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What to Watch For: Senior Bowl Edition

Posted Jan 20, 2014

MOBILE, Ala. -- Here are five storylines to keep an eye on during the 2014 Senior Bowl.

MOBILE, Ala. -- The 2014 Senior Bowl officially got underway Monday as the North and South teams took the field for the first time ahead of Saturday’s game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

In addition to on-field workouts, each day, the players will go through meetings with their NFL coaching staffs and have formal one-on-one interviews with front-office and scouting departments of each of the league’s 32 teams.

As the players continue their on-field work, here are five storylines to pay attention to during the week:

1. Quarterback play.

Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd will be the high-profile passers during the week, but keep an eye on Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo, who played at the same college as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, led the Eastern Illinois Panthers deep into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs this past season.

All told, Garoppolo completed 375 of 568 attempts for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns against nine interceptions this past season. He set the Eastern Illinois single-game record with seven touchdown passes against Illinois State and threw for three or more scores in 11 games this year, including nine straight to start the season.

Garoppolo was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster when Alabama’s A.J. McCarron pulled out of the all-star game. Already having played in the East-West Shrine Game, Garoppolo proved he could play against top-flight competition despite his FCS roots. He earned offensive MVP for the East team by completing nine of 14 attempts for 100 yards without an interception in the Shrine Game.

2. The progression of Northwestern’s Kain Colter.

Originally a backup quarterback when he came to Northwestern, Colter did a little bit of everything for the Wildcats during his four years with the team. He ranks in the school’s all-time top 10 in several categories, including passer rating (second, 139.0), career rushing yards (eighth, 2,180), rushing touchdowns (fifth, 28), and first in both career (2,180), as well as single-season rushing yards (891) by a quarterback.

Now, Colter is attempting the same transition fellow former Big Ten quarterback, the University of Michigan’s Denard Robinson, made last year, going from Jack-of-all-trades in college to NFL wide receiver.

3. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Once labeled by Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly as a “one-man wrecking crew,” Donald was not highly recruited out of Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh because of his 6-foot frame, but he quickly erased any and all doubt that he could play at the Division I level.

A physical defensive tackle who registered 26.5 tackles for lost yardage this past season, Donald won all of the nation’s top defensive honors, including the Bronko Nagurski Award (Defensive Player of the Year), Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award (Outstanding Lineman or Linebacker), Outland Trophy (Outstanding Interior Offensive or Defensive Lineman) and Chuck Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year).

4. Wide receiver Jeff Janis of Saginaw Valley State.

As a senior for the Cardinals, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound native of Tawas City, Mich., caught 83 passes, which he turned into 1,572 yards and 14 touchdowns with a long reception of 95 yards. Already the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Back of the Year, Janis earned All-America honors from three media outlets after tying the conference record for single-season receiving yards against league opponents.

5. How the players respond to NFL coaching.

Mike Smith and his staff from the Atlanta Falcons will put the North team through its paces during the week, as will Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley for the South squad, and for most of these players, it will be their first exposure to NFL coaching.

Members of the 2013 Cleveland Browns found that learning to adjust to the coaching was one of the biggest obstacles they had to overcome during Senior Bowl Week.

“At first, it was overwhelming,” said offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey. “Everything was crazy. The media being there, we never had media at Chadron. We had a newspaper guy, but otherwise, we were never interviewed. Going from an atmosphere with very little media to being exposed to mainstream sports media was very intense, but it was good.

“My head was spinning. I had no idea what was going on. I remember, in the game, we had different protections. At Chadron, we had three different pass protections, and at the Senior Bowl, they’re very, very complex. I had no idea what was going on. I felt like I was in the fire and things were just running wild. It was some pretty intense exposure, but things turned out well.”

Defensive back Leon McFadden added, “It was good seeing how they went out there and ran their programs, how they run the show. It was a faster pace than college and I enjoyed it. It kind of prepared me to come here.”

ClevelandBrowns.com's coverage of the 2014 Senior Bowl is Driven by Liberty Ford.

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