Soggy Start … Tuesday Morning Cup O’Chiefs

From Fairhope, Alabama

The security guards and local authorities started scrambling around 4 o’clock Monday afternoon at Fairhope Stadium here across the bay from Mobile.

Two black Denalis were trying to drive onto the stadium’s track and nobody was quite sure what to do. The South squad for this weekend’s Senior Bowl was practicing on the soggy natural grass field and the stands were filled with local fans and hundreds of NFL types.

Finally, a gate was opened and the big SUVs pulled inside the gate. The doors opened, several Alabama troopers got out of one car and emerging from the other car to the cheers of the fans in attendance was Nick Saban, coach of the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. That’s him shaking hands with one of his former players Courtney Upshaw after practice.

Saban did everything but walk on water across the huge puddles left by a serious thunderstorm Monday that kicked off Senior Bowl week. Saban waved to the crowd as he hustled over to do some sort of television interview.

There were five former members of Saban’s 2011 team on the field, getting in their first practice with the Washington Redskins coaching staff and head man Mike Shanahan.

“It was a pretty normal first day,” Shanahan said after the two-hour session wrapped up. “It’s just about making sure you are at the right field, then the right place on the field. You’ve got to crawl before you can walk.”

Some 20 miles away on the other side of Mobile Bay, the North squad was having their first practice with the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff led by head coach Leslie Frazier leading them through the session at Ladd Pebbles Stadium

Monday is the only day when the Senior Bowl teams practice at the same time. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the North team will work in the morning and the South team in the afternoon. That allows the NFL types plenty of opportunities to see all of 106 players multiple times.

Faces in the crowd at Fairhope Stadium … Broncos football honcho John Elway watched the South quarterbacks very intently … former Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris was on the field as part of his new job, working for the Redskins on Shanahan’s coaching staff … Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak watched the South defense … Bills GM Buddy Nix, the league’s oldest GM and new Titans GM, former Chiefs WR Lake Dawson … Chiefs faces at the stadium were assistant coaches Gary Gibbs, Adam Zimmer and Maurice Carthon, along with several scouts like Willie Davis.

If they were watching closely and taking notes, here’s some of what they saw from the South team that worked in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts. We spent our time watching the defense in individual drills, the tight ends in passing drills coverage and the one-on-one pass rush/pass protection and pass catch/pass defense:

Defensive line – there are eight linemen on the roster and the most impressive were North Carolina’s Quinton Coples, Florida’s Jaye Howard and South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram. Coples and Ingram displayed the most explosive first steps. A disappointment in this practice was Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw, who seemed to be going through the motions.

When they worked on pass rushing against the offensive line, the best performances were turned in by Ingram, Coples and Randall Kheeston of Texas. Ingram showed very good hustle and just by keeping his legs churning he got things done. Coples showed several second moves, something a lot of college players struggle with. Kheeston had some nice hustle rushes.

Upshaw showed nothing more than a bull rush. If he got leverage on his blocker, he was able to move the blocker back into the pocket. Without that leverage, he was stymied too many times.

Offensive line – nine blockers are on the roster. The first unit had Georgia’s Cordy Glenn at LT, LSU’s Will Blackwell at LG, Ben Jones of Georgia at C, with Illinois’ Jeff Allen at right guard and Zebrie Sanders of Florida State at RT. Working in the second unit were Matt McCants of UAB at LT, Troy’s James Brown at LG, Alabama’s William Vlachos snapping, Baylor’s Philip Blake at RG and Allen moving to RT.

When it came to pass protection Jones and Blackwell inside did a nice job. Sanders consistently got himself in trouble by reaching for the pass rusher and getting himself off balance. Allen stepped up his protection when he worked at tackle, compared to guard.

Linebackers – with six on the roster, the two who really drew attention were Arkansas’s Jake Bequette and Zach Brown out of North Carolina. Bequette worked on the outside, Brown on the inside. Several of the defensive ends like Coples are also scheduled to work as outside linebackers during the practices.

Secondary – there were four safeties and five cornerbacks in Monday’s practice. Say this about them – they were an aggressive group. Very aggressive. But then, with no officials throwing flags, it was one way to make an impression.

Working on the corner were Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama, Georgia’s Brandon Boykin, Ryan Steed of Furman, Bill Bentley of Louisana-Lafayette and LSU’s DeAngelo Peterson. The safeties were Markelle Martin of Oklahoma State, LSU’s Brandon Taylor, Dequan Menzie of Alabama and South Carolina’s Antonio Allen.

The best guy working in the one-on-one pass coverage was Boykin, at 5-9¼, 183 pounds. Not only was he aggressive, but he was athletic enough to reach around several receivers and knock down a couple passes.

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