Chris Steuber Journal
Posted: January 27, 2012
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Florida Athletics | Illustration by Chris Steuber
Chris Rainey had a great week of practice in Mobile, and displayed his playmaking ability in front of NFL personnel.
The Senior Bowl is a great event and it serves a purpose; it's the kickoff to the draft process for the NFL. It's a place where NFL front offices, coaches and scouts get a chance to see "most of" the top senior talent up close for the first time.
But, let's keep the Senior Bowl in perspective, as Allen Iverson famously said, "I mean listen, we're sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we're talking about practice."
That's all the Senior Bowl is, it's practice; an opportunity for NFL organizations and media members alike to observe the senior prospects up close, and to team representatives to acquire background checks and the media to conduct interviews for newspapers and websites.
In regards to this year's senior class, it's the weakest senior class that I've seen and without the top two senior wide receivers, Baylor's Kendall Wright and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, in Mobile; the bottom line is there wasn't a first-round offensive skill player in attendance.
Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden had a good week. The 28-year old signal caller appeared confident, which wasn't a surprise since he's a former minor league baseball player and understands what it means to be a professional; stood tall in the pocket and kept his composure completing passes on the perimeter. But the overreaction to his performance was a bit over the top. While he delivered an accurate ball and did things well, his performance stood out because the quarterback competition he was up against was underwhelming.
Although, I believe Arizona quarterback Nick Foles was the most talented signal caller in Mobile. Even though he struggled at times, Foles has a chance to be a successful starter at the next level. He has a plus-arm and the poise to develop, but he must improve his awareness and especially his footwork. He's inconsistent in his drops and gets caught off balance, but once that's corrected, he will reward the team that invests a second-round selection in him.
One offensive player that intrigued me was Florida playmaker Chris Rainey. The NFL is all about speed and matchups, and with the right team and offensive coach, Rainey could be used in a similar role Darren Sproles has with the New Orleans Saints. If used correctly, Rainey will drive opposing defensive coordinators crazy with his explosiveness and playmaking in space. He's always a threat with the ball in his hands. Injuries have been a problem for Rainey in the past, but if he continues to impress this offseason he could elevate his stock into third-round consideration.
The defensive side of the ball was a different story. Alabama hybrid Courtney Upshaw was the most impressive prospect in Mobile. Despite his stature, he’s an instinctive football player, who is scheme diverse and is always around the ball. The other defenders who stood out to me were South Carolina hybrid Melvin Ingram, Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry, Connecticut defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Dwight Bentley and Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner.
There were three more defenders that flashed during practice: North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples and linebacker Zach Brown, as well as North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Coples had a good week and displayed the right attitude and work ethic NFL teams like to see, but where was that attitude and work ethic for the majority of the 2011 season? He received more attention this past season compared to what he saw in 2010, but a top-flight defensive end should be able to make adjustments and consistently produce.
Brown is a playmaker at the linebacker position, but his size and inexperience are factors to consider, and even though he was healthy during his first full season as a starter, durability, due to his size, will be a concern.
Overall, Jenkins played well during practice, but he had lapses in coverage. He displays moments of brilliance and the ability to lockdown most receivers, but he's guarded against speed and is a risk taker. He got beat badly by double moves at least three times, and Rainey just ran by him on a straight go-route down the near sideline.
As far as Saturday’s game, I expect it to be a defensive battle; that’s where the senior class talent resides in Mobile... on the defensive side of the ball.
Upshaw and Ingram should continue their strong week and fight for the right to be top 15 selections in April… I want to see Coples, Reyes, Curry and Jenkins have a solid showing in the game… I’m anxious to see how the Redskins coaching staff uses Rainey in the game, and if they line him up in multiple positions to exploit the North defense… I’m interested to see which of the six quarterbacks shines in the game. I’ll say Foles has the best showing.
Again, keep this week in perspective and don't allow a prospects flashes or failures - during practice in a new environment - weigh into your rankings too much.
"Hey it's strange to me too but we're talking about practice man, we're not even talking about the game, when it actually matters, we're talking about practice," Iverson said.
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Chris Steuber has covered the NFL and NFL Draft for multiple media outlets over the last decade, and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, including: The Colin Cowherd Show, NFL Network's Path to the Draft and Daily News Live on Comcast SportsNet (Philadelphia)... full biography