Detroit News Lions beat writer Justin Rogers’ observations from Senior Bowl practice

Detroit News

Mobile, Ala. — Here are some observations from practice at the 2022 Senior Bowl.

► Despite the high level of talent at the position, it was a day filled with inconsistent play from the quarterbacks. Nevada’s Carson Strong, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Liberty’s Malik Willis all possess outstanding arms, and flashed the ability to make some pretty throws during individual drills, but accuracy and decision-making significantly decreased in the team portions of practice.

Strong seemed overly committed to throwing the deep ball, even when those options were well-covered. Howell and Willis weren’t as aggressive, but both saw their accuracy slip with the threat of a pass rush added to the mix.

One thing that stood out about Willis was his energy. He was constantly dancing to the music and hyping up his teammates, similar to the way running back Jamaal Williams operates in Detroit.

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Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder also struggled, including at least two botched snaps.

► The impact of Detroit Lions defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant, who is serving as the defensive coordinator of the American Team this week, was immediately apparent. The infectious energy of the up-and-coming coach rubbed off on his players, who had a bounce in their step and were doing an excellent job animatedly communicating pre-snap.

Of the four units, offense and defense for each team, Pleasant’s group had the best day overall.

► Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson is viewed by many as the third-best edge rusher in this prospect class and you can make an easy case he’s the best defensive player in Mobile. Despite briefly leaving practice to have his ankle taped, he returned to the field and dominated, showcasing an impressive spin move on multiple occasions. He has a frame and move set that scream double-digit sacks in the not-so-distant future.

► Amusingly, the Lions ended the session they coached by having the offensive and defensive coaching staff’s select one player each to go head-to-head in a pass rush drill. Johnson was the representative for the defense, while massive Kentucky offensive lineman Darian Kinnard was the choice for the opposing side.

Johnson won the first rep, putting the big tackle on his backside, while Kinnard got the better of his counterpart on the second snap, setting up a tie-breaker.

Johnson tried to go back to the spin move, but Kinnard did a good job staying in front, giving the offense the win and forcing every defensive player (and coach) to do pushups to end the day.

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There was some controversy about the winner of the best-of-three, but Duce Staley, serving as head coach for the Lions this week, used his newfound authority to cast the deciding vote.

“Offense wins,” Staley said with a smile after the practice. “If offense would’ve lost, I had to do pushups.”

► South Alabama wide receiver Jalen Tolbert, playing in his home stadium, stood out on Tuesday. First, he executed well in a drill designed to test his open-field blocking ability, a skill the Lions value. Then he showed why he was one of college football’s best deep threats, blowing past the coverage of Georgia cornerback Derion Kendrick for one long touchdown and going up and over a defender for a 50/50 ball from Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe.

► Michigan State fullback Connor Heyward, a former running back, still looks raw at the blocking aspects of the position. He ran directly into the backside of an offensive lineman on one snap, then got knocked off his path pretty good by Texas A&M linebacker Aaron Hansford on another. Heyward also had a false start, but that was an issue for a lot of players getting acclimated to new schemes.

► I felt like Fayetteville State cornerback Joshua Williams had a really nice day. It wasn’t perfect, but when he got his hands into a receiver on a jam, it was over. He absolutely shut down Nevada’s Romeo Doubs during a one-on-one rep, causing the QB to not even attempt the throw.

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Doubs got some revenge on a deep ball a little later, hauling it in over the lanky Williams, but the corner rebounded from that bad rep, forcing an incompletion with tight coverage on a corner route a few minutes later.

Williams also posted the fastest recorded speed on the day, peaking at 21.75 mph. He might be this year’s version of Jeremy Chinn, a small school safety who went in the second round a couple years back and is off to a strong start with his NFL career.

► The run blocking was better for the National Team, led by the New York Jets coaching staff. Arizona State’s Rachaad White had a couple of long runs through holes up the middle, while Missouri’s Tyler Badie had some success on the edges, using a nice shoulder shimmy to shake tacklers in the open field.

► There weren’t many turnovers, outside of some of the aforementioned botched snaps. The only interception I noticed came courtesy Penn State cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields, who took away a deep shot intended for Cincinnati vertical threat Alec Pierce.

Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt got his hands on a couple balls and nearly picked one off Willis in the late session.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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