MOBILE, Ala.—He wore No. 41 on his back but the scouts in attendance saw 3-4.
“If you were a team that plays a 3-4 defense and you were looking for a stand-up rusher, who’s the guy you’d draft?” a scout was asked.
Without hesitation, the scout ran his finger down the South’s roster until it stopped on the name of No. 41, Courtney Upshaw.
“Forward-only guy, right?” the scout asked.
Yeah, a forward-only guy, a legit pass rusher from a linebacker position.
“Upshaw,” the scout said. “You wouldn’t want him chasing you. He’s a very aggressive rush guy. You play sic ’em defense, he’ll sic ’em.”
The Alabama star is one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL’s 2012 draft class, and he was on display in the South squad’s practice on Monday afternoon, as Senior Bowl practices began in Mobile, Ala.
“I just love football,” Upshaw said when asked what attracted him to play in the Senior Bowl. Clearly, it is not a game in which he needs to play to establish his worth in the draft.
“I could’ve kept training and not come here, but they offered me an opportunity to come down here and I took it. I just want to show I can pass rush.”
He did just that on Monday, as did North Carolina’s Quinton Coples, who is to the ranks of the 4-3, hand-on-the-ground defensive ends as Upshaw is to the 3-4 rush-backers. As he promised on Sunday, Coples really did remind onlookers of Julius Peppers on Monday.
They are the headliners among the South’s pass-rush prospects. It’s a group that includes Arkansas’ Jake Bequette, another 3-4 rush-backer type. Clemson’s Andre Branch is a scratch this week due to an injury.
The South squad, true to the strength of its premier conference, the SEC, is loaded with run-and-hit talent. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Dwight Bentley are thought to be the class of the South’s cornerback crop, but North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins, a transfer from Florida, stole the show in Monday’s drills.
Several scouts professed special interest in Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, a player of prototypical size, arm strength and mechanics. Weeden is said to be able to make all of the throws with ease, and his footwork and release are textbook. The only knock on Weeden is his age, 28.
“Weeden is somebody everybody wants to look at because he almost has to start right away because of his age,” a coach for a team in need of a quarterback said.
One scout said that if Weeden were 22, he’d be challenging Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III for top ranking. With an exceptional performance this week, Weeden would likely rise on value boards.
Asked to evaluate the strength of this year’s draft class, a scout said: “Good at corner. Lots of running backs this year. Good depth at receiver but only one guy early. I think it’s a down year for pass rushers.”
It was not a down day for Upshaw. He began a process that will almost certainly make him a first-round pick.