MOBILE, Ala. — Ah yes. What to make of the first day of Senior Bowl practices.
I wrote this last year but it does bear repeating: It is important to not overreact to the first day of practices down at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Why? All the players are learning a new offense, they are getting the timing down with new teammates, and they are seeing different looks from the defensive side of the football.
Some, like Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon, are taking snaps from under center for the first time in a long, long time.
So, it is a baseline day. A way to measure how they look over the course of the week. How they can improve and how quickly they can take to coaching.
That being said, this is an overreaction business, so ...
The practices began on Tuesday afternoon with the South squad, coached by the Cincinnati Bengals. That gave us our first chance to see Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert and Steven Montez in action.
What will be interesting about his evaluation, in one respect, is his transition from passer to runner and back. If you watch Hurts on film you will see moments when he pulls the football down and transitions from passer to runner, seeking an escape route. Sometimes in those moments he struggles to make the transition back to passer, missing on opportunities in the passing game downfield. Now, he can be deadly in scramble drill situations, but it is something to watch.
Which is why it was very interesting to see him during early footwork drills working on that exact skillset.
When the quarterbacks transitioned to throwing routes versus air, Hurts struggled at the outset. He left a post route behind Collin Johnson, the Texas wide receiver, who made a very good adjustment on the throw. (For his part, Johnson had a good practice). Hurts also underthrew a post route to Jauan Jennings, the Tennessee wide receiver, who had to slow up and wait for the ball to come to him.
Where Hurts can excel as a passer is in the vertical game, and that showed up during the 1 on 1s. He hit Devin Duvernay, the Texas wideout, with a very well placed vertical ball, and then came back to throw another nine route to Jennings, who made a great play at the catch point, twisting inside of the defender to secure the throw.
During the 7 on 7 session, Hurts struggled as well. He double-clutched on one of his first reads, and later threw a slant route that was behind his intended target and intercepted. That processing speed showed up later during the team portion, when he looked to throw a route along the left sideline on a sail concept but got the ball out late, letting the flat defender break on the throw and cause an incompletion.
His best throw did come during the team session, when he ripped a slant route into his receiver from a collapsing pocket.
Herbert came into the week looking to cement his status as the top quarterback in Mobile, and his Tuesday showed some strides in that effort. During the footwork drills at the start of practice, he showed off his athleticism and his fluidity, despite his size. Then during the routes versus air segment, he flashed not only his velocity but also some timing and rhythm, throwing some well-placed speed out patterns with the ball coming out of his hand on time and in perfect rhythm.
During the 1 on 1s, Herbert displayed some of the arm talent that has scouts excited about what he could be at the next level. He threw a rope on a comeback route to Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and followed that up with a beautiful throw on an in-breaking route with velocity and good placement. That continued into the 7 on 7 portion, where Herbert threw a number of slant routes with great placement, velocity and tempo.
Prior to the practices, Herbert indicated that “leadership” was something he was hoping to show this week, and something he wanted NFL scouts and evaluators to come away thinking he could contribute at the next level. That might remain to be seen, but the on-the-field portions of his week have gotten off to a very solid start.
Rounding out this group is Steven Montez from the University of Colorado. Montez enters Senior Bowl week looking to show that he merits a later-round selection, as his film was somewhat inconsistent last season for the Buffaloes. At times, Montez can show good arm talent and the ability to work through progression reads, but at other times his decision-making process can be lacking.
What was interesting from watching him on tape was that he showed an ability to learn from mistakes over the course of a single game. In his outing against the University of Arizona, Montez made a few poor decisions on route concepts early in the game, but later in that contest he returned to those designs and really improved his decision-making.
Early in practice he threw a great post route to Duvernay, showing off some of the arm talent that earned him a spot in Mobile. But the decision-making remains a question. He double-clutched on a few routes when throwing against air, and he seemed very deliberate with his reads during both the 7 on 7 and the team portions of practice. Again, Tuesday is a baseline day, but Montez does seem to have some work to do over the next few days.
We can just say this about the North practice at the outset: I would be surprised if any members of the Detroit Lions have hamstring issues. Lots and lots of stretching...
I know. Believe me I do. Chicago Bears fans were excited about Gordon being a potential Day 2 quarterback to push Mitchell Trubisky next season. I was excited to see him down in Mobile given what I saw on film from him. Early in the practice, some of what has people excited about Gordon was on display: A freakishly-quick release and some velocity in the short areas of the field.
Again, Tuesday is just a baseline day, but Gordon struggled at times. It was windy and raw down at Ladd-Peebles, but on deeper throws during practice Gordon’s passes tended to hang in the air a bit longer. There also seemed to be a lot of miscommunication on routes during this practice, not exclusively with Gordon but also with Jordan Love and Shea Patterson. But that led to some missed opportunities during the various drills.
Another odd aspect to watching Gordon is how he manages the pocket, in stark contrast to his predecessor Gardner Minshew, whom many will naturally try and draw comparisons with given their history under Mike Leach. But where Minshew would always keep his feet moving in concert with his mind while working through reads, Gordon is more stoic in the pocket, keeping his feet steady under him. That is a bit jarring to see from him, but again, the release is so quick that he can make it work in college. You do wonder a bit about the transition to the pro game. Gordon did have a very good throw on a curl route to Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool during the team part of the practice.
Out of the North quarterbacks, Love came into this week with the most hype, and he did have a solid practice on the whole, with some ups and downs along the way. During the early portion of the practice he threw a beautiful out pattern to USC’s Michael Pittman Jr., as well as a pristine bang eight post route to Claypool. Love also flashed during 1 on 1s and the 7 on 7 portion, drilling a curl route with good timing and rhythm during the former, and throwing both a great curl route as well as perfect dig route working from left to right during the latter.
One area of his game that did seem to be a struggle, as it was for Gordon at times as well, was on anticipation throws. Again, as this is a baseline day throwing to new receivers it is not fair to read to much into it, but on deeper out routes when he was trying to throw at the break with anticipation, Love missed a few chances to connect.
In all, a solid day. Love began his Tuesday by measuring well at the weigh-in and having a very good session with the media, during which he talked about interceptions as “learning and teaching moments,” so I came away generally impressed with the Utah State product. It will be interesting to watch him over the next few days.
Similar to Montez, Patterson enters Senior Bowl week with a chance to solidify his draft status while perhaps showing some more consistency than he did during his time at two different schools, first Mississippi and later at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh. If you studied Patterson this past season, you probably saw glimpses of pro potential. For example, in his game against the University of Iowa, a low-scoring 10-3 affair, you still saw some NFL-level throws on deep out routes made with timing and rhythm. Could Patterson extend that to this week, and beyond?
For the most part, he showed that he could. While the other quarterbacks struggled at times on such throws, Patterson’s ability to make some throws with good timing and placement was on display Tuesday afternoon. This showed on a deep curl route he threw to Claypool, that he put right on the outside shoulder on time and in rhythm, leading the receiver away from leverage and towars potential yardage after the catch.
This also continued during the 7 on 7 session, when he had a very nice throw on an out pattern, and then had a very quick read and throw against single-high coverage, finding his teammate Sean McKeon from the TE spot on a post route for a big gain.
Again, it is just a baseline day and there is more work to be done and more film to be watched, but Patterson had some flashes on Tuesday.