FAIRHOPE, Ala. – Mike Shanahan in Redskins gear. I saw it for approximately 90 minutes on the practice field here Monday, and even though it’s been two years since Shanahan took the Redskins’ coaching job and over three since he last glowered on the Broncos’ sideline, it’s still jarring to witness it.
Since Shanahan ran the practice, the rhythm and tempo felt familiar, although there wasn’t much time devoted to team and seven-on-seven work, given that it was the first day of practice for the South team. Expect that to change when the players don full pads Tuesday.
Until then, here’s a few players that caught my eye:
- DE QUINTON COPLES, NORTH CAROLINA: The best player on the field for the South team — and quite possibly the best on either side here. Coples displayed a nice array of moves, a superior burst around the edge and was at times unblockable in one-on-one drills. He looked like a top-10 pick Monday.
- QB RYAN LINDLEY, SAN DIEGO STATE: He knows his weakness well: footwork, which he discussed with me after practice. That’s the first step. If he improves in that area, his accuracy and consistency will improve. Lindley is like many players seen here in past Senior Bowls in that their week will be defined not by how well they play, but how much they improve in some key areas. If he’s more accurate with intermediate and deep passes by Wednesday, then we’ll have our answer, and his stock could rise.
- QB BRANDON WEEDEN, OKLAHOMA STATE: If you had to start one of the South team quarterbacks right away, Weeden would be the guy; he’s the most pro-ready out there (good thing, too, since he turns 29 in October. He was accurate and calm, displayed good command, didn’t telegraph his passes and looked comfortable under center, even though nearly his entire career was spent in the shotgun. If you didn’t know about his age, you’d emerge from Monday thinking he was a first-rounder. Of course, it’s only one day.
- QB NICK FOLES, ARIZONA: The second quarterback up for the South team in drills (Weeden was first and Lindley was third), Foles had trouble on out passes, including a pair of consecutive tosses that saw one misfire and an interception by Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Bill Bentley (who, it must be said, displayed a feisty aggressiveness throughout the day that caught my eye). Foles looked better when he was throwing down the middle of the field.
- WR DWIGHT JONES, NORTH CAROLINA: The prominence of the Tar Heels on hand here begs a question asked many times over the years: why don’t they win more games in Chapel Hill? Jones uses his 226-pound frame effectively; when Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin tried to juke him at the line of scrimmage during a one-on-one drill, Jones shoved him back so easily, it seemed almost casual. What was surprising was how much separation Jones managed to get downfield, although his most effective range was 10 to 15 yards.
- TE LADARIUS GREEN, LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE: The Ragin’ Cajun looked smoother than I expected, displaying nice body control to help him grab some tough-to-reach passes. The 6-foot-6, 237-pounder has deceptive speed; you watch him move off the line of scrimmage and shrug, and then look upfield and see that he’s got separation — not that he needed it given his ability to make catches in traffic Monday.
- DT BRANDON THOMPSON, CLEMSON: The more I watch him, the more he looks like a fit for the Broncos — both in skill set and Denver’s No. 25 first-round position. He was active and disruptive, occasionally drawing the attention of two blockers during a team period.
- CB JANORIS JENKINS, NORTH ALABAMA: Physically, the former Florida Gators All-SEC pick looks the part and plays it as well; he had the smoothest change of direction among the South team’s cornerbacks and was the only one who could physically grapple with the South’s two big wide receivers — Texas A&M’s Jeff Fuller (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) and North Carolina’s Dwight Jones (6-foot-3, 226 pounds). He got beaten more than he would have liked, but all in all, Jenkins appeared to pick up where he left off when he was dismissed from Florida for charges related to marijuana possession.
- THE SOUTH TEAM’S RUNNING BACKS weren’t anything to note Monday. The two best backs in the game are on the North team: Washington’s Chris Polk and Boise State’s Doug Martin. From those who were at the North team session at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Monday, both were apparently as advertised.