MOBILE, Ala. -- I have been to 20 straight Senior Bowls, and the value of the practice week can't be underestimated. I always start my player evaluations with the guys that play with their hand on the ground: offensive and defensive linemen.
The Senior Bowl has a reputation for showcasing a number of quality linemen that can play in the NFL, and this year appears to be no different. There may not be a sure-fire left tackle that can start on opening day or an Aldon Smith-type pass rusher on either roster, but teams that do their homework will find a number of players that can contribute early in their professional careers.
Here's a quick look at the linemen from the North squad that made an impression on me after two solid practice sessions under the direction of the Minnesota Vikings' staff. The secret to the Senior Bowl is to forget preconceived notions about players and draw conclusions based solely on how they perform in pads.
Kendall Reyes, Connecticut, 6-3 7/8, 300- Reyes has been more than a pleasant surprise. He can play the left end position in a 4-3 or even the '3 technique' defensive tackle. He is tough; as one NFL defensive line coach said, Reyes is "a man on the field and has the skills to play in the NFL."
Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati, 6-5, 300- Wolfe is what 3-4 teams are looking for to play the '5 technique' defensive end spot. He's not a quick-twitch type but he can lock out and two-gap. His height works to his advantage. He can bend his ankles and knees and shows flexibility. Even though he is 300 pounds, there is still room for growth.
Alameda Ta'amu, Washington, 6-2 ½, 341- Ta'amu is a classic 3-4 nose tackle with excellent strength and good lateral movement. When he gets his hands on a blocker, he can maul his way to the ball. He looks like the kind of guy the Steelers would put on the nose.
Mike Martin, Michigan, 6-1 ¼, 307- Martin's motor never stops and he demonstrated an ability to be disruptive. He can penetrate in a 4-3 scheme and has enough technique to beat bigger players. He's no Warren Sapp, but would be a good fit as a third defensive tackle in a rotation.
Jack Crawford, Penn State, 6-4 ¾, 268- Crawford is a very active player who has a motor like Jared Allen, but does not demonstrate the same ability to disengage and get to the QB. He has the frame to play at 280 in the NFL. Because he plays with leverage and a hot motor, he should help a defense in a three-man rotation.
Mike Adams, Ohio State, 6-7, 323- Adams certainly passes the eyeball test and has the feet to be a fine left tackle. He clearly demonstrated an ability to roll off the line of scrimmage. He was able to run-block at the line or at the linebacker level in 9-on-7 drills. Simply stated, he likes to finish a defender in the run game. He has some issues with pass blocking, especially when it comes to having the punch to be able to neutralize a rusher. He is patient and disciplined enough to refrain from chasing wide defenders, but does not re-route rushers consistently. Adams often has his arms fully extended and gets little pop, which in turn causes some waist bending. Those flaws are all correctable, however, and he is a fine athlete.
Michael Brewster, Ohio State, 6-4, 310- Brewster is a tenacious center who competes until the whistle blows on every single play. Not once in 25 reps did he look to shut it down early. He has balance, and when confronted by bigger people, like Washington nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu (341 pounds), he can reset his feet, drop his weight and sustain his block.
Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State, 6-5, 347- Kelechi worked at right tackle Tuesday morning and was fine in the run game. He struggled in space as an open-side pass blocker when the defender crossed his face in a change-of-direction rush. He will not get bull-rushed very often. In the end, I think he will make an excellent guard, much like Carl Nicks, who moved inside for the Saints after playing as a tackle for Nebraska.
Senio Kelemete, Washington, 6-3, 302- Kelemete worked at left tackle on Monday and Tuesday and showed a strong desire to punish pass rushers by taking them to the ground. He is better suited inside at guard, where his nasty streak and his explosive skills can make a difference.
Tomorrow I will bring you an update on the linemen from the South team, led by Georgia guard Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones. On defense, Melvin Ingram (South Carolina) leads an interesting group that includes some tweeners, who teams that run a 3-4 defense should be looking at as outside linebackers.