With most scouts and media unable to attend Wednesday’s practices at the Senior Bowl due to inclement weather, Thursday was big day for evaluation – much bigger than during a normal week in Mobile.
The intensity was most obviously ratcheted up along the line of scrimmage with a memorable series of one-on-ones to conclude practice and the Oakland Raiders coaching staff sprinkling in a variety of twists and blitzes normally not part of senior all-star games throughout the practice session.
The big winner? The big uglies along the offensive line.
Kansas State’s Dalton Risner, Washington’s Kaleb McGary and North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury had a few dominant reps with several other blockers getting the best of a heavily-hyped defensive line group featuring projected first round defensive lineman Zach Allen and Arizona State’s freakish (but inconsistent) Renell Wren.
Risner’s passionate, physical play made him one of the practice’s obvious standouts and he put an exclamation point on the performance by stoning Wren in a dramatic one-on-one.
One on ones like this are a normal part of all-star game practices but this one included the entire team huddling around the combatants hand-selected by head coach Jon Gruden.
The NFL Network cameras even caught Gruden commenting in anticipation, “I’ve been waiting all week for this.”
Risner made sure that Gruden and everyone else watching knew he won the first rep – stoning Wren – by literally chasing the Raiders’ head coach after the play in celebration, showing off the highly competitive playing style that endeared him to Wildcats coaches and likely will earn him a top 64 selection in the spring.
Risner’s competitiveness, core strength and balance have been on display all week.
Earlier in the practice it was his mental and physical quickness which stood out, with he and Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom successfully handling twists that threw off some of the North’s other talented blockers.
McGary, predicted to boost his cause this week, was so impressive at right tackle that the Raiders moved him to the left side for a few snaps on Wednesday. All 46 of his starts the past four seasons with the Huskies came at right tackle but he does have some experience playing on the left, moving to the blindside on some short yardage plays over the years. He won each of his snaps at left tackle Thursday, cementing his stock as the top offensive lineman on the North squad.
Just watch his textbook knee bend, core strength and finishing mentality in this snap earlier in the week against Allen.
Southern California’s Chuma Edoga and Northern Illinois’ Max Scharping have also fared well this week.
While playing the same position, the two are polar opposites in style with the 6-3 (and ¾), 303 pound Edoga winning with light feet and excellent length (34 7/8” arms) to basically dance his way through pass protection.
Edoga caught fellow NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Ric Serritella's attention earlier in the week, ranking as one of the ten best prospects on the offensive side of the ball that he saw on Day One.
Scharping isn’t a bad athlete in his own right, especially given his massive 6-6, 320 pound frame. However, he does not possess Edoga’s quickness, steering defenders wide in pass protection and in the running game.
Some of the most impressive reps of the day were turned in by Bradbury, who entered the week highly respected for his quickness but with questions about his core strength. He showed textbook knee bend, core strength and balance to absorb a bull rush from Washington’s stumpy nose guard Greg Gaines, however, and made some terrific blocks to clear out rushing lanes during team drills, as well.
Every year there is a sleeper offensive lineman or two in Mobile who really boost their cause with a stellar showing. For the North squad, thus far, that player has been Charlotte guard Nate Davis, a 6-3, 317 pound bulldozer who might be playing himself into top 100 contention.
With the blockers enjoying such a strong performance, it goes without saying that at least some members of the defensive line have not met expectations.
That has not been the case, however, for Iowa’s Anthony Nelson, a surprisingly lithe 6-7, 272 pounder with powerful hands who was a late addition to the roster after Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy and his staff learned that he had fulfilled his academic obligations and was therefore eligible for the all-star game despite entering the draft with a year of athletic eligibility remaining.