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Five observations from day one of the 2021 Senior Bowl

(Photo by Senior Bowl/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

The 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl was underway on Tuesday. Even though practice was going to be closed to the media due to inclement weather, things cleared up and we were allowed into Hancock Whitney Stadium. This is the first year it’s been at this new facility, and it looks great.

Mobile, Alabama has been home to the Senior Bowl for every year but one in the history of the event. The city gets a lot of revenue and the NFL spotlight shines brightly here during this time of year. The hashtag of #TheDraftStartsinMobile is true, and most everyone who is anyone in the NFL is here in Mobile.

It was a blast to get back to watching practice and taking notes feverishly during the day for four consecutive hours.vWith my notes done and the day winding down, I am watching practice again via XOS and going over what I saw during the day.

Here are five observations from day one of the 2021 Senior Bowl.


Dolphins Pace

The Miami Dolphins coaching staff is here to run the National Team. Head coach Brian Flores ran a great practice, and the pace kept everyone out there interested and even on the edge of their seats in the new stadium. I’ve seen hundreds of practices on the All-Star road trip, and I can tell you this is not always the case. The Dolphins weren’t worried about teachable moments. Instead, they wanted to get out there and play football.

The Dolphins kept the pace fast, but we were able to see some great football because of it. I liked the energy from the staff as they guided players through the team and individual drills on the practice field.


First-Round Look

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones already had buzz about being a potential first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Some may feel that Jones is more of a second-round selection, but I believe all that talk should be quieted after Tuesday’s practice. The quarterback talent at the Senior Bowl this year is not great, as most of the top quarterbacks entering the 2021 NFL Draft are underclassmen. However, Jones showed that he was not only the best in Mobile but belongs in the conversation of the top-five quarterbacks to come into the NFL this year.

Jones is a traditional pocket passer and will not threaten a defense with his legs. Instead, he just shreds a defense with quick decisions and pass placement that gives his receivers the best chance to do something with the ball after the catch. Many wondered if Jones had great production at Alabama due to the incredible talent around him. That obviously helped him in college, but Jones was making big plays with receivers from other teams on Tuesday – guys he has never thrown to. He’s got the looks of a first-round pick and may be climbing draft boards if he continues to put together a strong performance at the Senior Bowl.


Checking Boxes

Some players at these All-Star games don’t surprise observers but merely back up what they showed on film. That’s the way I’d describe the day one performance of Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert. I’ve written about him before for The Fan, and I’m happy to write tonight how much he impressed his first day in Mobile.

Herbert is a big play waiting to happen. Anytime he touches the ball, he can make an explosive play happen as a runner or receiver on offense – and even a return man on special teams. When there was a big play for the National Team on Tuesday, it was most likely Herbert who was responsible. There’s no live tackling in practice, so it’s a bit difficult to gauge what running backs do, but I saw enough of Herbert on film – making plays for both Virginia Tech and Kansas – to know that what he looked like on tape is the exact type of player he is in person. Others may have been surprised by Herbert, but I was merely checking boxes of what I’d already seen.


Captain Michigan

Chris Evans did a great job in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Captain America. Chris Evans also does a great job as a running back for the Michigan Wolverines. They’re two different people, obviously, but it was fun to note how Michigan’s Evans helped carry his team in practice on Tuesday.

Evans is a big back, and he runs with a lot of power. He immediately showed good burst in team drills, and I liked the forward lean and intent as a runner he had in short-yardage situations. It’s important for running backs to show well in one of my favorite drills during practice – backs on backers. It’s a pass-protection drill that will separate the men from the boys. Evans showed that he was solid when protecting his quarterback. His “want to” is where it needs to be, even though I believe his technique can be better. Look for that to be coached up to him in the NFL.


Wildcats Version of a Wolfe

I remember a few years ago at the Shrine Game when FAU defensive end Trey Hendrickson reminded me of former Broncos player Derek Wolfe. Hendrickson is now a Pro Bowl-caliber player, a key member of the Saints defense and has developed into the type of pro I thought he could be. Well, at Tuesday’s practice, I got those Hendrickson/Wolfe vibes when watching Kansas State defensive end Wyatt Hubert.

He was one of those players I wasn’t going into practice with an intent to watch. He made me watch him and admire his game because of his play. Hubert was a disruptive player in college for the Wildcats, and he had no problem showing off against the nation’s best seniors.

He is quick off the snap, powerful with his first punch and has counter moves to execute when his first move is stunted. There were plays where Hubert got pressure on the quarterback (and not the sack) where he came away frustrated. I love that attitude because it highlights how great he wants to be. Even a good play is not good enough. This kid has a high motor and will pursue the quarterback until the echo of the whistle.