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2023 Senior Bowl Practice Report: Day Two

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Senior Bowl Practice Report

A chillier and cloudy Day Two of the 2023 Senior Bowl but still a lot of action to cover for you guys. Today was the long session of the week’s events, starting with media interviews at 7 AM before the National and American Team practice sessions. We have some of those interviews already up on the site, be sure to check out what Wisconsin DL Keeanu Benton said about the Steelers, and plenty more will post over the next week.

For now, let’s focus on the practices.

Ross McCorkle’s Report (Wide Receivers)

National Team

—  Jim Nagy mentioned at the top of the week in the introductory press conference that no player is going to pitch a shutout this week. He cautioned that players will all have bad reps.

That being said, Michigan State WR Jayden Reed is coming pretty close. He continued to dominate, creating separation out of his breaks and catching everything coming his way. He even had a nice rep on a go route catching a pass in the back of the end zone over Jakorian Bennett.

—  Towards the beginning of practice, Stanford WR Elijah Higgins made some nice catches away from his body, but he had a very rough go of things the rest of the day. He is the biggest receiver in attendance in Mobile, but let Kyu Blu Kelly rip the ball away from him for an interception. He is running out of chances this week to turn things around.

—  Nebraska WR Trey Palmer’s speed stood out to me as a guy who can blow the top off a defense. There were multiple reps where I saw him blow right past the defender. He was college open.

WR Grant DuBose out of UNC-Charlotte had a nice rep in the 7-on-7 drill, recognizing the play breaking down, flowing toward the quarterback, and catching the ball in heavy traffic. Those are the type of off-schedule instincts you look for. 

—  I was looking forward to watching Puka Nacua today, but he was out of practice with an injury.

American Team

—  Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo was the biggest standout of the group today on the American team. He dominated all three of the one-on-one reps that I saw. He isn’t a small receiver by any means, but he moves around like one. The subtle movements in his routes seem to give DB’s a hard time. I also saw a solid rep where he beat the press coverage showing off his strength before hitting the double move to get wide open on the corner route.

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—  Houston WR Tank Dell was close behind Mingo as another big winner on the day. The quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl aren’t great at getting the ball to the receivers, but Dell is literally always open. He is very undersized which has its own set of concerns, but I am starting to think it won’t matter.

Tyler Wise’s Report (Off-Ball Linebackers)

National Team

The National Team’s Defensive Coordinator and current Steelers Defensive Backs Coach, Grady Brown, was continually yelling and preaching “gotta get that ball out today” during the individual period to all position groups. 

He specifically called out Texas LB DaMarvion Overshown, “Get that Ball” while motioning a catch with his hands.  

Texas LB DeMarvion Overshown had the best day out of the National Team group. He has a ton of length with long arms and legs. Had some nice wins in backs on backers winning multiple times with power after a spin and once ripping through the running back. In coverage during 1-on-1s, he’s just a tad slow in recognition of routes which causes him to be a step off for most reps. He’s not getting burned though and would be right there for the tackle on most reps which is a positive in such an offensively slanted drill. He had a nice rep during the team period meeting BYU OT Blake Freeland in the hole with a nice pop, driving him back, and getting in on the run stop. 

Washington State LB Daiyan Henley has one of those superhero body types and he knows about it. He was the only LB showing off his core during warmups with his jersey tucked into his shoulder pads and was quick to shed his jersey and pads in post-practice. In terms, of his play, he was the best cover guy out of the group. He had two breakups during 1on1s on choice routes and overall showed good lateral ability. During the team period, he had a nice rep where he was dropping, found the deep over route coming at him, and carried it easily to the sidelines. In the team periods, he showed good closing speed and pursuit but overall struggled to block shed along with everyone else in this group today. 

Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace is built like a spark plug and can use it well to get under guys’ pads and drive them back. His specialty pass rushing and he won every rep on backs on backers except one that he slipped on. I talked to him after practice and he didn’t say he had a favorite move, but he’s particularly fond of his swim that he won cleanly on one rep with. He’s definitely not going to wow anyone with his pass coverage as he’s stiff in space and slow to react to routes. In the run game his lack of length, with 30 3/4 inch arms, shows up. Once linemen get hands-on, it’s game over. He also finds himself on the ground more than you’d like. During the team sessions, I did appreciate his high motor in pursuit constantly flying to the ball 

Indiana LB Cam Jones wasn’t super notable today. During the individual period, Grady Brown took him aside and was coaching him on how to zone drop with the tight ends going up the seam. He didn’t show much juice in terms of power or moves blitzing. He had some decent coverage reps in 1-on-1s but was more grabby than you’d like to see. He was in the same boat as the rest of the group in terms of getting eaten up once OL got hands-on. He is a high-energy player though constantly tapping teammates’ helmets and dapping them up. On Stanford CB Kyu Blu Kelly’s INT, Jones was the first to meet him in the end zone. 

American Team (Off-Ball Linebackers)

While practice started slow in general for this team with longer, more technical individual periods, this group of linebackers turned up the energy and brought some splash today, far more than their National Team counterparts. Their 9-on-7 period was the highlight of the day with the backs-on-backers being a close second. The pads were popping with this group and offensive guys were being put on their backsides. 

I suspect after today, there’s going to be a lot more talking about Sacramento State LB Marte Mapu. He had a solid day in coverage yesterday but brought the physicality in today’s practice. He weighed in at only 217 pounds but had me checking and re-checking my roster to make sure that was his weight after seeing the way he was coming downhill in the 9-on-7 drill. Early in the period, he was eaten up by Florida OG O’Cyrus Torrence and Old Dominion OL Nick Saldiveri. The very next rep, the switch flipped for Mapu. He ran through Saldiver, giving him a shoulder to the chest and walking himself right into the unsuspecting running back. Later in the period, he came screaming downhill like a freight train, blowing up Oklahoma FB Brayden Willis on his way to a big stick on the running back, another Sooner, Eric Gray. 

In coverage, Mapu moves like a safety being light on his feet and quick to close. He made two nice plays in team period, breaking up one pass on a check down to a tight end and another drifting in the middle of the field and following the eyes of the quarterback to get his hands on a pass over the middle. He also had a nice day in backs on backers with a clean rip win and another with a push-pull move after a bullrush. I did catch Mapu overrunning the hole a few times in the team, but it’s to be suspected by someone that is relatively new to being a true off-ball linebacker. He was a late call-up from the NFLPA Bowl after Alabama’s Henry To’o pulled out and is making it count. Talking to him after practice, he has an intense demeanor and definitely has a chip on his shoulder. 

Jackson State LB Aubrey Miller also had a solid day. He has a stout frame and uses it well to bully people, getting under their pads and driving them back. He had some really good battles with Tulane RB Tyjae Spears in backs on backers. In the first rep, he straight-up bull-rushed and put Spears on his butt. Spears recovered though with some winning reps against Miller later in the drill.

During the 9-on-7 drill, Miller also showed up. He shows good awareness by being able to sift the trash and then knife through cracks. His highlight of the drill was lighting up Georgia’s Kenny McIntosh, forcing a fumble in the process. He showcased some of his sideline-to-sideline speed running to the flat and helping cause an incompletion on a check-down to an RB during the team session.  

TCU LB Dee Winters also had some splash today. He had a nice read and drove on an underneath throw to a tight end in the 7-on-7 period, picking it off. On the very next play, he was able to punch the ball out of the receiver’s hands after the catch for a fumble. He also had a nice day during the backs-on-backers drill. He started out slow with some stalled reps but finished winning two reps easily, one with a nice swipe of the RBs hands. 

Tulane LB Dorian Williams was dominating the Oklahoma RB Eric Gray in backs on backers today. In three straight reps against Gray, Williams won every single one and it wasn’t remotely close. I didn’t see anything too notable on Williams in the 9-on-7 period other than getting buried by Alabama OL Emil Ekyor one of the reps. In team, Williams had a nice rep slipping underneath a block and two-hand touching the RB right around the line of scrimmage.  

Pitt LB Sirvocea Dennis didn’t have as much splash today as the other LBs in this group, but he’s still looked solid overall. Talking to him this morning, he’s a cerebral player and you can tell with his technique that he takes it very seriously. He’s a bit undersized at 6003 218, but his hands and eyes continue to be his friend. Today during backs on backers he was winning with much flash or juice but consistent hand fighting and a strong punch helped him win a few reps.

 The one guy that caught my eye outside of my position group was OL Emil Ekyor. He was constantly getting up to the second level and getting his hands on the linebackers. It was rare once he got his hands on that they were going anywhere. One rep driving Dorian Williams all the way to the numbers, six yards downfield. 

Jonathan Heitritter’s Report (Defensive Backs)

National Team

— Iowa CB Riley Moss staying sticky in coverage to start practice. Had some good reps yesterday and looks to be picking up where he left off.

Moss did a great job stacking and shedding WRs in 1-on-1 blocking drills.

— USC CB Mekhi Blackmon has natural, soft hands going through DB drills. Sucks the ball into his mits easily.

— DBs got the best of WRs overall in competitive 1-on-1 blocking drills. Nebraska WR Trey Palmer had a few good reps neutralizing DBs coming downhill.

Palmer blew past Blackmon on the release drills, getting a clean get-off, and stacked him vertically quickly.

— Steelers DB Coach Grady Brown worked 1 on 1 with USC CB Mekhi Blackmon on his backpedal and transition to start practice. Taking him through step by step.

— Kentucky CB Keidron Smith moves well in coverage, staying in phase with WRs looking to stack him vertically. Has the hood size and length and is someone the Steelers talked to at the NFLPA Bowl.

— Michigan State WR Jayden Reed continues to be uncoverable in 1-on-1s, getting on DB’s toes before breaking back to the ball, creating instant separation.

— Iowa S Kaevon Merriweather has a tough time running with receivers in 1-on-1s, lacking the long speed and explosiveness to stay in phase while in coverage.

— Illinois S Sydney Brown with two impressive consecutive reps in 1-on-1s, carrying a WR vertical up the seam, getting the PBU in the end zone, and then breaking up a pass over the middle. Looked calm and fluid in coverage.

— Michigan WR Ronnie Bell stood out with his ability to separate over the middle but also the ability to work in close quarters in coverage. Made a good grab along the sideline over Kyu Blu Kelly in 1-on-1s.

— Charlotte WR Grant DuBose schooled Moss in 7 on 7 sessions, giving him a mean outside jab to cut inside, then whipped back outside to have Moss slipping on the ground for an easy catch.

— Stanford CB Kyu Blu Kelly with a big INT in team drills, taking the ball out of the WR’s hands for the pick six. The rest of the defense joined him in the end zone to celebrate.

— Kyu Blue Kelly stood out in the team session, breaking up a curl route to Clemson TE Davis Allen along the sideline. Has been sticky overall in coverage on Day 2.

American Team

— Kansas State CB Julius Brents looked good going through lateral movement drills to start practice. Virginia CB Anthony Johnson looked more labored and segmented moving side to side.

— Florida State S Jammie Robinson looks fluid again in individual drills and warm-ups, showing no wasted movement as he goes through his transitions. Takes quick steps and stays sticky on pass catchers in coverage.

— Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo got the best of Brents in 1-on-1s, giving a subtle push-off at the top of his route to get separation coming back to the QB. Mingo’s size and strength make it difficult for DBs to cover him in close quarters.

— Virginia CB Anthony Johnson with a solid PBU over the middle against SMU WR Rashee Rice in 1-on-1s. He stayed in his hip pocket and reached inside to break up the pass.

— Iowa State WR Xavier Hutchinson had a nice contested catch on the sideline again South Alabama CB Darrell Luter. Shielded his body off by the sideline to make the nice back shoulder grab.

— South Carolina CB Darius Rush looks a bit lost covering in 1-on-1s but was able to recover and get pass breakups on back-to-back reps.

— Auburn EDGE Derick Hall driving Tennessee OT Darnell Wright back in the team, converting strength to power well to push him into the QBs lap.

Alex Kozora’s Notes (Trenches)

National Team

— Busy day for North Dakota State’s Cody Mach (6047, 305). Like Quinn Meinerz, he “lets the belly breathe” with his jersey rolled up today. He moved all over the line during drills, seeing time at left tackle, right guard, and snaps at center. He had a couple of decent reps but perhaps moving around caused him to be slower out of his stance and with his punch. Had trouble with the burst off the ball against Central Michigan’s Thomas Incoom and Arizona State Nesta Jade Silvera.

— Maryland Jaelyn Duncan (6054, 298) also moved around after the group was largely static yesterday. Flipping between left and right tackle during today’s team session after playing left tackle throughout his Terps’ career. He told me today it’s a little bit of adversity but he’s one of many in that boat trying to make that adjustment. He’s quick out of his stance and plays with good hand placement.

— Mike Tomlin watching the EDGE rushers throughout the practice of the National and American Teams, observing the National Team “run the hoop” during individual drills on the American side. He and Omar Khan were also on the field during OL/DL, though Tomlin also spent part of his time watching backs on ‘backers. Overall, the clear focus the first two days has been on the trenches. O-line yesterday, DEs/EDGE today.

— One solid rep from North Carolina’s Asim Richards (6040, 307) in a run-blocking drill, running the slanting defensive lineman down the line. “Keep him on the track” one of the National Team coaches praised the job of taking him where he wants to go. Though after practice today, he’s going to need a new jersey. Mixed it up so much and got his jersey tugged often enough it was nearly ripped in half by the end of practice.

— Michigan center Olu Oluwatimi (6025, 308) is a big, stout guy that’s tough to move at the point of attack. Not the most athletic guy laterally but he’s difficult to move off the ball.

— Like the size and movement UT-Chattanooga McClendon Curtis (6056, 331) gets on his double-teams. Being able to climb and create a crease. Flashed that in early drills. He has a far different build than last year’s first-round center Cole Strange but this school is starting to pump out notable linemen.

— In OL/DL pass rush drills, Keeanu Benton flashed a quick first step. On an early rep, he swam over Troy Jake Andrews and immediately beat him off the ball. Andrews recovered a bit better in the second rep. Benton displayed his leverage and power and chase to the football, changing directions and tracking down Louisville QB Malik Cunningham during one team session play. Benton is soft-spoken but shows some nasty in his game on the field.

— Haven’t mentioned much of Kansas’ Lonnie Phelps (6021, 251) but he flashed in this drill. Bending the edge to beat Duncan on one rep and also a swim move to win inside.

— TCU tackle Blake Freeland (6074, 312) has great length with 34-inch arms to seal the edge and plays with power in his hands. But predictably, he can struggle to secure the edge if he can’t get his hands on the defender.

— One of the moves of the day was a cross chop from Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore on McClendon to win the edge. I don’t love guys using cross chops and leaving their feet but it worked well here.

— Coastal Carolina NT Jerrod Clark (6034, 343) has good length and bulk in the middle but will struggle with balance and to flow down the line. To his credit, he did have a pass deflection at the line of scrimmage in team sessions today.

— Wasn’t focusing on the DBs today but Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly (6001, 193) was impossible to ignore. Had a breakup in the team and a pick-six, jumping a sideline route and housing it while Tyler Wise told me Kelly also had a pick in 7v7. Star of the day.

— Non-tackling practices but on a 3rd and 7 “gotta have it” moment, Indiana LB Cam Jones (6011, 227) made the stop a yard shy of the sticks, tripping up the receiver and taking him to the ground. The National Team defense had plenty of energy today.

— Should note Troy LB Carlton Martial didn’t practice today with an unknown injury. Hopefully, he can suit up tomorrow.

— Steelers’ staff is essentially the same as yesterday. Confirming West Area Scout Chidi Iwuoma is here and sat in the press box seats today. Will note I haven’t seen many of the team’s coordinators/position coaches except for Flores, who may be using some of this time to talk to other teams about potential job openings. These events like the Combine and used for networking as much as they are scouting. ESPN’s Louis Riddick, who interviewed for the Steelers’ GM position last year, was on the field and said a couple of happy words to Tomlin. As did former offensive lineman Ramon Foster, who stood in the end zone with Tomlin and Omar Khan to watch drills.

American Team

— Lot of situational football from them today to start and end the practice. Began the day working tempo and no-huddle and ended the day doing the same.

— Still, like yesterday, the American side has more of a “ramp-up” period. The first 45 minutes were pretty slow though things got physical during the competition/team periods.

— Auburn’s Derick Hall (6026, 252) is a Steelers kind of player. Not saying he’s going to be their guy but he fits the mold. Thickly built with great length, 34 3/8 inch arms, set a physical edge, and plays the run hard. Got high-fives from coaches after one rep in OL/DL run blocking session while he blew up a run play in 9v7 a little later on.

— Nice day for Minnesota center John Michael Schmitz (6033, 306). Strong at the point of attack to rebuff and anchor power rushes against 1 tech and he flattened Sacramento State linebacker Marte Mapu on a screen pass late in the team session. Earlier in the day, he set his hips to turn out and wall off Alabama’s DJ Dale, the back running off his hip to create a big crease. Went to finish the block and fall on top but pulled off a wise choice. But the kind of combination of physical and athletic the Steelers could use.

— Coaches want LSU EDGE Ali Gaye (6055, 263) to better lock out his arms along the edge in the run-blocking session. Tennessee’s Byron Young (6022, 248) did a nice job setting the edge and turning the back in.

— Saw Mississippi State Cameron Young II (6033, 304) flash in 1v1. Explosive out of his stance and plays with a good pad level. He’ll have to overcome a lack of production though with just two career sacks and only nine career tackles for loss.

— The 9v7 in the American Team was super physical. I wasn’t expecting it. Pad-popping plays in a non-full tackling session. Some sloppiness, and three false starts from the offense in this session but when the ball was snapped, the defense was hitting. Hall blew up one run while Jackson State LB Aubrey Miller (5115, 229) starred in the later run sessions, forcing a fumble with a big pop in the backfield and making a tackle on a toss play in a later team drill. Missouri transfer who battled injuries and racked up 100+ tackles each of the last two years.

— The other Byron Young, this prospect from Alabama (6033, 297) also did well in the run session, playing with power and pad level to forklift blockers.

— Florida OT Richard Gouraige (6047, 308) with 34-inch arms is an easy-mover who can mirror. Stayed square to Missouri’s Isaiah McGuire on one rep and then sealed the edge the next.

— One impressive rep from Alabama Tyler Steen (6054, 325) running Oklahoma’s Jalen Redmond into the gaggle of scouts/coaches by the rest of the offensive linemen. Strong with 33-inch arms.

— Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence (6047, 337) has a huge lower half and can anchor and quickly stall out bull rushes. But he has to move laterally, he gets top-heavy and begins to bend at the waist. Still long and strong enough to stick but worry about that being an issue at the next level.

— Old Dominion OL Nick Saldiveri kicked inside to play RG today. Looks a little thin to bang around there. The base also tends to get too wide. Uses hop steps to try to stall out but he has trouble digging his cleats into the ground. On one rep, he slipped because his legs were getting too far apart.

— In the team, two beautiful breakups by Sac State LB Marte Mapu, a last-second Senior Bowl call-up. The first breakup came getting depth off boot action, tipping a pass nearly picked, while the second came driving downhill on a check down to knock the ball out and away. A big group of reporters wanted to know more about him after today’s showing.

— Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV (6034, 241) had two great reps against hulking Tennessee OT Darnell Wright. First won by dipping and flattening the edge and then countered the next snap with an inside spin. Good flexibility for being a long guy. Cyclones’ all-time sack leader.

— Not that anyone for Steelers’ purposes is spending much time watching the QBs this week, that was last year’s assignment, but TCU’s Max Duggan had two strong throws over the middle in the team, including one down the left seam complete to Houston’s Tank Dell. Meanwhile, Shephard’s Tyson Bagent has struggled with accuracy and placement the first two days.

— Mike Tomlin and Brian Flores were on the field for most of the practice but ducked out a bit early, walking out of the tunnel together about 15 minutes before the American session wrapped up to conclude the day.

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