MOBILE, Ala. — At first it sounds a little like just talking to talk, nitpicking a draft prospect mainly because, well ... it's January and we still have three months of this song and dance left. After multiple people covering different areas of the draft process (media, coaches, etc.) mention it, though, the discussion makes a little more sense.
The big mystery in question: Does a prospect truly love the game of football? Though events like the Senior Bowl and combine are there so players can showcase their physical abilities, a key part of the process for teams goes beyond that.
It should be an open-and-shut case, right? This is what these guys want to do for a career, after all. But not everyone is up for it in the long run, particularly when the journey involves toiling away as a backup or practice-squad guy until an opportunity arises.
The intangible, abstract idea of “attitude” should work to Jacoby Brissett's advantage. Even as he stands on the Ladd-Peebles Stadium turf discussing areas of his game that need improvement, the former North Carolina State QB has a smile plastered across his face.
Brissett is happy to be here. He'd prefer to stick around for a bit.
“I think that the most important part is the interview prep,” said Brissett of meeting with teams this week. “This out here (practicing) is actually important, but you know everybody wants to see who everyone is and get to know everyone. Make sure they're the person off that field that you want on the field.”
Granted, the desire to make it won’t be enough, which is also why this week, the combine and any other pre-draft workouts loom large for Brissett and the other QBs present in Mobile. Outside of Hypezilla, Carson Wentz, there are a lot of question marks lingering—among this group and for those that aren't here, like Paxton Lynch, Jared Goff and Connor Cook.
Wentz has stood out through two days of practice with his arm, both in its strength and ability to find all corners of the field. Still, there have been a handful of shaky moments for him, and things have been murkier for the Senior Bowl's other seven QBs.
Brissett did connect multiple times downfield during Wednesday's practice, displaying what his 6’3”, 236-pound frame can do when he is free to set. He accomplished that repeatedly during his N.C. State time, too, en route to 5,000-plus yards passing over two seasons. Perhaps even more impressive, especially during the 2015 season, was how he created when his blocking broke down (as it did, often). Brissett can generate accuracy and velocity while on the move.
A focus for him this week has been in sticking with his receivers, rather than bailing too early.
“Just hang in there and make the throws, just trust the pocket,” he said. “I know one time throwing it to Gronk [Kansas State FB Glenn Gronkowski], I was just stepping up in the pocket. Let somebody else take the hit. I took enough of those in my career.”
The South roster includes Brissett, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, Alabama's Jake Coker and Arkansas' Brandon Allen. That group covers a wide range of positives, from Prescott's athleticism and developing passing game to Allen and Coker's production in more NFL-reminiscent schemes.
Brissett falls somewhere in between—not quite a dual-threat QB, per se, but also not entirely settled in as a pocket passer. One scout I asked said he was “not totally sure” what to make of Brissett's game just yet, but that he'd “like to see him separate himself [from the other South quarterbacks] this week.”
The Senior Bowl experience can be a rough one for quarterbacks, in general. Players are given their playbooks just prior to starting practice, and the QBs do so while throwing to unfamiliar receivers and often against very draft-worthy cornerbacks.
Brissett said he “most definitely” thinks there is a little potential for disaster as a Senior Bowl quarterback. “I think that as a competitor and as a player, you've got to work to eliminate those things.”
So far, it's been a mixed bag. That review counts elements beyond just Brissett's throws. At times, he has been tardy getting through his progressions, which has allowed pass-rushers to be in position for a “sack”—there's no contact on the quarterbacks, so the defenders merely deliver a fly-by tap and the play continues. Some of that struggle no doubt has to do with Brissett's determined attempt to stay home, rather than take off with the ball.
Should he finish strong, there is a chance he could emerge as QB2 among the group here, behind only Wentz. Right now, that honor could belong to just about anyone, though Prescott and Allen seem to have the most eyeballs on them. The winner could wind up being a Day 2 pick.
If there were any concerns about Brissett's desire to grind it out, however, he should be putting those to rest in short order.
“Where would we be without him? I don’t really know. But he’s given all that he can, and that’s all you can ask,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said last month, via ESPN.com. “He’s been a great teammate, a role model with not only how he does community service but how he treats people. Could he have had better throws? Sure. Every player could. But he couldn’t have worked harder.”
More from Wednesday's Senior Bowl practices:
• I've been a fan of Boise State safety Darian Thompson since I really started studying him prior to the 2015 season, and he is emerging as a potential late-Round 1 option. Thompson's ball-hawking ways were on full display throughout Wednesday's practice. He was consistently around the action while playing deep safety, and he broke up at least a couple of throws during one-on-one drills.
After one such instance, in which Thompson beat TE Nick Vannett to his spot on an in route, a scout standing behind me remarked, “He's been the best defensive back all week.”
• The running backs are starting to see more game-like action as the contact increases, and that's mostly good news for a versatile group. San Jose State's Tyler Ervin and TCU's Aaron Green stood out at times, the former shining during pass-catching drills. Ervin was quick into and out of his routes, making life rough for the linebackers covering him.
• Braxton Miller was impressive. Copy and paste.
• Strong afternoon for Louisiana Tech DT Vernon Butler, yet another top-100 prospect among the defensive linemen. Butler actually could jump into the top 31—i.e. Round 1 (the Patriots don't have a pick)—and a day like Wednesday did little to hurt that momentum. The 325-pound Butler was a force during line drills, firing off the ball at the snap and converting that speed to power.
• Because he was a late add to the roster, Minnesota's K.J. Maye actually landed on the South squad. He won't be for every team, at 5’8” and 194 pounds, but he does have some jitterbug-style quickness. Maye drew one of the day's biggest crowd reactions when he smoked Maryland S/CB Sean Davis for a deep touchdown.
• Another highlight, at least based on the cheers: the 60-yard field goal Duke kicker Ross Martin drilled. The day'ss miserable conditions (windy and in the 40's) made it all the more impressive.
• Among the toughest challenges for defensive backs in the college-to-pro transition is adjusting to the NFL's restrictive rules, which favor wide receivers. During practices this week, though, there have been no officials out there so the cornerbacks have been rough with the WRs.
A few of the offensive stars don't seem to mind: Leonte Carroo and Tajae Sharpe, both of whom unfortunately exited the week with hamstring injuries Wednesday, made it through the contact without much issue. Baylor's Jay Lee also battled through a little extra clutching to find the ball.
Others haven't been as successful. Southeast Missouri State sleeper Paul McRoberts falls into that group. Over both days now, he has had a tough time getting off the line. Not helping is that he's slipped on numerous occasions—Tuesday at the alternate practice facility in Fairhope and again Wednesday. LSU's Jalen Mills buried him when he did so on Day 2.