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Senior Bowl notebook: Davenport, Penny struggling for South

— By Rob Rang, —

MOBILE, Ala — One of the oldest (and catchiest) cliches in scouting — the eye in the sky don’t lie — has not been kind to two of the highest rated prospects for the South Team thus far at the Senior Bowl.
Projected first-round defensive end Marcus Davenport and the nation’s leading rusher, Rashaad Penny, have thus far failed to deliver on lofty expectations.
Few players invited to this year’s all-star game look better “on the hoof” than the physically imposing 6-foot-6, 259-pound Davenport, who earned Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors at Texas-San Antonio after setting school records with 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Over the first two days of practice, however, it has been the blockers assigned to stop him — including fellow small-schoolers Alex Cappa (Humboldt State) and Brandon Parker (North Carolina A&T) — who have provided splashier performances.
Davenport acknowledged as much on his own Twitter account following Tuesday’s practice, writing, “Got to improve, the Oline got the best of me today.”
Wednesday was not much better.
To be fair, Davenport is a former basketball player still learning the subtleties of the position. Further, the natural defensive end has not been aided by the fact that the Houston Texans — which predominately run a 3-4 scheme — are asking him to rush out of a stand-up stance. The burst, bend and 34-inch arms that helped Davenport succeed against Conference USA opponents have been absorbed this week, with Davenport showing limited hand technique or a counter move.
Just as disconcerting for scouts is the poor play of the 5-11, 224-pound Penny, who galloped for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2017 for San Diego State. While scouts remain intrigued by his vision, agility and straight-line speed, Penny has struggled with ball security, putting the ball on the ground at least four times over the first two days of practice, including mishandling returns and fumbling twice.
Penny’s struggles as a returner are perhaps especially surprising given that he earned Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year honors in 2017, becoming the first player to earn the award three consecutive years. He scored eight return touchdowns — seven off kick returns — in his career.
Penny’s lack of focus has drawn the ire of the Texans’ coaches, who pulled him from the lineup during scrimmaging after a false start. Penny appeared to get an early jump on another play late in Tuesday’s practice, as well.
Among other notable observations from Wednesday’s South practice:
–While Davenport and Penny have struggled to live up to expectations, several others are boosting their cause this week, including LSU running back Darrell Williams, who found opportunities tough to come by after backing up Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice for the Tigers. But he has shown impressive bounce, acceleration and soft hands for a 5-11, 229-pounder. Do not be surprised if Williams follows in the footsteps of former LSU backups Spencer Ware, Terrence Magee, Alfred Blue and Stevan Ridley in “surprising” by making an NFL roster as a late-round pick or priority free agent.
–Oklahoma State’s James Washington has proven the most polished of the receivers in this year’s Senior Bowl over the first two days of practice, showing body control and strong hands to make contested grabs look easy, and also running reliable routes. Teammate Marcel Ateman has also enjoyed a solid week, using his 6-4, 216-pound frame to box-out cornerbacks. In terms of physical upside, however, perhaps the most intriguing pass-catcher for the South Team is another former LSU Tiger — DJ Chark. His blend of size (6-2 5/8 and 196 pounds), straight-line speed and strong hands stands out. Chark, a dynamic returner for the Tigers, made one of the more difficult catches of Wednesday’s practices, bending his knees and extending his arms out in front of him to snare a punt just inches from the ground, securing it and accelerating in one fluid motion.
–Alabama’s Da’Shawn Hand (6-4, 282) and Texas’ Poona Ford (just under 6-0, 306 pounds) may be polar opposites in terms of prototypical frames, but the raw power they generate as bull rushers helped each stand out during one-on-one drills and scrimmages.
–Evaluating linebackers in an all-star setting is difficult until the game, because players are not allowed to fully tackle during practices. Auburn’s Tre’ Williams and Clemson’s Dorian O’Daniel, however, have made several eye-popping plays over the first two days of practice with the former delivering some impressive hits and the latter showing intriguing agility and instincts in pass coverage.
–Focusing on the line of scrimmage Wednesday left little time for evaluating defensive backs, but I continue to be impressed by the quick feet and fluid turning motion of Southern’s Danny Johnson. The 5-9, 182-pounder lacks the frame to fit every scheme, but he shows terrific agility and route anticipation, blanketing receivers and breaking up at least two passes that should have gone for easy receptions. He was especially impressive on a sideline route late in practice by Kansas State’s Bryon Pringle, matching the athletic 6-1, 201-pound wideout step for step on a double move.