The atmosphere was truly electric and the play of the players was maybe just as important as the 2010 Senior Bowl was played in front of a sell-out crowd in Mobile, Alabama yesterday.
So to recap the winners and losers in the game with an admitted slant toward the Southern players which I know better, read on.
As soon as Tim Tebow announced his decision to play, ticket sales spiked and the sell-out was completed in mere hours. He was the first player to hit the field for warm up and the last to be introduced. His was also the loudest ovation from the crowd. It was clear, this is who the majority came to see.
His fame and popularity didn't do much for his play however and he looked like an over-matched high school senior lost in the speed of play as he fumbled twice, stumbled around in four running plays for a net yardage of one yard per carry and threw for the lowest total on the South's squad, only 50 yards, going 8-12 with the long being only 11 yards. His completions were plink and dink screens for the most part.
Yes, he was suffering from strep throat, but now his draft position may be suffering too. He may have gone from a late first rounder to a second with this performance.
Other losers on the day from the South were Dexter McCluster, who ran the ball 3 times for a negative net total. Speaking of McCluster, I have to give a loser mark to the Miami coaching staff who put McCluster in the primary kick returning role too. He did nothing with that opportunity.
When they put Javier Arenas in that role finally, after all, he was the leading SEC kick and punt returner, he took a punt back almost to the house, only to be called back for a holding call far away from the play. What may have been if they had let the star returner return all day?
Ben Tate had one good run for 12 yards, but looked sluggish in his other attempts. In fact, none of the South's running backs had a good day and that signals that the linemen didn't have good a day either.
They gave up three sacks as well three quarterback hurries making the Southern offense line the loser for the day. Ciron Black a tackle from LSU that needed a good showing to overcome an iffy season was victimized at will and his draft stock may have fallen through the floor.
Though USC's Taylor Mays had a pick and may have helped his stock, as a unit the southern defensive backs had a bad day. Alabama star Javier Arenas was burned on a long TD pass.
Overall the Southern defensive line was good, but Terrence Cody showed up bigger and slower and despite a tackle for a loss that also caused a fumble, he looked sluggish and proved that he may not be a consistent player in the NFL. He dropped by a round or two with this showing.
Losers for the North seemed to be in shorter supply as the scoreboard would indicate.
Quarterback Sean Canfield's two for four passing day with one interception and two sacks may not have helped his cause very much. He looked sluggish and he didn't have good footwork or mechanics on this day at all. Nebraska's Larry Asante was badly victimized by Alabama's Colin Peek for the South's only touchdown and except for one sack, didn't have a day that helped his cause either.
Other than that, the North held up pretty well and kept the mostly SEC attending crowd quiet throughout the day. This big win snapped a two game winning streak by the South and showed the SEC and the South as a whole they may not be as dominant as they'd like to think.
A lot of players may have helped and hurt themselves to come out even for the day, such as Dexter McCluster, who overall didn't help himself with his kickoff or running plays, but had a couple of nice dump pass receptions he turned into first downs. Many others were in this boat, like Javier Arenas also from the South.
Of the people who looked good, starting with the South, since their list is shorter, Colin Peek stepped up with a great game despite being sick for much of the week and missing most of practice. He demonstrated great routes, soft hands and smashing blocking ability. He may have jumped a round along with Tulane's receiver Jeremy Williams who made some great catches all day to lead the South and also win an outstanding player award.
I had a chance to interview Peek who told me about his illness and how weak he was during the game. It sure didin't show in his play. He said he got the breath knocked out of him on the touchdown catch but seemed to be able to get open at will on pass plays. He was pleased overall with his game, but said he wished he had felt better. For the opposing players who faced him, they should be glad he didn't.
Andre Roberts from the little Citadel may have been a bottom end pick in the draft, but with some solid work all week and a couple of athletic catches in the game he may have gotten him up to a third or forth round pick. He certainly got noticed.
And Zac Robinson was clearly the best quarterback the South had on it's roster. He made both short and long throws and seemed elusive under pressure and Leigh Tiffin showed scouts why Alabama may have won a national championship by being perfect with his field goals.
On defense, Georgia sent a pair of tackles that had everyone wondering why Georgia didn't fare better this year. Jeff Owens and Gino Atkins looked great and physically whipped opponents all week in practice and had great games too. For the undersized Atkins, this proved to scouts that he is indeed big enough for the NFL and his stock went way up with this showing.
But the Southern defensive star of the game was middle linebacker Jamar Chaney from little heard from Mississippi State who not only impressed scouts all week, but won the defensive player of the game with his eight tackles. This should bolster his draft stock.
The North, who had most of the offensive highlights, had several players that stood out and stood up to be noticed. Starting with offense, the standouts were:
LeGarrette Blount, who I interviewed after the game, was thankful to be invited and worked hard all week to impress the scouts that he was not a hothead and could be a good and respectful player as well as a force to be reckoned with. He did that with bulling runs and a great work ethic.
Cincinatti's Mady Gilyard also shined as the North's top receiver with over a hundred yards. He made good grabs and always seemed to have separation even when not thrown to. He improved his stock and also won the Offensive MVP award.
Quarterback Dan LeFevor from little Central Michigan certainly bolstered his name recognition this week with a solid week of practice and a great game that earned him an outstanding player award. He led the North quarterbacks going 5-10 for 97 yards and one great over the shoulder bomb for a touchdown. His stock went up greatly.
Bret Swinson was perfect on his only field goal attempt and did nothing to hurt his reputation.
On defense, first among them was Brandon Graham, Michigan's defensive end, who not only was named MVP, but showed the scouts all week that the South may have the fastest linemen as a whole, but the best of the best is from up North. He may have moved himself up if that was even possible.
Sean Weatherspoon a linebacker from Missouri turned in a great game and his five tackles including one for a loss, his great interception and a nice pass breakup put him in the running for defensive MVP and certainly got a lot of notice from the scouts. His stock went up more than it was.
Koa Missi is certainly not a household name, as a linebacker from Utah he hasn't gotten the notice that other players have gotten, but he was certainly noticed by scouts this week and during the game with his play. Tied for most tackles with six including one for loss and forcing a fumble showed scouts that he can take it to the next level with the best of them. He may have improved his draft by a round with this play.
Following the game the scene was utter chaos for reporters hoping to get a lot good interviews and sound bites. There was no formal media room for interviews and reporters had to muscle against the fans that also swarmed the field to get autographs and pictures.
It was very hard to get any order out of chaos but it was fun to see the fans and players enjoying one another, players from different teams posing for pictures together and exchanging hugs and smiles with one another and with fans.
This game was unlike anything else I've covered, it was casual, fun for fans and nice to see fans with all different team jackets on tailgating and having fun with one another. The fans thoroughly enjoyed getting access to the players and for the players, it was a nice chance to say goodbye to many of their fans.
The majority of the fans may not have liked the results, but the event is something to behold.
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