For one day at least, Georgia wideout Tavarres King played up to his surname, repeatedly making big plays to stand out among a talented group of receivers for the South Team during Monday's initial Senior Bowl practice.
King, ranked by NFLDraftScout.com as a fifth-round prospect and given third-day grades from scouts from three different teams I spoke to following practice, demonstrated great lateral agility, acceleration and generally reliable hands. He did allow one pass to slip through his hands -- but that was conveniently snatched up by Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton, who also enjoyed an impressive first day.
Talent evaluators weren't the only ones impressed. Detroit Lions wide receiver coach Tim Lappano, who led the receiver drills, pushed his new pupils but was impressed by their effort and talent afterwards.
"They [South's receivers] are a strong group," Lappano said. "We worked them hard, very hard. We wanted to run them through a fast tempo. They showed great effort and are an athletic bunch with size."
King, who measured 6-0, 192 pounds during the Senior Bowl weigh-in Monday morning, showed the stop-start-go elusiveness to consistently make defenders miss and enough straight-line speed to beat them over the top. His fluidity during drills early in practice was also impressive, as he showed the foot quickness and balance to chop his feet and turn quickly. He was also the best at getting off press coverage, something that many of the South receivers struggled to do.
King was among a handful of South receivers who consistently got open and made big plays for the team's three quarterbacks -- Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Florida State's EJ Manuel and Oklahoma's Landry Jones -- when they could get them the ball.
As if often the case in all-star games, the quarterbacks and receivers struggled, at times, to find any kind of rhythm. Some of this was due to good pressure supplied by the South's defensive linemen. BYU's Ezekial Ansah and Clemson's Malliciah Goodman each forced the quarterbacks to step up into the pocket on multiple occasions, ruining any sense of timing in the passing game. Ansah also knocked down at least one pass and forced Manuel to significantly adjust his throwing motion on another.
- Wilson, NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated quarterback in this game, and third overall, behind West Virginia's Geno Smith and USC's Matt Barkley, was not surprisingly the most impressive of the three passers today. He passed his first test -- measuring in at a solid 6-2 (and an 1/8), 218 pounds -- during the weigh-ins and demonstrated the same efficient set-up and delivery, zip and accuracy which he'd shown over the past two seasons as the Razorbacks' starter. He showed better than expected accuracy on the move, as well, hitting open targets deep right and shallow left after play-action bootlegs. Wilson was equally accurate on short swing passes to running backs, slants and deep crossers to receivers and down the seam to the tight end. He did get careless and throw an interception late that Georgia Southern safety JJ Wilcox stepped in front of and likely would have returned for a touchdown had we been keeping score. I was impressed, however, by the fact that Wilson rose to the occasion after this poor throw. Pressured on the outside, Wilson stepped up and lofted a nice pass down the seam to Alabama tight end Michael Williams. Williams, heavily covered, was unable to come down with the pass, however. More on Williams later.
- While Arkansas' Wilson impressed in many ways, one area in which Oklahoma's Jones clearly struggled was during the short swing passes to running backs. While the spread offense has certainly helped Jones rack up monstrous numbers as the most productive passer in Sooners' history, his relative lack of experience taking snaps from under center showed in his inability to hit his backs in stride as they released from behind him. Many quarterbacks believe the short swing passes to backs are actually some of the hardest throws to make... Jones appeared to provide evidence of this issue as he also demonstrated the ability to throw strikes on longer passes through tighter windows.
- Neither Williams nor his SEC counterpart, Mychal Rivera were particularly impressive at tight end in their first Senior Bowl practices. While the nearly 6-6, 269-pound Williams has always shown less than ideal foot speed, the 6-3 (and a 1/4), 237 pound former Tennessee Volunteer tight end wasn't able to consistently shake free from coverage. He did, however, show very good body control and ball skills to make a leaping catch against tight coverage midway through the practice that might have been the grab of the day. Interestingly enough, it was Rice's Vance McDonald who actually showed the most intriguing blend of size and athleticism. The 6-4, 262 pounder dropped an easy pass over the middle midway through practice but otherwise caught the ball cleanly and showed impressive fluidity for his size. McDonald, NFLDraftScout.com's No. 12-ranked tight end, could be a diamond in the rough to watch if he can build upon a solid first day.
- Among the wide receivers, King and Patton stole the show but Baylor's Terrance Williams was every bit the playmaker expected. The big-play specialist led the country with 140.92 receiving yards per game and showed similar body control and athleticism as his counterparts. Even better, at 6-2, 201 pounds, he's bigger. The toughest of the wide receivers, however, was Texas A&M's Ryan Swope, who Lappano specifically mentioned as having been the best of the team's blockers on the first day of practice. He followed Lappono's advice of blocking where "wind up, not where they lined up," consistently doing the quiet dirty work that helped the South's running backs chew up big yardage.
- Unfortunately, for all of the positivity that came from the first Senior Bowl practice of 2013, the game appeared to end before it even began for Tennessee-Martin defensive tackle Montori Hughes. He was wearing his No. 54 jersey and followed the defensive linemen wherever they went but was wearing a walking boot on his left foot and, as a result, did not see any action.