It was a chilly day in Mobile when the players took the field for the first practice of the week.
Here is what I saw.
First up was the South squad. Unfortunately, news dropped at the beginning of the day, that Brandon Aiyuk failed his medical exam so won’t be participating this week. Word is that it was a non-serious calf issue, so he’ll be fine, but I was bummed that we didn’t get to watch him this week.
For the majority of the South practice, I stood near the big uglies to watch the offensive linemen on blocking drills, and the trench battles between OL and DL.
Right off the bat, Lloyd Cushenberry stuck out for his technique and his movement skills.
The Bengals staff had the linemen working zone blocking drills to start off the period. It was clear he was comfortable in a zone scheme, and he showed off his fluid movements on the various zone blocks they drilled. In particular Cushenberry got kudos from the staff for a good left hand on a reach block to the right. All the reach drills, Cushenberry looked really good.
When the Dline came over for 1-on-1s, Cushenberry showed great ability to get low, reset when bull-rushed, and was stout handling power. I have multiple notes of good reps from the LSU center, and he got a “good stuff” from the Oline coach who wasn’t super inclined to handing out praise.
I had a chance to chat with Cushenberry at the media day before practice. I asked him about his role in the offense, and how much responsibility he had within LSU’s system. He said essentially everything started with him.
He would make all the line calls, and set the protection, with Joe Burrow having the ability to change it if he saw something like a safety rotating late, etc. But for the most part, he has been the guy running the show on the offensive line for his collegiate career. He said he definitely feels like that experience has set him up well for the next level, and it’s clear that experience translates on the field as he looks to me like one of the best offensive lineman here.
When I asked about which schemes he is most comfortable, he said they ran a lot of wide zone at LSU and he’s very comfortable with getting to the second level and cutting guys off, but this year they ran more inside zone and power concepts as well, so he feels comfortable going into any scheme and fitting in.
He was one of the highlights of the day for me.
Other quick offensive line notes:
#77 Alex Taylor, OT from South Carolina State, is tall and long! The biggest challenge for him is going to be staying low. I like his hands and movement skills though. He made my notes for getting kudos on footwork in a pass set. His long arms are such an asset. He is definitely more comfortable in the passing game. At 6’8” height, 36 1/8 inch-long arms, and an 88-inch wingspan, he swallows pass rushers up at right tackle, but looked a little awkward getting out in space in the run game.
Logan Stenberg, the guard from Kentucky is a guy I was interested in seeing today, but I was a bit disappointed. His movement skills are definitely a weak area, and he was beat a few times in pass protection. He warmed up more as the practices went on, winning one pass rush rep pretty decisively, and getting a compliment from the coach on his pass set.
One guy who wasn’t on my radar, but really stuck out to me was Ishmeal Keith, center for San Diego State. He is a little undersized, but has good movement skills, and was pretty stout in the 1-on-1s. Made my notes several times for a good cutoff block in the run game, and had a few good pass blocking reps.
They shifted him to guard on one of the last reps, and he was beat pretty bad to the outside. He likely needs to stay at pivot at the next level, but has some potential.
On the defensive line side, Javon Kinlaw was absolutely as advertised. He was explosive off the ball, and destroyed the first 1-on-1 block he stepped up to.
oh my god, javon kinlaw pic.twitter.com/O5K389DdOd— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) January 21, 2020
What was impressive about Kinlaw is that he didn’t just win with athleticism or get off, he showed a good long arm move, and showed the ability to win with power as well as speed.
He was dominant in nearly every rep. I am excited to watch him the rest of the week and see if this continues.
A few other Dlinemen that stood out to me were Auburn’s edge guy, Marlon Davidson and Terrell Lewis from Alabama. Davidson is a guy who Daniel Jeremiah has going in the first round in his first mock draft.
Tomorrow, I hope to catch more of the WR/DB drills on the South team, as there was a lot of buzz around corner Darnay Holmes for the day that he had.
For the North crew, I shifted gears and focused on the WR/DB drills, and I’m glad I did, because I was able to see KJ Hill’s master performance today.
From the opening press drills, Hill looked impressive as he showed good footwork and quickness to get off the press. He made my notes a few times in that drill alone for how smoothly he came off the line and beat the press.
Once the routes started, Hill turned it on even more and showed off his route running prowess. At about the 3rd play like the one below, I just wrote down in my notes, “KJ Hill is killing folks out here.”
There was maybe one or two average reps I saw from Hill, but the rest of them, he was absolutely dominant.
KJ Hill is a true route salesman. He’s able to drop his hips and decelerate in an instant and create an easy throwing window pic.twitter.com/S9fLEAFJ75— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 21, 2020
Adam Trautman, the athletic tight end from Dayton looks smooth on routes, and I think could have a big week.
Quartney Davis, receiver from A&M is quick. Had a really nice route in the 1-on-1 period and looked good in 7-on-7s.
Denzel Mims from Baylor had a great deep comeback route and good catch. He made my notes a few times for good catches downfield. He’s not a burner, but he subtly gets separation.
On the defensive side, both the Notre Dame DBs, Alohi Gilman and Troy Pride had some good reps. Gilman had two great coverages and got a pass breakup on a crossing route. He also showed good recognition and pursuit to break on a flat route in 7-on-7s. He’s a versatile guy you can move around in the box or in the nickel.
Speaking of versatility, Terrell Burgess from Utah is another versatile DB who I want to see more of. He looked pretty good today, and played deep, in the box, and at nickel. According to him, the coaches will likely play him at all three of those slots throughout the week.
Michael Ojemudia, DB from Iowa had a nice PBU in 7-on-7s, as did Jalen Elliot.
I quickly glanced over at team drills long enough to see left tackle, Josh Jones with a good rep, and Neville Gallimore looked quick and disruptive on a running play. According to some that watched the North trench drills, Gallimore had a good day.
#Broncos fans in the 'Let's take a LB early' camp --— Sayre Bedinger (@SayreBedinger) January 21, 2020
Watch Zack Baun this week (Wisconsin) and be amazed by the versatility he has.
Lastly, Zack Baun is a guy Sayre Bedinger called out to me, so I kept an eye out for him, and was impressed by what I saw. It’s hard for a linebacker to really show out in some of these drills, but he looked decisive coming down hill in run support in team periods. If they were tackling, it would have been blown up for a TFL. He also looked pretty good in a few coverage reps in team period. I’ll definitely keep an eye on him tomorrow.
Overall, my big winners for today were Lloyd Cushenberry, Javon Kinlaw, and KJ Hill.
See you back here tomorrow for more Senior Bowl coverage!