Senior Bowl Notebook: Pitt's Peterman, Vols' Dobbs Lead a Surprising QB Class

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 25, 2017

Pittsburgh quarterback Nate Peterman practices for Saturday's Senior Bowl college football game in Mobile, Ala., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

MOBILE, Ala. — Disclaimer: No quarterback prospect will be called "this year's Dak Prescott" during the making of this Senior Bowl notebook.

It's a tempting hook for a story, but several of the most dedicated draftniks here swore an oath, in barbecue sauce in lieu of blood, not to do the "Next Prescott" thing.

It's not just a lazy comparison but a meaningless one. Which Senior Bowl quarterback will impress an NFL team enough to earn a mid-round draft selection, take over for an injured veteran and find himself teamed with a superstar running back behind one of the best offensive lines in history? Hogwash. We might as well speculate about which prospect will win the Powerball.

Still, it's hard to resist the pull of comparing this year's mid-tier, unheralded prospects with the mid-tier, unheralded prospects of yesteryear, from Prescott to Derek Carr to Russell Wilson. Someone throwing passes in the cool Mobile sunshine this week is going to be playing on Sundays long after a few of this year's big-name quarterback prospects have flamed out.

Nate Peterman of Pitt has been the best quarterback on either squad throughout two days of Senior Bowl practices. Peterman has the size (6'2½", 225 pounds at Monday's weigh-in), arm strength, accuracy and mechanics to succeed, plus better-than-expected mobility when throwing on the run.

Peterman has made difficult throws consistently over the past two days. Wednesday's highlight was a strike on a deep sideline pass to tight end Jonnu Smith (Florida International). With a linebacker tightening Peterman's passing window, he delivered a pass only his receiver could reach.

When asked to list his quarterback role models, Peterman aimed high. "I've always been a big fan of Drew Brees when I was growing up," he said. "I like him and Aaron Rodgers, both for different aspects of their games.

"Drew is so detailed, so intense. His ball placement and anticipation are just great. And Aaron Rodgers: Everybody sees the athleticism and ability to extend the play. If I could combine those two things, it would be good."

If we aren't comparing Senior Bowl quarterbacks to Prescott, there is no way we are going to compare them to Brees and Rodgers. Peterman has a long way to go before he looks anything like his idols. He has spent two days proving that he belongs in the NFL, however.

Other quarterbacks are on different stages of the path to the NFL.

Antonio Pipkin flashed an air of confidence at the Senior Bowl Wednesday.
Antonio Pipkin flashed an air of confidence at the Senior Bowl Wednesday.Butch Dill/Associated Press

"Pipkin from Tiffin" sounds like a lost Lord of the Rings character. But Antonio Pipkin, from Division II Tiffin University in Ohio, is this year's intriguing tiny-college mystery candidate.

Pipkin has some magic to work to get himself on the draft radar. What scant game tape exists of him on the internet looks like it was filmed in the meadow behind the old schoolhouse. So far, Pipkin has been slow to diagnose defenses during seven-on-seven and full-squad drills and sometimes seems to be having trouble with terminology in the huddle.

Still, Pipkin has had his moments. South coach Hue Jackson (Browns) even let Pipkin execute a few plays out of his wacky "Chaos" formation, with offensive linemen lined up as wide receivers.

Pipkin may lack big-program experience, but not confidence. When asked what he offers an NFL team, Pipkin said, "Everything. Decision-making, being a leader on the field—the core values of being a quarterback. My ability on the field speaks for itself when you watch me play."

Pipkin is making the climb from a no-huddle Air Raid offense at a very low competition level, which may explain some problems in the huddle. But he does not look or sound like he is completely over his head.

"I'm very down to earth," he said. "It's not a big deal. Just relax, don't add any pressure, and by the end of the day, you're here for a job interview. And anybody getting a job interview is always being evaluated."

Most of the meaningful quarterback evaluation during Senior Week takes place far from the eyes of the hundreds of scouts, reporters and fans critiquing velocity and footwork from the bleachers. Senior Bowl heroes of the past like Wilson, Kirk Cousins and (yes) Prescott impressed coaches and executives during meetings and interviews with their maturity, understanding of the game and leadership skills.

That's why it's important to listen to the scuttlebutt leaking from the sequestered chambers of the team hotel, to listen to the players themselves and to take note of any hints that a quarterback might possess the elusive "it" factor.

Davis Webb of Cal, for instance, arrived two days early and organized a mini-passing camp with some local receivers. "I flew in from LAX. It was a long trip," he explained. "I didn't want to miss physicals or be late to stuff. I wanted to get here and be ready to go."

Webb transferred from Texas Tech to Cal to replace Jared Goff this past season. After Goff had trouble adjusting to the Rams' alleged NFL offense, Webb is trying to avoid two stigmas, the "late transfer" label and the dreaded "system guy" label.

Davis Webb made a good impression on coaches at the Senior Bowl by arriving two days early.
Davis Webb made a good impression on coaches at the Senior Bowl by arriving two days early.Butch Dill/Associated Press

"I can just control what I can do," Webb said. "And that's learning a brand-new NFL offense, showcasing my talents and showing that I can execute an NFL offense and I'm not labeled a 'system' guy."

Webb has looked poised when taking reps under center. He sets his feet well and throws fluidly. His signature play in Wednesday's practice was an elegant deep sideline throw to Texas A&M's Josh Reynolds, which glanced off the receiver's fingertips.

Webb noted that the concepts of Cal's Air Raid offense are not that different from what he is learning from Jackson and the South team coaches. It's the terminology that's challenging to a quarterback who led a no-huddle attack in college.

"I've done a pretty good job of going from read to read and understanding the protection," Webb said. "It's just the verbiage. Huddling up, actually saying it in the huddle, calling a snap count. Those things can all be done, though.

"I'll work harder than anybody in the country to learn the offense and execute it."

The most famous quarterback here may be Tennessee's Josh Dobbs, who had a knack for rallying the Volunteers to late comebacks in nationally televised games.

Dobbs is physically unimposing at a spindly 6'3¼" and 216 pounds. His velocity and accuracy were adequate but unspectacular Tuesday. He was more decisive Wednesday, delivering some sharp passes into traffic.

For a prospect with Dobbs' ordinary measurables, leadership becomes a major selling point. "Leadership is influence," he explained.

"You have to gain the trust of each and every person. They have to realize that it's genuine, that it's not coming from a fake place. Then their level of play rises with your level of play. You're able to motivate, push guys because you know them and you spent that quality time with them off the field."

Tennessee's Josh Dobbs said he was focused on gaining the trust of his teammates at the Senior Bowl.
Tennessee's Josh Dobbs said he was focused on gaining the trust of his teammates at the Senior Bowl.Butch Dill/Associated Press

For every Senior Bowl quarterback who talked, learned and led his way to NFL stardom, there are several others who impressed teams enough to elevate their draft stocks, only to fizzle when it came time to throw the ball. (EJ Manuel and Logan Thomas are examples of interview All-Stars who couldn't throw straight).

But again: If we are not going to bless anyone with Next Prescott status, we shouldn't curse them with a "Next Logan Thomas" label, either.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, who decided during last year's Senior Bowl week that Carson Wentz was worth staking the team's future on, explained the on-field/off-field duality of the quarterback evaluation process.

"It's the totality of circumstances," Roseman said. "You get to see guys live for the first time, sometimes seeing the ball come out of guy's hand, how they look from field level is different from watching them on film.

"Then there's the leadership ability, the intangible package, getting them in a room, getting to know them and getting them to recite their offense and their values."

Several quarterbacks have the potential to demonstrate the totality of circumstances this year. Just like Wentz and you-know-who did for the Eagles and Cowboys last year.

   

Catch of the Day

The tight ends put on yet another pass-catching clinic at South practice. Evan Engram (Ole Miss) snared a shoestring catch on an underthrown deep seam pass from Pipkin with two defenders closing in from either side.

Cooper Kupp showed an ability to adjust to a pass in flight during Wednesday's practice.
Cooper Kupp showed an ability to adjust to a pass in flight during Wednesday's practice.Butch Dill/Associated Press

Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington) has had a pair of impressive practices. When he failed to separate from Iowa cornerback Desmond King in a one-on-one drill, Iowa's C.J. Beathard (who has had a quietly efficient week) threw to Kupp's back shoulder. Kupp adjusted, shielded King from the ball and made a juggling catch while staying in bounds.

   

Stars of the Lineman Pit

• Illinois linebacker Carroll Phillips had another impressive day Wednesday, recording two would-be sacks in full-squad drills. Phillips is earning himself a lot of money with his combination of quickness, power and tenacity.

 Baylor center Kyle Fuller stymied multiple inside pass-rushers in one-on-one drills, anchoring and engulfing several of them without backpedaling an inch. At 6'4½" and 306 pounds, with thick thighs and glutes, Fuller has the size and body type to be a prototypical pass-blocking center.

   

Flags of the Day

San Diego State cornerback Damontae Kazee and Tennessee State's Ezra Robinson appeared to be in competition to see who could commit the most pass interference penalties during one-on-one drills. Kazee, in particular, looked quick enough in coverage to do the job without extracurriculars. (There were referees at the practice, so flags actually flew on Kazee and Robinson, early and often).

Receivers grew tired of it. Texas A&M's Reynolds threw Kazee to the ground before making one catch. Chad Williams from Grambling stiff-armed him to the facemask after a short reception. Finally, Williams got into a fracas at the end of full-squad practices. But instead of going after Kazee or Robinson, he mixed it up with Miami's Corn Elder, who had a quality, clean afternoon of practice.

Don't get into fights with your teammates, guys. And if you do, at least make sure you are fighting with the correct guys.

   

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier. 

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