MOBILE, Ala. -- I got a chance to see three South team practices in advance of Saturday's Under Armour Senior Bowl and talk with the Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, who is in charge of this group of athletes.
There was no doubt that the Wednesday practice was the best of the three days for the South team with a game-like tempo and intense hitting. I felt like I got a good feel for a number of the players. Here are seven guys that jumped out at me.
Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee
Williams has lined up next to big Terrence Cody all week and it is clear he moves better than Cody. Williams can be a three-down player, and that gives him more draft value than Cody. Williams reminded me of B.J. Raji, a star of the 2009 Senior Bowl and a first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers. Williams can penetrate in a one-gap call and hold up well in a two-gap call. He is on his way to being a first-round pick and helped himself by working at the all-star practices.
Terrence Cody, NT, Alabama
Cody is a 3-4 nose tackle candidate that has had a lukewarm week. I asked one GM in search of a nose tackle for his 3-4 defense if Cody reminded him of Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork. He was quick to note that Cody didn't have the range side-to-side and down the line of scrimmage, his arms aren't as long, and he was strictly a two-down player -- whereas Wilfork could play all three downs coming out of college. Cody needed to have a dominating week to be a late first-round selection, but he was just okay. His weight management will be an issue throughout his career, and we all know of guys that ate themselves out of the league.
On the other hand, another personnel director in search of a nose tackle was quick to point out these types of guys are hard to find and Cody was an upgrade from what they had on their roster. Cody will play in the NFL next year and he can stay as a veteran like Grady Jackson if he takes care of himself and gets down to 340 pounds.
Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Mississippi
People who are hung up on measurables worry about his slight build, but his football performance on the field this week suggests he is a big-time gamebreaker. He's been the fastest player on the field all week and he makes plays. What was interesting to me was his ability to drop his shoulder and deliver a blow. He easily is a second-round pick for the team that sees him as a punt returner, slot receiver and occasional running back.
At Wednesday's practice, he caught a pass on a route out of the backfield and looked like a young Brian Westbrook. The Percy Harvin package that the Vikings run perfect for McCluster and I saw some DeSean Jackson traits in the passing game as well. Warrick Dunn was 180 pounds entering the NFL and he lasted a long time as a running back. This kid in a spread attack for a dome team can be a terror.
Mike Johnson, OG, Alabama
Looking for the technique-perfect offensive lineman ready to step in at guard and function? Johnson is your man. He doesn't appear to play a nasty brand of football, but he rarely makes a mistake and he grades out well. He didn't appear like a finisher that decleats tackles, drops blitzing linebackers and destroys defensive backs when he pulls. But he's a solid player who fits the profile of a second-round lineman who plays early and often but never wows you.
Myron Rolle, S, Florida State
A lot has been written about Rolle, the Rhodes Scholar who aspires to be a doctor. That is not exactly the typical career path for a hard-hitting safety. Rolle was out of football this year while studying overseas, but he proved he belonged here. He showed little rust and a chiseled body. He looked a lot smoother than people expected in transition from backpedal to close and in his turn-and-run ability.
Any team in search of a safety has to like what they saw of Rolle in Mobile. As one head coach said to me, "I don't think there will be a problem with adjustments on the back end if Myron is back there."
Anthony McCoy, TE, USC
The tight end group at the Senior Bowl looked average at best until McCoy started to impress by the middle of the week. He can block in line, get vertical in the passing game and he demonstrated some decent hands. New Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said his former pupil "will make a solid pro." I can think of eight to 10 teams that will study McCoy very closely and the Senior Bowl tapes aren't going to hurt him.
Jeff Byers, OC/OG, USC
As soon as I got to Mobile, I ran into a draftnik who told me it was a bad year for centers. I checked that out with a team's scouting director and he also thought it was lean. Byars plays guard as well as center, but in a class like this, his best value may be at center. He is one competitive guy and he likes to play to the whistle. Granted, he was on the ground on a few occasions, but the guys he was up against were on the ground more. He reminds me of Shaun O'Hara from the Giants because of his tenacious style of play. Between Byers and Matt Tennant, the Boston College center on the North team, things don't look that bad at the position.