MOBILE, Alabama -- It was warm enough Wednesday to break a sweat just watching the North and South teams go through their second Senior Bowl practice.
For the players who wore full pads one day after donning shells, it was as taxing of a session as they'll see until Saturday's 4 p.m. kickoff at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Here's a rundown of what we learned Wednesday.
Yes, Blake Sims is a quarterback
Sims began his Alabama career as a running back, dabbled a little at defensive back and even took a few snaps at wide receiver before he found a cozy spot as quarterback AJ McCarron's backup to start the 2012 season. For two years, Sims quietly pushed himself to become the kind of quarterback Nick Saban requires at Alabama, and that's just what he became, as he beat out Florida State transfer Jacob Coker for the job in August, led the Crimson Tide to an SEC Championship and a College Football Playoff appearance and set numerous Alabama program records along the way, including most passing yards in a single season. Still, despite all of what Sims crammed into a heck of a senior season, questions remained as to whether he'd need to switch positions when he set out for the NFL. The answer, whether it's from Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage or Sims himself, has been an emphatic no, and he's shown why through the first couple of practices. There have been some wobbly throws, but there have also been plenty of moments when Sims has flashed his athleticism with a crisp roll-out followed by a strong throw. With the game's other quarterbacks showing plenty of inconsistency, Sims has the chance to leave Mobile with a strong impression on scouts, coaches and general managers who may have doubted his potential at the position.
Nick Marshall is not a quarterback ...
… and that's a good thing. Marshall, the former Auburn star, initially intended on playing quarterback in the all-star event but decided roughly two hours before the first practice to make the switch to defensive back, the position at which he began his college career. At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Marshall is an intriguing prospect at a position he hasn't played in years. His athleticism, though, is unquestioned, and he's shown it off throughout the week. On a Wednesday conference call, ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Marshall could be selected as high as the third round. Marshall's last-second change-of-heart opened the door for Bryan Bennett, the former backup of Oregon's Marcus Mariota who went on to a successful career at Southeastern Louisiana.
Remember the name: Clive Walford
With a lack of star power at the wide receiver position, Walford, who played his college ball at Miami, has brought plenty of attention to tight end, where he's made numerous plays through the first two days of practice. One one particular play, Walford burst from his three-point stance and simply ran a loop around Norfolk State linebacker Lynden Trail to catch an over-the-shoulders pass for a touchdown. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread that Walford "could be the best tight end in the country." That's high praise, as that distinction has typically been bestowed upon Minnesota’s Maxx Williams. Walford, who measured in at 6-foot-4 and 254 pounds, played just one year of high school football because his first love was basketball. "I felt like basketball wasn't doing it for me," Walford said. "Once I started playing the game, I realized how easy it was … I started to love the game and I have a passion for it."
Two of the smallest players doing big things
This year's wide receiver group at the Senior Bowl doesn't include many big targets, and it's been two of the smallest members of the group who have been among the most impressive. Miami's Phillip Dorsett (5-foot-9, 183 pounds) and Kansas State's Tyler Lockett (5-foot-10, 181 pounds) have made a number of plays out of the slot during South Team practices. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said Dorsett will probably surface as the fastest player in the entire draft class while Lockett used his speed and shiftiness to make a number of big plays at both wide receiver and kick/punt returner during his decorated career with the Wildcats. As Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel proved for the Browns throughout the 2014 season, size is only a small piece of the puzzle when it pertains to what makes a quality receiver.
The other Kentucky DE making waves
Za'Darius Smith hasn't lost any momentum since his MVP performance at last week's East-West Shrine Game. Smith, who had two tackles and a sack in the Shrine Game, has stood out on a South Team that is loaded with talented defensive linemen. NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks said scouts covet a player like Smith for nickel edge defending. He's been able to stand out a little more because he's not standing in his former teammate's shadow. Fellow Kentucky defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree, who is projected as a first-round pick, dropped out of the game at the last minute and received some veiled criticism from Savage in the process. Smith is trending in the right direction and currently slotted as a third-rounder by CBSSports.com.
This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.