Senior Bowl practice report, Day 1
Clemson QB Cullen Harper got off to fast start, in terms of poise and arm strength
UConn's Darius Butler has moved up to the top of the cornerback class
Graham Harrell, Pat White and Rey Maualuga were some first-day disappointments
The 2009 Senior Bowl kicked off in earnest Monday morning, as 104 players weighed in for NFL scouts and then participated in practice. Several high-profile players are taking part in this year's event -- one of the most important weeks of scouting leading up to April's NFL Draft. And a number of those well-known names started the week slowly. Here are the players who helped themselves during the Senior Bowl's first day and those who did not fare as well:
BJ Raji/DT/Boston College: The Eagles' massive interior lineman was almost unblockable throughout the day in the North's practice. Raji displayed a very quick first step off the snap, which gave offensive linemen fits. He made it harder on his opponents by swatting blockers to the ground as they were left wondering how he got by them so easily.
Shawn Nelson/TE/Southern Mississippi: Nelson looked formidable during weigh-ins this morning, then took his athletic frame onto the field and impressed scouts. He's fluid moving around the field and fast -- very fast. Nelson was constantly beating opponents in the secondary and made a number of good plays in the secondary.
Cullen Harper/QB/Clemson: The Tigers quarterback was much maligned during the season and at one point was benched for poor play. On Monday, he showed the reason why scouts were so high on him coming into the season. Harper displayed poise, threw with accuracy and made good decisions in the pocket. He tossed several nice deep passes, connecting with USC's Patrick Turner for a long gainer of 40 yards in one instance.
Darius Butler/CB/Connecticut: Butler stood head and shoulders above all other cornerbacks from the North squad in Day 1. The former Husky was very smooth in coverage and used his athleticism and size to deny opponents a chance at the ball. None of the North wide receivers was able to shake Butler throughout the entire practice.
Rashad Jennings/RB/Liberty: Jennings is the top small school player in Mobile this week and proved as much in Day 1. His 234-pound frame looked impressive this morning during weigh-ins, then Jennings looked athletic and fast on the field at practice. He has a burst through the hole and looks frighteningly powerful running in the open field. Jennings also caught the ball well and stood out in blocking drills.
Mike Thomas/WR/Arizona: Scouts compare Thomas to All-Pro Steve Smith in style and the Arizona senior was one of the top receivers on the field on Monday. He ran crisp pass routes and had cornerbacks twisting in the wind in their attempt to stay with him on the field. Thomas also displayed solid hand and natural pass catching skills. His size (5-foot-8) will discourage teams from using an early selection on Thomas, but he proved today he can play with the best.
Ashlee Palmer/LB/Mississippi: Palmer was a bit of a surprise invitation to the Senior Bowl yet proved Monday he is worthy of a spot in the event. Palmer practiced with a lot of explosion, quickness and strength. He also aggressively chased the action and worked hard in every single aspect.
Rey Maualuga/LB/USC: Maualuga looked rusty today, both physically and mentally. He's not in the best of shape and was very hesitant to make decisions on the field. Maualuga seemed to get his bearings as the day proceeded, but his play was not reminiscent of a potential top-five pick.
Pat White/QB/West Virginia: Scouts wanted to give White a chance to prove he can play quarterback at the next level, but the early returns have not been positive. White struggled throwing the ball. White was not accurate, could not drive deep passes even though he was throwing with the wind; and at this point, he looks like a college signal caller who may be better off at a different position in the NFL.
Graham Harrell/QB/Texas Tech: Harrell displayed good mechanics in Day 1 lining up under center after taking most of his snaps in college out of the shotgun. He was also relatively accurate. The problem for Harrell is poor arm strength as his passes had relatively no zip and he was unable to drive deep passes.
William Moore/S/Missouri: Moore has been labeled as a run defending safety with poor coverage skills and did nothing to shake that reputation on Monday. He struggled moving laterally and at one point was left lying on the ground after attempting to cover a receiver from the North squad.
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