I spent some time with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland discussing the offensive line situation at the Senior Bowl practices and it was clear that they liked what they saw. Dimitroff is here looking for versatile linemen to give Atlanta some depth. Ireland is pleased with his current group of linemen, but admitted that the talent level here is so intriguing that it's hard to take his eye off the guys in the trenches.
The most acclaimed South tackle is Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod, but what made the South practices so interesting was the quality of players not rated as highly. That depth will lead some front office executives and coaches to believe they can land a good lineman in the second or third round.
Here's a look at the South linemen having a solid week.
Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State -- Sherrod is a left tackle candidate with excellent athletic ability. He makes pass blocking look easy and his double-kick to set for a wide speed rusher is effortless. Sometimes it appears like he is being lazy, but he's really just so gifted and smooth. His run blocking is not at the same level, but this won't be a big concern for several teams, especially those looking to throw 40-plus times a game. He was advertised by some as the top tackle in the draft, but the competition from the North squad leaves me thinking he's going to wind up down a few spots in the final evaluations. He's still a likely first-round pick, though.
Marcus Gilbert, Florida -- Gilbert is a guy that came to Mobile viewed as a third- or early fourth-round pick by some but his work on Tuesday had some line coaches telling me he's better than that and I agree. Coming here was a very positive decision for Gilbert. The first thing that jumped out came when he lined up at right tackle in the "team" period of practice. A toss run to his side was called and he exploded out of his stance, went out to a wide defensive end, and hooked him before he even had a chance to make a play. His balance and initial quickness showed up many times during the drills. He told me he feels comfortable at either tackle spot and that is the versatility Dimitroff craves. Gilbert moves well enough for offensive line coaches to use him in the trap and pull game, but like many young players, he does get caught in a waist-bend position at times. He clearly has the feet to recover, however.
James Carpenter, Alabama -- Carpenter had the same kind of practice Gilbert had on Tuesday. Expectations coming in were that of a fourth-round-type player, but his execution and athletic ability were better than anticipated. Guys like Carpenter and Gilbert need to put back-to-back days together to keep pushing their stock up. Carpenter has an athletic body and the feet to play on the left side. He also shows effort and results as a run blocker. One GM I was standing with called him "impressive" with a smile on his face, which told me Carpenter's moving up. While he does not appear to be able to pull and trap like Gilbert, Carpenter plays with enough effort to make it in the NFL.
DeMarcus Love, Arkansas -- Love is a guy I watched more than most during the college season. He came here hoping to move from a second-round to a first-round grade. He lined up at left and right tackle as well as at guard. He is accustomed to doing so after playing multiple positions in college because Arkansas used strongside/weakside principles with the offensive line. With that, Love can get in any stance and play. He struggled a bit with a defensive end that used a tug technique that got him off balance and looked better at guard than tackle. I couldn't help but think he would be a perfect fit for the Steelers and their aging, banged-up line.
Castonzo best of the bunch?
Rodney Hudson, Florida State -- Hudson came here with a big reputation and an undersized body. As my radio partner Tim Ryan, who played for the Chicago Bears, said "Rodney reminds me of Guy McIntyre," who played for years for the 49ers. He compensates for his lack of bulk (6-foot-2, 282 pounds) with leverage, technique and effort. He might not be the first guard taken and is probably a second-round talent at this point. If he can play center the way he plays guard, his stock goes up. Not many inside prospects have his quickness to recover when getting beat.
Kristofer O'Dowd, USC -- O'Dowd is an interesting candidate at a weak position here and probably the draft (center). If your favorite NFL team needs a center, it might have to find a stop-gap and wait until next year. After watching all the center candidates in Mobile, I don't think we will see one picked before the fourth round. O'Dowd is a strong, experienced center, but is not as athletic as former Trojan and current Panther Ryan Kalil. He can function on a pro field, though. He competes against nose tackles with power, but struggles a bit with speed. He got caught waist-bending a few times during the drills.