Busy big week begins for 49ers at Senior Bowl

Senior Bowl week officially began Sunday, with scouts, coaches and other NFL types converging on Mobile, Alabama, for a week of heavy activity judging college prospects. Mike Nolan and his 49ers staff will be even busier than most, as they're on hand to coach the South squad, and the exposure they get this week around the nation's top talent could play heavy in the team's decisions as the Niners head toward another all-important draft in April.

The same holds true for the Tennessee Titans, who are coaching the North squad. Like Nolan's subordinates, coach Jeff Fisher's staff has the added advantage of being able to talk to all the players on their squad at their leisure. The Titans, incidentally, plucked six players off the Senior Bowl roster in 2005.

One section of the Riverview Plaza Hotel is accessible only by players, Senior Bowl staff and the coaching staffs of the 49ers and Titans. That secluded room holds pool tables, a pinball machine and other assorted games. It also has plush couches, a television and food – but above all it is a safe haven from the onslaught of questions from NFL scouts.

Two teams staged a stakeout and corralled a number of players to get a jump start on the proceedings late Saturday before Sunday's mass convergence even began.

The Miami Dolphins spoke with at least five players, including wide receiver Martin Nance out of Miami (OH), quarterback Darrel Hackney out of UAB and Okalahoma offensive lineman Davin Joseph.

Miami deployed a similar strategy a year ago. They were the first team to on the second floor concourse in 2005 and reclaimed that title on Saturday.

The Dolphins nabbed two players from the Senior Bowl during their 2005 draft. They selected Matt Roth, a defensive end out of Iowa, with their second round selection. And, in a touch of irony, Roth was sporting a Miami Dolphins shirt during Senior Bowl week. Miami took Travis Daniels, a cornerback out of LSU, in the fourth round to complete their haul of Senior Bowl prospects last year.

The Chicago Bears talked to at least five players, including Nance and Charles Spencer, an offensive tackle that projects to guard, out of Pittsburgh.

The Bears also took two players from the Senior Bowl a year ago, quarterback Kyle Orton of Purdue and wide receiver Arise Currie from Clemson in rounds four and five, respectively.

With events starting early, the pressure could boil over among the prospects.

"Not at all," said Spencer. "I have been playing football a long time and these guys are out here to watch some talent and I am used to that."

Spencer admits that he had the added benefit of working under Dave Wannstedt at Pitt, a former NFL head coach. Spencer and Wannstedt talk once or twice each day and the coach has his pupil well-prepared for the events.

Many players flew into town on Saturday and there were several stragglers still on the concourse of the Riverview when midnight hit. The real action, of course, began Sunday as the rest of the players and NFL types arrived in preparation for Monday's practices.

"I don't think so," North Carolina State defensive end Manny Lawson replied when asked if he lost any sleep Saturday night. "I (was) very tired."

On Sunday, the fast-paced interviews began in earnest to continue the scouting process, and the 49ers entourage settled in for a big week for the team and franchise.

Rumors continued to swirl throughout the day. Scouts are almost beside themselves with joy over the amount of talent that will fill both squads this week. The nation's top four senior offensive tackles prospects are in attendance, including D'brickashaw Ferguson, potentially a top-four pick in April's draft, and a player the 49ers are very interested in if he should happen to fall to them at the No. 6 or No. 7 pick.

More than a half-dozen of the country's top defensive linemen have showed up in Mobile, including Mathias Kiwanuka of Boston College, another player who could go to the 49ers with their top pick.

The top guards, quarterbacks and running backs will be practicing starting Monday as well.

A pair of players originally on the docket to attend were politely told not to show up.

Defensive tackle Claude Wroten, considered by many the top senior player at his position and a potential first-round choice in April, has his invitation revoked after being arrested on a charge of felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute earlier this month. Those on hand feel the former LSU player will watch his draft stock will drop immeasurably because of this.

Likewise, linebacker A.J. Nicholson of Florida State watched his Senior Bowl invitation go up in smoke stemming from a sexual assault allegation in late December. Nicholson was also suspended from playing in the Fiesta Bowl as a result of the charge.

The Senior Bowl is also the place to be for the most recent word on coaching news and pending players moves in the NFL.

Scout.com has found out that while Chris Palmer interviewed with the Jets last Friday in excess of four hours; reports of him being named the team's new offensive coordination are premature. Palmer has not heard back from the franchise as of Sunday evening and in fact was never told specifically what the job title is during the interview.

In other news, Scout.com has confirmed the Colts will do all they can to keep receiver Reggie Wayne with the franchise. Whether it is signing the productive pass catcher to a long-term contract or placing the franchise tag on him before the free agent deadline in March, the team is determined to pay what it takes to retain his services.

On the other hand, the future of Edgerrin James is less certain. The price to re-sign him may be a little to steep and the possibility exists that the veteran back will find employment elsewhere in 2006.

The fun officially starts Monday morning with the weigh-ins as even more scouts, coaches and players file into Mobile.


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