The 2010 Under Armour Senior Bowl goes down Jan. 30 in Mobile, Ala., but countless draft hopefuls and NFL scouts have already converged on the city's Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
In a scene more reminiscent of happy hour at a singles bar, seniors from schools around the nation spent Monday and Tuesday performing an array of drills under the cutting and discerning glare of NFL coaches, evaluators, and front-office personnel, who stood ready with their pencils and, more importantly, their opinions.
Tuesday was the second of four practice sessions during the week (Friday will consist of a walkthrough for the North and South squads), and a pair of names familiar to Missouri Tiger fans didn't exactly receive rave reviews.
(Note: ESPN.com's Senior Bowl practice updates may require Insider access.)
Along with defensive tackle Jaron Baston, who played in last weekend's East-West Shrine Game, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and receiver Danario Alexander are MU's leading candidates to score a spot in April's NFL Draft—and each was on display.
I'll attempt to make this as short and as sweet as possible, because a majority of what has been written about Weatherspoon and Alexander in regards to Tuesday's practice didn't come as much of a surprise, especially if you were gracious enough to glance over my piece last week that broke down the whole list of Missouri's draft-eligible players.
Scout Inc.'s Todd McShay, Steve Muench, and Kevin Weidl had this to say about Weatherspoon, who seems to have taken a small step back after staging an impressive showing in one-on-one drills on Monday:
Despite being nominated as an All-Big 12 performer each of his final three seasons at Missouri, there have been widespread concerns about Weatherspoon's ability to cover opponents in space, especially players downfield, and he apparently did nothing on Tuesday to quell those concerns.
Also, that whole "false step" comment aptly describes another of Weatherspoon's weaknesses. Scouts seem to have little confidence in the linebacker's ability to react well to misdirection, which may ultimately be a perfect indication of his lack of top-end speed.
Taking into account his potential and noticeable upside, Weatherspoon figures to be one of the first five or six linebackers taken off the board on draft day, which will probably put him somewhere in the late second round or early third.
However, with fellow linebackers Eric Norwood from South Carolina and Rod Muckelroy from Texas—each of whom are rated lower—garnering slightly more favorable reviews thus far in Mobile, Weatherspoon will need to bring it during the remainder of the week to reassert himself as one of the nation's top three or four linebackers.
Fresh off a season in which he lead the nation in receiving yards, Danario Alexander has been dissected thus far in Senior Bowl practices for the weaknesses that never had the chance to surface during his senior year at Missouri.
The centerpiece of the Tigers' spread attack, Alexander has few rivals athletically, but evaluators have had much to say over the past few days about his lack of physicality, particularly off the snap.
At 6'5" and 220 pounds or so, Alexander has the build to take on defensive backs, but Missouri faces very few teams that are capable of playing press coverage, resulting in its receivers often getting the luxury of enjoying a free release off the line of scrimmage.
In its review of Tuesday's practice, the aforementioned trio at Scouts Inc. had the following to say about Alexander, whom they categorized as having a "bad day" (again, ESPN.com Insider access required):
Alexander looked a bit stiff even considering his size, and we have concerns about his lack of separation skills. He looked heavy-footed on Day 2 and was slow getting off the line against press coverage, and he struggled to transition out of his breaks because he has to gear down and drop his weight so much. He also showed inconsistent hands, dropping balls and lacking the body control to make catches outside his frame.
This assessment may come as a surprise to many, especially those who saw Missouri play this past season. The victim of chronic knee injuries throughout his career, Alexander showed a surprising ability to run away from defenders, and his hands were seldom an issue, regardless of where the ball was thrown.
As I alluded to before, Alexander's inability to separate from press coverage was to be expected, but his trouble with drops is alarming, particularly when you consider he has a frame that enables him to effectively shield defenders from the ball.
The consensus thus far during Senior Bowl practices seems to be that Alexander, who in 2009 set the MU single-season record for receiving yards, has been one of the more unimpressive players from the North team, and Wednesday's practice session only reaffirmed that idea.
It's unlikely a few shaky practices will severely impact the draft status of Alexander, who is ranked by Scouts Inc. as the No. 14 receiver available. Plus, he could completely redeem himself with a stellar performance on Saturday.
With a little extra weight and some NFL schooling, Alexander could become a serviceable NFL receiver, but he'll have to prove his current skillset can be enhanced with the physical style of play that defines the game at the next level.
I stated before that Alexander is a third or fourth round pick, and I am sticking to that assessment. He currently has many of the tools NFL offensive minds crave and, if nothing else, would make for a fine target in the red zone.
However, you can't help but wonder whether his suspect play in Mobile, when coupled with his injury history, is causing NFL teams to think twice about drafting the player who essentially was the most dangerous receiver in college football in 2009.
Photo credit: Nick King/Columbia Daily Tribune