With the NFL Combine and so many other scouting and draft prep routines changed due to the pandemic, having a chance to coach prospects at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., is even more advantageous in 2021.
“This is gold for us,” Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule told ESPN during a break in Thursday’s practice.
Rhule and his Panthers coaching staff are running the American team in this week’s Senior Bowl, which will be played Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET (NFL Network). Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins coaching staff are leading the National team.
“We get a chance to see them every day,” said Rhule. “We get to see them in meetings, we get to see them travel, we get to see them in the locker room. See what they’re like, see if this is their passion. Are they going to come in and be a pro athlete every single day? Are they going to work? Are they going to take notes?”
When there’s not a pandemic, all 32 NFL teams would normally bring an army of coaches and scouts to watch Senior Bowl practices and work on their teams’ draft boards. Due to COVID-19 protocols, every NFL team this year was limited to bringing just 10 representatives. As Raiders GM Mike Mayock told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday, most teams used their 10 spots to bring scouts. Which means the Panthers and Dolphins staffs are some of the only NFL coaches in Mobile this week.
“It’s great insight for us,” Rhule said. “We get to experience it for a week and really get to know (the players).”
Senior Bowl notebook
We’ve been fortunate enough to be here this week as well. Here are some more observations we’ve had regarding this year’s Senior Bowl roster:
While there have been several risers this week, some players have taken a step back. Penn State edge pass rusher Shaka Toney didn’t help himself when he got manhandled during Thursday’s practice by Middle Tennessee State offensive lineman Robert Jones. Toney has struggled all week. He lacks some of the explosiveness we’ve seen on tape.
Another big-school prospect who’s underwhelmed is Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson. The 5-11, 227-pounder has looked a bit slow in and out of his cuts (slow feet).
One potential sleeper who is gaining some attention is Oregon State linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. The 6-4, 236-pound edge rusher has been turning heads, showing speed and twitch off the line of scrimmage.
It’s already been a big week for Minnesota’s Benjamin St-Juste – he’s our top-rated cornerback in Mobile this week. We watched as he stayed sticky on UCLA running back/receiver Demetric Felton to force a pass breakup.
The play was all the more impressive considering Felton has really impressed this week as a receiver. To wit:
In our ranking of the top Senior Bowl prospects by position, tight end was one of three positions that only had four players to write home about. Georgia TE Tre McKitty settled in at No. 2 on our list, and he made himself hard to ignore this week. McKitty had himself a couple of one-handed catches and flash plays in practice.
West Virginia linebacker Tony Fields has gotten noticed this week, but at 6-1, 220 pounds he’ll have to overcome his lack of size. Staying off of offensive linemen and getting better against misdirection will be key to his draft stock.
Here are some more highlights of our time at the Senior Bowl: