The Senior Bowl's North team this afternoon underwent their first practice of the week under the watchful eye of the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff. Here are our notes and observations from today's session.
-The most impressive player on either side of the ball was Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. In bag drills, Donald displayed the quickest feet of any interior defensive lineman and during 1-on-1 drills, he put on a show. On one snap, Donald exploded off the ball, gained leverage and drove Baylor guard Cyril Richardson onto his back. It was, by far, the most impressive moment of practice.
Donald showed great explosion and consistently kept his pads low off the snap. His power after contact was very evident and his quickness post-snap will make him a very tough player to block at the next level. If Donald continues at this pace, he'll jump up a lot of team's draft boards.
-Sticking with the defensive linemen, Louisiana Tech nose tackle Justin Ellis also had a very strong day. The big man (6-2, 357) is extremely powerful and was nearly impossible to move once he gained leverage. As a two-gap defender, Ellis can eat up opposing linemen.
In 1-on-1 drills, Ellis showed very quick feet, and even threw down a spin move that left Utah St. center Tyler Larsen in his wake. Ellis appears an ideal fit as an active nose tackle in a 3-4 system.
-North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin is a player with a lot on the line this week. Martin has ideal size (6-5, 272) for a 4-3 defensive end and a good showing at the Senior Bowl could catapult him into the first-round conversation.
Yet Martin struggled in his first practice. He was slow and high off the ball and did not show much as a pass rusher. He admitted afterward it wasn't his best outing but said he's confident he'll rebound now that he's comfortable with what's being asked of him. That must happen the next few days if Martin wants to end up as a Day 1 selection.
-Quarterback play for the North team was lacking. Clemson's Tajh Boyd was the best of the bunch, showcasing a very quick release but he was inconsistent throughout the session, particularly on deep passes. Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas looks the part (6-6, 254) but he must speed up his delivery if he's expects to be a high draft pick.
Miami's Stephen Morris was easily the most inconsistent passer of the bunch. In terms of accuracy, Morris has a lot of work left to do. He was off all afternoon and even missed on a number of three- to five-yard passes. It's going to be tough for NFL teams to put trust in Morris if he doesn't improve his accuracy over the next few days.
-Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin was every bit as good as advertised. He was explosive off the snap in the run game, driving Stanford DE Trent Murphy, a potential first-round pick, three yards off the snap in 1-on-1 drills. In pass protection, Martin was a brick wall. We all knew Martin was the best offensive lineman on the field and he did not disappoint.
-Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson is a massive human being (6-8, 345) but must learn to sink his hips in pass protection. He too often bends at the waist, which resulted in some ugly missed blocks. During 1-on-1 drills, Henderson lunged at Martin, who easily threw the big man aside. After a quick coaching session from Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice, Henderson's next rep was much better. The kid has a lot of potential but will need some solid coaching if he's going to be a starter at the next level.
-West Virginia defensive end Will Clarke is an intriguing player. He's very fast and showed well against the run. On one snap, he split a double team and tackled the running back in the backfield. Yet Clarke struggled in pass-rush drills and could not collapse the pocket. He looks like a 4-3 DE (6-7, 273) but his skill set may make him a better fit as a two-gap player in a 3-4.
-Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis has a bright future as a slot receiver in the NFL. He's not the fastest player in terms of straight-line speed but his quickness and ability to track the ball in the air, even in traffic, was impressive.
-Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman used a bull rush that was unstoppable today. On two straight snaps during 1-on-1 drills, Hagemen drove Miami G Brandon Linder five yards into the backfield. Hagemen, a potential first-round pick, has the type of power that will give opposing blockers fits in the NFL.
-Oregon WR Josh Huff has serious playmaking ability. He adjusts well to the ball in the air and can make the highlight-reel grab, but he'll then drop a routine pass on the next play. If Huff can show more consistency this week, he'll be a quality slot receiver at the next level.
-Stanford DE Trent Murphy sure looked like a first-round pick today. Murphy led the nation in sacks in 2013 (11.5), yet also showed very well against the run. Like most Cardinal players, Murphy is extremely intelligent and has interview skills that are going to blow away NFL executives. If he continues to excel against some of the top competition in the country, he'll end up a Top 15 pick.