- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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MOBILE, Ala. -- Here are 10 observations/thoughts from Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice(s) and interviews:
After practicing Monday on a mild 65-degree day, players had to deal with temperatures in the 50s and wind gusts of more than 20 mph. Naturally, it wasn't an easy day for the quarterbacks, who had trouble throwing the ball into the wind. It also was an issue for the punt and kick returners, who had trouble adjusting to the ball. Jalen Saunders (Oklahoma) did the best job of any of the South returners. Lorenzo Taliaferro (Coastal Carolina) completely whiffed on one punt and Mike Davis (Texas) dropped two kickoffs.
Three South players are out with injuries: offensive tackle Ja'Wuan Jones (Tennessee) suffered a sprained knee; tight end Marcel Jensen (Fresno State) suffered an abdominal strain; and defensive end Ed Stinson (Alabama) suffered a groin strain. Former Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore has been added to the roster and was scheduled to arrive Tuesday night.
One of the more fun drills to watch was the running back/tight end pass-blocking drills. Taliaferro was the most impressive of the backs, which shouldn't be surprising considering he's the biggest back on the roster (231 pounds). He handled linebacker Christian Jones (Florida State) and stuffed linebacker Telvin Smith (Florida State) before finally getting beat by defensive end Kyle Van Noy (BYU). Jones rebounded nicely, though, and consistently got by the other backs. He also beat tight end Arthur Lynch (Georgia) twice, including once with a nasty spin move.
Running back Antonio Andrews (Western Kentucky) more than held his own in the pass-blocking drill despite being much shorter than the players he was blocking. Andrews is 5-foot-10 but a solid 225 pounds. He also showcased his agility with a nifty juke after catching a swing pass that left linebacker Lamin Barrow (LSU) on the ground.
Smith's size is becoming an issue. He was a 6-3, 217-pound linebacker at FSU but he's having trouble getting off blocks and has been pushed around too easily at times.
It's clear that Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) is the South team's top receiver. He made a twisting sideline catch after adjusting to deep ball that got caught up in the wind and showed the ability to fight through press coverage. He also caught a short pass on a drag route with a defensive back all over him.
Give the Senior Bowl staff credit for putting offensive tackle Billy Turner on the South team. Why is that interesting? Turner helped North Dakota State win three consecutive FCS national titles. The Jaguars are coaching the South team and head coach Gus Bradley played and coached at North Dakota State. "We talked a little bit. There's a saying up there, once a Bison always a Bison," Turner said. "I don't know if it'll help me but it's kind of a connection. I think that my play on the field will help me the most." Turner certainly has the size to be an NFL tackle (6-5, 316 pounds) but he has struggled a bit adjusting to the speed on the edge. Defensive end Chris Smith (Arkansas) blew by him quite easily in 11-on-11.
Cornerback Jaylen Watkins (Florida) had an impressive day. He broke up several passes, including one intended for Matthews, and had an interception. He's comfortable in press coverage, which was what he played most of the time at Florida under coach Will Muschamp. Watkins (5-11, 194) has experience at field and boundary.
Quarterback Derek Carr spent about 20 minutes throwing to Matthews after practice. He worked on slants and in routes because he missed several of those throws during practice. He wasn't just doing it for the field of scouts, either. It's part of his competitive nature, he said, and his commitment to continually improve. "If I miss a throw I'd be wrong to not throw it again after practice," Carr said.
One outside linebacker who has flown somewhat under the radar so far this week is Jordan Tripp (Montana). The 6-3, 237-pound Tripp isn't flashy and doesn't have the speed and quickness of some of his SEC teammates but he always seemed to be around the ball. He is a two-time FCS All-American and was twice a finalist for the FCS defensive player of the year award.