Senior Bowl Notebook: Foes to Friends, Teammates 1 More Time & Players of Week

MOBILE, Ala. — Charles Omenihu and Dalton Risner will get to enjoy a game day without an ounce of disdain for the other.

Omenihu, a defensive end from Texas, and Risner, a tackle from Kansas State, will be on the same team Saturday in the 70th Reese’s Senior Bowl.

They will play for the North team coached by Jon Gruden and the Raiders staff against the South squad coached by Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers.

The Longhorn and Wildcat will don helmets of their schools one last time but wear the same color jersey after facing each other the past three years.

Past matchups created a mutual respect that the men brought with them to Mobile for three days of practices.

Omenihu said the best player he’s ever gone against at any position is Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, who won the 2018 Heisman. He was just as decisive when asked to name the top offensive lineman he’s ever faced, quickly answering Risner.

Why?

“Not a lot of offensive linemen I’ve gone against were able to, from start to finish, match blows with me, as far as my explosiveness off the ball, my first step and length,” Omenihu said. “He was able to get out there with me and play. I had a really dominant game against K-State, but it was still a great matchup, and I respect his game.”

Risner said he appreciated the sentiment and that “Charles is one of the best defensive ends in the Big 12.”

“The things he said about me, I could go hand-in-hand and say about him as well,” Risner said. “I’ve been telling scouts all week that that’s a great football player. He’s every bit as tall as me, has got long arms.

“I’m a tackle, I like to see a tiny guy. I like to see a guy that doesn’t have very long arms, I can get my hands on him and manhandle,” Risner continued. “A guy like Charles Omenihu, you can’t do that. He’s a guy that has long arms, a guy that can get around the edge, also has enough strength and weight in his body to hold you on a run block. I’ve been going against Charles for three years now, so there’s a lot of mutual respect there. Not when we play on game day, but every day after that. The last three years, there’s been three days where we don’t like each other, but after that, it’s been good.”

Omenihu totaled 18 of his 30.5 career tackles for loss and 9.5 of his 17 sacks in 2018. He ranked 29th in FBS in sacks per game and 31st in tackles for loss per game.

Risner played in 50 games for the Wildcats. He was named to the All-America Second Team by the Associated Press.

Teammates a final time

There’s a long line of Wisconsin offensive linemen who have made a mark in the NFL.

This week, a pair of Badgers guards — Beau Benzschawel and Michael Deiter — were among the prospects trying to impress coaches and scouts in practice reps.

The duo, however, was not part of the same combo of linemen, as the North opted to have Benzschawel with one group and Deiter with the other (the rosters for both teams are designed to be two-deep across the offensive line).

Nonetheless, they said they enjoyed going through the experience together.

“It’s really helpful, someone you can bounce questions off, like the playbook or something, but it’s just, we’re teammates, go through thick and thin together,” Benzschawel said.

Added Deiter: “It’s awesome. He’s one of my best friends. Having him here adds that much more comfort and that much more fun to the whole ordeal. It’s really special.”

How are they alike or different?

“We’re pretty similar guys. You kind of have to be to play at Wisconsin,” Benzschawel said. “Differences maybe is that Deiter is a little bit squattier. He’s got a good squat on him, and I think I have more length.”

Deiter said he and Benzschawel are “pretty close” in terms of personality.

“Maybe I talk a little more than him,” Deiter said. “Playing football, we’re pretty similar, he’s got a better body than me, 6-6-and-a-half, super-long arms, but when it comes to playing the game, we’re pretty similar.”

Benzschawel became the third offensive lineman in Badgers history to repeat as a First-Team All-American, joining Dennis Lick (1974-75) and Joe Thomas (2005-06). His 49 career starts rank fourth in school history among offensive linemen.

Deiter’s 54 consecutive starts are the most by an offensive lineman in school history. He started 24 at left guard, 16 at center and 14 at left tackle. In 2018, he was named the Rimington-Pace Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.

From the sidelines

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero is no stranger to covering the NFL happenings during the week of the Senior Bowl, but this week was unlike any other for the reporter.

Pelissero was assigned sideline duties, reporting from practices and will have the same role in Saturday’s game.

He said he enjoyed getting a “jump-start on learning who these guys are” in preparation for the NFL Draft.

“I think it’s particularly interesting any time around guys like the quarterbacks,” Pelissero said. “You get sense of their personality, which is evaluated more than any others, in terms of the leadership traits they have, ‘Can they command the room?’ All those sorts of things, and the coaches are getting that, too.

“Jon Gruden and Kyle Shanahan are two guys who know quarterbacks well. You can look at the Raiders, and even though they’ve got Derek Carr, and the 49ers, who have Jimmy Garoppolo, you also know that by the end of the week they’re going to be falling in love with somebody, and we’ll see exactly what that leads to on draft day.”

Asked about the favorite storyline he was able to deliver this week, Pelissero said, “It has to be the actual delivery of the child of Khalen Saunders. His daughter, Kambridge, who was born on Tuesday up in Chicago.”

“[Saunders] had spoken with his fiancée leading up to that event, they agreed that a small-school kid from Western Illinois needed the opportunity to show what he could do against players from bigger schools and really kind of test himself,” Pelissero said. “Scouts that I talked to say he had a really good week, has been focused. He actually got on a plane [Thursday], he’s flying to Chicago, going to see the child and fly back here [Friday] and participate in the game, so it’s a bit of a whirlwind for Khalen Saunders.”

Pelissero also has a busy schedule coming up. After Saturday’s game, he’ll fly to Atlanta on Sunday and cover the airport arrivals of the Rams and Patriots for Super Bowl LIII.

Practice awards

The Practice Players of the Week were:

Overall: Chuma Edoga (USC)

Quarterback: Jarrett Stidham (Auburn)

Running back: Dexter Williams (Notre Dame)

Receiver: Deebo Samuel (South Carolina)

Tight end: Foster Moreau (LSU)

Offensive lineman: Garrett Bradbury (N.C. State)

Defensive lineman: Isaiah Buggs (Alabama)

Linebacker: Drue Tranquill (Notre Dame)

Defensive back: Darnell Savage (Maryland)

Specialist: Austin Seibert (Oklahoma)

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