MOBILE, AL—Aaron Donald used this week's Senior Bowl practices to cement his reputation as college football's best defensive player. Jordan Zumwalt of UCLA and Dee Ford of Auburn emerged, and that should be news of interest for Packers fans.
Donald, Zumwalt and Ford completed three days of strong performances with efforts on Wednesday that likely left a lasting impression on scouts. The same could be said of Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland who, by unofficial count, was the interception leader of full-pads practices.
Donald and Borland came to the Senior Bowl as known quantities; Zumwalt and Ford used the week to make names for themselves.
"I was never 100 percent. I got to 80-90 for the national championship (game). I'm still not there yet," Ford said of the knee injury that compromised his senior season.
Ford is playing as a defensive end this week, for a game that doesn't permit nickel defense or blitzing, but at 6-2, 240, Ford is likely to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense when he transfers his talent to the pro game.
"I could do it," he said. "I was actually playing it until I got hurt. We just never got back to it. I work on my (pass) drops constantly."
Ford flashed lightning-quick speed off the edge in pass-rush drills again on Wednesday, the last of three days of full-pads practices. Not fully recovered from his knee injury means Ford might even have another gear to hit.
"I feel like I'm a commodity for any team," he said.
Zumwalt will interest a team looking for a tough-guy inside linebacker. He left the field on Wednesday morning with blood covering his forehead.
"I think I play football well," he told a scout. "I'm fired up. I like to have fun."
Scouts ask a multitude of off-the-cuff questions intended to get a look inside prospects. Zumwalt told of being asked how many different ways a brick might be used.
"You can build with it, you can use it as a paper weight and you can throw it through a window," Zumwalt said.
The scout, no doubt, liked the window part.
How would you like playing in the cold in Green Bay, a reporter asked Zumwalt, 6-4, 230?
"I'd love it. Just give me the opportunity and I'll play anywhere," he said.
"I would say I'm not a tough guy, but I like to play physical," Zumwalt said.
Draftnik Tony Pauline, a contributor to packers.com's Senior Bowl coverage, said "Borland and Zumwalt have elevated their draft stock" this week, which culminates in Saturday's 65th annual Senior Bowl game. More than 100 players will play in the game, but it's the three full-pads practices that are the focus of the week.
"We want to win, but the most important thing is to give (the players) a chance to showcase their talent," Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith said. Smith and his Falcons coaching staff are the coaches for the North, for whom Zumwalt, Donald and Borland play.
"He plays with a lot of passion and emotion. In the practice (on Tuesday) he had two big hits. He's done good things in coverage and in rushing the passer," Smith said of Zumwalt.
"Donald's a very quick, athletic defensive tackle. He plays with great leverage. It's low man wins and he also does a great job of getting his hands inside," Smith said of the Pitt star, the ACC defensive player of the year and winner of the Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards, a rare sweep of college football's top honors for defense.
Borland was as unblockable this week for running backs and tight ends as Donald was for offensive linemen, but the two also have something else in common: lack of size.
"He reminds me of Zach Thomas. Sometimes we put these measurables up, but the tape doesn't lie. That's your DNA. He has great FBI (football intelligence)," Smith said of Borland.