The offensive line can be a tricky position group to evaluate in all-star settings such as the Senior Bowl because it’s more of a cerebral position than others and it’s a position that relies on teamwork and cohesion more than any other. Mastering those two domains while playing for a new coaching staff and with new teammates must be difficult, even for the nation’s top senior football players.
With that caveat in mind, here’s a look at the North squad’s offensive line, with emphasis on Wednesday’s practice but also some references to the first two practices in order to provide some contest and a greater body of work to evaluate…
Best of the bunch: Notre Dame OT Zack Martin
Impressive in all three practices of this year’s Senior Bowl, Martin had the best day of any lineman on Wednesday and it may have been his best practice of the week. He was a clear-cut winner in three of four one-on-one reps I observed, including a smothering of Penn State’s DaQuan Jones and a great job of sliding with edge-rushing speedster Sam Michael. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald did get the best of him, but it was a rare instance of Martin getting beat. He’s been spectacular all week.
Big timers from the Big 10: Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort and Michigan’s Michael Schofield
The Big 10 has been well-represented at the Senior Bowl this season, with a trio of linebackers impressing each day and with receiver Jared Abbrederis displaying tremendous route-running skills and Northwestern’s Kain Colter getting deep on the North defense for a touchdown Wednesday morning. More positive representation came from Mewhort and Schofield on Wednesday, too. Experienced at guard and tackle for Michigan, Schofield has also played both here at the Senior Bowl. On Wednesday he stymied Michael and pushed wide both Stanford’s Trent Murphy and Louisville’s Marcus Smith while playing right tackle and then showed the ability to power block inside by handling Connecticut defensive tackle Shamar Stephen in a one-on-one drill. Mewhort’s first two reps in the one-on-one pass rush drill produced mixed results, but he dominated on his third and fourth reps by smothering standout defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and on the very next snap stymying Stephen.
Local product: Seantrel Henderson has his ups and downs
Henderson was a big-time college recruit when he came out of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Minnesota and he had an up-and-down career at the University of Miami. He’s having an up-and-down week here at the Senior Bowl, and I’m sure the “up” times make him an appealing project for offensive line coaches in attendance. His position coach here at the Senior Bowl is former Vikings Head Coach Mike Tice, who is now the offensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Tice gave Henderson an earful on more than one occasion on Wednesday, but that’s a good thing for Henderson because it means Tice sees enough potential in him to invest time and energy coaching him. Henderson measured in on Monday at a shade under 6-7 and at 331 pounds with an 84-inch wingspan. That is great size for a NFL tackle. He’s also been playing on both the left and right side.
Not giving up on him: Baylor offensive guard Cyril Richardson
Coming into the Senior Bowl, Richardson was a highly-regarded offensive line prospect. At the Senior Bowl, he’s suffered his fair share of defeats. Again, all-star formats are as tough on offensive linemen as any position group, so we have to give him that. Plus, the North has a fantastic group of defensive tackles, which only compounds Richardson’s task this week. But I refuse to write Richardson off as a potential elite prospect on the interior offensive line. Jones and Donald had their way with Richardson in the one-on-one pass rush drill, but supporting my viewpoint on Richardson is the fact that during a team on Wednesday he was largely responsible for opening a gigantic running lane that Wisconsin running back James White ran through for big yardage. On the play, Richardson pulled and kicked out Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis, which allowed White to pickup huge yardage downfield.
Bright spots: Combo blocks in the 9-on-7 drill
Outside of Martin, Mewhort and Schofield, the offensive line was outperformed by the defensive line in the one-on-one pass rush drill. But there were several bright spots for the offensive line in the 9-on-7 drill, which is a live contact running drill. Donald and North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin were disruptive on the first two snaps, but the third snap was a win for the offense because of great combination/kickout blocks by Henderson and Richardson and because of a great cutback by running back Charles Sims of West Virginia. The third group also had a winning play thanks to the trio of center Brandon Linder (Miami), Richardson and Martin, who overpowered a defensive front comprised of Justin Ellis (Louisiana Tech), Donald and Murphy.