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Senior Bowl players with much to prove

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Adam Caplan

Adam Caplan is our newest NFL reporter/insider at FOXSports.com. He has spent the past 10 seasons covering the league, specializing in player personnel, injuries and contracts.

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MOBILE, Ala.

The Senior Bowl won’t make or break a player’s future, but it certainly can help a guy move up draft boards. And if the player does not perform well during the week of practices, he could drop too.

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In my previous nine years of coming to Mobile to watch Senior Bowl practices, I don’t think there has been a player who moved up draft boards faster because of his performance than former University of Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones in 2005.

But Jones didn’t work as a quarterback here; he worked as a wide receiver. And the picture he left here was indelible. He simply ran by defensive backs all week. He came in needing a big week to have any chance of being drafted, but he exceeded the wildest expectations, being selected in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Now here’s a look at five players who have the most to prove this week:

Washington QB Jake Locker, North

While it’s certainly debatable how high he would have been selected in the first round of the 2009 draft had he declared after his junior season, Locker simply needs to have a big week. A scout from an AFC team said Locker needs to show everyone why he deserves to be selected in the first round.

During Monday’s first day of practice, Locker struggled mightily with his accuracy and timing. But in his defense, it’s very hard to get timing down with receivers you never have practiced or played with. Still, Locker sprayed the ball all over the place and could not get consecutive good throws together. He needs to bounce back in a big way Tuesday.

TCU QB Andy Dalton, South

Like many quarterbacks who come to Mobile, Dalton has the bull’s eye on his back. Scouts wonder if he’s just a game manager from a mid-major conference or if he can be a future starter at the next level. But the right-handed passer is known in scouting circles for his accuracy and leadership skills. If he has a strong week, Dalton could really move up draft boards. This year’s draft lacks many big-time quarterback prospects, so the opportunity is there for him to make his mark.

Dalton got off to a slow start during the Monday session, but he really started to gain steam as the practice progressed. He displayed impressive touch and placement deep several times. Dalton, whom some believe could work his way as high as the second round, showed enough to keep scouts coming back for more, but he needs to be even better going forward in order to move up.

Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick, North

Kaepernick is one of the most intriguing players here this week because scouts love his intangibles. He is known for having great character and possesses outstanding work ethic. But that can only take you so far. A quarterback has to show that he can drive the ball downfield, throw with accuracy and make every type of throw in order to be a coveted prospect. Kaepernick has a wonderful opportunity to make a big jump in the draft.

Kaepernick was easily the best performer of the North quarterbacks Monday. While some scouts criticize his delivery, former N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers has an odd release point as well, but that didn’t seem to be a problem for him. The bottom line is Kaepernick could make every necessary throw. He threw the ball with tremendous timing, power and accuracy Monday.

Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi, North

There’s a saying in the NFL: You can’t teach height. Carimi is a shade over 6-feet-7, so his length is certainly a favorable trait to possess. But Carimi will have to show scouts and personnel evaluators that he has good feet and strength at the point of attack.

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He got off to a good start this week with a strong Monday practice. He did a nice job in one-on-one pass-rushing drills and extended his hands out and pushed away the defender. Carimi also did a nice job of not letting the defender get into his chest. He seemed to get the first punch in most times in team drills.

Boston College LB Mark Herzlich, North

Herzlich’s story is remarkable when you consider he missed the 2009 season because of a rare form of bone cancer, yet he was able to come back and play this season. And he appeared to be in incredible shape during the Monday morning weigh-ins. Herzlich played out of position this position at weak-side linebacker. He really fits in better at middle or strong-side linebacker in the NFL. In fact, he has good enough pursuit skills to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

Herzlich will have to show personnel evaluators that he can drop into coverage and that he can move well laterally. Playing in space is always a tough chore for linebackers here during one-on-drills against running backs. That’s something to watch as the week progresses.
 

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