The Senior Bowl continued today in Mobile, AL, as both teams wrapped up their week of practice from the comfort of the indoor practice field. Around the Block sent multiple scouts to Mobile this week to check out the prospects. For their recaps of Wednesday’s practices, check out their standouts from the American and National teams. In this article, Mitchell Wolfe highlights his Senior Bowl winners and losers from Thursday’s indoor practice.
All three quarterbacks on the National team played much better today inside South Alabama’s indoor facility. However, the one who probably improved the most across the course of the week, along with finally surpassing his expectations, was Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder. Ridder struggled throughout the week with his placement, frequently putting the ball out of his receivers’ reach; additionally, the weather on Wednesday did not do him any favors.
But he looked much more poised and patient on Thursday, hitting his receivers in stride with some great strikes. If he can carry this performance over into the game on Saturday, that could help his stock immensely. It was good to see him put it all together today, earning him the distinction of leading the group of Senior Bowl winners and losers.
Rachaad White has flashed several times throughout this week. But even he might have saved his best for last on Thursday to become one of the final Senior Bowl winners. He continued to show great vision and burst, hitting cutback lanes for chunk runs. Once he plants his foot in the ground and gets upfield, he is tough to stop, frequently finishing off his runs with force and violence.
Additionally, White has consistently shown soft hands, quick feet, and fluid hips as a receiver out of the backfield. He still needs to work on his pass blocking, but given that he has fewer than 300 career touches at the FBS level, teams should be very interested in this versatile back with fresh tread on his tires.
Khalil Shakir was one of the players I was most excited to see going into this week. Unfortunately, he did not make as many of the highlight catches down in Mobile that made him famous at Boise State. He even sometimes struggled with drops, and more physical corners gave him trouble.
But on Thursday, Shakir finally realized his potential as one of the Senior Bowl winners. He was dominant in the red zone drills, regularly creating separation, finding holes in the coverage, and securing the ball for scores. He finally displayed his superb leaping ability and body control in the air. Shakir is exceptionally versatile, so expect him to get the ball in various ways (returns, end-arounds, reverses, etc.) during the game on Saturday.
Some — perhaps even myself — are not the biggest fans of Trevor Penning. His play style is violent, bordering on reckless. But, in this case, there is no such thing as bad press. Penning was the talk of the town on Thursday, as he routinely dominated his opponents. He also let them hear about it and frequently played through the whistle, delivering some (possibly questionable or even illegal) hits.
Penning has a propensity towards these types of penalties (38 total in his career, 16 in 2021). But given his pestering play style, he might be able to draw some retaliation penalties from opponents as well. He especially got under the skin of Tyreke Smith and Travis Jones, who both accosted him after sustaining late hits. The ESPN television crew remarked that it is much harder to coach aggression into a player instead of reeling them in and coaching them out of it.
At the end of practice, Penning responded to a question about facing opponents from higher-profile FBS schools: “Everyone bleeds red.” That quote alone puts him on the list of Senior Bowl winners.
Jalen Pitre has been one of the most consistently solid players throughout every day of practice in Mobile. Despite being relatively undersized for a safety (5’10”, 196 lbs), Pitre has played in the slot, in the box, and even some deep safety. He has excelled in basically every position he has been put in, consistently making plays around the ball.
Pitre is one of those players who you just need to ignore the numbers and put on the tape. His instincts are off the charts, and he just gets how to play football. If he’s too small for your scheme, find a new scheme.
Sadly, Nick Zakelj only needed two consecutive reps to end up on this list. Early in 1-on-1 drills with the offensive and defensive lines, Perrion Winfrey matched up against the Fordham lineman. Winfrey has earned significant praise the last two days, highlighted as one of the Senior Bowl standouts yesterday. On the first rep, he swam past Zakelj with relative ease; Zakelj got to him a little at the end, pushing Winfrey a little deeper past the pocket.
As mentioned earlier, the defensive line got chippy with their opponents, primarily because of Trevor Penning. Even though Winfrey clearly beat Zakelj, he wasn’t satisfied. He pointed at Zakelj once the play was over and challenged him to run it back. They lined up again, and Winfrey promptly bull-rushed Zakelj right into the lap of the quarterback. I know Alabama might be more open to corporal punishment, but what Winfrey did to Zakelj was unquestionably cruel and unusual.
The linebacker from Cincinnati was someone I was very excited to get eyes on this week. Darrian Beavers was a crucial piece for the Bearcats’ defense this year that led them to the College Football Playoff. He’s a huge player, coming in at 6’4” and 252 pounds. Therefore, checking in on his coverage abilities became a primary priority.
Unfortunately, Beavers has struggled in coverage this week, especially today. Multiple running backs on the National team roster cooked him on routes out of the backfield. This did not help dispel the notion that Beavers can only be a two-down run-stuffing off-ball linebacker sometimes can rush the passer. Hopefully, Beavers does not diminish his stock further with poor testing at the Combine next month.
Whereas Nick Zakelj had one (or two) isolated incident(s), another small-school offensive lineman had many more issues. Ja’Tyre Carter from Southern University has had a very difficult week: his wins in the 1-on-1 periods have been very few and far between. Most of the interior defensive linemen have walked him back with ease. He has not been able to set and maintain his leverage correctly. Travis Jones and Logan Hall have had their way with him multiple times.
With that being said, like some of the other offensive lineman, Carter has looked better in team drills than 1-on-1s, which are more important.