MOBILE, Alabama – The reason the Senior Bowl is the premier pre-draft event to the NFL executives, coaches and scouts who have flocked to it since 1951 is because it features the last look at draft prospects in real practice and game situations before the draft.
It’s not a beauty contest or a medical cattle call, like the NFL Scouting Combine, which starts on March 1 in Indianapolis.
And it’s not a track and field event, like the multitude of repetitive Pro Days at various colleges across the nation leading up to the draft, which begins on April 28 this year in Las Vegas.
It’s real football. The coaching staffs are from the NFL. NFL personnel direct the rosters of the game, which is why so many participants in the Senior Bowl become draftees year after year.
It’s also one of the first weekends NFL personnel have off since July, so they also come to party. Check-in on the Sunday night before the game at Riverview Plaza hotel in downtown Mobile resembles a college fraternity reunion more than an arrival for a bunch of practices. Coaches can be seen out and about in town as frequently as at the practices.
They also like it because the Senior Bowl remains largely quiet in the national sports news cycle and window. In other words, huge TV trucks are not all over the place. It’s still kind of a hidden treasure to participate in or just be around.
A lot of people just do not know about it. Even in-state players from LSU, which is less than a three-hour drive from Mobile, often do not know much about the game when they are invited to play in it.
To local players, however, it’s as close to a Super Bowl as Mobile will ever host. There has never been an NFL, MLB or NBA team in Alabama, so this is it.
“I used to come to the Senior Bowl games and ask the players for gloves,” South Alabama wide receiver Jalen Tolbert of McGill-Toolen High in Mobile said after the Senior Bowl Saturday at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
Tolbert caught two passes for 24 yards for the American team that lost to the National team, 20-10, but what he did in the practices will be as or more important.
“I grew up around this game, but it was more than I expected,” he said. “Being downtown with the players, getting to know the coaches, it was everything I hoped it would be.”
About 30 or 40 of his closest friends and relatives attended the game.
“I worked on being more deceptive and selling my routes,” Tolbert said. “At the next level, it’s all about separation. I soaked everything up that I could.”
Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. of Saraland, which is next to Mobile, caught four passes for 53 yards for the American team.
“After the game, seeing all the kids getting signatures, that was me when I was a kid,” Jones said. “I came here to give it up for Saraland.”
Jones, a transfer from USC, was an All-SEC player last season for the Vols and the only player in the nation to have 800 receiving yards, 600 kickoff return yards and 200 punt return yards.
“This week was everything I thought it would be,” he said. “I wanted to play against the best in the country.”
SENIOR BOWL SUMMIT TOP QUOTES
Alabama’s Nick Saban was not the only coach criticizing the NCAA transfer portal and the new Name, Image and Likeness rules in college football at the Senior Bowl Summit that helped kick off the week on Tuesday.
While discussing the portal, both Penn State coach James Franklin and Texas coach Steve Sarkisian pointed some criticism at parents of prospects.
“In recruiting, I see too many parents trying to be their kids’ friend instead of their parents and not using enough tough love,” Franklin said.
“Parents are so much more involved in recruiting now,” Sarkisian said. “They’re on social media as much as the kids being recruited themselves. If you love it more than they do, then you need to look at yourself as a parent.”
OTHER TOP QUOTES
“Ultimately, who’s hurting right now because of the transfer portal? High school kids because there are not enough spots. It’s like musical chairs. The music is stopping here soon, and there’s not going to be enough seats.” … Texas coach Steve Sarkisian.
“I’m concerned for college football overall with all these changes that have all happened in a very short time. A lot of times, you hear the NCAA getting beaten up because of a rule that sounds ridiculous. Well, that rule’s in place for a reason.” … Penn State coach James Franklin.
“We have a lot of players, all right, who get disappointed in their circumstance. All right, so they’re frustrated, all right, because they’re not playing more. They’re not catching enough passes, whatever it might be. So, those are the guys that want to cut and run. But really, the key to success is learning how to overcome adversity.” … Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“Just because you have a bad day doesn’t mean it’s time to pack up and leave.” … Auburn coach Bryan Harsin, who was talking about transfers, but may be packing up and leaving soon himself.
“I just didn’t love the timing of the portal. Is the concept maybe right? Yes. I get it – giving kids the ability to move and go other places. I wish it would have been a little tighter or maybe around a coaching change or things of that nature.” … Texas coach Steve Sarkisian.
“A lot of us grew up with college football when the NCAA made every decision and every rule based on education. And I hate to say this, but you don’t hear about that a whole lot anymore.” … Penn State coach James Franklin.
“I mean we had some young guys in the national championship game who were upset all season long because they didn’t get to play as much and all that, so they didn’t practice as well. They didn’t develop. We didn’t have to play them. And when we would give them an opportunity to play, they didn’t play well. But when we got guys injured (veteran wide receiver Jameson Williams in the national title game and veteran wide receiver John Metchie III previously), they had to play in the championship game. And not one of them could take advantage of their opportunity.” … Alabama coach Nick Saban.