Why the Senior Bowl Matters

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2014

Jan 20, 2014; Fairhope, AL, USA; South Squad running back Antonio Andrews of Western Kentucky (5) carries the ball against South Squad safety Craig Loston of LSU (6) during practice at Fairhope Municipal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Every day is an interview during the NFL draft process.

And down at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., that includes every rep, every drill and every one-on-one situation—with the entire league watching.

Just take a look at the head coaches sitting in the crowd, the pro scouts lining the fence or the general managers who will walk the sidelines during practice.

Maybe you see Jets head coach Rex Ryan about 10 rows up in the stands at the 30-yard line, Packers general manager Ted Thompson focusing on defensive backs going through drills or even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones watching every completed pass and every dropped ball.

There is nowhere to hide for these prospects on the practice field at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile—and that’s exactly what the NFL wants.

Some will produce, and some will be exposed.

These draft hopefuls don’t have the comforts of their own facilities back on campus or their teammates, coaches, trainers, etc. This is real now. No more scholarships or guaranteed starting jobs.

Nah. Not in Mobile.

Every prospect is essentially thrown into a high-stress environment created by the league. An environment that asks players to compete—and win—in adverse situations versus some of the best senior talent in the country.

You think those young players were a little nervous this week when they took the field on Monday for the first time or put their hand in the ground for one-on-one pass rush while waiting (anxiously) for the snap of the ball?

Heck yeah they were.

And that’s normal—or even expected—on the Senior Bowl stage. But the league wants to see who can respond under that stress, that pressure and produce with the film rolling.

Jan 20, 2014; Fairhope, AL, USA; South Squad defensive tackle Will Sutton of Arizona State (90) and South Squad offensive guard Wesley Johnson of Vanderbilt (66) battle during lineman drills at the south squad practice at Fairhope Municipal Stadium. Manda
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

When I started the draft process coming out of the University of Iowa back in 2000, there was no Senior Bowl invite in the mail. Instead, I received a plane ticket to Maui for the Hula Bowl to practice by the beach.

Hey, I didn’t complain. 

A step down in class compared to the exposure (and competition) provided by the Senior Bowl but an opportunity nonetheless to showcase something, heck anything, in front of some pro scouts. And I was nervous when I took the field for the first time. 

Press-man versus a receiver? Well, you see, I didn’t play much press-man at Iowa.

Too bad, kid. You’re playing it today.

OK. Thanks.

Was I perfect on those grass practice fields in Maui lined by palm tress? Nope. Not even close.

Sure, I made a couple of plays here and there. But I also got my butt beat more than once by good football players.

All part of the drill, really.

You’re not going to win every rep at an all-star game. That’s just not going to happen. But can you respond, adjust your technique and come back to make a play the next rep, the next drill or the next team session?

Because that’s exactly what the NFL wants to find out.

I’ll be honest, after the actual game on Saturday in Maui, I was gassed, finished, exhausted. That entire week wore me down mentally. And I couldn’t wait to get back on the plane for the trip to Los Angeles and then over to Phoenix.

I had started my combine training in Arizona at Athletes Performance Institute and finished up back in Iowa City with Hawkeyes strength coach Chris Doyle. 

I rolled into Phoenix at about six in the morning on Sunday, slept almost the entire day and was back on the field for speed training on Monday.

Take a day to rest, and then start working again to prep for the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill, etc.

MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 29:Opening ceremonies during  the Under Armour Senior Bowl on January 29, 2011 at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for Under Armour)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The draft process is ridiculously long, and it’s just starting for these players in Mobile. They have gone through the week of practice under the NFL spotlight and will wrap this thing up on Saturday during the ballgame.

That's just the first step with the combine and multiple pro days looming in the distance.

The grind will continue on Monday morning in the weight room and on the grass as these guys prep for the next stage, the next opportunity to build that NFL resume.

However, what these players showed this week in Mobile carries some weight when those final grades are put on the table come draft weekend in May.


Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.