MOBILE—Senior Bowl practices began on Monday with padless workouts at different sites for the North and South squads. The South, which features a roster loaded with SEC stars, drew the larger crowd, in part due to the annual appearance of Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban.
Four Alabama players grace the South roster, but it was Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins (pictured) and San Diego State cornerback Leon McFadden that stole the show.
Jenkins, a 6-3, 358-pound mountain of man, bulldozed 6-7, 320-pound offensive tackle Garrett Gilkey of Chadron State, and then flashed his quickness by shooting the gap to blow up a play in 11-on-11 drills.
Draft guru Tony Pauline, who is again assisting packers.com in its coverage, projects Jenkins as a late first-round pick, but conceded that Jenkins could push himself higher with performances on Tuesday and Wednesday similar to what he displayed on Monday. The pads are expected to go on tomorrow, and it's expected that at least one of the next two days will feature heavy contact.
Jenkins is a classic 3-4 nose tackle who possesses rare quickness and lateral movement. Pauline said concerns about inconsistent effort would be eased considerably by a strong performance this week.
McFadden, 5-10, 190, broke on an E.J. Manuel pass and made a one-handed interception near the sideline. Shortly thereafter, McFadden jumped another route and nearly made his second interception.
Manuel, a multi-talented quarterback from Florida State who offers the kind of running ability that's become trendy in the NFL, played the best of a trio of passers that includes Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson. All three quarterbacks, however, were inconsistent.
It was a deep out pass that was Manuel's best throw of the day. The ball was thrown on time, on target and on a line. Manuel is an impressive athlete with a classic throwing motion. He throws a tight spiral and sticks out in a crowd, begging the question: Why wasn't he more productive in college? Accuracy would seem to be the issue.
Nonetheless, Manuel's physical skills are begging for him to rise up draft boards, which he will begin doing, should he perform well this week. Colin Kaepernick followed that path two years ago.
Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams, 6-2, 205, was the most impressive pass catcher on Monday. Williams is an accomplished route runner and blew by Southeastern La. cornerback Robert Alford to make an over-the-shoulder catch on a deep pass down the sideline.
BYU defensive end Ezekial Ansah is an intriguing prospect. He's only played football for a few years, yet, he's quickly reached this level of achievement based on his speed and athletic ability. At 6-5, 270, Ansah is causing some to think of him as a poor man's Jason Pierre-Paul. He offers potential as a standup pass rusher, but his lack of experience will likely cause him to be a 4-3 pass-rush specialist early in his career.
"Draft him for what he'll be, not for what he is," Pauline said of Ansah, a former track star.
Alabama safety Robert Lester, 6-2, 212, was on the fast track to the NFL as a sophomore. "He looked better than Mark Barron," Pauline said. Lester hasn't been as productive since then, however, which has caused Lester's stock to fall. This week is a chance for Lester to shoot back up.
The closest thing to a feature back on the South squad is thought to be Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, 5-11, 215. He runs hard and he showed as much in Monday's practice. "Complete back," Pauline said. Taylor lacks breakaway ability but he offers the potential to be a between-the-tackles pounder.
Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, 6-6, 335, is a member of the South squad but will not perform this week due to a calf strain. He wanted to be part of the weigh-in on Monday and the week's festivities, as Fluker's success in football has become somewhat of a symbol for him and his family.
Fluker and his family are from New Orleans and its infamous Ninth Ward, but were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The family settled in Mobile, where they were provided shelter by an aunt.
"I'm the first kid out of my family to go to college," he said proudly. Fluker graduated in General Health with a 3.2 GPA. He is one of what he referred to as Alabama's "Five Horsemen," which is to say a star-studded offensive line, and he is a certain star in next spring's draft.
Wanna run the ball? Draft him.
Practices will be conducted on the same field on Tuesday. Packers.com will cover both.