With 8:46 left in the third quarter of the 2009 Under Armour Senior Bowl, quarterback Pat White of West Virginia University launched a 39 yard pass into the corner of the end zone. The crowd of 38,796 in Mobile Alabama remained silent with anticipation as the ball hung in the air, landing safely into the hands of Ole Miss wide receiver Mike Wallace.
As the referee signaled "touchdown," the crowd erupted into cheers for White, who grew up just minutes away in nearby Daphne Alabama. White was honored with the game's Most Valuable Player award, capping off a stellar college career.
For NFL scouts and officials, the game was something of an after thought, most of which having left on Thursday evening after watching practices throughout the week and conducting interviews with the senior college all-stars.
The Senior Bowl gives scouts a unique look at college players eligible for the NFL Draft in April. Not only do scouts get to observe how a player handles working against the nation's top collegiate talent, but they also see how players handle working with NFL coaches.
Each year, the NFL sends the coaching staffs of two teams to Mobile to coach the players throughout the week. This year the NFL sent the coaching staffs of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cincinnati Bengals, led by head coaches Jack Del Rio and Marvin Lewis.
Each day began with practice for the North squad at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in downtown Mobile. While players were working hard on the field, even more work was being conducted in the stands. Though sparsely filled, the stands were peppered with various people, all with expressed interests in the events unfolding before them.
Groups of NFL team scouts sat huddled together, frantically scribbling down notes onto tiny notepads or quietly trying to mutter details of player performances into digital recorders.
Most scouts sat far away from other team representatives, attempting to keep information discussed secret. Aside from scouts, members of the media recorded the activity taking place, while agents roamed the stands, telling anyone who would listen why their clients are the best on the field.
As practice ended, the field was flooded with scouts and media members. Scouts struck up brief conversations with players, arranging more lengthy interviews for later that day, while the media hoped to get a sound bite or two for their next report. After a short lunch break, the South team arrived at the stadium and the process repeated.
Throughout the week, the quest for talent in Mobile continued as scouts looked for the slightest details in a player's performance to help develop their draft boards for April. Even with the plethora of talent on the field at all times, certain players were able to rise above and showcase their skills.
Derrick Williams, the sure handed wide receiver from Penn State, was able to show more that his ability to catch the ball. Williams displayed the ability to run precise routes, create separation, and even displayed his abilities as a kick off returner.
When given the chance to make a play, Williams delivered. The former Nittany Lion continued his solid performance on game day, leading all players 124 total yards, 89 of which came on kickoff returns.
Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma may have had the best overall week of any wide receiver in Mobile. Iglesias was extremely consistent in practice, catching practically everything within his reach and running the most exact routes of any wide receiver on the field.
During the game, Iglesias led all receivers in receptions and receiving yards, grabbing six passes for 91 yards. Iglesias and Williams were both speculated to be second round picks in April's draft and have certainly increased their value in the eyes of scouts across the league.
On the South's roster, West Virginia University's Ellis Lankster had a solid performance at cornerback, returning to the town where he played high school football. Lankster had a tough time standing out in practice with stars like Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest and Sherrod Martin of Troy, also on the South roster.
On Saturday night, Lankster was able to show what he was capable of. Lankster was tied for the team's high in tackles with five, one of which went for a loss. Lankster also recorded the games only interception, out-positioning Ohio State's Brian Robiskie on an under thrown ball from Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell.
Lankster is undersized at 5'10" 191 pounds, and before today's game was thought by many as a late 2nd day pick. With a strong performance in the Senior Bowl, Lanskster may have earned a second look from NFL scouts.
Overshadowed by stars on the defensive line like Fili Moala, B.J. Raji and Peria Jerry, Tennessee's Robert Ayers had a quiet but solid week of practices. Ayers, who at 6'3" 270 lbs., showed solid speed off the line at the defensive end position. Ayers was able to hold his own against offensive lineman standouts like Ole Miss tackle Michael Oher and Troy Kopog of Tulane during practice, drawing the attention of scouts.
Ayers continued to display his pass rushing skills during the game, registering three tackles and 1.5 sacks, one of which caused a fumble in the end zone and was recovered by teammate Peria Jerry of Ole Miss. Ayers is considered a mid round sleeper prospect with high potential, but limited playing time at Tennessee may affect his draft status.
While scouts spent a tremendous amount of hours watching practices this week in Mobile, the job is nowhere near complete. Scouts and front office personnel left Mobile with a deeper insight into the senior standouts, but they'll continue to analyze film and conduct more in-depth interviews with players that could potentially meet their needs.
The Ravens have often used performances in the Senior Bowl as one of the many factors in deciding a player's draft status. Since 2005, the Ravens have drafted fifteen players that participated in the Senior Bowl. Of those players, seven lined up as starters in the 2008 season; Joe Flacco, Marshal Yanda, Le'Ron McClain, Ben Grubbs, Mark Clayton, Adam Terry and Jason Brown.