1) Multiple new positions for top-50 prospect.
NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah views North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch as a top-50 prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft class. His move to the next level might include a position change, though.
Mauch almost exclusively played left tackle for the Bison but has been moved inside this week at the Senior Bowl — at two different spots. In Tuesday’s opening practice, Mauch was working predominantly at left guard. On Wednesday, Mauch also took snaps at center. Either spot could be Mauch’s new home in the NFL.
“I definitely can see myself there (at guard),” Mauch said. “I thought it was actually, you know, an alright day, especially for my first time doing guard, and obviously, (there is) stuff to work out. So I’m excited about the start and now just to see how we can finish it.”
Mauch added that “a lot of teams like me at guard, and I’m even getting a lot of talk about center.” His performance Wednesday was a tick better overall from what Mauch did the day prior, showing that he can improve quickly following the move inside.
2) Two injuries for National team.
Two key players for the National team missed Wednesday’s practice after impressing on Tuesday.
Ohio State offensive tackle Dawand Jones — the largest player at the Senior Bowl (6-8, 375 pounds) — was feeling under the weather and his status for the rest of the week is to be determined, NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported during live coverage of Wednesday’s practice on NFL+.
Texas running back Roschon Johnson suffered a broken bone in his hand early in Tuesday’s practice, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Johnson was able to play through the injury on the first day but did not practice on Wednesday. Rapoport reported that Johnson “likely won’t be able to participate the rest of the week.”
3) Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly makes statement on Wednesday.
One of the standout players for the National team on Wednesday was Kelly, a 6-foot, 193-pound cornerback and the son of former Buccaneers CB Brian Kelly, who played for Tampa Bay from 1998 to 2007.
The Cardinal’s Kelly was everywhere in team drills, breaking up at least three passes and also intercepting a pass — even stealing it away from the grasp of his former Stanford teammate, receiver Elijah Higgins — and running it back for what would have been a pick-six.
“I just went in there and ripped it out,” Kelly said. “When I get a chance, I will make a play.”
It was a huge play for a prospect with only three career interceptions whom opposing teams often avoided throwing at this past season.
“Twenty-five,” Kelly said, counting the number of times he was targeted in 10 games in 2022. “I kept count. It wasn’t hard to.”
Higgins said Kelly’s “anticipation skill” was his best trait.
“I saw it every day in practice,” Higgins said. “He had way more than three picks there.”
For good measure, Kelly also snagged an off-target throw while standing on the sideline – and he did it with one hand while the other one held his helmet.
“I want the scouts to know I have hands and I’m a playmaker,” Kelly said.
Dad was impressed. Watching in the stands, the elder Kelly said his son is a “better version of myself, in every way. He’s faster than me. He’s taller. He’s smarter than me. I’m just proud.”
4) Fresno State’s Jake Haener could emerge from QB crop.
It’s not a banner year for quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, but it’s hardly a lost cause at the position. In a crop of quarterbacks that mostly range from Day 3 prospects to priority free agents, Haener might be the leading man among them. He’s now stacked solid back-to-back practices, showing decent accuracy and the ability to make plays out of structure — even in unfamiliar surroundings this week.
The Bulldogs quarterback finished off his career in a successful fashion, returning from an ankle injury to lead Fresno State to a Mountain West title and throw for 2,896 yards, 20 TDs and only three picks despite missing four games.
Haener was fortunate not to miss more. Doctors originally told him it was a 10-to-12-week injury, which might have ended his season. In the end, he was out for a much shorter period, playing the remainder of the season with an ankle he estimated was “75 to 80 percent healthy.” The Bulldogs didn’t lose a single game after he came back.
Was he worried he could do more damage to the ankle ahead of the pre-draft season?
“I don’t play with fear,” Haener said. “You know, I’m trying to execute and play at a high level and do everything I can to help our team get wins, but I think it allowed me to play with a different perspective at times and get the ball out of my hand quicker and more efficiently.”
5) Tulane’s Tyjae Spears looking sharp as receiver.
It’s going to be hard to slow down the Spears hype train this week.
The Tulane running back has been one of the early stars at the Senior Bowl, making impressive plays two days in a row. On Wednesday, Spears had a few eye-opening plays.
He slipped on a run play during 9-on-7 work, and it looked like he might go down for no gain, but he regained his balance, shifted his weight and picked up yardage. He also stood tall in receiving and pass-blocking drills, and ripped off a long touchdown run late in the session.
Two things have stood out: Spears has looked quick at 204 pounds (after playing in the 190s last season, he said) and has done well catching the ball.
At Tulane, Spears was often an afterthought as a receiving option, catching only 28 passes in his first 22 college games. A two-game spell last season against Southern Mississippi and Houston offered a glimpse of that ability, with Spears catching a combined 11 passes for 159 yards and a TD.
Spears said Wednesday he never asked the Green Wave coaches for more chances as a receiver. Why? Because he said it wasn’t his job to decide how the offense was run.
“I never tried to put myself in the coach’s shoes because there are so many things you’ve got to put into the equation,” Spears said. “I can’t just go to (them) and say, ‘Hey, use me (as a receiver) out of the backfield. I am not that player. I’ll let you figure it out.”
It appears the American team coaches have figured it out. Expect Spears to get even more chances to catch the ball as the week continues.
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