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Senior Bowl: Tuesday's highlights and practice notes

Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert
Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert

MOBILE, Ala. -- Tuesday marked the first day of Senior Bowl practices ahead of Saturday's all-star game on the campus of the University of South Alabama.

Here are some highlights and anecdotes from the National and American Team sessions.

Dane Brugler from The Athletic shared with Fran Duffy on the latest Journey to the Draft podcast, presented by Lifebrand, six standouts from Tuesday's practices:

1. DT Travis Jones, UCONN -- Brugler said that Jones was "a man amongst boys at times." Known as "a monster of a human being," Jones is a dominant two-gap interior lineman who was able to showcase a bit of push in his pass-rush reps on Tuesday. An all-around strong day for him.

2. TE Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State -- According to Brugler, Ruckert could be the first tight end drafted when all is said and done. "In terms of depth, it's a really strong group. The first guy is not set in stone," he said. Brugler noted Ruckert's smooth routes, hands, ball skills, body control, and focus were impressive on Tuesday. Ruckert didn't get tons of opportunities to catch the ball with the bevy of Ohio State's wide receivers.

3. EDGE Dominique Robinson, Miami (Ohio) -- A tremendous story as Robinson was a high school quarterback who started his college career at wide receiver before transitioning to pass rusher in 2020. Brugler noted how Robinson is a "twitched-up athlete who challenged the corner on every play" Tuesday. "He looks like a pass rusher who has been doing it for a long time," he added.

4. G/C Zion Johnson, Boston College -- Johnson was outstanding in the OL vs. DL 1-on-1 drills. His play strength was outstanding. He moved to center in team drills, something he didn't do in college, and Brugler "thought he played pretty well." Brugler said that Johnson is "one of the best players down here."

5. RB Dameon Pierce, Florida -- "He was running with attitude all practice, every single rep," Brugler noted adding that he was always on schedule with his run, delivered pop on contact, and used his leverage at 5-foot-9 to create a little bit of knockback in pass protection.

6. DE Jermaine Johnson, FSU -- "He looks like a guy who wants to be a top-15 pick in this draft," Brugler said praising Johnson for his relentless power and attitude. "There's nuance to what he's doing" from a pass rush plan of attack. "When you put it all together, if you're a blocker in space in 1-on-1, you say a prayer before going out against Jermaine Johnson," Brugler concluded.

Here are other news and notes from the afternoon:

1. The three first-team linebackers with the National Team on defense were Wyoming's Chad Muma, Montana State's Troy Andersen, and Oklahoma's Brian Asamoah.

Muma, who lined up in the middle, helped set the defense and put his athleticism on display multiple times, chasing plays to the flat.

Andersen, a big-bodied athlete who converted from quarterback and running back early in his career (and who some in the NFL believe may have still a future on the offensive side of the ball), did a great job playing through contact in the run game from his strongside linebacker spot on Tuesday.

Asamoah - a speedster with outstanding athleticism - really flashed from the weakside linebacker position.

2. The play of the day may have come from Penn State cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields, a former college and high school teammate of Eagles cornerback Zech McPhearson. Castro-Fields was tested vertically by wide receiver Alex Pierce on a go route down the left sideline in 1-on-1 drills. Pierce looked to have the advantage early, but Castro-Fields went up and took the ball away with a leaping interception in the end zone that drew "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd.

3. In that same 1-on-1 session that pitted receivers against the defensive backs, a few other players stood out. Pitt's Damarri Mathis, who once shared that same Panthers secondary with Avonte Maddox, was sticky in coverage and proved to be pesky at the catch point on more than one occasion.

North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson, at 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds, ran good routes and rarely let the ball hit the ground.

Ole Miss' Braylen Sanders, a late addition to the roster as a replacement player, made a great catch over the shoulder downfield.

Cornerback Coby Bryant, who won the Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in the nation this year, swallowed up a slant route and forced an incompletion after reading the play from the jump.

4. Wide receiver Calvin Austin really flashed for the American squad, rarely letting the ball hit the ground and looking dynamic in the process. The speedy 5-7, 173-pound Memphis product was explosive and battled in blocking drills as well, matching bigger corners well at the point of attack despite his frame.

5. In those same drills, Texas' Josh Thompson really flashed. An aggressive 5-foot-11 199-pound defensive back who is viewed as having cornerback/safety flexibility, Thompson proved to be competitive at the point of attack drills in the run game and knocked some passes on the ground in 1-on-1 drills as well.

6. Hometown hero Jalen Tolbert, who played his entire college career in Mobile for the South Alabama Jaguars, pulled in a great catch downfield on a fade ball in 1-on-1 drills that got more than a few fans excited in the stands. Tolbert, standing 6-foot-1 195 pounds, has vertical speed at that size and was featured in that offense the same way that DeVonta Smith was at Alabama (Jaguars' Offensive Coordinator Major Applewhite was on the Crimson Tide staff in 2020 for Smith's Heisman campaign).

7. One of my favorite parts of being so close to the action for practice is picking up small exchanges between players as they go about the session to help get a small sense of how they go about their business. Tennessee cornerback Alontae Taylor actually stopped his position coach from moving on to the next drill at one point because he realized that one of his new teammates had not gotten his rep yet. Taylor yelled over from the sideline to his coach, who (of course) obliged and was sure to get the other corner a rep. Taylor - a four-year starter in the SEC - gave a glimpse into the kind of teammate and worker he is with that small exchange.

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