The premier college all-star game on the schedule every year, the Senior Bowl gives top prospects from around the country an opportunity to compete with one another in front of their future employers in the NFL.
Players arrive in Mobile, Alabama, on Sunday, Jan. 22, for a mandatory check-in and physical. Following an introductory press conference, the teams for the North and South have their meetings and prepare for the week of on- and off-field events, which includes practices Monday through Thursday, a light walk-through Friday and then the actual game Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Florida State has two alumni on the South squad: offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders and linebacker Nigel Bradham. While Sanders has already been branded as a possible first-round pick in the NFL Draft this April, Bradham begins the evaluation process with a grade in Round 3 or 4. Both of them have a chance to make a lot of money with a spirited performance, as Sanders can solidify his first-round status and Bradham may be able to elevate his stock a round or so.
Two Seminoles were a part of last year's festivities and did very well for themselves, with quarterback Christian Ponder -- he earned MVP honors, completing 7 of 13 passes for 132 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions -- going in Round 1 to the Minnesota Vikings and guard Rodney Hudson ending up in the second round to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Zebrie and Nigel are both outstanding additions to our South roster, and we're excited about bringing them to Mobile for the 2012 game," said Steve Hale, President and CEO of the Senior Bowl. "Both are highly regarded at their respective positions, and we're expecting big things from them here later this month."
Sanders, a 6-6, 307-pounder from Clayton, Ohio, was a four-year starter at FSU and named first-team All-ACC for his efforts this past season, despite the fact that the 'Noles experienced the majority of their problems along the offensive line.
Spending most of his career at right tackle, he actually projects better on the left side and started eight games there in 2011 once fellow senior Andrew Datko had to be shelved with continuing shoulder issues. In the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame on Dec. 29 in Orlando, a game Florida State won 18-14, Sanders was forced to share starting duties up front with four true freshmen.
According to Chad Reuter, the senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, which is a part of CBS Sports, Sanders "has size and agility to handle NFL pass-pro responsibilities" and "cuts off the inside lane with length and footwork" on passing plays, although he "can be knocked back with a strong punch" and "multiple blitzers to his side confuse him." On running plays, he "locks onto his man immediately on most heads-up plays" and "walls off linebackers near the line effectively with length and strong hands" but is "inconsistent on reach blocks against quicker tackles" and "comes out of stance high on short-yardage plays." Overall, while Sanders "possesses the height and build of a left tackle," he can't be considered an elite talent for the pros "unless he improves his foot quickness and knee bend."
Nevertheless, Sanders will likely be the most coveted offensive tackle on display in Mobile, as the first three expected to be taken in the draft -- USC's Matt Kalil, Iowa's Riley Reiff and Stanford's Jonathan Martin -- are all juniors.
Bradham, a 6-3, 240-pounder from Crawfordville, got off to a relatively show start this past year but came on strong down the stretch, plus he is the first Seminole to lead the team in tackles three straight seasons since Marvin Jones (1990-92).
Filling up the stat sheet from margin to margin, Bradham recorded 56 solo tackles, 30 assists, 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and two interceptions in 2011. His second INT was one of the plays of the year for FSU, as it led directly to the go-ahead touchdown in the victory over the Fighting Irish in the bowl game.
Says Reuter, Bradham arrived in Tallahassee as one of the nation's top recruits in 2008 and "quickly lived up to his billing as the next great Seminole linebacker." Plagued by too many bone-headed decisions that led to a handful of personal-foul penalties during the early part of the schedule, he "stepped up his performance and leadership after the trio of midseason losses" to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest and was recognized as a second-team All-ACC selection. Because he has a reputation as "a vicious tackler" and a history of being "committed to physical development," Bradham is one name to watch not only at the Senior Bowl but also at the Scouting Combine in February, as he should test well from a speed-and-strength perspective in Indianapolis, Indiana.
But he has some work to do in Mobile, as the five other outside linebackers that will be on hand -- South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, North Carolina's Zach Brown, Utah State's Bobby Wagner and Miami's Sean Spence -- are all rated higher than Bradham at this moment by Reuter.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
Sanders, Bradham set for Senior Bowl
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