MOBILE, Ala.: The Senior Bowl wanted Marcus Mariota to participate as a graduated junior, but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner turned down the offer. How much was he wanted in Mobile? Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who is running North practices, personally reached out to Mariota to ask him to come down. But Mariota, who doesn't have an agent yet, politely declined.
It's a fascinating storyline. Whisenhunt will likely say he did it to learn more about Mariota. But what if he's on the fence about the Ducks quarterback? Or what if he likes him and wanted to get acquainted with him? Whisenhunt will get to work out a Ducks quarterback, of sorts -- Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett is being added to the roster. The 6'3, 215-pound Bennett is an Oregon transfer.
With there being a focus on finding a third quarterback in the draft after Mariota and Jameis Winston, signal callers were under a microscope all day. It was a lot of mixed results. Colorado State's Garrett Grayson started his session with the South team on point, showing good zip on his passes and completing several in a row. More importantly, he was putting the ball in a spot where his receiver could immediately get up the field.
As the day wore on, Grayson was asked to throw deeper down the field, and that's where his accuracy dropped. While he was easily putting the ball in the air for 40 yards or more, only a small fraction were completed. One of them was on a highlight reel catch along the sidelines from Central Florida's Rannell Hall.
Grayson's South teammate Blake Sims struggled most of the day. He overthrew a lot of passes, both in competitive reps and when his receiver was running a route alone.
On the North side, it's clear Bryce Petty of Baylor is being treated as the No. 1 quarterback. He often had the best receivers in on his plays and got more reps throwing the ball, but the results were inconsistent. Petty looked better than you might expect working his dropback, but he threw a lot of wobbly passes and missed on some simple throws.
Oregon State's Sean Mannion didn't display a lot to report about. At the least, he's the most physically impressive quarterback in the Senior Bowl. East Carolina's Shane Carden looked good completing short passes of 10 yards or less. But as the throws got deeper, his accuracy slipped.
Nick Marshall, cornerback
One of the storylines of the day was Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall being moved to cornerback. This was something Marshall said he requested despite being listed on the Senior Bowl roster as a quarterback. Marshall's day got started by lining up as a gunner against teammate Sammie Coates. It was a strange dynamic, to say the least.
Marshall is raw after not playing the position since his freshman season at Georgia. Afterward he transferred to a junior college to play quarterback before playing the position for the Tigers.
Wide receivers stand out
The 2015 NFL Draft is again loaded at wide receiver and that was proven during Tuesday's practice. Arguably no one had a better day than Miami's Phillip Dorsett. He's easy fast, meaning that it doesn't take him much effort to get into top gear. Considering that he might be the fastest player in the draft, it was impressive watching Dorsett zip through routes. He caught almost everything thrown at him and quickly learned from the coaching of Jacksonville Jaguars wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan.
Sullivan told me after practice that he especially liked Dorsett, Coates and Kansas State's Tyler Lockett.
"From a first day observation, he's got good tools," Sullivan said of Dorsett. "I'd just like to see him track the ball better and improve during the week."
Dorsett spent a lot of time after practice interviewing with an Atlanta Falcons scout.
Coates had just an okay day. He's big, tall, fast and has every physical tool you'd want in a receiver. But he dropped his eyes on a few plays and kept his arms wide when turning the corner on a route. Coates also has inconsistent hands. But on the right team, Coates has the tools to be turned into something good. Sullivan said he'd prefer a receiver like Coates compared to one who may not be as fast or tall. He brought up the play of Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns. He is a great athlete the Jaguars picked up as an undrafted free agent, who took to coaching and had a good rookie season.
On the North squad, the best wide receiver of the day was Duke's Jamison Crowder. He made some impressive catches, most of them away from his frame and showed off quick feet to get open against defensive backs. He has the makings of a good slot receiver going forward.
Top individual showdowns
The best thing about the Senior Bowl practices is watching players go one-on-one in drills. It's physical and tough because every player wants to look good every play with their draft stock on the line. The best such showdown came during North practices when Duke guard Laken Tomlinson blocked Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis. The two traded powerful blows. On a few, Tomlinson was getting the advantage on Davis thanks to his technique. Davis was never deterred, though, and used his strength to overpower Tomlinson. In person, Davis is an imposing figure. He's a powerfully built 321 pounds and showed quick feet in footwork drills. Davis can build on Tuesday's performance and possibly crack into the first round.
LSU's La'el Collins was as advertised: a big brutish offensive tackle who can stonewall defenders. He looked good more often than not and handled South defenders like UCLA's Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Trey Flowers of Arkansas. Collins was receiving a lot of personal coaching from Jaguars great turned radio broadcaster Tony Boselli.
The big issue for Colorado State offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo is strength and being physical. He got blown off the line more often than you'd like during South practices. Odighizuwa and Preston Smith of Mississippi State looked good against Sambrailo.
USC cornerback Josh Shaw stood out when North cornerbacks worked on jam drills. Coaches got after most of the other defensive backs for not keeping their eyes low, but Shaw didn't need the tip. He often got up on receivers and disrupted the timing of their routes. Not so long ago Shaw had some buzz as being an early round pick. He showed why on Tuesday.
Miami cornerback Ladarius Gunter is someone who has the size and skills, and he showed it when getting his long arms on a receiver on a press. He completely blew up a play involving UNLV's Devante Davis solely by jamming him at the line. But Gunter struggled against speedy receivers.