wins. On Wednesday, Kinnard lined up at guard on some one-on-one reps, which was interesting chance to assess if he could move to the inside in the NFL. Kinnard looked more comfortable at right tackle, as he seemed a little slower to react to speed rushes from interior defensive linemen. With his height, weight, and strength, Kinnard looks like a power right tackle or right guard in the NFL. If he does get moved to the inside, he might need more developmental time.
Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones has impressive speed to challenge defenses downfield, but he dropped a series of passes on Wednesday. While the rain makes catches more challenging, wet conditions are part of the game, and Jones needs to improve his hands. One drop is not a big deal in the rain, but dropping a number of passes in a seven-on-seven session could only hurt him with evaluators.
LSU linebacker Damone Clark has not set the Senior Bowl on fire, but on Wednesday, he did have some nice reps in the pass-coverage one-on-ones. Clark was running with receivers and not getting burned. Keeping close coverage and not allowing separation is what teams want to see from Clark, and he showed good three-down starter ability with his cover skills on Wednesday.
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
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