Mobile, Ala. — After 73 years, it was time for a change.
And according to Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, who opened the week’s festivities with a press conference at the Mobile Convention Center on Tuesday morning, the event’s new coaching format should ultimately be a positive for everyone involved.
In years past, the Senior Bowl would bring down two NFL coaching staffs, in their entirety, to lead the respective teams. Starting this year, at least one coach from every non-playoff-qualifying NFL team will be invited, and in year one, all 18 non-playoff teams are accounted for, with at least one assistant. The move, which was initiated by the NFL, is intended to help professional development amongst the coaching ranks.
It may ultimately benefit the players just as much.
“When I got the call over the summer, I was a little taken aback after having 73 years with the full coaching staffs,” Nagy said.
“But, the more it sunk in and the more I thought about it through our players’ perspective, I think it’s a great thing. There’s so many great takeaways. I think everyone in the room knows what these players get exposed to during the week, in the meeting rooms, field time, the coaching. There’s just great takeaways.
“Rather than two (coaching staffs) leaving Mobile, I think it’s great that we have 16 this year, leaving with really good behind-the-scenes access to our players.”
Shaun Dion Hamilton will coach defensive backs at the Senior Bowl as the Detroit Lions’ representative. Last year, the Lions were one of the two final teams to operate under the old format. Nagy specifically referenced the buzz that Lions running backs coach Duce Staley generated with his performance in 2022.
“I think those guys in elevated roles probably helped a lot of them, which we did last year with Duce coaching up at head coach,” Nagy said. “It was fun to watch.”
Strengths and weaknesses
In advance of players taking the practice field, Nagy estimated the two deepest position groups are running back and tight end.
“From top to bottom, that’s a really good list,” Nagy said of the running backs roster. “I think we’ve had four 1,000-yard rushers this year, so I think there’s multiple NFL starters in that group.”
While Nagy is disappointed that Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid — who withdrew from the event because of an injury — won’t be participating, he named Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave as someone who could move up into Round 1 by the end of the week.
Linebacker is a primary position of need for the Lions heading into the offseason, but they may have some trouble finding talent at the Senior Bowl — or even the draft as a whole.
“Of all the groups, I think that’s probably the thinnest, at least for the senior class,” Nagy said. “I haven’t dug into the junior stuff. Maybe there’s some really good juniors I’m not aware of, but that’s probably one of the more thin groups.”
While Nagy pointed out there are certainly talented pass rushers listed as outside linebackers, the off-ball linebacking class appears to be having a down year. The Lions took a pair of linebackers with sixth-round picks in last year’s draft, off-ball linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and edge rusher James Houston, two players that demonstrate just how wide the definition of an “LB” listing truly is.
“Off-the-ball linebackers was tough this year. Again, the goal is always to bring the best players, so we’ve got some guys like Will McDonald IV (Iowa State) listed as an outside linebacker, Andre Carter II (Army) listed as outside linebacker, just in an attempt to bring all the best edge guys.”
Money to be made in 1-on-1
There’s money to be made all week at the Senior Bowl, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that can raise a stock as efficiently as when a lineman dominates one-on-one reps.
“Even different than the wide receiver-(defensive backs) one-on-ones is the back-to-back rep factor. You know you’re gonna get beat. I told these guys at orientation, like, nobody’s come down here and pitched a shutout.
“You’re gonna get beat, and that’s what everyone’s watching. What’s that next rep look like? Can they bounce back mentally, with resiliency? That’s my favorite tool of the week. A lot of money to be made.”
The Lions are looking for help on the interior line for both sides of the ball, so that’ll be a particularly interesting set of competitions for them.