Thomas, Henderson still working to realize potential at Senior Bowl
MOBILE, Ala. -- They look as if they walked straight out of the dreams of NFL scouts and onto the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Want an offensive tackle? How about a 6-foot-7, 331-pounder with low body fat, nimble feet and fluid hips? Need a quarterback? How about a 6-6, 250-pounder who can outrun a linebacker with an arm that appears capable of reaching the moon on a rope?
These must be obvious first-rounders. Right? No? Second-rounders? No? In fact, the draft positions of Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas are quite difficult to project. The first round is probably out of the question at this point. How far will they fall? That will depend how much teams rely on the eyeball test and how much they rely on college tape. For Henderson and Thomas, the former should help them immensely. Each player looks like the ideal for his position. Even among other elite players at the Senior Bowl, these two stand out from the moment they step off the bus to go to practice. Every measurable is close to perfect. The latter will haunt them. Henderson and Thomas represent the inverse of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, an undersized, injured prospect who on Monday seemed perfectly comfortable when he said "[NFL teams] have four years of film on me." Teams have four years of film on Henderson and Thomas as well, and it's as big of a problem for them as it is a help to Murray.
Henderson came to Miami -- after originally signing with USC -- ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 1 offensive line recruit and No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2010. He seemed a can't-miss prospect who might dominate at The U the way left tackle Bryant McKinnie did at the turn of the century. Playing mostly at right tackle, Henderson started only 26 games and never developed into the player he projected to be coming out of high school. Injuries, a 2012 car crash and suspensions -- Henderson told The Miami Herald this week they were for marijuana use -- held back Henderson during his time in Coral Gables.
Thomas, meanwhile, started the past three seasons at quarterback for the Hokies. He had moments that inspired (completing 25-of-31 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Henderson's Hurricanes on Nov. 9) and moments that baffled (four interceptions in a 13-10 home loss to Duke on Oct. 26). For his career, he threw 53 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions. For all of his physical gifts, Thomas never seemed able to play consistently well. NFL coaches and general managers will be intrigued by his body and arm, but Thomas will have to show he can overcome three years of inconsistent tape.
Judging by their performances at practices for the Senior Bowl, the two have taken different approaches. Henderson hasn't shown much improvement. Thomas, however, has shown a willingness to work on the issues that plagued him throughout his college career. On Wednesday, Henderson offered little punch -- the act of firing one's arms into the chest of a pass-rusher to slow or stop his progress -- while getting blown past by rushers Marcus Smith (Louisville) and Kareem Martin (North Carolina). Yet Henderson's feet still appeared nimble for a man of his size, and it was easy to see how a coach might feel he could turn Henderson into a serviceable (or better) NFL tackle with some instruction. The problem? There are players who lack the physical gifts but make up for them in technique who are more ready to play right away.
Thomas left Wednesday's practice kicking himself for throwing an interception when two receivers mixed up their routes but pleased with the progress he's made since Virginia Tech's season ended with a Sun Bowl loss to UCLA. For Thomas, having a huge arm and a body that would allow him to play multiple NFL positions has been a blessing and a curse. The arm and the athleticism have gotten him out of trouble on occasion, but he also has become too reliant on them. That made him mechanically unsound, but Thomas couldn't overhaul his mechanics while also trying to learn a new offense as a senior in Blacksburg. "There was stuff I knew I needed to work on," Thomas said, "but I didn't have the time to work on it."
Since the season ended, Thomas has been in San Diego training with quarterback coach George Whitfield and alongside 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Whitfield said he spent much of the early part of this month trying to break down the components of Thomas' throwing motion. Whitfield wants to force Thomas to rely more on his tree-trunk legs to generate power. While Thomas has the raw arm strength to fling the ball with little help from his lower body, consistent plant foot position and power generated through the thighs allow quarterbacks to throw a more accurate ball. "If you can't do that, or if you can do it but do it with a lot of stress, there's an unpredictable nature to what the ball is going to do," Whitfield said.
Whitfield also wants Thomas to improve his touch passing. NFL coaches know Thomas can throw laser beams down the middle of the field. To improve his draft stock, he'll have to prove he can drop the ball into tight windows. That's why, during Thomas' final workout before he left for the Senior Bowl, Whitfield didn't allow Thomas to throw any passes on a line. Every throw had to be dropped over a Whitfield employee holding a tennis racket aloft or over a soccer goal. This served the dual purpose of improving touch and forcing Thomas to work without some of his greatest physical gifts. "I want him to train like he's 6-2 and 200 pounds," Whitfield said. Whitfield surmises that if Thomas can learn to be as fundamentally sound as a quarterback who had to work to overcome physical limitations, Thomas will be that much better when he adds in his natural advantages.
As Henderson and Thomas learned in college and this week, genetic physical advantages can only take a player so far. He still must prove himself on the field. The good news is that those physical traits are more likely to buy Henderson and Thomas the benefit of the doubt from NFL coaches. "It gives me tremendous upside," Thomas said. "I was very blessed with the body type that I have and the athleticism I have."
Thomas said that matter-of-factly, without the slightest hint of arrogance. He knows it's the truth. He knows he's lucky. But he also knows if he doesn't keep working, it won't be enough to make him an effective NFL quarterback.