Senior Bowl Day 4: Blue Moon Over Mobile With Boise State

Posted Jan 26, 2012

MOBILE, Ala. – Crimson might be the color of choice in this neck of the woods but there has been an invasion of Boise State blue at this week’s Senior Bowl.

The Broncos sent the same number of players – five – as the reigning BCS national champions from Alabama and all of them are expected to make waves for the North team. Quarterback Kellen Moore is the best known of the five but defensive back George Iloka might have the highest potential. He is equally as excited for his four college teammates as he is for himself.

“It means a lot because all of us came in at the same time and we left at the same time,” said Iloka, who is ranked as the third best safety by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock. “Just lifting weights together throughout the year, all of the things we accomplished with the bowl games we won and all of the games we won and the hard times we faced together, now we’re here enjoying the Senior Bowl as a family and as a Bronco Nation.”

It had to be fun for Iloka and Boise State defensive linemen Shea McClellin and Billy Winn to line up opposite Moore and running back Doug Martin during practice, with Shea playing linebacker this week. Even though the plays they were running with the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff were different than what they ran in college, there still had to be an added comfort zone.

Martin, ranked No. 4 by Mayock among running backs, lined up in the backfield numerous times behind Moore and showed off his versatility as a receiver out of the backfield, as a blocking back and as a runner. He definitely opened some eyes with his speed, quickness and strength, but he and Moore also had a secret weapon ready to deploy just in case things went wrong before the snap.

“It was really nice having Kellen back there and we were joking earlier about the plays,” Martin said. “I was like, ‘Kellen, if I don’t know the play just call a Boise State play and I’ll get it down.’ We haven’t really had to do that this week but it’s really nice and comforting to have Kellen back there having played with him for four or five years.”

During their four seasons together, Iloka, Moore, Martin, McClellin and Winn went a combined 50-3 with the Broncos and were legitimate contenders for a BCS national championship every year. Some of them still believe they are looked at as a small school not yet on the level of the Alabamas, LSUs, Oklahomas and Michigans, but the fact all five were invited to Mobile debunks that theory a bit.

Iloka was second on the team in tackles with 58 (42 solo), McClellin led the Broncos in sacks with seven and added two interceptions and Winn had three sacks. Martin rushed for a net 1,299 yards and scored 16 rushing touchdowns while catching 28 passes for 255 yards and two scores. He also returned 10 kickoffs for 338 yards, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown and Moore completed 326-of-439 passes for 3,800 yards, 43 touchdowns and just nine interceptions for a 74.3 completion percentage.

“It’s very neat and I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase that we’ve got some very talented players on that team and we’re not all about a bunch of trick plays,” Moore said. “We don’t win games that way, we win games with guys going to the Senior Bowl so they’re pretty talented.”

That perspective has more of an offensive focus but Moore had the respect of all of his teammates during his time in Idaho. As a group these five players want to send a strong message about the program they came from this week.

All of them wore their blue Broncos helmets proudly and Iloka joked that if there is some magic pixie dust in the famous blue turf at Broncos Stadium he wouldn’t be allowed to confirm it. What he does want to confirm is that Boise State indeed has arrived.

“It just shows how far we’ve come and that we’re either recruiting better guys or our coaches are recruiting two-star or three-star guys and making them five-star guys in the league,” Iloka said. “We’ve had five people here total before and now we have five people in this one event so it just shows how far our program has come in terms of producing NFL athletes.”

What that means is the people of Mobile might want to get used to a different color scheme showing up each January from now on.

NIGHT OWL SURFACES FROM FAU: Every year at the Senior Bowl the rosters change as the week progresses due to injuries or other factors. This year was no different as Florida Atlantic University running back Alfred Morris was a late addition and made history at the same time.

Morris became the first Owl in school history to be invited to the Senior Bowl on Wednesday as he replaced Clemson running back Chad Diehl on the South team roster. Diehl suffered a concussion during Tuesday’s practice, opening the door for Morris, a native of nearby Pensacola, to impress the NFL scouts.

“This is definitely an awesome opportunity and I’m trying to learn everything on the fly, so it’s presenting a challenge but I’m up for it,” said Morris, who got the phone call late Tuesday night in Bradenton where he was training. “It definitely is a great accomplishment to join some of the other Sun Belt guys and I’m definitely proud that I get to represent my school here.”

After he arrived Tuesday morning, Morris was informed that he was going to be utilized as a fullback by the Washington Redskins coaching staff. He took the field in the afternoon intent on showing his versatility and that he can catch, block and run.

Morris left FAU as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,529 rushing yards and was pretty much the lone bright spot for the Owls during last year’s 1-11 campaign. He rushed for 1,186 yards and nine touchdowns for Owls head coach Howard Schnellenberger in what turned out to be Schnellenberger’s final season as a football coach in the college or pro ranks.

“I don’t have anything to prove. I just plan to go out there and show I’ve been flying under the radar my whole life, I’m an underdog and I’m going to be a great catch,” Morris said. “I catch on pretty fast to the playbook and I can get the concepts and schemes down, plus I’ll get to show my versatility as they said they’re going to play me at running back a little bit as well.”

Last week Morris was in St. Petersburg playing in the East-West Shrine Bowl so his legs might be a little fresher than some of the other running backs. He’ll also get to play in front of his family and friends on Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium as they will be making the short one-hour drive from Pensacola.

Morris didn’t expect to be playing in another game after the East-West Shrine Bowl so he admitted he was training harder than he normally would before a game week. He’s eager to prove he can pack a punch inside as a fullback while also showing off some speed on the edge, in the process making a statement for FAU.

“When the week is over I hope to show that we do have talent at FAU,” Morris said. “No matter where you go these guys are going to find talent. In addition to showing them that I am versatile and can do all of the things required by an NFL fullback or running back I want to leave them with that realization about FAU.”

As soon as he finished interviews with the horde of reporters on the field, Morris got his first chance to make his case. Former Oakland Raiders fullback Zack Crockett was waiting patiently to talk to Morris and find out more about what this young man can bring to an NFL team.

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