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2021 Senior Bowl: Thursday American Team practice report

Which American Team players stood out on Thursday afternoon?

Mike Preston: Motivated by football and family, former New Town star Quincy Roche eyes NFL future Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The final practice of the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl is in the books. The American squad put together another great practice, starting with a high-energy team period and lots of shouting by Matt Rhule.

We saw players flashing from the very first snap of practice, with two defenders taking over the show at times. The day was marred slightly by an injury to QB Mac Jones, but there were more than enough good performances to make up for it.

There were plenty of players on the practice field that could, or should, appeal to the New York Giants, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. So which ones stood out in particular?

Who didn’t practice?

As with the National squad’s practice earlier in the day, there were a few prospects who were held out of Thursday’s practice for precautionary reasons. They were,

Marvin Wilson (iDL, Florida State)
Malik Herring (iDL, Georgia)
Robert Rochell (CB, Central Arkansas)
D’Ante Smith (OL, ECU)

Offensive players

  • Amari Rodgers (WR, Clemson) - As with Kadarius Toney (who stood out as well on Thursday), Rodgers picked up where he left off on Wednesday. Rodgers and Toney are both quick and fast, with the ability to create separation with their routes or simply run away from most defenders.
  • Shi Smith (WR, South Carolina) - Shi Smith stood out early on Wednesday but faded a bit later on. Thursday he flashed repeatedly all practice long. Smith showed very good quickness in and out of his breaks in the red zone drills, with the ability to sink his hips and explode out. He created good and quick separation with his route running.
  • Austin Watkins Jr. (WR, UAB) - Austin Watkins Jr. is one of the really nice surprises this year at the Senior Bowl. An under-the-radar prospect coming from a small program, Watkins Jr. has really impressed with how smooth and fluid a route runner he is, particularly for his size. He also shows really nice ball skills, working back to the ball, shielding the ball from defenders, and presenting a clean target to his quarterback.
  • Tre McKitty (TE, Geogia) - McKitty was barely used at Georgia, and that looks like a mistake on their part. He showed fantastic ball skills down field, making the highlight catch of the week on Wednesday and several good grabs on Thursday. He can make plays down the field as well as in traffic. He’s had a good week, but if there’s a mark on his record it was getting shoved around by Quincy Roche in a red zone run.
  • Trey Smith (OL, Tennessee) - Tre Smith has some pretty serious medical questions — blood clots are nothing to take lightly — but if he is healthy, he can play. Smith was probably the best lineman on the field today, showing good quickness and feet at tackle as well as great leverage and a wide base at guard. Quick, smooth feet. Good hand placement, wide base to absorb and anchor as a guard.
  • Deonte Brown (OG, Alabama) - “That’s no moon, that’s a guard. No wait, it’s a moon playing guard.” - Yes, that’s my raw note from watching Brown play. He looks like that boulder from Raiders of The Lost Ark with an Alabama helmet on top, and the resemblance is even more clear when he’s run blocking. Don’t ask him to move too quickly or too far, but he is a rock on the interior of that offensive line. But what was even more impressive than his sheer size and strength, was Brown in pass protection when he stonewalled one rusher, then quickly pivoted to help the left tackle with a double team.

Defense

  • Quincy Roche (EDGE, Miami) - There are a lot of good players on this defense, but Quincy Roche was top two on Thursday. We knew he could rush the passer and he showed good quickness in team drills as well as lower body fluidity in the hoop drill. What really impressed was his work in run defense. Not only did he set a firm end on off-tackle runs, but he was able to stand up a double team and stonewall a rush in the redzone.
  • Richie Grant (DB, UCF) - The other top defender? Central Florida DB Richie Grant. Grant had an incredible day, starting things off with a pick six in the initial team period, followed by some great coverage in red zone one-on-ones. He kept things rolling with a second interception in the second team period and another pass break up. Grant could well emerge from this week as the top safety in the draft class and he’ll definitely get some looks at corner.
  • Marlon Tuipulotu (iDL, USC) - Tuipulotu is a stocky player at 6-foot-1, 308 pounds, but he showed some impressive lower-body fluidity in the hoop drill and made some plays in one-on-ones as well. While he is certainly a defensive tackle at the NFL level, Tuipulotu showed a surprising ability to carry speed in a short area.
  • Ifeaetu Melifonwu (DB, Syrcause) - Melifonwu doesn’t have Grant’s fluidity and labors a bit in tight coverage, but he does a great job of closing on the ball. He had a highlight play in the red zone team period in which he came downhill in off coverage on a shallow route to keep the receiver out of the end zone.
  • Cameron Sample (iDL, Tulane) - Sample was another consistent performer all day long. Whether it was in team periods or one-on-on drills, Sample showed up. He didn’t just win with his power and bull rush, but also with speed, agility, and technique. Sample flashed throughout the day of practice.
  • Carlos Basham Jr. (EDGE, Wake Forest) - Basham flashed both his strengths and weaknesses on Thursday. He showed his strength and power as a rusher, standing up blockers and driving them back. But he also showed lower body stiffness when running the hoop and some issues with short-area agility in team periods. He has definite upside, but also some definite limitations.