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Senior Bowl practice Day 1: 6 standouts from Tuesday, QB observations

Who stood out on Day 1 of Senior Bowl practices?

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday’s practices for both the National and American teams at the 2022 Senior Bowl were a little sloppy. There were a lot of miscommunications, fumbled snaps, drops, and running reps a second time to get it right. That, of course, is par for the course in these Senior Bowl practices, when players with no developed chemistry between them are thrown out on the field with a brand-new playbook and a completely new set of coaches.

That being said, there were a handful of players who fought through the adversity and made the most of their time out on the practice field Tuesday afternoon.

Here are six players that stood out to me during Tuesday’s practice.

Note: I spent most of the National team practice watching offensive/defensive line drills during positional time. I spent more time with skill positions for the American team.

National team

UCLA DT Otito Ogbonnia

The 6-foot-3, 326-pound interior defender drew some of the loudest “oohs” of the first practice after completely bowling over a National team offensive lineman. This became a theme of the day, as the National team defensive line just completely overwhelmed the offensive line all day.

But what stood out about Ogbonnia was the different ways in which he won his rep. While he first drew attention with his brute strength, he later side-stepped Fordham’s Nick Zakelj with the kind of short-area speed that not many 326-pound linemen have.

That being said, Ogbonnia’s reign of terror ended when Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann stymied him on back-to-back reps.

Ole Miss WR Braylon Sanders

Sanders looked like one sharpest route runners for the National team on Tuesday, and while he’s not the tallest target—he measured at 5-foot-11 and 5/8—he has the hands of a contested-catch receiver. A few times Sanders bailed out his quarterbacks on Tuesday.

Oklahoma DT Perrion Winfrey

Winfrey didn’t just win his one-on-one reps, he won them convincingly and within the first second of the snap. Again, we’re talking about a big man—6-foot-4-, 303—who has no business moving as quickly as he does. That being said, while Ogbonnia may serve as a nose or 1-tech in the NFL, Winfrey seems capable of moving anywhere between 3 and 5-tech.

The Detroit Lions didn’t create anywhere near enough interior pressure last year, and while the development of Levi Onwuzurike remains a high priority, Winfrey would be a welcome weapon.

American team

Memphis WR Calvin Austin

Austin was one of the most fun players to watch. Obviously, his size—5-foot-7 3/8ths, 173 pounds—is his biggest limiting factor, but Austin couldn’t be covered in one-on-one drills on Tuesday. On several occasions, he just outran the defender, but I was most impressed with his release. He beat press coverage. He beat off-coverage. His short-area quickness was a problem for the defense on Tuesday, and it could be a problem for defenders on Sunday.

Florida DL Zach Carter

Admittedly, Carter’s addition is based on a single play, but it may have been the most impressive of practice. Coming off the edge, Carter just bowled over his defender with an inside move, and if the play was going full-speed and full-contact, he may have gotten to the running back before the handoff exchange. Instead, he had to settle for a 3-yard tackle for loss.

Carter played mostly interior at Florida, but that potential edge versatility could come in handy for a lot of teams.

South Alabama WR Jalen Tolbert

Tolbert had an overall up-and-down day. But he shook off an early drop or two and showed why he could be the best receiver at Mobile this week. He really excelled at deep routes, displaying not only impressive speed for a 6-foot-3 receiver but showing a talent for tracking the ball.

Where Tolbert seemed to struggle, however, is against press coverage. On one rep, Clemson cornerback Connor Heyward just completely blanketed him at the line with some aggressive hand usage.

Tolbert’s struggles in that area aren’t all that surprising, as he admitted on Wednesday morning he didn’t see much press coverage at South Alabama.

“I saw a lot of different coverages while I was at South Alabama. Here they play press-man,” Tolbert said. “That’s what we want as receivers. We love the one-on-one competition. So, just get used to it.”

QB quick thoughts

I’ll put these in order of reps/unofficial depth chart

National team

Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett — In my opinion, Pickett had the best day of three underwhelming performances from the National team quarterbacks. His arm strength was on full display. But while Pickett has been praised for experience, he looked slow to process on Tuesday. It was Day 1, though, so he should get a pass as he develops chemistry.

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder — Ridder was also clearly dealing with some chemistry issues as he twice didn’t even throw the ball during wide receiver/cornerback one-on-ones. He struggled the most overall, fumbling snaps, overthrowing receivers and by the end of practice, you could see some frustration in his body language.

Nevada QB Carson Strong — You could clearly see Strong’s awkward mobility when the practice opened with some bootleg drills, but Strong did make up for it with the best accuracy of the group on Day 1. His arm strength is clearly not an issue, but while he was the most accurate of the group, I would not call his overall day “accurate.”

American team

North Carolina QB Sam Howell — Howell probably had the best day overall, connecting on some deep shots, while maintaining a nice level of poise in the pocket. That said, near the end of practice, Howell made a couple of questionable decisions, including one pass that came far too late and was nearly picked off.

Liberty QB Malik Willis — Willis is certainly fun to watch, but much like Matthew Stafford early in his career, it looks like someone will have to tell him when not to use his fastball. There were a lot of dropped passes thrown by Willis, and part of the reason was he had no business throwing the ball as hard as he did. Willis’ accuracy was up and down.

Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe — While there is a noticeable drop-off in arm strength from Howell and Willis to Zappe, I thought the Western Kentucky quarterback did a good job showing he belonged with the group by connecting on a couple of deep shots.

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