MOBILE—The TV cameras trained their eye on Sean Payton, but scouts at the Senior Bowl gathered around Brandon Williams following Wednesday’s morning practice. They found themselves asking: Who is this kid from Missouri Southern that couldn’t be blocked?
Payton was the center of attention. Returning from his one-year suspension, the Saints head coach walked up the aisle at Ladd-Peebles Stadium with a smile on his face as he joined an assemblage of Saints coaches and scouts, shaking hands with each of them as they welcomed him back to the NFL. How closely Payton watched the North practice is unknown, but he wouldn’t have had to watch closely to know that Williams was dominating.
The 6-4, 325-pound defensive tackle joined the ranks of big-school stars at the position, players such as North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams and Penn State’s Jordan Hill, both of whom had their own high moments. Generally speaking, the defensive linemen are the strength of the North squad, and they proved as much on Wednesday.
Following practice, scouts flocked to Brandon Williams to ask the requisite questions: Did you miss any games? Do you have any arrests? Were you a team captain?
The answers were no, no, yes.
It was a day for defense, as the South finished what the North started by capping the day with spirited nine-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills that featured a couple of scraps and a nasty cheap shot by California offensive lineman Brian Schwenke.
What is the strength of your game, a scout asked Brandon Williams?
“Getting off the ball. Quickness and bull-rushing,” Williams said.
It’s exactly what Williams did best on Wednesday. He beat offensive linemen off the ball and drove them steadily backwards with a bulldozing style of pass rush.
Meanwhile, offensive tackle Eric Fisher (pictured) renewed his head-to-head battle with Texas defensive end Alex Okafor. The two battled fiercely on Wednesday, Okafor causing a major thump on his first thrust, but Fisher always managing to hold his ground.
“Good battle against him. He’s making me a better player. I hope I’m making him a better player,” Fisher said.
Representing Central Michigan, Fisher said “a lot of people wanted to see me go against these top guys from the big schools.”
They might’ve seen enough. At 6-7, 305, Fisher battles to keep his weight up and offers the potential to become even bigger.
“I’m on a seafood diet. I see food, eat food,” he joked.
In the South’s practice in the afternoon, Jim Schwartz’ Detroit Lions coaching staff triggered a high-intensity session that featured two thunderous run-blitz hits by linebackers Vince Williams of Florida State and Sean Porter of Texas A&M.
Here are some highlights from each practice.
Washington defensive back Desmond Trufant made the first strike of the day in wide receiver blocking drills.
Mike Glennon of N.C. State is clearly the top quarterback. Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib is No. 2. Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert has struggled.
Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is a track star who got deep for a long touchdown pass. He’s expected to run in the 4.3’s.
Utah State cornerback Will Davis came on strong in the second half of the season to earn a bid from the Senior Bowl, and he made the most of it on Wednesday with several impressive plays, including a pass-defense on step-for-step coverage of a deep pass.
Elon’s Aaron Mallette, 6-4, 220, has the kind of size scouts like in a wide receiver, and he proved he could get deep and use that size to come down with the ball.
Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse, 5-7, 190, is a quick, low-to-the-ground runner that will appeal to a team looking for a complementary back. He flashed an impressive inside-out move on one run.
Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins hit from 55 yards with plenty of room to spare. Hopkins has been down the middle in all three practices.
Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor flattened Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson in blitz pickup.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has struggled this week. His best throw might’ve been his bomb to Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton.
Florida State’s E.J. Manuel and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson continued their steady play. They likely have helped their draft stock. Manuel ended the day with a deep-seam completion to Rice tight end Vance McDonald, causing Manuel to celebrate his success with a fist pump.
What Cal defensive back Marc Anthony might lack in speed he makes up for with instinct. He broke on a Landry Jones pass and nearly made a pick-six interception.
Manuel’s running ability was put on display on a bootleg call in which Manuel turned the corner with ease.
One college scouting director described this draft crop this way: “The juniors coming in make it a pretty good one. If you need a quarterback, it wouldn’t be very good to be at the top, but there are some impact players. You get 15-20 in, and it starts to tail off.”