There's occasionally one player at the Senior Bowl who makes himself look like a man among boys--even though the field is filled with a star-studded cast. On Saturday, that man was Brandon Graham, who won MVP honors.
Look at his stats line and you'd be impressed, especially when considering that he shared playing time with other defensive lineman. The 6-foot-1, 263-pound defender finished the night with three tackles, two assists, three tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and two sacks--but that only tells a portion of the story. Over the course of the game I credited Graham with a quarterback hit and five pressures that occurred on plays that don't show up in any of those MVP stats.
Graham was even more dominating than the box score indicated.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Graham started getting noticed when he smoked West Virginia's Selvish Capers with a speed rush around the end, sacking West Virginia's Jarrett Brown. He blasted into the backfield unmolested and was already two yards deep when USC running back Stafon Johnson caught a pitch while sweeping towards Graham's side. While he didn't finish Johnson off, Graham slowed him to allow Purdue's Mike Neal to climb on his back and take him to the ground for a three-yard loss. His backfield penetration against Capers also helped him get an assist on a tackle for a loss by slowing Dexter McCluster until Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was able to arrive to help. .
But Graham just didn't pick on Capers, he also dominated LSU's Ciron Black, whose feet just couldn't keep up with the Michigan's lineman's speed and quickness. Although Black stalemated Graham for roughly three seconds during one pass play, he ultimately lost control of him to the outside, allowing Graham to strip Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson of the ball, forcing a turnover.
Graham then hit Tim Tebow, who opted for an outlet pass to the left side for a short gain when he saw the pressure coming. On a third-and-11, it was Graham who flushed Tebow, forcing him to use his feet instead of his arm on the play. Although Tebow managed to gain seven yards before being tackled, the South was forced to punt thanks to Graham's effort. The Michigan star later forced Robinson out of the pocket and chased him down from behind to make a tackle after a five-yard gain.
Austen Lane l DE l Murray State
Lane not only recovered a fumble after the ball had been snapped over the head of Jarrett Brown, he showed the field smarts that other players occasionally lacked during the game, remembering that he was playing under pro rules, not college rules. The fleet-of-foot 6-foot-6, 267-pound defensive end realized that no one had touched him down, got up at the South's six-yard line and ran the ball in for touchdown to give the North a more challenging 17-3 lead in the second quarter.
Lane also delivered big-time pressure during an outside speed rush versus Capers that caused Zac Robinson to step up in pocket before completing a pass. Tim Tebow was also put under the gun by Lane, tossing a six-yard outlet pass with the Murray State star in his face.
Lane and Alex Carrington converged on Robinson during another series with Lane beating LSU's Ciron Black to encourage Robinson to roll out of the pressure and forcing an incomplete pass. Lane then logged--by my count--his fourth pressure of the night when he forced the South Team to lob an outlet screen to Dexter McCluster, who then used his nifty speed to convert a bad situation into a 14-yard gain.
Earlier in the week, Lane had told me that he considered himself to be one of the "big boys" even though he came from a smaller school.
And during Saturday's game, he proved it.
The 6-foot tall, 179-pound pass catcher pulled in five passes for 103 yards and a touchdown--the most receiving yards by any Senior Bowl receiver and the second-best number of catches behind Tulane's Jeremy Williams, who logged six.
Mardy Gilyard catches a touchdown pass against Alabama's Javier Arenas.
AP Photo/Dave Martin
Gilyard also returned kickoffs and punts for another 76 yards of production. But looking at what he did on the field beyond the numbers, Gilyard made a nice catch low and away during one play, put such a good juke move on Kentucky's Trevard Lindley that he fell down as Gilyard blew by him on a return, and made a great adjustment to position himself under a Dan Lefevour pass for a 42-yard gain--also at the expense of Lindley. Gilyard then scored on a pass tossed into the right corner of the end zone for 32 yards by Lefevour.
The University of Cincinnati receiver was polished and poised throughout the night while making plays for his team. Gilyard earned Under Armour Offensive Player of the Game honors.
Edds was a consistent performer throughout the night in pass coverage, and he logged a tackle and an assist. But he earned his game ball by playing a role in two fourth quarter South turnovers.
After DE Koa Misi stripped quarterback Tim Tebow of the ball, it was Edds who jumped on the loose ball at the South Team's 32, setting up a touchdown drive for the North. Then, with less than 30 seconds left in the game, Edds picked off West Virginia's Jarrett Brown at the North's 5-yard line to seal the final score at 31-13.
Throughout the game Odrick looked like he had just stepped on the field for his first snap, battering the South's offensive line with his non-stop motor.
The 6-foot-5, 301-pound defensive tackle applied some early pressure that forced an incomplete pass, and then he lunged through the center-right guard gap to clip the ankle of Auburn's Ben Tate on a sweep, slowing the play down. Even though Tate regained his balance, the loss of momentum gave Odrick's teammates time to converge and limit the play to a two-yard gain.
The defensive lineman got another pressure on the quarterback after breaking free from Ole Miss' John Jerry, shoving him to the right and then reaching out with his left hand as Tim Tebow went into his throwing motion. The pass was complete, but Odrick did his part to try to disrupt the play.
Odrick showed good instincts during a Jarrett Brown rollout, staying on the line while engaged with Arkansas' Mitch Petrus, but moving laterally to keep Alabama running back Roy Upchurch nearby, thwarting a potential screen pass. Without an open outlet receiver, Brown kept scrambling, tripped and was sacked by Arkansas State's Alex Carrington after he fell.
The sole Penn State player at the Senior Bowl saw more than his share of double-teams during the game, yet bullied his way betwen Selvish Capers and John Jerry on a run by Dexter McCluster, diving at his legs to force him to bounce the run to the left side and right into the path of Brandon Graham and Sean Weatherspoon.
Bottom line, Odrick was a pain in the South offense's side all night. And he definitely showed why he's deserving of first-round draft consideration.
Dan Lefevour l QB l Central Michigan
Lefevour flew under the radar during the week's practices, but he showed that when it's game time, he's a scrappy quarterback with terrific mobility.
Dan LeFevour tosses a pass over the South's Jamar Chaney.
AP Photo/Dave Martin
On a third-and-eight, Lefevour ran for nine yards to move the chains. When he fumbled a snap at the one-yard line and got bunched up behind his line, he had the presence of mind to roll off the pile and scoot around the end for the score.
Lefevour executed two good-looking plays with Gilyard--a 42-yard completion up the right sideline and a 32-yard toss into the right corner of the end zone.
Although he overthrew a couple of receivers and got shut down on a fourth-and-goal run at the one, the Central Michigan quarterback had the most productive night out of the three North Team quarterbacks, completing five out of ten throws for 97 yards and a score while also rushing for 12 yards and a score.
Lefevour earned the North Team's Most Outstanding Player award.
Sean Weatherspoon l LB l Missouri
Weatherspoon got off on the right foot quickly, making an open-field solo tackle on the opening kickoff. He then put a good lick on Auburn running back Ben Tate, limiting him to a two-yard gain after he had turned the corner on a sweep play. The most impressive moment during that play was when Weatherspoon had to bounce off of a blocking attempt by huge Idaho offensive guard Mike Iupati to get to Tate so quickly.
Weatherspoon also alertly tracked Dexter McCluster on a third down play at the North's 15-yard line as the Ole Miss speedster swung out of the backfield and sprinted up the right sideline into the end zone. The Missouri linebacker used a good angle and impressive acceleration to close the gap and knocked the ball away, forcing the South Team to settle for a field goal.
Weatherspoon also picked off a Zac Robinson pass to kill another scoring opportunity for the South.
The 6-foot-2, 291-pound lineman was a disruptive playmaker, using his speed and strength to his advantage.
He rounded the corner against USC tight end Anthony McCoy early in the game to get pressure on Zac Robinson. And after Michigan's Brandon Graham forced Robinson to fumble on another play, Alualu was quick to grab the ball near midfield.
Late in the game, with the South backed up inside their own ten-yard line, he pushed North Carolina State's Ted Larsen out of his way and blew past him to knock the ball loose from Florida's Tim Tebow. While the South recovered the ball, it was a key play that helped force a punt, and Alualu was credited with a sack and a forced fumble.
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