To me, the Senior Bowl really kicks off the draft season. The week of practices combined with the game itself allows us to get a glimpse of some prominent prospects as they prepare for the pro game. By most accounts, the Dallas Cowboys are looking for some help along both lines, offense and defense. On offense, the right side of the line should be considered a pretty open competition if the team is honest with itself. None of the group including Phil Costa, Ryan Cook, Mackenzy Bernadeau or Doug Free should be feeling comfortable this offseason. On the defensive side, the switch to the 4-3 and the Jay Ratliff situation are cause for concern. So could help be on the way form the Senior Bowl participants? Let's check in what people are saying.
If the Cowboys are thinking tackle, tackle Eric Fisher might be playing himself out of their range. He's been rising.
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: The word was already out on Fisher, but he did well enough this week to possibly put him in the first half of the first round, and the second tackle taken after Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, who just may go first overall. Fisher isn't a pure power guy -- he can be rocked back and he'll need some core strength work -- but as a pure pass-protector, he may be the best overall in this class. He reminds me most of fellow Central Michigan alum Joe Staley, and former Wisconsin standout Joe Thomas, who now anchors the Cleveland Browns' offensive line.
Another tackle creating buzz is Lane Johnson.
Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (6-6 ¼, 302 pounds). Like Fisher, Johnson is NFL-ready after a solid three days at work. Occasionally he was pushed into the backfield but otherwise he was dominant against his teammates on the South team. To be fair, the South's defensive linemen aren't quite as good as the North's, which means the game will be a nice test for Johnson as he'll go up against the guys Fisher's been facing in practice all week.
David Quessenberry, San Jose State (6-5, 294 pounds). Ranking a Senior Bowl lineman third really isn't a slight, especially considering how dominant Fisher and Johnson look. Quessenberry has been a surprise this week at guard and tackle, handling the pass rush all week. He's really a polished blocker with some good quickness. In my opinion he jumped past Oday Aboushi and Brian Winters in the rankings thanks to a crisp, consistent week.
And this interesting account of an o-line player vs. a d-line player.
Larry Warford (OG, Kentucky) and John Jenkins (NT, Georgia) went up against each other in the one-on-one pass protection blocking drills. With the former at 333 pounds and later at a mammoth 359, that's nearly 700 pounds of man smashing into one another. Warford got the best of Jenkins in one instance, anchoring and standing his ground well against the bull rush. On another, Jenkins showed rare agility for his size and the quick feet that make him such an interesting prospect; he set up Warford by feigning a power move and then deftly skirting by him. A dancing bear, that's John Jenkins. Problem is, for a player who's 359 pounds, he didn't consistently flash the brute strength one would expect -- and when he did, it wasn't necessarily overwhelming. A few of the times when Jenkins was double-teamed, he got too high in his stance and was easily pushed off his spot immediately to open up a huge hole for the RB.
On defense, a couple of interior guys.
Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: After flying under the radar during the season, Williams has drawn plenty of attention from NFL scouts searching for explosive defensive tackles with exceptional first-step quickness and burst. Williams has dominated drills with his combination of strength, power and athleticism while also displaying impressive instincts and awareness as a disruptive force. His ability to create immediate penetration against the run makes him an ideal candidate to play the one- or three-technique in a one-gap scheme.
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Scouts have been raving about Short's potential as a three-technique in a one-gap scheme after watching him terrorize opponents with his combination of quickness and agility in drills. The former Purdue standout has shown rare lateral quickness for a pass rusher his size (6-3, 315), and scouts definitely are intrigued by his ability to disrupt plays with his athleticism. Although Short's energy and effort aren't always running at high levels, the fact that he has shown dominant flashes throughout the week will convince a number of teams that he has the potential to become a difference maker as a pro.
Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern: Williams quickly garnered the attention of NFL personnel during the weigh-ins, checking in at a whopping 341 pounds. He hasn't had any trouble using his size and strength to overpower opposing linemen in one-on-one pass-rush drills. However, his surprisingly nimble footwork is what has been most impressive. He is being talked about as a likely second-round pick.
Defensive end: Datone Jones, UCLA Perhaps the biggest "riser" of Senior Bowl week, Jones was the only player to give Fisher any trouble in pass-rushing drills. At 6-4, 280, Jones is versatile enough to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. A big day on Saturday would put the stamp on Jones' big week, which has created rumblings that Jones would go as high as the end of round one, though more likely early in day two.