MOBILE, Ala. — One of the benefits of coaching in the Senior Bowl is getting hands-on experience with some of the top prospects in the upcoming NFL draft.
Dan Campbell’s entire staff coached the game last season, when the Detroit Lions spent two Day 2 picks on Senior Bowl standouts, defensive lineman Josh Paschal and safety Kerby Joseph.
Campbell and most of his staff stayed home this year, but defensive assistant Shaun Dion Hamilton spent the week coaching cornerbacks on the American team, and shared his thoughts on the group with the Free Press.
“The first thing that stands out with me is length,” Hamilton said after practice Wednesday. “We got a lot of tall, long corners. The next thing is making sure these guys are using their length. Getting hands on these receivers. No free releases. In this league, you don’t want to let these receivers run with no type of hands on them, so it’s just important that these guys continue to use their length and get hands on these receivers, affecting their releases.”
Six of the seven cornerbacks on the American team measured at least 6 feet tall, and the only one who didn’t — South Alabama’s Darrell Luter Jr. — checked in at 5-11½. On the National team, three of six corners measured over 6 feet.
Kansas State’s Julius Brents (6-3) was the biggest cornerback in Mobile, and Hamilton came away impressed by his play. Brents, an Iowa transfer, had four interceptions and 45 tackles last season and projects as a mid-round pick.
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“Julius has been great, man,” Hamilton said. “He’s a true professional. The first time when I first found out the roster, I was looking at the guy’s tape and he really stood out to me. He’s been great down here learning. The steps that he made from Day 1 to Day 2 has been great. Physical. He has all the tools, for a guy to be so tall, he’s so agile. In and out of breaks, he’s 6-2, 6-3 but moves like he’s 5-9.
“He’s got the total package.”
Hamilton said length and speed are two traits he values in cornerbacks, and no corner on the American team had a better combination in Mobile than South Carolina’s Darius Rush. He was clocked the fastest speed during Senior Bowl practices at 21.65 mph, according to the game’s Zebra tracking technology, and measured 6-1½.
“Darius Rush has been good, man,” Hamilton said. “He’s a true technician with everything. Patient at the line, great guy. He has the right mindset. Another guy who’s a true professional, serious about his business. So I’ve been excitd to work with him.”
Michigan State receiver Jayden Reed singled out another cornerback when asked to name the best defensive back he faced: Maryland corner Jakorian Bennett, from the National team.
“He was good,” Reed said. “And (Deonte) Banks (who will not play in the game but is a potential top-50 pick). I would say those are probably the toughest DBs that we faced. They played man coverage. A lot of other teams, they play a lot of zone, Cover 2 and stuff. But those guys, they really played man and showed what they can do technically.”
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Jayden Reed shines
While the quarterback crop at this year’s Senior Bowl was subpar — one AFC front office man described the group as looking like they were throwing toasters after practice Tuesday — two receivers who caught evaluators eyes were Reed and Houston’s Tank Dell.
Dell, 5-8 and 163 pounds, clocked the sixth fastest time in Mobile (20.16 mph) and was too quick off the line and elusive for most of the American team’s big cornerbacks to cover. He won’t be a high pick because of his size, but he has playmaking skills that should translate to the NFL in the right system.
Reed, one of nine players at the Senior Bowl who topped 20 mph, had a big day of practice Wednesday and said he came into the week wanting to showcase his technique as a route runner.
“Just crafting, tempo changing in my route and stuff like that, that’s something I’ve been focusing on for the last few years,” Reed said. “I feel like the time in my head was always sped up so what I’ve been trying to focus on in this is like tempo changes, changing speeds in my routes in order to create space.”
Reed had a stellar career in three seasons at Michigan State after transferring from Western Michigan. He finished among the top 12 in Spartan history in receptions (147), touchdown catches (18) and receiving yards (2,069), and said it’s “a blessing” to be in the position he’s in now as a projected mid-round pick.
“Where I come from, a lot of people don’t have this opportunity,” Reed said. “So I just want to put the platform out there that if I can do it, you can do it, too. Back at home, people struggle. I’m from the inner city of Chicago. A lot of people don’t come here, like I said, so I just want people to see that it’s possible, just to motivate other people. So one day, they can work hard enough to get their self in this situation.”
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Reed was lightly recruited out of high school after transferring following his junior season. He chose WMU over three other Mid-American Conference offers (from Miami of Ohio, Central Michigan and Toledo), and said he never saw himself as a Big Ten player until after his breakout freshman season at Western (56 catches, 797 yards).
Reed said he hopes to run a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in a month, and tries to model his game after an eclectic group of receivers.
“I would say Kadarius Toney,” Reed said. “I like him a lot. He’s twitchy, he makes people miss, creates space. Tyreek Hill. I love Tyreek Hill. Top-end speed. That’s probably my favorite receiver. And Stefon Diggs is probably another one of my favorites. He’s just a playmaker, so I think I can add all those three aspects to my game someday and I’m excited about it.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
Check out this week’s “Free Press Sports with Carlos and Shawn” podcast, debating the Red Wings with our Helene St. James, and the Lions’ window of opportunity. Subscribe to the show and listen on Apple, Spotify or wherever you load up podcasts.