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Senior Bowl: Thursday's highlights and practice notes

Senior Bowl 2022
Senior Bowl 2022

MOBILE, Ala. -- Due to inclement weather on Thursday, practices were moved to the University of South Alabama indoor facility. Both teams featured a heavy dose of red zone action with plenty of 1-on-1 battles on display.

National Team Practice Highlights

1. For the National squad, quarterback Kenny Pickett had a good session, throwing several touchdowns in the red zone between full-team periods and 7-on-7 work. Pickett made throws from inside and outside the pocket and often hooked up with Boise State receiver Khalil Shakir, who had himself quite the afternoon. Shakir found the end zone multiple times on Thursday afternoon, whether it was out by the pylons or working from the middle of the field, where he took a hard thump from a crashing safety at the goal line and still held onto the football.

2. That safety who popped Shakir was Illinois' Kerby Joseph. Regarded by some as the top safety in attendance in Mobile, Joseph really came on in his final season for the Illini with five interceptions, finishing the season as Pro Football Focus' top-rated defensive back for the season. Joseph actually came down with a diving interception on a tipped pass in red zone work.

3. Electric Missouri running back Tyler Badie made some plays in Thursday's practice as well. Badie broke off a big gain on the ground in team drills and caught a touchdown in a red zone period. A one-year starter who belted off nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards this fall as an All-American for the Tigers, Badie has a dual-threat skill set and put that on display in front of teams in the final padded practice of the week for the National Team, coached by the Jets.

American Team Practice Highlights

1. The American Team has put the players through the typical 1-on-1 settings, but also created some high-intensity situations where the entire stadium is focused on just one battle in the middle of the field. Practice kicked off with SMU's Danny Gray running by Texas A&M safety Leon O'Neal for a long catch down the right sideline. Then, Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis was shut down in a pass rush rep by Kentucky center Luke Fortner (who has quietly had a very good week). Later in the afternoon, Georgia linebacker Channing Tindall bested Alabama running back Brian Robinson in a blitz protection drill "under the lights."

2. A couple of receivers who stood out on Thursday for the American squad: Calvin Austin from Memphis, Jalen Tolbert from South Alabama, and Gray from SMU. Austin has been very consistent throughout the week and could be the fastest player here. In a red zone drill, he was so slippery, showing the ability to stick his foot in the ground and separate from defenders consistently. Tolbert made his red zone impact in a different way, showing the ability to come down with jump balls thanks to his 6-foot-1 frame and 32-inch arms. Gray, on the other hand, had his best performance of the week, coming through with a number of big-time catches both over the shoulder and along the sideline in both team and individual drills.

3. During the O-line vs. D-line 1-on-1 drills, Kentucky offensive lineman Darian Kennard had three quality wins in a drill that typically favors the defense. LSU defensive tackle Neil Farrell had three wins of his own, showcasing a variety of skills to get to the "quarterback." He flashed power on one rep and delayed his rush slightly to create hesitation before blowing past the lineman on another.

4. Missouri State defensive lineman Eric Johnson flashed during the OL vs. DL 1-on-1s and carried that over to a run period where he created disruption on consecutive plays. He stood up the opposing offensive lineman, creating a wall to close in the running back for a loss. On the next play, he shed the lineman and chased the ballcarrier to get in on the action. Johnson also showed end/tackle versatility on the series.

5. The American practice ended with a bit of a QB skills competition between the three passers in attendance. Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe, North Carolina's Sam Howell, and Liberty's Malik Willis all took turns taking three throws at a pair of targets. First, from 10 yards out, the three quarterbacks tried to find the hole of a practice net. Zappe won that competition by a narrow margin. Then the trio lined up at the 20-yard line and had to hit a trash can located in the back left corner of the end zone. After Zappe and Howell struck out, Willis hit the can twice and nearly dropped it in on the final throw, which would have sent all of the players into a frenzy.

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