MOBILE, Ala. — With Reese’s Senior Bowl practices getting underway on Tuesday, 100-plus prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft are in the midst of a crucial job interview. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein and Chase Goodbread provide a look at standouts from Day 1, as well as news and notes from the day’s events.
Tune in for one-hour Senior Bowl practice recap shows Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET and Thursday at 11 p.m. ET on NFL Network, and don’t miss exclusive coverage of the Senior Bowl game at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.
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Five stars from Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice
Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
After transferring from Georgia to Florida State prior to the 2021 season, Johnson made an immediate impact as a run defender, but it was obvious that he was still developing as a pass rusher. In Tuesday’s practice, Johnson clearly showed that he has been putting in work on his pass rush during his preparation for the Senior Bowl. He attacked with a rip-and-run move, a bull rush, an inside spin move and even the always challenging outside spin move. Johnson’s spins were fluid and fast, and they looked translatable to the next level. I had a first-round grade on Johnson entering this week, and with more flashes like the ones we saw on Tuesday, I certainly won’t be alone in that projection. He made money on Tuesday.
Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia
Tindall’s toughness and recognition talent was obvious when I studied his tape prior to this week. On Tuesday, what really stood out was the quickness with which he processed and reacted to what he saw during the team scrimmage portion of practice. Tindall was noticeably quicker than the linebackers playing next to him when it came to reading and reacting to the action. He showed a good response versus play-action and stepped downhill into his run fits on run plays.
Zion Johnson, interior OL, Boston College
Johnson was one of the most buzzworthy offensive linemen of the day for the National team, which is being coached by the New York Jets’ staff. While he’s a little on the short side for the offensive line (6-foot-2), he has long arms and a very impressive, muscular build that translated into the power we witnessed in practice. Johnson’s heavy hands were on full display in pass protection, as he neutralized some of the stronger pass rushers. He played with good hand placement and very good lower-body bend to anchor down.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
The quarterback play on Tuesday wasn’t overwhelming by any stretch, but there were flash throws by some of the passers during practice. Willis stood out thanks to a couple of plays he had to make on the move, which felt like the type of plays we would see in games. During the scrimmage session, he scrambled right and whipped a sidearm dime to San Diego State TE Daniel Bellinger in space. On another rep, Willis escaped the pass rush and beat pursuing defenders around the corner for a gain before running out of bounds. His accuracy needs to take a step forward this week, but that often happens for quarterbacks after they get a practice under their belt.
Kingsley Enagbare, DE, South Carolina
On tape, Enagbare is powerful and will take advantage of tackles who don’t play with technique or strength. He did exactly the same thing on Tuesday. His game is predicated on physicality. Using a long-arm bull rush, he found victims to exploit in one-on-one drills. He also showed his ability to stack blockers and shut down the B-gap during inside-run drills.
— Lance Zierlein
Five Senior Bowl takeaways from Tuesday
1) Coaching tips pay off. Lions assistant head coach/running backs Duce Staley apparently didn’t see enough of the aforementioned Jermaine Johnson in one-on-one pass rush drills in the late afternoon practice on Tuesday, so he asked for a little more at the end of the day.
And Staley, who is the acting head coach of the American squad this week, got quite an eyeful.
Johnson, hand-picked by Staley for three reps against Kentucky offensive lineman Darian Kinnard to close out practice, positively mauled Kinnard on his first rep.
“That was a speed to power,” Johnson said of his approach for the rep. “I got his hips turned and I put his ass on the ground.”
Kinnard came back to win a rep of his own against Johnson, absorbing a spin move and anchoring to beat Johnson’s final attempt, but onlooking players went wild over Johnson’s initial win, and a gaggle of scouts and coaches were certainly left with the impression Johnson wanted.
Johnson was impressive throughout Tuesday’s practice, but the performance required a bit of an attitude adjustment early on.
“My first rep wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t take to the coaching at first and I went out there with my own plan,” Johnson said. “Then I said, ‘You know what? Let me take coach’s point.’ And then practice went good ever since.”
That coach was Lions assistant Kelvin Sheppard, who is working with the American team pass rushers this week. The former LSU star and eight-year NFL veteran, chosen by the Buffalo Bills in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, struck an obvious chord with players with energetic, impassioned instruction on Tuesday. He was in every player’s ear during individual drills, never short for a pointer between reps.
“He used to play the (pro) game, so we linked immediately,” Johnson said. “I’ve taken to him. I’m taking what he says seriously and I’m trying to apply it.”
2) Playing at home. The Senior Bowl experience means a lot to many players, but perhaps none more than Roger McCreary. The Auburn cornerback, NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s No. 45 prospect in the draft, grew up in Mobile and attended, by his estimation, four or five Senior Bowls as a kid. He used to hang around the tunnel at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the event’s former venue, and catch gloves or towels that players would toss into the stands as they walked off the practice field.
“I lived here my whole life. I lived five minutes from the stadium,” he said on Tuesday. “I used to brag on all the stuff I’d get off the players, and now I’m playing in it myself — it’s hard to believe,” McCreary said.
McCreary said he was pleased with his first day of practice, but is convinced he’ll be better as the week moves forward and the excitement of playing in his hometown all-star game settles in.
3) Pickett leaving fake slide behind. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett’s fake slide in the ACC Championship Game — so creative, it begat a response from the NCAA — won’t be part of his repertoire in the NFL.
“No, no more of that,” Pickett said Tuesday after the National team practice.
Pickett broke a 58-yard touchdown against Wake Forest in the Panthers’ ACC title game victory, faking a slide along the way to dupe would-be tacklers. In the wake of Pickett’s gutsy move, NCAA coordinator of officials Steve Shaw issued a memo stating that any future attempts at duplication should result in officials blowing the play dead at the spot of the fake.
4) Rough reps for Faalele. Minnesota OT Daniel Faalele, the biggest player at the Senior Bowl at 6-foot-8, 387 pounds, struggled with a speedy pass rusher in Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders in pass rush drills. He looked somewhat more comfortable in team drills, but scouts will be looking for improvement on Wednesday as they ascertain whether the massive former Big Ten star has potential at offensive tackle in the NFL, or if his future is at guard.
5) Extra points. Oregon DB Verone McKinley has been added to the National team roster and will begin practice on Wednesday. … Per Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, Fayetteville State CB Josh Williams logged the fastest GPS-tracked time of the National team’s Tuesday practice at 21.75 mph.
— Chase Goodbread
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