The quarterback play was competent on both the North and South squads when practices as the Senior Bowl opened on Tuesday. Two players on the North in particular stood out when the defenses went 7-on-7 or full 11-on-11.
That’s where Beathard and Peterman shined. The passing game looked unusually crisp for the North with Beathard and Peterman behind center. We say unusually, because it’s common for quarterbacks and receivers to take a few practices to sync their timing and rhythm.
That wasn’t the case for Beathard and Peterman.
Sefo Liufau of Colorado was the third quarterback on the North squad, and he seemed to lack some of the natural arm strength of the other quarterbacks, but he is also the most mobile of the Northern bunch. Dobbs also had success extending plays with his scrambling ability.
Again, this is a competent group of backs, but there isn’t anyone out there that is going to jeopardize the draft position of the likes of LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, among others.
One of the more intriguing players on either squad was a teammate of Cook’s with the Seminoles. Freddie Stevenson at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds is a devastating blocker at fullback, but he’s also a solid receiver out of the backfield. That versatility and toughness should make him an interesting pick for a team that still knows how to use a big, fast, versatile fullback.
Listed at 6-1 and 225 pounds, Toledo’s Kareem Hunt also showed some good things during the first session for the North. Pardon the pun, but big backs with strength and balance who are able to get North/South quickly and break a tackle seem to have much more use in the NFL than a make-you-miss undersized speedster out of the backfield. Hunt fits the bill.
The theme of the day at the receiver position was the small-school players making their mark. During the South’s practice it was Grambling’s Chad Williams who seemed to have an extra gear coming in and out of his breaks and was catching everything near him. He measured 6-0.5 and was just under 200 pounds and was winning his reps in one-on-ones and scrimmage situations.
It could have been Williams who suited up for the North in the second session. It wasn’t, but Zay Johnson of East Carolina could have been his twin. All of the superlatives heaped on Williams for the South could fit Johnson. Listed at 6-1 and 197 pounds, they are almost equal size, and if anything Johnson has a bit more burst coming in and out of his breaks. Johnson could be a triple threat for the North on reverses, in the passing game, and as a return man.
The catch of the day, however, went to an established Power-5 conference man in Syracuse’s Amba Etta-Tawo. Etta-Tawo was second among Power-5 conference players in yards last year with 1,482 (Dede Westbrook, 1,524), and he elevated on an underthrown fade to pick the ball off the helmet of the defensive back to get the first “oooooh” catch as the crowd of scouts and media approved of his good work.
Howard started the day with a leaping one-handed catch and finished with a long touchdown down the seam.
Engram was also a consistent target in the passing game that is able to get mismatches against safeties with his power and linebackers because of his speed.
The North was full of bruisers.
Jeremy Sprinkle did well in the running drills, but he struggled with the quickness of the passing game. On the North squad, it was Toledo’s Michael Roberts who showed the best combination of effectiveness as a receiver and blocker. Listed at 266 and 270 respectively, both Sprinkle and Roberts offered up a different type of player than Howard and Engram, who list 250 and 235.
The South squad appeared to have the better quality on the offensive, with Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp trying to develop more versatility but looking like the best offensive tackle on the squad. He might be considered on the shorter side for an NFL offensive tackle, which might be why he worked at guard as well, but he did well no matter where he lined up on Tuesday’s first practice. He is extremely effective once he locks onto a defensive lineman, but he did get beat badly once on a swim move.
UCLA’s Conor McDermott can really maul defenders on double teams and saw most of his action at right tackle. When playing left tackle, he was beaten inside on at least one occasion – with slower feet it looks like right tackle will be his home.
Troy’s Antonio Garcia also had a good day among the South tackles. He has a tendency to lunge and get off-balance once in a while, but when balanced he has a good, strong anchor and is a solid drive blocker in the running game. He will also follow the action down the line and continue to look for blocks to pick up.
Two guards stood out on the North offensive line – San Diego State’s Nico Siragusa and Miami’s Danny Isidora. Garcia looks physically strong and his blocking shows that. He has a really good anchor in pass protection and can move defenders in the run game, too. He was practicing mostly at right guard, which looks like the right spot for him.
Isidora is generally good at staying in front of the defender, but he has a tendency to slide back too far and at times will get off-balance.
Listed at 6-foot-5, Kentucky’s Jon Toth looks big for a center, but he has a good anchor on pass protection when he doesn’t get caught leaning forward.
The standouts on the North squad were Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty and Western Michigan’s Taylor Moton. Playing left tackle, Bisnowaty will need to be more consistent with his hands – he got them knocked down a couple times – but he sticks with his blocks, is aggressive and is good at walling off defenders in the run game.
Moton played right tackle and showed great lower body strength and balance, anchoring down solidly in pass protection and getting into position early in the running game.
Like Bisnowaty, USC’s Zach Banner also played left tackle. At 6-foot-9, you’ll be hard-pressed to finder a taller offensive lineman, but he says it’s more of an asset than a detriment, pointing to one time during team drills when he pulled around and threw a de-cleating block on a linebacker at the second level. When he locks onto a defender, they rarely break free, but he will need to improve his quickness off the snap.
Tim Yotter contributed to this report.