Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips had one last chance to impress general managers, scouts and coaches once more on the field before accepting their invites to next month's NFL Combine in Indianapolis to participate in the Underwear Olympics.
Overall, both former Illini left good impressions at the Senior Bowl with scouting departments, coaching staffs and football analysts last week in Mobile, Ala.
Smoot and Phillips boosted their draft stock by displaying versatility transitioning from 4-3 defensive ends to outside linebackers in the 3-4 defensive front on the North team, coached by the Chicago Bears staff. They adjusted quickly to life in a two-point stance by rushing the quarterback, dropping into zone areas and covering RBs/TEs in Man coverage.
Here's what I saw out of the two Illini in Mobile.
Dawuane Smoot, DE/OLB
The last two seasons, the Illini defense were one-gap penetrators. Defensive linemen in a three-point stance can generate power before engaging with an offensive lineman. Smoot showed good upper body strength and leverage at the point of attack vs OL/TE defending gap/zone runs in edge alignment. For example, he used very good hand placement into the breast plate of OL/TE with a violent strike, quickly shed blockers in pursuit of the ball carrier with good angles. In pass rush situations, Smoot was able to put pressure on the QB vs OL/TE/RB collapsing pocket with initial quickness off the edge with multiple pass rush tactics.
Coaches and scouts knew that defending the pass would be challenging for Smoot because his primary job was to sack QBs. Smoot was hesitant at times when he had to execute coverage responsibilities, due to processing the entire field. He will get comfortable over time dropping into and matching up in Zones vs 2/3 WRs formations. Also, his leverage will improve vs RBs/TEs in man coverage understanding where his help is working with ILBs/S.
Best NFL fit
Smoot displayed good athleticism taking snaps at OLB demonstrating upper- and lower-body power. He has the football intelligence to function in both 4-3/3-4 fronts and solid foot speed to contribute on special teams, which makes him interesting to all 32 teams. The Houston Texans would be a great fit for Smoot because they align in multiple hybrid schemes. For example, former Ohio State DL and current Texan LB John Simon plays multiple positions along the front seven defending the run, rushing the passer, executes zone/man coverage all from a 2 point stance.
Carroll Phillips, DE/OLB
"Explosive", "sudden", "urgent-type", etc. were some of the words from NFL personnel to describe Phillips' athletic ability. His up-field burst was productive defending the run as well as rushing QBs. For example, Phillips played with good leverage as the end man on the line of scrimmage, not allowing RBs to escape the edge on outside runs. Also, he demonstrated the necessary physical toughness defeating TE wham blocks at the point of attack. Phillips' play speed stood out with his ability to pressure OTs with three vertical steps, enabling him to gain leverage by minimizing the pocket.
Phillips generated plenty of sacks and TFLs behind the line of scrimmage because of his suddenness off the edge. In order to continue to build on that success, his hand usage must improve. Offensive linemen at the next level will run him by maintaining a clean pocket. Until Phillips develops more lower body strength, he will rely on converting speed to power. Plus, rushing with 2/3 counter moves will strengthen his ability to pressure or sack QBs in the NFL. Life in a two-point stance will be the new normal whether he's drafted by a 4-3/3-4 team. Phillips will get better at diagnosing and reacting to play action passes, while he simultaneously adjusts to playing in space with the responsibility of man/zone coverage.
Best NFL fit
The Seattle Seahawks would be the ideal fit for Phillips, after losing OLB Bruce Irvin to the Oakland Raiders last season. Both players possess similar body types with length, align at DL/LB levels and the skill-sets to rush and cover. The Seahawks would add more athleticism and depth to a great defense.
Micheal Young is the football analyst for IlliniInquirer.com. Young was a four-year starter for Illinois football and a team captain. The St. Louis native also played for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals from 2001-04. He serves as a color analyst for several broadcast outlets and co-hosts an Illini podcast with former UI teammate Carey Davis on Huddlepass.com.