Senior Bowl 2014: Notes, winners from Wednesday's practice

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Taking a look at reactions and analysis from Wednesday's Senior Bowl practices.

We're close.

Day three of Senior Bowl practices have completed, giving coaches one of their final opportunities to see on-field work this week before Saturday's game.

A few notes from Wednesday's practice.

***

Geno Atkins four years ago wasn't Geno Atkins of today -- obviously. Had he been, we doubt 119 players are selected in the 2010 NFL draft before Cincinnati pulled the trigger. Undersized, uneventful and a little bland, Atkins was a hard worker but didn't carry the notoriety that his contemporaries did. There were 13 defensive tackles selected before him, including Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, who were selected second and third overall. Four seasons later, Atkins is now considered one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.

People seem poised not to make that mistake again.

Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald is dominating drills this week and drawing several Atkins comparisons. Dan Kadar with SB Nation's Mocking the Draft called him "the best player in Mobile."

"Donald is a very explosive defensive tackle," North coach Mike Smith said. "I've been very impressed with him. He's short in stature by NFL standards. He doesn't maybe have all the measurables. But he's one of the more explosive guys we have on the North squad. He's done a nice job in the run and the pass game in the first two practices."

Donald, who finished last season with 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, earned the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, first-team All-American and the Outland Trophy as the top lineman in the nation. Currently graded with first and second round projections, we doubt that Cincinnati will have an opportunity to select him -- nor do we think they'll go with a tackle high in the draft. Still, he's an impressive kid.

As a sidenote: If you're looking at centers, consider Utah State's Tyler Larsen. He has been one of the few offensive linemen that's slowed the unstoppable Donald this week. Larsen carries a 4-5 round projection.

***

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is perhaps the most erratically judged quarterback right now. One scout called him undraftable, while draft analysts are weighing him as a first and second round grade. Performances during practice aren't helping him much, having started Wednesday's practice "misfiring on air and lacking the confidence to pull the trigger with proper timing on downfield throws."

"One thing that I struggle with is when he needs to shuffle, reset his feet, when he gets pushed off his mark, decision making and accuracy takes a tumble," Jeremiah said Tuesday on NFL Network. "His inconsistency and accuracy -- that's what's going to be holding him back more than his size."

Let's face facts. Boyd is a quarterback in a draft that doesn't feature an Andrew Luck caliber player, thus exponentially over-valuing passers -- since players like Luck are exceptions to normality, this year will be like most others. What's important is that Boyd, and players Stephen Morris, and Logan Thomas continue to develop. Teams will demand day one starters from some of these kids when a more conservative model (aka, Carson Palmer) may make a little more sense.

"Boyd interacted well with teammates, was constantly pulling the coaching staff aside during spot drills for questions regarding dropback mechanics and weight transfers, and genuinely pushed himself towards improving on every rep," writes Eric Galko with Optimum Scouting.

Boyd won't factor in Cincinnati's drafting plans. We doubt that the Bengals will consider quarterback until day three of the NFL draft and Boyd should be scooped up long before that.

***

Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir, projected as a second or third round selection this year, had a strong practice on Wednesday, "dominating most receivers".

His hand strength and natural press coverage ability forced two receivers on the ground and lead him to two near interceptions during team drills.

However, Stanley Jean-Baptiste continues to impress people with obvious first-round talent but requires some development before he's thrown into a starting role in the NFL. On the other hand, the Bengals already have someone with that description in Dre Kirkpatrick.

***

Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland continues to impress. Per Brent Sobleski with the USA TODAY:

Height will always be an issue for the 5-11 linebacker, but Borland’s ability to play football can never be questioned. Borland has been the most consistent player on the field during the past three days of Senior Bowl practices. It’s easy to notice in Borland in the middle of the defense barking out calls. He is lining up everyone properly pre-snap and, usually, making plays post-snap.

Borland, who has played in 4-3 schemes until his final season when the Badgers shifted to a 3-4 base, is comfortable with any defense.

"I think that works to my advantage. Mentally, I can pick [systems] up. Physically, I can play well in the schemes and I think that helps me," said Borland via the Washington Post. "I feel good in all the roles."

"This past year was a big transition, but I put in a lot of film work," he said. "It was a big change in what you were doing with the scheme, physically. Just playing more laterally in a 3-4. We used to be a gap defense where you go downhill and fit. This past season, it was read and react and take a few lateral steps, which I had never done in my life. It was a good chance to learn that and grow, and I think that will help me."

He may not be the first-round talent of a C.J. Mosley (Borland is projected as a third-rounder, which will probably improve if he keeps this pace through the predraft process), but with Rey Maualuga entering the final year of a two-year contract, we can't disregard Cincinnati's need to, at some point, peak into the future with their situation at inside linebacker. And no, I don't believe that any changes at linebacker will impact Burfict. In Cincinnati's scheme, the Bengals usually applied two linebackers (over 50 percent of the time) without a significant definition between the two.

  • Keep an eye on Ohio State's Jack Mewhort, who has been looking strong with many saying that he could start at guard and tackle. We know how the Bengals love their versatile offensive linemen.
  • A couple of players with notable practices on Wednesday includes Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff, Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey, guard Jon Halapio, defensive tackle Dee Ford and Georgia Tech's Jemea Thomas.
  • Quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr swapped performances on Wednesday. Carr was more decisive and confident whereas Garoppolo struggled getting into rhythm that causes a "flurry of incompletions." David Fales has been a distant third on the South squad but a stronger performance than the other two.
  • The thing people like about Carr is his work ethic. He's working on his throws long after each practice this week.
  • Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Matthews has received much praise, as has one of his receivers in Texas' Mike Davis.
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