MOBILE, Ala. – There was talk of potential rain in Mobile today, but so far it’s sunny as the North squad begins stretches at Ladd-Peebles stadium. (Hope I didn’t just jinx us).
Since both sides will practice today, North side first, and the bleachers are littered with various NFL team apparel. Coaches, scouts and GMs from practically every team are here today.
Check back periodically for observations throughout the day.The North added two players this morning, Ohio State wideout Dane Sanzenbacher and Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman. There the two players not wearing numbers on their uniforms.
Sanzenbacher is making up for lost time, doing a nice job of catching passes during individual work. Right now wideouts are running routes on air (against no defense). This is key for timing as the unfamiliar teammates begin to learn each other’s tendencies.
Overall, nice session for North receivers. Didn’t see a single drop during the period.
Pleasantries are over, it’s competition time. All over the field groups are engaging in one-one-one blocking drills. Tempo is definitely up. BC linebacker Mark Herzlich beats Nebraska RB Roy Helu Jr. On edge rush as whistle blows for next period, which is group.
WR-DB one-one-ones taking place. Good competition taking shape, both sides are making plays. Boise State wideout Austin Pettis catches deep ball, North Carolina DB Kendric Burney breaks up deep out to Pettis a few plays later.
Also, forgot to mention it’s full pads today. During 9-on-7 work on opposite end of the field, Nebraska TE Mike McNeil just put on a devastating kick-out block which knocked off the helmet of an opposing player.
Moments later, Nebraska DB Eric Hagg intercepts Colin Kaepernick’s deep ball some 40 yards down the field. Not an easy catch, but probably the play of the day so far, because of Hagg’s ability to locate the ball and make a play on it.
Equipement update: both newcomers now have jerseys with numbers, Sanzenbacher is No. 8, Sherman is No. 7 for North side.
Defense is getting best of the offense in the first team period. Virginia Tech DB Rashad Carmichael broke up a deep out and Purdue DL Ryan Kerrigan stopped Helu Jr. in the backfield.
After a brief special teams period, it’s 7-on-7 work on one end, 9-on-7 on the other.
Burney continues to have a strong day, he just picked off Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi. Nice reaching catch to his left by the Tar Heel DB.
Washington QB Jake Locker is having a solid day so far too, he just completed several passes during 7-on-7 period. Last completion received several “Nice ball Jake,” comments from Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff.
Kaepernick having his moments as well, just fired deep crossing route to San Diego State WR Vincent Brown in between three North defenders. Great concentration by Brown to catch it in traffic, and a nice throw by the Nevada QB in such a tight window.
It’s not only plays being made in passing game, strong running from Oklahoma RB Demarco Murray displayed on a toss play to his left. Next play, Cal DL Cameron Jordan made his way to the backfield for sack of Stanzi.
We caught up with several players after practice, including Sanzenbacher. Here’s a transcript of the conversation:
Q: What’s been your experience in the past 24 hours being a late addition to the game?
A: I think I walked in the door at 1:30 in the morning or something like that. I was in Columbus, trucking through the snow on my way to class when I got a call at five o’clock last night asking me if I could come. I said, “Alright.” I couldn’t pass it up.
Q: What do you want to show here in Mobile this week?
A: One, my main goal is to prove myself, prove that I deserved to be here in the first place. And two is be memorable, because that’s kind of the point of this whole thing. It’s one thing to be here, but if you’re just going to blend in, what’s the point? So, do something people will remember.
Q: For you personally, how did playing at Ohio State help prepare you to play in the NFL?
A: It’s similar, but the first thing is trying to pick up this new offense, all the new terms and everything. It’s similar to a point, but it could be called something different. It’s a little different trying to make that click, but I got some time here.
Q: Have you received your playbook yet?
A: I was handed a playbook an hour ago I think. I’ll have to get to that tonight.
Q: What’s the competition been like?
A: It’s awesome. Any chance you get to work against the top competition in the country, you can’t pass that up. Every rep feels like it’s very important because they’re good players.
1: 45 PM Update
It’s South practice time and with three Alabama players on the roster, there’s an even bigger turnout of local fans. QB Greg McElroy is the closest player to Tim Tebow in terms of attention from the fans.
Speaking of big, the South linemen, both offensively and defensively are massive.
Interesting note, Buffalo Bills coaching staff runs the South team. Currently, each position group stretches together, instead of entire team at once. (Just an observation).
I’m standing over by the RB individual drills watching West Virginia’s Noel Devine (who I profiled on 49ers.com this morning). Other than Devine (5-foot-7, 160 lbs.), the South RBs have a lot to offer. Tulsa RB Charles Clay stands 6-foot-3, weighing 239 lbs. and Georgia Tech RB Chas Henry is 6-foot-3, 223 lbs. himself. As I said earlier, a lot of size on South squad.
McElroy is joined by Florida State QB Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton of TCU as South QBs. Trio all threw well in opening drills, now working on footwork drills while other groups work on special teams.
First team period just started, Dalton took first reps, now it’s McElroy’s turn. Henry just took a handoff, ran through the middle and showed nice burst while getting to second level for a nice gain. Next play, McElroy hits college teammate TE Preston Dial in the right flat, Texas A&M LB Von Miller had solid coverage. McElroy again completes one, this time its a 20-yard deep dig route to Miami WR Leonard Hankerson, who did a nice job of coming back to the ball.
Defense ended team period with nice pass breakup. Florida S Ahmad Black broke up Ponder’s go route to Arkansas TE D.J. Williams.
Nice applause as local product, South Alabma wideout Courtney Smith used every bit of his 6-foot-4 frame to catch deep ball over two defenders down the sideline.
Pass rushing one-on-ones are taking place with a lot of eyes on that end of the field. Just as soon as I watched Arizona DE Brooks Reed use a speed move, Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker made a one-handed grab while being sandwiched between two South defensive backs in a 7-on-7 drill. Several “Ooohs” broke out from the crowd, luckily a friendly local explained to me what the commotion was all about.
The locals really know and love their football, that adds to the uniqueness of the event.
Two lighter moments, someone sitting in the bleachers just was hit in the shoulder by a made field goal during special teams period. On the other end, Hawaii WR Greg Salas lost a shoe while running a quick out and was unable to make the catch.
Ponder leads off final team period by stepping up in the pocket and throwing corner route to Williams, who was covered well by Black.
Devine does nice job setting up his blockers on his way to (likely) touchdown grab after catching a Dalton screen pass.
McElroy throws a touchdown of his own, a 40-yarder to Salas, who got open down the left sideline.
Black, once again, got the best of Ponder. This time he broke up a rollout throw to Dial down the left sideline. Clemson safety Marcus Gilchrist let Black know his appreciation from the other side of the field.
Practice just wrapped up, we’ll post more interviews, photos and videos when we get back to the hotel.
But for now, here’s a snippet from McElroy’s post practice interview:
Q: There’s a pretty interesting dynamic with you, Andy (Dalton) and Christian (Ponder) all growing up close to each other, is there a little rivalry between the three of you?
A: Not at all. I played both Andy and Christian in high school. Christian was in our district. We’ve known each other for years. We have a great relationship. We see each other off and on. He lives 10 minutes from my house, so we see each other quite a bit. Andy, he and I did the camp circuit, trying to get recruited, trying to be seen, doing everything we possibly could to get on the radar of college scouts. We have a real similar background in that aspect and we also met in the State championship game my senior year. I have a lot of respect for both those guys; they’re good friends of mine. Yeah, they’re my teammates this week and we’re going to be competing against each other in practice, but we’re also encouraging each other. We all respect what each other has done to get to where we’re at. It’s really a special storyline and I’m looking forward to cheering those guys on through the rest of the process.
Q: Isn’t it funny how it’s come full circle from the high school days?
A: It’s fun having three guys who grew up in similar situations, who maybe weren’t the highest recruited guys coming out of high school, but have risen to the top of our respective class at this point. I’m just really proud and honored to share the moment with those guys. I think we’ve had a really experience up to this point and I think we’ll try to improve again tomorrow.
Q: How have you done with learning the playbook?
A: I think the terminology has been a little difficult, because you’re so used to saying one thing. When I’ve been describing my offense to teams in meetings, I’d say what we would call it (at Alabama). They’re trying to explain it and I’m trying to explain it in the Bills terminology. It’s just a different thought process. Translating it in your mind is like learning a new language. It just takes time and Rosetta stone, unfortunately they don’t have that for playbooks.
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