Senior Bowl Monday practice report

The South team received its first on-field exposure to the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff and game plan for the Senior Bowl on Monday at Fairhope Stadium in Fairhope, Ala. In this exclusive practice report, see how players like Colt Brennan, Andre Caldwell and Marcus Harrison fared in their first workouts.

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge said he knew at least two weeks ago that there was a chance he might play in the Senior Bowl, and learned two days before Monday's workout with the South team that he would play in place of Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm.

Oddly enough, he looked the best of the South quarterbacks on Monday, at least to these set of eyes.

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge was a late selection for the Senior Bowl. (Chris O'Meara/AP photo)
Ainge (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) is the most traditional of the three quarterbacks, a drop-back passer with a quick, overhand delivery. Ainge's best work came in the seven-on-seven passing drills, as he connected several times with Florida's Andre Caldwell and Alabama's D.J. Hall. He struggled a bit in the final 11-on-11 drills of the day, throwing behind Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed on a medium post route.

There was definite contrast between Ainge, Kentucky's Andre Woodson and Hawaii's Colt Brennan. Woodson (6-foot-4, 220) seemed bigger in pads than his frame would suggest. His delivery was more of a three-quarters style and he certainly had more mobility than Ainge or Brennan. He showed off that mobility and his passing touch during the 11-on-11 drills. He rolled to his right and, with a defender in his face, tossed a 15-yard floater to Tennessee TE Brad Cottam.

Woodson's delivery reminded me of former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham — long and full. The windup seemed slow but he released the ball quick once he reached the top.

Most eyes were on Brennan, who at times threw almost sidearm but was pretty accurate. He did flutter one pass during 11-on-11, but overall he hit most of his receivers. That included squeezing in a nice pass to Caldwell coming across the middle in 7-on-7.

Brennan talked about his weight after practice. He weighed in at 185 during the Monday morning weigh-in. He said the reason for his drop in weight was a stomach virus that hit him last week.

"I thought I was eating enough to put the weight back on, but I guess with all the traveling that I was doing last week I didn't," Brennan said. "What I'm hoping is that by my pro day that I'll be back to the weight I want to be."

Brennan said he wanted to be back to at least 195 pounds by then.

Brennan (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) didn't seem to have problems working under center on Monday. All his snap exchanges were clean and he seemed to see the field well dropping back.

Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice (5-foot-11, 207 pounds) appeared to have the best day of the backs on Monday. Choice showed off his cutting ability on a screen pass from Brennan out in the flat, juking LSU linebacker Ali Highsmith and running up the sideline. Choice also broke off a long run to the opposite side, running off the left tackle.

Tulane's Matt Forte (6-foot-1, 219 pounds) is slightly bigger but no less quick than Choice. Forte didn't catch many passes out of the backfield, but did break off a couple of long runs on the left side, too.

Both backs feel they have something to prove this week.

"This is a great chance for me to show all of these coaches that even though I come from Tulane that I can compete with these guys from the bigger schools," Forte said. "I think my running style is my own. It's smooth. I'm not really a guy who rushes to find the hole. I'm a very patient runner. I take my time finding the hole and I explode through it."

Forte did exactly that on a couple of occasions on Monday.

Caldwell, who missed nearly three games with leg injuries during the 2007 season, appeared to have the best day on Monday among the receivers.

It should be noted that all the quarterbacks and wide receivers struggled with their timing, and given that it was their first practice of the week that wasn't unexpected.

But Caldwell (6-foot, 203 pounds) showed his speed and physicality during, of all things, gunner drills for special teams. Caldwell broke away physically from his defensive back on two occasions during those drills. Along with the nice catch over the middle from Brennan, Caldwell caught a short comeback pass and spun past LSU's Chevis Jackson for what would have been a long gain down the sideline. He definitely showed off his 4.4 speed and his ability to catch passes in different parts of the field.

Of the other receivers, LSU's Early Doucet (6-foot, 211 pounds) ran some nice deep routes, even though the ball didn't always get to him. He also did work on punt returns, as he's seeking to enhance his first-round prospects with special teams work. Alabama's D.J. Hall (6-foot-2, 189 pounds) also showed flashes of physicality on his routes. He's a leaner body than both Doucet and Caldwell, but worked to get good position, especially over the middle, on a couple of catches.

Finally, Texas' Limas Sweed (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), didn't appear to do that much during workouts on Monday. Given that he was only medically cleared to play a week ago after a wrist injury, coaches may be working him in slowly.

The offensive linemen worked most by themselves on Monday, except for 11-on-11. But one lineman that impressed me was Vanderbilt's Chris Williams (6-foot-6, 317 pounds). He's a massive body, but he's lean, has long arms and moved well laterally. He did a nice job during one-on-one drills handling Georgia Tech end Darrell Robertson (6-foot-4, 245), a player some project as a 3-4 pass rusher. With those big arms, he's going to be capable of getting separation as a left tackle on most NFL defensive ends.

I spent a good portion of the day watching the defensive ends and tackles. The Niners defensive line coach really focused on making sure the ends and tackles were positioning their hands correctly (thumbs up) when they made contact and how they used their inside arms to create leverage (elbows close to the body and under the hand).

Arkansas DT Marcus Harrison. (AP photo)
Arkansas tackle Marcus Harrison (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) looked imposing in pads and appeared to have plenty of upper body strength. He worked against Robertson in defensive line drills and those were probably the best battles of the day. Robertson used his legs to create leverage, but struggled at times with keeping his inside hand positioned correctly. Still, he's quicker than he looks and he did a find job of occupying offensive linemen in the one-one-drills with them. He could be a nose in a 3-4 or an under tackle in a 4-3.

Robertson showed off his quickness on the edge, beating at least one offensive tackle during one-on-ones. The Niners coaches liked his initial contact with the blocker but continued to work on his hands. He's another guy many teams are looking at as a pass rusher in a 3-4 defense.

Florida State defensive tackle Andre Fluellen struggled with losing his legs during one-on-one drills, as his right leg swung out as he tried to gain position on the blocker.

Texas A&M tackle Red Bryant didn't look impressive until he started working against the offensive guards and centers. Shaded over the center's right shoulder, Bryant (6-foot-5, 329 pounds) looked quicker and more disruptive than I expected. He has the physical strength to overwhelm inside blockers and he worked with the first team defensive line on Monday.

Finally the best-looking defensive back during practice was Alabama's Simeon Castille (6-foot, 190 pounds). He broke up two passes on the day, one on the sideline when he gained inside position on the receiver and one on a medium post as he stayed stride-for-stride with Hall. He's a lean, quick defensive back who looked like he has the upper body strength to play close to the line. Given his coverage ability and size, he seemed versatile enough to play corner or safety.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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