MOBILE, Ala. -- Making a strong first impression at the Senior Bowl can send a player's stock skyrocketing and boost his rookie contract by millions of dollars.
Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins and California wide receiver Marvin Jones can't start writing checks just yet but if they continue the sparkling efforts turned in Monday during the North Team practices they could prove to be two of the big winners from this year's Senior Bowl.
Cousins out-shined Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and Boise State's Kellen Moore by attacking all levels of a talented North defense. His experience in a pro-style offense was obvious as he made quick decisions, showed accuracy short, middle and deep and thread the needle through tight spaces. Whereas his teammates struggled to find a rhythm with their new receiving corps, Cousins was hitting on all cylinders, spreading the ball all over the field and hitting his backs, tight ends and receivers on a variety of routes.
Like Cousins, Jones entered the Senior Bowl with significantly less hype that others at his position. Jones, who measured in at a shade under 6-2 and 200 pounds during the morning weigh-ins, was quick off the snap, showed burst out of his breaks to gain separation and the speed to slip past cornerbacks for big plays. He caught everything thrown his way, showing the hand strength to gather in passes thrown slightly off-target as well as the vision to track deep balls over his shoulder.
Jones wasn't the only wideout to make eye-popping plays on the day, though he was the most consistent.
A few uncharacteristic drops from Appalachian State's Brian Quick late in Monday's practice dampened an otherwise strong initial showing from the FCS All-American. Quick, who measured in at a chiseled 6-3 (and a 1/2) and 222 pounds Monday morning was the early star among receivers. Though not sudden off the line of scrimmage, his long-strides help him to quickly eat up the cushion and he showed terrific hand-eye coordination making several impressive catches out of some poor throws. Quick, in fact, arguably made the catch of the day when he snatched a quick out thrown high and wide by Moore. Quick used every bit of his height and long arms to pull the ball down while dragging both feet in bounds to secure the catch.
It took some strong catches from Jones, Quick and a few other North receivers to get Moore on track. The Boise State All-American appeared every bit as un-athletic as scouts feared when he measured in at a touch under 6-0 (5'11 and 3/4) and 191 pounds during the weigh-in. Worse, concerns about his arm strength appeared to be legitimate when he struggled connecting with his receivers on simple quick outs to open practice. As practice went on, however, Moore seemed to settle in and the accuracy and touch he demonstrated in throwing a staggering 142 touchdowns against just 28 interceptions during his record-breaking career with the Broncos were again on display. Moore is especially effective throwing down the seam, showing excellent touch to settle passes in over the linebacker and in front of the safety to slot receivers and tight ends.
Russell Wilson clearly has the arm strength to make NFL throws but was surprisingly tentative in his first Senior Bowl practice. Too often he stood flat-footed in the pocket and surveyed the field looking for easy completions. He attacked holes when he saw them, rifling in passes through tight coverage but also stared down his receivers on occasion and was nearly picked off a few times.
Of the North's receivers, Ohio State's Devier Posey provided the biggest challenge to a talented defensive backfield that included Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard, graded by some scouts entering the year among the nation's elite senior prospects at any position. Posey's speed allowed him to slip past Dennard as well as Iowa State's Leonard Johnson and Boston College's Donnie Fletcher but too often Posey simply dropped the ball when his quarterbacks didn't place it perfectly. Posey struggled adjusting to passes slightly behind and had a couple of big play opportunities simply bounce to the ground because he allowed passes to get into his pads rather than catching the ball with his hands.
The concern was the exact opposite for his Big Ten rival Marvin McNutt from the Iowa Hawkeyes. McNutt has excellent size (6'2 1/2, 212 pounds), strength, hands and route-running to be a possession receiver in the NFL but didn't show much in terms of elusiveness or the speed to turn short and intermediate passes into big plays. He is a savvy route-runner, however, who was consistently open despite aggressive coverage from defensive backs.
It wasn't a standout practice for any of the North's defensive backs. Dennard showed his characteristic physicality in challenging big and small receivers, alike, but also proved vulnerable to double-moves, getting beaten over the top by Jones and McNutt, alike.
Oklahoma's Jamell Fleming and Cal Poly's Asa Jackson had their moments, each demonstrating a quick, low backpedal and good burst back to the ball.
Scouts will want to see improvement from Fletcher and Penn State's D'Anton Lynn. Each struggled to keep up with the North's receivers, showing average change of direction and speed. Fletcher was turned around on several occasions early in practice before the North's quarterbacks and receivers turned their attention to Lynn. The former Nittany Lion was victimized by Cousins and Wilson often as practice wore, perhaps an indication of their comfort with his limited playing speed and awareness after having played against him in the Big Ten.
Extra Notes: The Monday morning weigh-in put the spotlight on a couple of under-the-radar prospects scouts will no doubt be keeping an eye on this week. Quick looked every bit the part of a standout NFL receiver with his impressive measurables, as did Utah State inside linebacker Bobby Wagner (6'0, 241), Boise State running back Doug Martin (5'09, 219) and Michigan defensive lineman Mike Martin (6'1, 307). Though the Martins are not related, one wouldn't know it by their compact, heavily muscled builds... Clemson defensive end Andre Branch was among those who may have been caught in the bad weather that kept several from getting into Mobile as planned. NFL officials informed scouts that Branch would be participating this week but that he was not in Mobile for Monday morning's weigh-in... Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead got an opportunity to field punts late in Monday's practice, showing the concentration to catch the ball in traffic as well as the burst, elusiveness and vision you'd expect from the all-conference running back. Pead was rarely used in this capacity while with the Bearcats but turned some heads with his few opportunities Monday... Boise State's Shea McClellin (6-3, 248) lined up at defensive end for the Broncos but practiced at outside linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings' staff Monday. He showed good footwork in the bag drills early...