MOBILE, Ala. -- To get an accurate assessment of a prospect's pro potential, you must evaluate his performance in pads.
On the second day of Senior Bowl practice, Mike Shanahan and Leslie Frazier put their respective squads in pads and you could see the difference in pace and tempo. From the increased intensity in 9-on-7 drills to aggressive play of linebackers and defensive backs during 1-on-1 sessions, the practices at Ladd-Peebles Stadium were reminiscent of training camp workouts.
With plenty of time to evaluate some of the top prospects in the 2012 draft class in pro-like conditions, here are some of my observations from the day:
» North Carolina DE Quinton Coples has been the most dominant defender on either roster, and his spectacular performance has quelled some of the concerns about his lackadaisical play as a senior. Coples has abused blockers in 1-on-1 drills with his combination of strength, power and athleticism. He has shown the ability to put together a series of power moves in sequence, which makes him tough to block in isolated situations. While he still lacks the explosive burst that is typically displayed by elite rushers, his ability to collapse the pocket could make him a difficult block as a potential left defensive end or defensive tackle (three- or five-technique) in a 4-3.
» South Carolina DE/OLB Melvin Ingram flashes the speed and athleticism to become an immediate difference maker as a pro. At 6-foot-2, 276 pounds, he possesses cat-like quickness and burst. He blows past defenders on upfield rushes, but also shows a spin move that allows him to win to the inside. He kept blockers off balance with his wide array of moves, and few blockers were able to contain him during the 1-on-1 period. He wasn't nearly as effective in team drills, but his occasional flashes are so impressive that it is easy to envision him making a big impact as an edge player in an attacking scheme.
» Vanderbilt CB Casey Hayward is making a strong case to be a solid Day 2 draft prospect. He has blanketed receivers in man coverage from press and "off" technique, and his superb instincts have resulted in several deflections in team drills. His competitiveness and toughness stood out in 1-on-1 drills, as he refused to concede completions without attempting to strip or poke the ball out after the catch. Even though his willingness to finish will go unnoticed by some evaluators, the emphasis on attacking the ball suggests he possesses the persistence and tenacity to thrive as a ball hawk as a pro.
» Louisiana-Lafayette CB Dwight "Bill" Bentley is quietly creating a buzz in scouting circles with his impressive ball skills and awareness. He has made several plays on the ball over the past two days, while displaying outstanding coverage discipline and focus. Bentley's leverage and body positioning were outstanding in 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 drills, and his overall consistency will encourage coaches to closely examine his game despite his diminutive stature.
» Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden will spark several debates in war rooms across the league, with his advanced age (28) and intriguing physical tools. He is one of the rare quarterbacks in college football capable of making every throw in the playbook, but scouts are concerned about his decisions and football IQ. He was plagued by turnovers during the regular season and most of those miscues resulted from poor reads from the pocket. Weeden has avoided those mistakes at the Senior Bowl, showing better accuracy and precision from the pocket. His superb ball placement and touch has earned high marks from scouts, with many viewing Weeden as the fourth-best quarterback on boards across the league.
» Appalachian State WR Brian Quick has been the talk of the town with his exceptional combination of size, speed and athleticism. He has blown away scouts with his natural talent, and his ability to hold his own against elite competition has coaches salivating about his potential. An NFC East position coach familiar with Quick proclaimed him the most impressive athlete at the position. An AFC South position coach said Quick is an outstanding prospect with the physical tools to be a special player in the league. With so much lofty praise being thrown around, it would not surprise me to see Quick go much higher than anticipated when draft day approaches.
» Ohio State OT Mike Adams is an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on during the run-up to the draft. He possesses franchise-caliber physical tools and his surprising athleticism makes him an interesting first-round possibility as a left tackle. His length and movement skills should allow him to fare well against athletic pass rushers. If he can continue to hold his own against quick pass rushers this week and test well at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, he could be the fourth offensive tackle to come off the board on draft day.
» Notre Dame S Harrison Smith has garnered some attention as one of top safeties in Mobile. He has displayed better than anticipated movement skills and impressed coaches in attendance with his range and instincts. He certainly has the size, strength and toughness to play near the line of scrimmage, but his ability to play in space could make him an ideal fit as a free safety in some schemes.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.