Mobile, Ala.: College football's best player is at Senior Bowl practices. He just wasn't on the field.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was in attendance at Ladd-Peebles Stadium speaking with NFL personnel in the stands. Clowney's presence figuratively and literally cast a shadow on the second day of Senior Bowl practices. Clowney looked every bit the 6-foot-6 and 274 pounds he's listed by South Carolina.
He was in attendance with North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, who stood nearly as tall as Clowney. One of the few players who looked like he could hang with the athletic Ebron in coverage was Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward. The safety who played his high school games at Ladd Peebles was comfortable dropping into the deep middle and playing up tight in man coverage. In one-on-one drills against wide receivers, Ward excelled covering Josh Huff of Oregon and Shaquelle Evans of UCLA.
Utah State cornerback Nevin Lawson was just as impressive as Ward. In man coverage drills, Lawson could stick on a receiver's hip and mirror perfectly. He fared well against taller receivers and the shorter quick receivers like Wake Forest's Michael Campanaro. The issue with Lawson was when he played off coverage. He doesn't flip his hips open fast enough to turn and run with receivers.
The only receiver to give Lawson trouble was Wyoming's Robert Herron. Though it should be said that Herron was giving every defensive back he went against problems. No receiver on the North team has the quick-cut ability Herron does. He was consistently creating separation on comebacks and has the speed to beat defensive backs over the top. If only a word can be used to describe Herron, it would be slippery. Northwestern quarterback-turned-wide receiver Kain Colter looks natural in his transition.
The same can't be said for Missouri's Michael Sam, who is going from college defensive end to NFL linebacker. Thus far, the transition has been difficult. Sam was choppy in his movement in coverage drills and was out of place in team drills. When Smith is moving forward, he's fine. When he moves laterally or backward, he's just not fluid. Wisconsin's Chris Borland, on the other hand, is a natural in space. If teams can get over his lack of height and arm length, he could be nice addition. A Baltimore Ravens representative spent a considerable amount of time with Borland after practice on Tuesday.
For the North squad, the quarterbacks – Tajh Boyd, Stephen Morris and Logan Thomas – struggled. While the wind was whipping hard all day, all three quarterbacks had issues placing the ball. Morris looked the best of the bunch, but that's not saying a lot. Boyd has mechanical issues and had issues getting the ball to the outside. Thomas threw wobblers or was just generally off target. After practices, Thomas told me that he's raw as a quarterback, despite being a multi-year starter at Virginia Tech. Thomas is working with quarterback coach George Whitfield to improve his front leg in hopes that it boosts his accuracy.
On the South team, quarterback Derek Carr hasn't done quite enough to secure a spot in the first round, but he's getting there. Carr was on point again Tuesday, and showed he could target all points of the field. More impressively, Carr showed off his work ethic. He and Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews worked together after Monday's practices. On Tuesday, it was Carr and Matthews were joined by BYU wide receiver Cody Hoffman and Texas' Mike Davis for 20 minutes after practice concluded.
One of the stars of the day for the South was Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch. He doesn't blow you away in pass-catching situations, but he was stellar as a blocker Tuesday.
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford had another good day. It's between he and Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald thus far for best performance in Mobile. When Ford keeps tight around the edge, he's been a dangerous player. He's even caught the eye of South head coach Gus Bradley of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Dee is exciting," Bradley said after practice. "I really like his personality, I like his spirit, he loves the game and he showcases that on the practice field. Anytime a guy can come off the edge and show the ability to have some rushes in him, it really stands out."
Bradley indicated that Ford could work as the Leo in his team's unique 4-3 scheme. Another player that fits that position is Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu. He had an up-and-down game. After practices he told me he prefers playing linebacker.
In offensive line drills, Virginia's Morgan Moses is an impressive physical blocker. Playing both the left and the right, Moses held his own against Ford and pushed Arkansas' Chris Smith and Virginia defensive end Brent Urban around. When Moses sets and gets his hands on a defender, he doesn't get pushed back. After looking good on Monday, North Dakota State's Billy Turner struggled, particularly against Ford.