First, the video, since we can drop this in our blog interface now … and the first of many video pieces produced that you will also see here in the blog.
In talking with a slew of Senior Bowl players this week, I was struck by how differently they approached the week and how it fit into their career.
Some, like South Florida linebacker Ben Moffitt, saw the all-star game — won by the South squad, 17-16 — and its week of practices as the beginning of their NFL careers. The game is played under professional rules, and the practices are defined by a gathering of scouts, personnel executives and scouts that is only surpassed by the National Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next month.
Others, like Florida wide receiver Andre Caldwell, saw it differently. This wasn’t the first day of their professional life; it was the last of their collegiate one.
As a team, as a scout, as a coach, or for you, as a fan, which one do you want to see? The player that’s moved on to the pro mindset, or the one that wants to squeeze a few last drops from their college fruit? By all means share your thoughts in the comments section below.
I reckon both perspectives have their merits. Senior Bowl week is as much a test as anything else, to see how these players handle pro coaching, pro techniques, pro pressure. The final examination? That starts in May when each of these players settles in at their destinations, looking to make enough of an impression to ensure safe passage to a 53-man roster.
But on a soggy Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., Caldwell did his alma mater proud in his final gasp as a collegian.
Four seconds remained. The South sat two yards from the game-winning touchdown, trailing 16-10. Much of the sellout crowd had long since scurried away from a dreary, chilling mist that was more Merseyside than Mobile; those who remained rose to their feet, surely to find more comfort in standing than sitting on a soaked metal bleacher.
The call came from the bench — a call for Caldwell.
He had touched the football twice in the game to that point, gaining 12 yards on a rush and 18 yards on a reception earlier in the drive, a fourth-and-10 completion that had moved the South to its 32-yard-line. It had been a relatively quiet afternoon for a man whose precision and sure hands earned him plaudits throughout the week.
Ten plays and 66 yards after saving the game, Caldwell could now win it.
For the record, I loved the call … but it was completely expected. The South worked on the end-around — not the “reverse,” as many reporters called it — throughout the week, using Caldwell and Houston wideout Donnie Avery, among others. It evoked memories of Boise State, ending its overtime win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl with the Statue-of-Liberty two-point conversion.
Caldwell celebrated Saturday’s clutch trickery with the famed Florida Gators chop. Somewhere in Colorado, the Broncos’ in-house statisical guru, media-relations staffer, Patrick Smyth, was smiling at the sight of his fellow Gator celebrating in such a fashion; all that was missing was the UF band playing the theme from Jaws.
The play was perfect. Erik Ainge raised his arms skyward as soon as he handed Caldwell the football.
Designed for two yards, it got precisely that. The North’s defense — which on much of the drive featured its stars of the week, led by USC defensive end Sedrick Ellis and Penn State linebacker Dan Connor — seemed to expect the play; its defenders didn’t overpursue and had three yards been required, Caldwell may well have failed.
But he didn’t, and for those who bailed on the game early, Caldwell could only offer two words:
Literally, not figuratively …
During the season, I’m confined to the press box, so the Senior Bowl game itself represents the rare opportunity — for myself, at least — to watch from field level, to run from one end of the field to the other between plays as a team advances downfield, to hit and miss and capture as much as our equipment and luck will permit.
I spent much of the game shooting photos, keeping my camera dry and dictating notes into my digital audio recorder. But I was at one point waylaid, with my path up the sideline blocked by a prone Alabama fan.
A tipsy reveler in Crimson Tide clothing had fallen over the fence and shrubbery that separates a concrete walkway in front of the bleachers from the South team bench. I reckon the guy had to have started scaling the fence; otherwise the shrubbery probably would have held this fairly slender fellow back from landing so close to the field.
With the game raging, I stopped to help him back over, with a pair of passersby helping him to his feet. My responsibility was for pulling his leg back over to the side of the fence on which he belonged. Eventually he does, the aroma of rum and bourbon remaining strong even as he moved several feet away.
Yet being on the correct side of the shrubbery did not bring the gentleman back to safety. He tilted awkwardly, like a slow-spinning dreidel on its final rotation. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge had more stability than our soused acquaintance.
Eventually, I tossed him his crimson Alabama ski cap, secure that he is under police care, if not custody, although it seemed as though the nearby constable would release the sodden lad to the care of his companion, whom I hope was not his drinking buddy, because if he was, it was sure to be an adventurous ride home.
Certainly, Caldwell, Moffitt, Ainge and all the others in Saturday’s game — even those who struggled, like Colt Brennan, both placekickers and Cal running back Justin Forsett, who had scant room to roam — did their school’s logo better than the guy who nearly drowned in a Crimson Tide of liquor.
But the fan eventually veered away, leaving us to focus on the game … and the possibilities therein.
Admittedly, my mind drifts to the possibility of how each player might fare with the Broncos. Who might fit? Who doesn’t? It’s often difficult to ascertain. But here in Mobile, there’s optimism even for those who struggle. There’s two months of Scouting Combine and Pro Day work with which to compensate for a shaky week here.
Some players made hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps millions here. For those who didn’t, there’s more chances to get that back, which will take us to the Combine in less than four weeks.
Time to get some much-needed sleep … good night from southern Alabama … and until the next blog post from back in Denver, vaya con Dios.
Tags: Senior Bowl