Previewing the Senior Bowl: The offense

It's that time of year again…well yes the playoffs are here but we were thinking of the most important week of scouting leading up to the NFL draft; Senior Bowl week. And to kick off our unprecedented coverage that begins Sunday, here's a look at the best stories on offense that will take the field next week.


While some may say this game lost a little luster when Eli Manning pulled out,  the interest in the quarterbacks playing next week will be unrivaled to any of the past five Senior Bowls.

Questions abound about these passers, and scouts hope to get some answers. North Carolina State's Philip Rivers, the nations pass efficiency leader last season, heads the South squad. Scouts and coaches will pull apart Rivers throwing mechanics, test his arm strength and try to determine if he's a "system quarterback" or the real deal. A potential top 40-selection is riding on the line for Rivers.

Tulane's J.P. Losman and Virginia's Matt Schaub round out the quarterbacks from the South and have a lot to gain from a solid showing next week.

Likewise, one of the lesser-known names in the country, Bowling Green's Josh Harris, will also be closely monitored, as he leads the North. Harris has the athletic skills to play in the NFL,  but questions of his accuracy and how does he translate to the pro-game? Positive answers to those questions could see Harris slide into the draft's first day.

Michigan's John Navarre and Cody Pickett of Washington are coming off disappointing senior campaigns and did not live up to the expectations of NFL scouts yet all that doubt can be wiped away with three good practices starting Monday.

Running Backs

There are even more questions to be answered in a running back class that draws a lot of debate in scouting circles. Greg Jones of Florida State made the smart move in participating at the Senior Bowl. Highly considered at season's start, Jones did not look as though he had completely healed from the knee injury suffered in 2002 during his senior campaign and has mightily slipped down draft boards. Scouts are wondering if he's still a top prospect and the former Seminole can silence critics next week in Mobile.

On the flip side is Cedric Cobbs of Arkansas. Labeled an "underachiever" through the middle part of his college career, Cobbs played lights out football as a senior and looks to keep the momentum going through this All Star game.

Michigan's Chris Perry is another who stepped to the plate as an upperclassman and displayed much needed consistency through his senior campaign. He can continue to impress NFL scouts, and improve his draft stock next week in Mobile.

Finally, Michael Turner of Northern Illinois has been one of the most underrated ball carriers in the nation two years running. His invitation to the Senior Bowl is validation that the NFL considers him a prime prospect and Turner could move into the initial 40 choices with a good showing.

Wide Outs & Tight Ends

The Senior Bowl will feature the top pair of senior tight ends in the country, both from the SEC. Florida's Ben Troupe had a breakout season as the Gator's leading pass catcher and has many thinking he's a first round talent. Troupe could solidify that thought by displaying prowess as a blocker next week, a skill he was not asked to take hold of the past two seasons in Gainesville.

Ben Watson on the other hand, fell far short of scouts' expectations. A tremendous athlete with the size and speed the NFL looks for, a good showing starting Monday will get Watson back in good graces with general managers.

The receiver position will offer explosion, size and reliability.

LSU's Devrey Henderson has game changing speed and a nose for the end zone. Setting a single season record for the Tigers, he pulled in 11 touchdown passes as LSU marched towards a national title this season. Henderson's ability to make the tough catch in traffic or go over the middle for the reception will be a skill he must show next week.

Neither of those are problems for Keary Colbert, senior receiver for the other half of the national title. As a main cog in USC's offense the past three years, Colbert's is as reliable as the sun rising from the east, but what of his speed or ability to break the long one? Fast feet will have Colbert soaring up draft boards.

Finally Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford is coming off an inconsistent senior campaign and would mightily improve his draft stock starting Monday with good showing in Mobile.

Offensive Line

Several players will be watched as the key word here is "versatility". After looking like a dominant tackle in 2002, Miami's Vernon Carey watched his play slip this year after being kicked inside to guard. Playing out of position as a senior, Carey comes to Mobile with the promise of seeing extensive action back on the outside and that could be the difference between the mammoth lineman being, or not being, a first round choice.

The situation is just the opposite for Travelle Wharton. The durable lineman from South Carolina has effectively manned the left tackle spot for the Gamecocks since he was a true freshman. Yet a lack of height and dominant power has scouts questioning whether or not he can stay at tackle in the NFL. The difference can mean millions to Wharton who hopes to prove doubters wrong starting Monday.

Notes: Beginning on Sunday the TFY Draft Preview will offer the most extensive coverage of the Senior Bowl found anywhere; on the Internet, in the newspapers or on radio. We will offer premium subscribers breaking news as it happens on the field as well as immediate results from Monday morning's weigh-in, daily practice reports from the 100+ players taking part in Mobile, team reports on what NFL franchises are doing at the Senior Bowl and nightly news on the rumors and word swirling in the wind at the NFL's biggest and most important week of scouting. So make sure you are on-line and not left out!

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