The early stages of the offseason for the Dolphins was heavily focused on their coaching search, but the last two weeks have been significant for the personnel department.
After the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida, last Saturday, the stage has moved to Mobile, Alabama, for the 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Following three days of practice, the game will take place Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile and be televised live by NFL Network.
The Senior Bowl is the final chance for college prospects to go head-to-head in a game situation until the NFL draft in late April.
As new Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy told The Audible last week, one thing that stands out the group of prospects at the event this year is the depth at quarterback.
“From top to bottom, if you need a quarterback … and, again, all these guys, a lot of different flavors,” Nagy said. “A lot of different skill sets. I think the teams that I’m speaking with that need a quarterback can’t wait to get down here because it’s such a deep group.”
The quarterbacks on hand include N.C. State’s Ryan Finley, Duke’s Daniel Jones, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Penn State’s Trace McSorley, Washington State’s Gardner Minshew II, Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson.
Lock and Jones both are among the top 50 prospects in the 2019 draft, according to NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who unveiled his list this week. Others among his top 50 who are at the Senior Bowl are Washington State tackle Andre Dillard, Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat, Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram, Delaware safety Nasir Adderley, Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson, Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard and North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury.
Bradbury was among the players recognized by Nagy on Thursday when he handed out practice awards for the week, with Bradbury landing offensive lineman recognition. The overall practice award, though, went to USC offensive tackle Chuma Edoga.
Other players recognized for their work in practice were Stidham, running back Dexter Williams of Notre Dame, wide receiver Deebo Samuel of South Carolina, tight end Foster Moreau of LSU, defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs of Alabama, linebacker Drue Tranuill of Notre Dame, defensive back Darnell Savage of Maryland and specialist Austin Seibert, a kicker from Oklahoma.
The Senior Bowl offers small-school prospects, such as Adderley and Howard, the chance to prove they can compete against elite competition. Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who is coaching the North team, praised a group of small-school players for their work at practice, among them Georgia State wide receiver Penny Hart, UC Davis receiver Keelan Doss, Massachusetts’ Andy Isabella, and Charleston defensive end John Cominsky.
“Guys from small schools like Doss and Hart are really helping themselves,” Gruden said. “And Isabella has got something, He is quick. And this Cominsky kid is also making people check the rosters to see who he is.”
It’s entirely possible that one of those players or somebody else playing in the Senior Bowl this year will become a Dolphins draft pick in three months.
Last year, for example, the Dolphins drafted three players who took part in the Senior Bowl: running back Kalen Ballage, and tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe. Gesicki was a second-round selection, and Ballage and Smythe both were picked in the fourth round after helping their cause in the Senior Bowl, Ballage with 57 rushing yards on 10 carries and Smythe with three receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown for the North team.
Yet another 2018 Senior Bowl participant, quarterback Luke Falk, ended up on the Dolphins roster after he was claimed off waivers from the Tennessee Titans.
With the idea of the game to showcase individual talent, game rules are in place (no pass rush games or secondary blitzes, no jumbo formations on offense) to focus on one-on-one matchups. Among the rules in place for the game will be a two-minute warning at the end of all four quarters, with NFL timing rules in place for those final two minutes.
Next on the NFL pre-draft agenda after the Senior Bowl will be the 2019 scouting combine in Indianapolis from Feb. 26 through March 4.