by Rams Nation's Barry Waller
Scout always say publicly that a bad all-star game won't seriously hurt a player's rating off a long college career, but still, one has to feel that a bad impression will linger on into late April when teams hope to find their future stars.
For sure a top small college player can seriously benefit from games such as the Senior Bowl, showing they belong with the "big boys" on the field and everywhere else. For a few lesser known players from even lesser known schools, the game was a real blessing, and it also gave a couple high profile players off less than career season's a chance to remind scouts that they are among the elite college players eligible to be drafted.
The player probably helping his stock the most in the game was Penn State defensive end Mike Haynes, who ended up with a couple sacks and a couple forced fumbles for his days work. Haynes is a bit smallish at 6'3, 277 pounds, but he dominated his opponent all game long and solidified his stock as a late first, early second round talent. He definitely outplayed Miami's Jerome McDougle, who turned out to be much smaller than he was listed in the Senior Bowl weigh in, all week and in the game.
It could be that Haynes was helped a tad by the poor talent at offensive tackle evident in the game. It is a bad year for tackles, and when the two best, Jordan Gross of Utah and junior Kwame Harris out of Stanford are not in the game, one would expect the defensive ends to do well.
The game was not totally devoid of good blocking though, and a trio of North squad offensive linemen were fairly dominant. Two of those players, 6'6 292 pound Eric Steinbach of Iowa and center Al Johnson of Wisconsin were very well known and drew tons of attention from scouts this week. Steinbach played a lot at left tackle in the game and was absolutely spectacular. Steinbach is a former tight end that blossomed into a star his senior season, and he looks like a clone of Saints Pro-Bowler Kyle Turley with his aggressive style, athletic ability and versatility.
The Rams have said that they don't favor taking offensive linemen early, which is why they passed on Turley in 1998, but some team will be getting a real stud in Steinbach with a first rounder. Showing so well at tackle with almost no preparation will cause Steinbach to zoom up the draft boards this week.
Johnson proved that he is exactly what NFL passing oriented teams would want in a pivot man, as he displayed great technique and footwork all week and in the game, as well as the size at 6'4 295, with the strength to move defenders out of the way consistently.
The third great performance in the game came from a lineman who was hardly a blip on the radar screen coming in, but Seth Wand, a 6'6 315 pounder out of Northwest Missouri State, proved to be a real talent all week and especially in the game, playing much of the game at left tackle for the North and completely dominating his man on every play.
The Rams won't have to go far to work this big kid out, and he may be the Adam Timmerman of this draft, a guy from nowhere that has what it takes to be a Pro Bowl offensive lineman in the NFL. Of all the unknowns that made impressive impressions in the game, Wand was numero uno, especially the way he proved to be vastly better than some guys who some draftniks penciled in as round one talents.
If anyone who saw the Senior Bowl can still say they feel Illinois right tackle Tony Pashos, Florida State tackle Brett Williams or FSU guard Montrae Holland, or short slow stocky Hawaii guard Vince Manuwai are anything but second day picks, they must not have been watching the line play Saturday. Others such as guard Torrin Tucker of Southern Miss., Tackle Ben Johnson of Wisconsin, Al's brother, Georgia's huge RT George Foster, and Iowa center Bruce Nelson were OK, but nothing special in the game.
The biggest play in the contest came from Notre Dame cornerback Shane Walton, who took a, intercepted Chris Simms pass 99 yards for score that ended any doubt about the eventual winner. Walton is a three-year starter in South Bend, a 5'9 ¾, 187-pound playmaking corner who is very good at reading routes, which is what he did on his big play. With good times in the forty at the combine or private workouts, Walton could really make a move despite his lack of size.
Small college athlete Rashean Mathis has really been popular with scouts, who can't ignore the great college stats the 6' ½" 190 pounder garnered at Bethune-Cookman. During the week and in the game, Mathis more than held his position in the top five at cornerback in the draft.
Other highly rated corners such as Oklahoma's Andre Woolfolk, and Drayton Florence out of Tuskegee, probably dropped a bit during the week, with Woolfolk now predicted to be a late first rounder, as opposed to a top ten pick. He worked out quite a bit at safety all week as well, which may indicate that's the position pro coaches envision the Sooner ex-receiver playing.
Eugene Wilson of Illinois and Marcus Trufant of Washington State did little to distinguish themselves as top picks this week, and Kansas State's Terrence Newman, who was not in Mobile, remains the only blue chip corner in the 2003 draft.
Another player who really played well in the game was Hawaii OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, who at 6', 219 pounds, may have to make a move to strong safety, just like Adam Archuleta did after being drafted. Pisa showed some great instincts in traffic during the game and could be a nice addition to the Rams, although that could be a nightmare for Rams PA announcer Jim Holder, who is still inventing ways to say Manumaleuna week to week, none close to accurate pronunciations for the Rams tight end, and at least Brandon has a simple first name.
None of the other linebackers in the game really stood out, even Pittsburgh's highly touted Gerald Hayes, who Mel Kiper likes, but a guy who showed up 2 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than advertised. LSU's Brady James was a non-factor after a poor practice week getting off blocks in practice. The top two linebackers in the draft, MLBs E.J. Henderson or Maryland, and junior Terry Pierce of Kansas State were not on the Senior Bowl roster, nor was Tommy Polley-like Boss Bailey of Georgia, possibly the top OLB.
The scouts said all week that Florida wide-out Taylor Jacobs looked like the best WR prospect at the game, but he was unable to play in the game due to injury. None of the other receivers really stood out in the game, as Central Florida's Doug Gabriel passed the "eyeball test", but dropped too many passes in the game.
Other than Haynes, the best defensive lineman was probably Kevin Williams of Oklahoma State, who has added weight without losing quickness since the season ended, and the ex-Cowboy was impressive all week in practice and looks like a first round pick this April.
Another Penn Stater, Anthony Adams, overshadowed all season by Haynes and probable top five pick Jimmy Kennedy, who was not at the game, also helped his stock with a strong performance, but his 5'11 inch height will keep him in the second day of the draft.
It's difficult for quarterbacks and running backs to shine in All-Star games with unfamiliar and ever changing blockers and simple schemes, and only Texas Tech passer Kliff Kingsbury really hurt himself with a poor week of practice and bad game.
At running back, former Nittany Lion Larry Johnson had a solid game and should still be the top back selected on draft day late in round one. Colorado State's Cecil Sapp scored a TD and played well overall in the game, and USC's Justin Fargas also helped himself with a good week of practice, showing great speed. Kentucky's Artrose Pinner, who burst on the scene with over 1400 yards in 2002 after moving from Fullback, sprained an ankle during the game and did not return. Too-skinny Georgia wide-out Terrence Edwards also was injured early in the game and ended his day at that point.
The Hula Bowl next weekend will give Rams fans their next chance to look at some of the guys they may want to become Rams in 2003, followed by the eagerly awaited combine numbers.