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Milians 01-26-2006 12:28 AM

Senior Bowl news & notes
From ESPN insider:

MOBILE, Ala. -- As usual, Wednesday turned out to be the best day of practices for both the North and South teams. The players were more relaxed after having had the time to adjust to new teammates and schemes. Their new comfort level showed during contact drills in full pads at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Here's the buzz from Tuesday's Senior Bowl practices:

Around the North practice
The big news coming out of the afternoon practice was Michael Robinson finally get some reps as a wide receiver. Robinson continued to play the quarterback position during some of the unit drills and team sessions, but he spent a lot of time during the first half of practice working on his route-running and pass-catching skills.

Robinson understandably dropped a few catchable passes and looked extremely raw running routes. However, he received a lot of instruction from coaches and showed some improvement as practice progressed. Robinson is a fluid athlete with decent speed for the wide receiver position. He is a strong runner with very good vision and toughness.

The former Penn State standout could possibly contribute in a versatile role in the NFL as a third-down back and slot receiver. He also showed upside as a return specialist and got some work shagging balls off the JUGS machine during special teams' sessions at the end of practice.

Lori Young/
Clemson CB Tye Hill has been a playmaker at the Senior Bowl.• After really studying the wide receivers and defensive backs during one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills this afternoon, it's apparent that Clemson's Tye Hill is the best pure cover corner on the North roster. Everyone knows that Hill possesses explosive speed and athleticism, but he does not get enough credit for his instincts in man-to-man coverage. On several occasions today, Hill made plays on the ball because he read the route and got a quicker jump than any of the other defensive backs were getting. Hill's lack of size will hurt him on draft day, but it would not be the least bit surprising to see an NFL team that employs a lot of man-to-man coverage use a second-round selection on Hill.

• After looking a bit erratic early this week, Michigan WR Jason Avant settled into a groove. He showed more confidence running routes and did not drop a pass in the practice. Avant lacks elite size and speed, but he has value in the second-to-third round range as a potential No. 2 or No. 3 possession receiver in the NFL.

• Oklahoma's Travis Wilson is another wide receiver that has improved his draft value this week. Wilson failed to live up to expectations as a senior but much of that can be blamed on terrible quarterback play early in the season and a lingering foot injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. Now healthy, Wilson exhibited the strength, quickness and hands that made him one of the pre-season top prospects at the wide receiver position. Wilson lacks the elite top-end speed of a high draft pick, but he is a strong receiver that knows how to separate. This impressive week of practice should help Wilson solidify a spot in the latter parts of the draft's first day.

• Conversely, Arizona State WR Derek Hagan did not have his best outing of the week. Hagan showed outstanding route running skills, but his inconsistent hands were noticeable during one-on-one drills against the cornerbacks. Hagan dropped a couple of catchable passes and didn't time his jumps well. Hagan and Sinorice Moss entered the week as the two receivers battling for spots in the first round of the upcoming draft. While Hagan has much better size and a more impressive resume, Moss has clearly been the more impressive of the two.

• Northwestern State CB David Pittman has taken advantage of his opportunity of his late addition to the Senior Bowl roster. Pittman lacks ideal size (5-foot-10 7/8, 177), but he has shown impressive instincts and natural athleticism as a cover corner in drills this week. He made one of the best plays of the afternoon session when he stepped in front of an underneath route run by Miami (Ohio) WR Martin Nance and picked off the pass. He showed incredible balance on the play, which would have resulted in a TD in live game circumstances.

• USC TE Dominique Byrd, who has been one of the North's most productive receivers, showcase his impressive athleticism and pass-catching skills again today. Byrd displayed good instincts as a route runner and reliable hands. His lack of size and blocking skills will hurt him on draft day, but Byrd is worth drafting in the second-to-third round range as a pass-catching H-Back.

• Finally, after two days in full pads, the Senior Bowl saw its first fight of the 2006 practice week. Ohio State OC Nick Mangold took exception to Oklahoma ILB Clint Ingram knocking his helmet off during team drills. Mangold began violently swinging at Ingram, who dodged the initial barrage and began to swing back. After a few seconds of Mangold and Ingram unsuccessfully attempting to land haymakers on one another, Iowa OLB Chad Greenway stepped in and played peacekeeper.

Around the South practice
Georgia's Greg Blue and Florida State's Pat Watkins are two of the bigger name defensive players at the Senior Bowl this year, but both have failed to live up to expectations thus far. Safety can be one of the most difficult positions to play in an all-star game because of all the man-to-man coverage drills. Instead of being protected by zone coverage, these bigger defensive backs are forced to match up one-on-one versus quicker and faster receivers. Regardless, neither Blue nor Watkins has done much to improve his NFL draft stock this week.
Lori Young/
Georgia safety Greg Blue has struggled in coverage at the Senior Bowl.Blue is a big-hitting strong safety that is high-cut with stiff hips and embarrassingly poor ball skills. Over the course of the last two days, he has dropped at least four potential interceptions during drills. Blue may be best suited to add some bulk and make the move to Will linebacker in the NFL.

Watkins, on the other hand, is a centerfielder-type free safety that simply lacks the hip-fluidity at 6-4 to match up in the slot versus shiftier receivers. While he has good hands, Watkins does not always locate the ball quickly enough and has shown poor timing when leaping for interceptions.

Blue could be drafted in the late-second or third round by a team in search of an undersized but speedy and athletic outside linebacker to groom. Watkins is not worth selecting before the middle of the third round.

• Much like former Oklahoma WR Mark Clayton a year ago, Miami WR Sinorice Moss is making a name for himself at the Senior Bowl. He has been the most explosive athlete on the field. Moss has elevated his draft status into the late-first round. He did not get to handle many returns in college because of the presence of Devin Hester, but Moss has wisely gotten involved in punt return drills throughout this week's practice sessions.

• Miami CB Kelly Jennings is the only player who came close to keeping up with Moss during individual and seven-on-seven drills. Jennings, who has 4.4 speed, has proven to be one of the smoothest and most natural looking cover corners at the Senior Bowl. He has shown great instincts and the fluid hips to turn and run with faster receivers. The biggest knock on Jennings is that he offers very little support versus the run. Jennings has the coverage skills of a first-rounder, but he could slip to the second round because he is too one-dimensional.

• Mississippi State RB Jerious Norwood continued to turn scouts' heads with his explosive straight-line burst. Norwood is unlikely to ever develop into a premier back in the NFL because of his thin legs and straight-up running style, but he flashes exciting potential as a third-down back and return specialist.

• As for the South offensive linemen, Miami OT Eric Winston has been up-and-down throughout the week, but he shows enough athletic ability to warrant attention late in the first round. Auburn OT Marcus McNeill looks frumpy and unbalanced at times, but he is a mammoth lineman with quick feet, which makes him extremely difficult to get around. Texas OT Jonathan Scott is an impressive looking player with good mobility to complement his excellent size, but his lack of explosive power and finesse blocking style will cause him to slip possibly as far as the third round. New Mexico OG Ryan Cook has failed to impress during practices this week. He possesses a massive frame but his slow feet cause him to consistently lunge and fall off balance. Florida OC Mike Degory has good size for the position and shows the quickness to consistently get in ideal initial positioning. However, the consistent gripe regarding Degory's play is that he stops his feet once initially set, which leads to him failing to finish off blocks. Degory will need to improve his feistiness and show the ability to finish blocks stronger before he will be ready to compete for a starting OC job in the NFL.

• Florida State DT Broderick Bunkley and LSU WR/RS Skyler Green both sat out this morning's practice. Bunkley's injury was undisclosed but he was trailing drills with his helmet, jersey and shorts on, which leads me to believe it is minor. Green reportedly is battling a tweaked hamstring.

Scouts Inc. provided today's Senior Bowl buzz.

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