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Senior Bowl 2023: Day 1 practice recap

The first day of Senior Bowl practices was hot and sunny and featured a number of standout performances, including OT Dawand Jones, DT Keeanu Benton, EDGE Will McDonald IV, WR Tank Dell, and many more. Read on for our takeaways from Day 1.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The first practice of the 2023 Senior Bowl is officially in the books. The complete opposite of last year, it was bright, sunny, and very hot. My car was reading in the 80s. As a result, many media members—including myself—were quite sunburned by the time practice wrapped up. This year’s first two practice sessions definitely featured more 1-on-1 and team sessions than last year’s. That was very beneficial and appreciated by the scouts in attendance.

Check out my immediate takeaways from practice on The Falcoholic Live:

Read on for my biggest takeaways from the first day of practices in Mobile. You can also check my Twitter timeline for the rest of my recorded practice clips.

National practice

For the National practice, I spent the majority of the day focused on the offensive and defensive line drills and the team sessions. The National centers really struggled with snapping the football, and the coaching staff had to spend the first 10-15 minutes of practice getting it sorted out.

Overall, the defensive line seemed to bully the offensive line outside of a few notable exceptions (listed below). Read on for my more detailed notes.

Offensive line

  • Ohio State OT Dawand Jones was the biggest winner from Day 1, with a dominant performance against pretty much everyone—including Isaiah Foskey. He measured in with a Senior Bowl-record wingspan at 6’8, 375 and moves a lot better than you’d expect. Jones was already a fringe first-rounder, but could cement himself in the top-20 if he keeps this up.
  • Maryland OT Jaelyn Duncan was another standout, showing off his athleticism at over 6’5, 296. He performed well in the 1-on-1s and in the team periods.
  • North Dakota State OL Cody Mauch started off at tackle before moving inside to guard for the majority of the practice. While he was fine at tackle, he immediately looked more dominant on the inside. Mauch’s arm length is well below NFL thresholds for tackle, but his early success at guard is very encouraging.

Defensive line

  • The biggest winner on the defensive line was Wisconsin DT Keeanu Benton. He was a name I had circled coming into the week, but he was better than expected in 1-on-1s and as a pass rusher. He gave everyone he lined up against fits and made a number of plays in the team sessions.
  • Notre Dame EDGE Isaiah Foskey absolutely looked the part of a first-rounder, finding success against everyone not named Dawand Jones.
  • Georgia Tech DL Keion White was one of the more disruptive players on Tuesday and was moved around the formation constantly by the coaching staff. He’ll likely need a multiple role to thrive in the NFL, so this performance is good for his projection.
  • Clemson EDGE KJ Henry showed off his power and bull rushing abilities, making a number of impact plays as a pass rusher and run defender.

Wide receivers and tight ends

  • While the quarterbacks struggled, one receiver clearly stood out above the others: BYU’s Puka Nacua. His big catch radius and reliable hands helped cover up mistakes by the passers, and he looked explosive and fluid as an athlete.
  • The other standout receiver was Cincinnati’s Tre Tucker, who showed off good hands and looked like an explosive mover. He also boosted his stock by coming in at nearly 5’9, 190 after some had him listed in the 175 range.
  • The tight ends were up and down, partially due to the QB play, but the best receiver was undoubtedly Cincinnati’s Josh Whyle. After measuring in at over 6’6, 260, Whyle still looked like an above-average athlete and showed off some good hands and blocking chops.
  • The best blocking tight end was Purdue’s Payne Durham, who stonewalled a number of edge rushers in 1-on-1s. He wasn’t much of a threat as a receiver, but his blocking stood out.

Other notable players

  • I didn’t watch much of the defensive backs during the national practice, but the two that stood out were Stanford cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly and Cal safety Daniel Scott. Kelly was always sticky in coverage on the reps that I caught, and Scott notched a pick and always seemed to be around the ball.
  • The one linebacker I noticed again and again was Cincinnati’s Ivan Pace Jr.. He clocked in as one of the fastest defenders and looked explosive and physical. Coming in at just 5’10, 231 will undoubtedly hurt his appeal to some teams, but Pace Jr. looks the part on the field.
  • Two running backs caught my eye during the practice: Roschon Johnson from Texas and Chase Brown from Illinois. Johnson did everything well, including ripping off several big runs during team sessions, and looked absolutely jacked. Brown hit a big play and was impressive as a receiver.

American practice

Unlike the National practice, for the American practice I focused primarily on the skill positions: mainly, the 1-on-1s between the receivers and defensive backs and the team sessions. While the American receivers won the majority of the reps, it’s worth noting that this receiver group is absolutely stacked.

I did see some of the offensive and defensive lines during team drills, and these looked much more evenly-matched than the National team. Read on for my detailed notes.

Offensive line

  • While I focused mostly on the skill position guys from this group, one offensive lineman clearly stood out: Minnesota center John Michael Schmitz. I’ve been high on Schmitz, but he went a long way towards proving himself as the best center in the class with his play on Tuesday. He was commanding in the huddle and handled himself well in both pass protection and run blocking. Notably, there were very few snap issues on the National team after watching the American team struggle with them throughout practice.
  • Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence looked and played absolutely massive, and was very difficult to move off his spot in 1-on-1s.
  • Two tackles stood out from my limited viewing: Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron and Tennessee’s Darnell Wright. Both looked rock solid in 1-on-1s and generally held their own throughout practice.

Defensive line

While the American offensive line played better as a whole than the National one, there were still a number of really impressive plays by the defensive line.

  • Iowa State EDGE Will McDonald IV was all over the place on Tuesday, wreaking havoc and even breaking up passes in zone coverage. He’s one of the biggest winners from Day 1 and someone I’ll have to look into more.
  • It was expected, but Auburn EDGE Derick Hall definitely looked like the most consistently dominant edge rusher throughout practice. You can tell why he’s a projected first-rounder.
  • TCU EDGE Dylan Horton had a sack during the team session and generally looked disruptive throughout practice.
  • Oklahoma DT Jalen Redmond was constantly finding his way into the backfield and making plays. A good weigh-in at over 6’2, 293 (he was listed at 275) also makes his projection to a full-time interior player much easier.

Wide receivers

  • The biggest winner, relative to expectations, was Houston’s Nathaniel “Tank” Dell. While his weigh-in will raise red flags for evaluators (5’8, 163), there’s no denying how unstoppable Dell was in 1-on-1s and in team sessions. He’s extremely quick and agile, and has terrific hands.
  • SMU’s Rashee Rice looked like the best overall receiver on Tuesday. While he measured in slightly smaller than expected at just over 6’0, 200, Rice showed off smooth route-running, explosiveness, long speed, and excellent hands downfield (despite some errant passes from the QBs).
  • Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson looked very polished today, with good routes and physicality at the catch point. He doesn’t have outstanding deep speed, but his skillset as a possession receiver was on display with the QBs struggling.
  • Virginia’s Don’tayvion Wicks and Princeton’s Andrei Iosivas also had their fair share of impressive plays during Tuesday’s practice.

Defensive backs

  • I was most impressed by Kansas State cornerback Julius Brents, who looked like a smooth athlete and played smothering coverage with his 6’3, 202 frame. He did get beat a handful of times by this receiver group, but won more than his fair share of reps.
  • Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson was probably the most consistent of the DBs from the American team, playing everyone tough and rarely giving up much ground in coverage.
  • The safeties were relatively quiet today, but Alabama’s Demarcco Hellams did have an impressive interception.

Other notable players

  • Tulane running back Tyjae Spears was the star of the show whenever he was on the field. His weigh-in at over 5’9, 204 will also help his stock.
  • Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh was injured early during the team session and was down on the field for a time. We’ll see if there’s an update on his status on Wednesday.

That’s all for today’s recap! On Wednesday, I’ll flip the script and focus more on the skill positions for the National team and the OL/DL of the American team. Stay tuned for another practice recap tomorrow and be sure to check my Twitter for the latest practice clips @FalcoholicKevin.