Day 1 of practices are in the books in Mobile, Alabama, and the Senior Bowl is well underway.
The Detroit Lions hosted a practice on a chilly afternoon, and it was our first glance at some small-school players against NFL-caliber, high-potential athletes in a controlled practice environment and all the other talented players vying for a higher spot on April's draft board.
Detroit's practice wasn't fast-paced or rife with content, but it did give us enough one-on-one matchups to measure these players against each other and come back with some big takeaways.
I focused on the North’s defensive unit and highlighted eight prospects I thought did their job and more Tuesday.
Best player: Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma
Neville Gallimore is just that player. He's clearly on a different plateau in terms of the explosiveness and power in his lower half compared to the rest of the pass rushers. He took Nick Harris for a walk during one-on-ones and it wasn't even exposing a poor rep from Harris; Harris just couldn't do much but stay in his way for as long as possible.
Gallimore only got handled once during the day but continued to demonstrate penetration ability as a true one-gap player during 11s which is an interesting part of his evaluation. He had to slant a lot in his senior season at Oklahoma and could benefit from a more traditional gap-shooting role in an even front for a lucky NFL squad.
Flash reps: Jason Strowbridge, UNC
I’ve watched Jason Strowbridge appreciated the slipperiness of his film, but I never expected a performance like the one we got Tuesday. Strowbridge won from the 1 technique, 3 technique, and 5 technique all at 267 pounds — a weight that illustrates just how peculiarly he rests between the prototypes of most defensive linemen positions.
Strowbridge's mass is not prohibitive to winning play on the outside where he was able to knife inside with a quick inside move for the win. He went to the inside and waxed Hakeem Adeniji with an outside rush which showed his quickness and bend to finish deep in the pocket. Strowbridge isn't a clean fit, but skill is a skill and he's an interesting player because of how tough it is to land hands on him. Keep an eye on him for the next couple of days.
Best player: Josh Uche, Michigan
Josh Uche might have been one of the best players on the field for Day 1. He dominated tight ends in pass protection drills then hopped over to the offensive line/defensive line one-on-one drills and whopped on a couple of tackles as well. He beat UConn’s Matt Peart with speed to power on the right and slipped him with a hesitation outside rush on the left — and Peart didn't lose too many other rushers for the remainder of the day.
Uche was taking zone drops, covering in man and getting after the passer. He and the flashy player below did everything at a really high level — it was excellent to see. Sometimes the versatile players can get lost in the shuffle of practice notes because they don't spend too much time at any one place; that's not the case with Uche. He's shining.
Flash reps: Zack Baun, Wisconsin
I could have flipped Zack Baun and Uche, or just made a second "best player." But I gave the nod to Uche because he's a better mover on zone drops, and accordingly has more of that linebacker/EDGE versatility, whereas Baun — who told me before the session he was going to be a 4-3 WILL for the majority of practices — doesn't have the same fluidity and bend.
Baun should be a primary pass-rusher, in my eyes, but he's being tasked with a lot this week and still doing exceptionally well regardless. He nearly had a pick on 11s by reading Anthony Gordon's eyes and sinking underneath a shallow crosser. Baun won on an inside spin on offensive line one-on-ones; he blew up tight ends during pass protection drills. There's very little he can't do.
Best player: Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame
We came into the week very concerned with the state of the cornerback room, as a few top players had dropped out over the last several weeks. Tony Pride Jr. is far from a top player. He's grabby when he loses at the line of scrimmage and doesn't have a good awareness of the ball in the air.
But the athletic potential has always been there, and he was competitive and confident on Day 1. It was illustrated in some dominant reps. Pride is a sticky player who gets up into player’s kitchens early and stays there for a while, forcing them into multiple efforts of redirection and releases to get outside of his reach. Nobody disrupted more route timing in the one-on-one drills than Pride. He has the early lead out of the gate.
Flash reps: Michael Ojemudia, Iowa
I would describe Michael Ojemudia's day as boom-or-bust but with a little bit more boom than bust; enough, at least, that I'm excited to see what he looks like in Day 2 and Day 3. He should settle into the responsibilities and techniques of a new coaching staff. Ojemudia is long (32 1/8" arms) and nimble at the line of scrimmage. He is regularly able to win as a redirect player and had solid pass breakups on one-on-one reps as a result.
But Ojemudia also got burned at times with some hesitant technique and generally underconfident play. It would be nice to see him take to a more physical brand of football against bigger wide receivers during the subsequent practices to prove he can win as an outside corner despite his average size.
Best player: Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
Chinn was a dominant player at Southern Illinois given the degree to which he physically outclassed his opponents. He won from single-high as often as he did from a linebacker role with size, speed and closing burst. In Mobile, the Lions' coaching staff is continuing to allow Chinn to win in a range of ways. He took reps at single-high and as a cover cornerback in one-on-one situations on the outside.
And he won — a lot. Chinn's cover technique isn't great in man, but he relied on his physical tools and never panicked. He played decently well in the trail and with the ball in the air. Corner isn't likely his NFL future — he's just too big to be sufficiently shifty — but proving he has man cover skills cements his value as a move safety.
Flash reps: Jalen Elliott, Notre Dame
With Ashtyn Davis sidelined and Terrell Burgess evidently playing primarily outside corner on the opening day of practices (don't ask me why), the safety room is a little thin outside of Chinn. Jalen Elliott and teammate Alohi Gilman are likely the two best remaining safeties, though neither overwhelmed during coverage reps Tuesday. Elliott, however, had a better weigh-in and has more versatility on the back end, while Gilman is exclusively a box player at the next level.
Elliott has some fans in the league and was one of the earlier additions to the Senior Bowl roster because of the esteem he's gained around the league. I prefer Chinn to Elliott at this stage, but it's understandable why Elliott is likable, even if safeties generally have quiet days on the practice field.