MOBILE, Ala. — While the main story in most Senior Bowls is about the quarterbacks by nature, this year’s somewhat underwhelming crop of signal-callers has a lot of people looking elsewhere when it comes to position groups of interest. That’s what Shutdown Corner did on the field at Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium, home of the Senior Bowl and its open practices through this week.
Tuesday morning’s practice for the North team was a good time to size up a few defensive backs in different places from a draft position perspective. With the top two cornerbacks in this year’s draft — Alabama’s Dee Milliner and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes — out of this particular movie due to their underclassman status, it was up to some other kids to come out of the woodwork and show that they belonged.
Washington’s Desmond Trufant lacks optimal top-end speed, but he is very fundamentally sound on everything. Keeps a low base when tuning and good technique gives him more speed that he actually has in tight quarters. Good hip flexion on turns, and he understands how to play the ball instead of the receiver for the most part. The fact that he has two NFL defensive backs (Marcus and Isaiah) as brothers shows up. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Trufant’s Tuesday practice is that he does not get faked at all on jukes — Kansas State’s Chris Harper tried to take him on a three-juke move off the line on one drill, and Trufant stayed with him all the way.
However, Trufant will get beaten on deep stuff. He lost it on a deep sideline route to Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton — didn’t play the ball and got lost downfield. Trufant reminds me of an embryonic version of Asante Samuel — great fundamentals, good route jumper, and needs to get stronger in run support. That lack of a fifth gear may keep him out of the first round, but any team looking for a guy who can play slot and flex receivers in nickel and dime coverage, and trail a “Z” receiver down the sideline should be looking Trufant’s way.
Jamar Taylor from Boise State has good speed, but he tends to stand high out of his breaks, which causes him to lose a step in pattern read ideas. He struggles to turn low and maintain leverage at that angle. Taylor gets handsy when he’s beaten on crossing routes and really struggles on the timing of comebacks at times. Anything that requires quick-twitch recovery speed leaves him a step slow. I think he’s got the physical talent to play in the NFL, but he’ll need some mechanical work.
Utah State’s Will Davis has a lot of pure physical talent, but there are some spatial awareness issues to deal with. In drills, he lost trail coverage on Marshall’s Aaron Dobson, and he got turned around by former Michigan quarterback-turned receiver Denard Robinson (more on him later). On another play, Robinson cut Davis around on a deep route, and Davis struggled to keep up. Davis has limited starting experience at the FBS level, and I like a lot of what he brings to the table — he could just need more technique work as he builds a resume that will allow him to start in the NFL.
Connecticut’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson is a big-ticket player when he gets his hands on the ball — he’s got a penchant for pick-sixes. But on Tuesday, he showed a few things that could keep him from doing that a lot at the NFL level. He was late to the party on one slant route to Syracuse’s Alex Lemon, and he seemed a tad late on quick cuts.
Wreh-Wilson’s Connecticut teammate, Dwayne Gratz, lost inside position on Lemon on a deep sideline route to the right, allowing Lemon to move back toward the numbers and make the grab. However, he recovered to pick off a throw from Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert to Elon’s Aaron Mellette.
Any NFL team looking to acquire a rangy, physical pass defender in this year’s draft would do well to take a good look at USC’s T.J. McDonald. The son of former San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl safety Tim McDonald plays very well in press coverage, and I think he has the potential to play outside in some switch coverages. He’s not a good off-coverage defender, though — more of a stick-and-stay run support guy and press defender. He’s a bigger kid — listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, but he plays bigger than that — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a creative man coverage team like the Green Bay Packers or Seattle Seahawks take a flyer on him early in the draft, plug him in different spots, and see what he can do. Not a Charles Woodson, but maybe an Atari Bigby.