Senior Bowl: 5 things to watch on the practice field

Tape study is still the No.1 tool to evaluating and grading rookie prospects, but this week we get to see some of the top talent in the country at the Senior Bowl. And after checking out the North squad Monday afternoon, here are five things I will be looking for on the practice field down in Mobile, Alabama.

E.J. Manuel US PRESSWIREFlorida State's E.J. Manuel is one of the QBs down in Mobile, Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl.

1. One-on-One drills: My favorite part of the week. DBs vs. WRs, O-Line vs. D-Line, LBs vs. RBs in pass pro. There is nowhere to hide in these matchups and you find out quickly who wants to compete in front of the entire league. Focus on the ability of WRs to run clean routes, DBs in their plant and drive, the footwork of Offensive Tackles in pass pro, the hand placement (counter moves) of DEs, etc. You can get a feel for where these prospects are at in their development by watching One-on-One drills throughout the week.

2. QB play: No Geno Smith or Matt Barkley, but we can still check out Ryan Nassib, Landry Jones, Mike Glennon, E.J. Manuel, etc. These QBs will see basic coverages in the secondary (Cover 1, Cover 3) and the routes are pretty standard (Curl-Flat, Slant-Flat, Levels, Verts). Because of that, look at ball placement, footwork in the pocket, accuracy, arm strength and study the route tree. Can these QB prospects throw the deep 7 cut or hit the comeback? There is enough here in 7-on-7 and team drills to evaluate the QB position.

3. Secondary technique: I spend a lot of time watching the DBs go through individual drills, One-on-One and 7-on-7 because it gives you an opportunity to study their technique. Last year in Mobile, Harrison Smith and Janoris Jenkins showcased their skill sets on the field and had scouts talking throughout the week. That's what you want as a rookie prospect. Focus on their footwork in off-man, the ability to maintain their cushion (distance between DB and WR), the transition (open the hips) vs. the deep ball and the speed coming out of their breaks. And if they get beat, find out why. Did they take a bucket step (step behind on transition), stick their eyes on the QB or open too soon when the WR stemmed the route up the field?

4. Football speed: We will get into 40 times, the short shuttle (5-10-5), 3-cone drill, etc. when these prospects head to Indianapolis for the NFL combine next month and throughout the Pro Day circuit. However, I want to see who can display that speed in pads. I look at WRs at the top of the route stem, DBs playing the 9 (fade) route, RBs when they press the edge of the formation. That’s where you want the “football speed” to show up this week on the practice field. Play fast. That's the drill.

5. Production under pressure: This is job interview. Every drill, every practice. There are head coaches and GMs in the stands with pro scouts lining the fences next to the field. Hey, everyone is watching. That’s not easy when these young players are removed from their college schemes, handed a new playbook for the week and have to respond to NFL coaching for the first time (Lions and Raiders staffs running practices). I want to see how they respond to the coaching and if they can make plays under the stress of the week in Mobile. That sells.

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