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January 30, 2010

Tide players have pretty solid week at Senior Bowl

The Senior Bowl in Mobile is a lot more than just an all-star game.

It's the premier collision of the college and professional worlds, where the National Football League's stars of tomorrow are on prominent display and careers can potentially take more turns than an Olympic figure skater.

While most NFL teams also use the week to hold their first full-staff scouting meetings in months and really begin the process of putting together a list of priorities, the players start possibly the most nerve-racking period of their lives.

Six former University of Alabama athletes participated in this week's workouts that began the buildup for the NFL Draft, April 22-24. Many will also participate in the NFL Scouting Combine from Feb. 24-March 2 in Indianapolis, and Alabama's pro day, when all former Crimson Tide players will drill for scouts, is tentatively scheduled for March 10 (which leaves time for a prospect to upgrade his status through individual workouts with teams).

At this point there are two major questions regarding Alabama players:

1. When will Terrence Cody be selected?

Due to the uproar regarding his weighing in at 370 pounds Cody told reporters in Mobile that he would "eat more vegetables" and get it down. Nevertheless, many people couldn't help but be reminded of tackle Andre Smith a year ago, who despite his weight and conditioning issues was still selected sixth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I would be concerned to be totally honest with you, I wonder about his discipline, if he's going to be able to keep his weight in check and maintain the type of conditioning that will allow him to play 30, 35 snaps per game," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "Even at Alabama they were limiting him a lot of games to 20, 25 snaps at the college level."

However, Cody is what most people look for in a nose tackle, big and powerful, and there's no denying that he's extremely difficult, if not impossible to block one-on-one.

"I know with Cody a lot of people are being overly critical regarding the pictures of him from the weigh-in, but for the most part that's what defensive tackles look like," Joe Fortenbaugh of NationalFootballPost.com said. "I think he's going to be all right, behind (Ndamukong) Suh and (Gerald) McCoy."

While Suh and McCoy are both expected to be top five picks, and potentially 1-2, both appear destined to play in a 4-3 scheme. McCoy's first step sets him apart while Suh is considered better as a power rusher. Cody's forte is to clog things up and free up those around him to make plays.

Tennessee's Dan Williams is considered the other top nose tackle and made a favorable impression in Mobile. Consequently, the consensus, for now at least, is that Cody is a second-round selection even though the first round could see six defensive tackles taken. Teams that ran a version of the 3-4 this past season include Arizona, Baltimore, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Green Bay, Kansas City, Miami, New England, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, San Diego and San Francisco.

"I think the game Saturday will be big for him in continuing the evaluation process," said former Vanderbilt defensive Corey Chavous, who following a Pro Bowl career is an ESPN/NFL Network draft analyst who recently founded the website DraftNasty.com. "I don't think there will be a lot of people who would be a better fit (at nose tackle). I know people say first round, but as a vocational guy I have a hard time believing that will happen regardless of what happens this week."

2. Who's a better prospect, Javier Arenas or Kareem Jackson?

The opinions vary, but overall there's a lot of quality depth at cornerback. It could result in teams holding off the position in the first round, causing a run on the position in the second.

"It's one of the big four positions, I call it, quarterback, offensive tackle, pass rusher and cover corner," McShay said. "If you can get a good cover corner and have an opportunity to take one, you better have a real good reason not to."

Florida's Joe Haden is considered the draft's best cornerback, but McShay is big on Jackson.

"I actually like Javier Arenas a little bit better," Chavous said. "He showed me a little better ability to be able to survive outside. Initially I think he'll be a nickel back with some return potential. But the fact that he can tackle, and also has value as a potential blitzer, his coverage and special teams, if you look at everything he's good enough that he improved his overall stock this week."

Chavous added about Jackson, "I don't know if he's a shut-down man-to-man corner. Throughout his career you've seen some instances he gets beat sometimes. Look no further than the Tennessee game this year, where he had some problems in that game and gave up some quick slants in some man coverage ...

"It was really evident if you went back to last year's team, this year he probably played more consistent."

Incidentally, Chavous believes that Marquis Johnson, who was Alabama's fifth defensive back, has a good chance to be drafted.

As for the Tide's other NFL prospects, guard Mike Johnson worked out at some at the other line positions during the South Team practices with his versatility likely boosting his draft stock.

Last year, no guards went in the first round, but two centers did. In 2008, the first two guards were selected in the second round with one in the third. The previous year was an aberration with Auburn's Ben Grubbs the 29th selection in the first round, with two more guards taken in the second round and one in the third.

This year, Idaho's Mike Iupati appears to be a clear first-rounder, with Johnson at minimum a third-round prospect.

"He played pretty well and he was pretty popular with the fans down here too," said Fortenbaugh, while Wes Bunting, the National Football Post's director of college scouting, wrote: "Johnson isn't the most physically imposing of lineman out there, but at 6-5 he plays with good leverage and can really stick to blocks through the play. He did a nice job maximizing his reach into blocks and can generate good power on his punch on contact. He grades out as a potential dirty starter at the next level."

Tight end Colin Peek got off to a good start in Mobile only to be sidelined by a stomach bug. He is expected to play in Saturday's game.

"He didn't get a ton of work," Fortenbaugh said. "The South's offense was interesting to watch this week because they did a lot out of wildcat and shotgun formations. A lot of trick plays."

When Peek practiced scouts couldn't help but compare him to Miami's Jimmy Graham. The former basketball player is physically similar to Peek, but not as good of a blocker.

"I don't know about the explosion in and out of cuts, and get separation," Chavous said. "That's something I'd like to see more of in terms of route running at the next level."

Last-minute running back replacement Roy Upchurch could only help his chances by being in Mobile, but fell ill too. Instead, most scouts have been concentrating on Southern California's Stafon Johnson (this will be his first game since the horrific weight room accident that nearly took his life), Auburn's Ben Tate and Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon.

"He's going to be a person that people start to take notice of," Fortenbaugh said.

"One of the big games that I remember specifically was the Arkansas game, he showed some big-game ability and be able to take it to the house," Chavous said. "He has some upside. He's 210 pounds, about six-feet tall, I think he has pretty decent size, I'd like to see him do a little bit better in his pass-block situations, but experience will be a key for him."

Kicker Leigh Tiffin will also play in the Senior Bowl.

Not on hand in Mobile has been Alabama's best pro prospect, Butkus Award winner Rolando McClain. Most mock drafts have the linebacker being selected 12th overall by the Miami Dolphins.

"McClain's interesting," McShay said. "As good as he is physically and as hard as he works, there are times you watch him on film and you wonder how consistent he's going to be in the NFL. I think he has a chance to be there at 12."


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