As the NFL season moves toward the ultimate party, the Super Bowl, the focus for many of the teams is what is required to get to the next level. A big part of the NFL off-season is for each of the 32 NFL teams to uncover those gems to take their respective teams to the next level. The first step in this process is the annual Senior Bowl held each year in Mobile, Alabama.
After two straight losses, the North Squad overpowered the South Squad, by the score of 31-13. The main back story leading into this game was the performance of the heralded and former Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow of the Florida Gators. Other stories would include which player or players would shake up the draft order with their play this week. The squads were coached by Jim Schwartz and his Detroit Lions staff (North squad), and Tony Sparano and his Miami Dolphins staff (South squad).
Since winning the Heisman trophy and National Championship as a freshman (2007) and another National Championship in 2009, the expectations have been high for Tebow heading to the NFL. Many have questioned his mechanics and ability to lead an NFL style offense. No one can question his heart or work ethic. However, heart does not make a successful NFL quarterback.
Tim Tebow struggled all week in practice, especially with his mechanics and pocket awareness. He opened the game completing his first pass for 11 yards, and that proved to be his longest pass of the game. He finished 8-12 for 50 yards and fumbled twice. His drives led to a total of 3 points. Certainly, this was not a promising start to his NFL career.
The former Heisman trophy winner was not the only NFL hopeful on the field. This game was dominated by the North from beginning to end, with most of the action happening at the line of scrimmage. Led by Eric Olsen and Mike Lupati, the offensive line provided the running and passing lanes for the group of Quarterbacks leading the North offense. Collectively, the North generated over 460 yards. Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati accounted for 179 all-purpose yards and one touchdown.
Also impressive on offense was the play of QB Dan LeFevour of Central Michigan. He led the North to two second half scores, scoring one TD and passing for another. LeFevour had good command of the offense and showed leadership in moving the ball down the field.
The real story of the game however was the play of the North defense. Led by Brandon Graham (Michigan), Sean Witherspoon (Missouri) and Daryl Washington (TCU) they were able to force a total of 6 turnovers. Brandon Graham had 2 sacks and 3 tackles for a loss and was constantly in the face of the South Quarterbacks. Sean Witherspoon was as effective in pass coverage and stopping the run. Witherspoon was also dominant on Special Teams. Daryl Washington was effective recording 4 solo tackles.
All the effort of Brandon Graham, which also included a forced fumble, resulted in him winning the MVP award. That was his stated mission heading into the Senior Bowl. During a sideline interview during the game, he stated it was his goal to come in and win the MVP. His play on Saturday may have pushed him into the first round, where he is projected to be a DE or Outside Linebacker.
The Senior Bowl is only the beginning of the pre-draft events. Next stop for many of these athletes, including the underclassmen leaving college early, is the NFL Combine. The Combine is an invite only event, where players get to show off the ability in essentially a skills competition. The Combine, along with individual pro-days attended by NFL scouts; represent the final chance prior to the draft, for these players to establish their potential value.
The first step has been taken by these young men. The drama will continue for the Tebow-watchers. However, those who love football should keep an eye on many of the other youngsters like Graham, Weatherspoon, Hilyard and others.