Senior Bowl: 10 Wednesday observations about the North squad

1. The practice tempo was substantially faster on Wednesday, compared to Tuesday. The likely rationale: The players have a better (dare we say, complete) understanding of what’s expected on Day 2 — essentially the NFL’s not-so-subtle way of saying, "It’s time to hit the ground running, rookie."

2. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion (6-foot-5, 278 pounds) demonstrates nice touch on the deep ball. However, early in the morning session, he under-tossed a streaking receiver on three straight occasions.

3. Two minutes later, during a 1-on-1 "island" drill, Mannion lofted a picture-perfect rainbow pass to Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, who leapt over USC cornerback Josh Shaw — amid rock-solid coverage — and produced a Dez Bryant-esque touchdown catch of 45 yards.

On an unrelated note, check out this stat involving Mannion: The Beavers QB posted a negative rushing-yards tally in all 12 games this season, a baffling occurrence with a range of minus-3 yards against Oregon … and minus-54 against Utah.

4. Montgomery (61 catches/604 yards/4 total TDs in 2014) consistently created separation during the 1-on-1 drills with corners, especially when breaking off on intermediate sideline routes. Along those lines, Montgomery may be the best run-after-catch wideout here in Mobile. Tremendous stop-and-go burst.

5. East Carolina’s Justin Hardy won the unofficial Catch Of The Day honor during the morning session, going in full spread-eagle mode to snag a Mannion ball in the end zone.

6. The morning session provided one rarely seen component of an NFL-caliber practice: An "Oklahoma" drill involving cornerbacks only.

What’s an Oklahoma drill? For those who don’t watch HBO’s Hard Knocks with shameless obsession, it’s a one-on-one drill pitting a wide receiver and cornerback — off a running play — where the cornerback must shake off the block and tackle the ball-toting tailback.

It goes without saying: For this exercise, the cornerbacks are more about proper technique and finesse ankle tackles … than whipping into a blind-rage frenzy, often displayed by defensive linemen and linebackers.

7. It’s hard to make definitive assessments of safeties at these low-contact practices … unless we’re talking about Michigan State’s Kurtis Drummond. At 6’1 and 205 pounds, Drummond was a heat-seeking missile during the 7-on-7 and all-22 drills.

Which brings us to this: From an outsider’s perspective, how does one separate a Round 2-bound free safety (like Ole Miss’s Cody Prewitt or Fresno State’s Derron Smith) from virtually omnipresent types like Drummond?

All three players have competitive speed and similar athletic traits … and yet, Prewitt may be drafted 30-40 slots ahead of Drummond (Round 3) or Louisville’s Gerod Holliman.

The answer may be in the trees (to borrow a Seinfeld expression). After all, Kam Chancellor — the same Kam Chancellor who jumped over the Panthers’ field-goal blocking unit ON CONSECUTIVE ATTEMPTS during the playoffs — fell to Round 5 in the 2010 NFL Draft.

8. If Wisconsin offensive tackle Rob Havenstein doesn’t have a consensus nickname yet … I’d like to submit one on the media’s behalf: Solar Eclipse.

At 6-foot-7 and 332 pounds, Havenstein (consensus All-Big Ten pick; first-team All America, via the American Football Coaches Association) belongs on the short list of the "Most Mammoth Men I’ve Ever Stood Next To."

Without hyperbole, Havenstein has the capacity for blocking out the sun on a cloudless day. From my contention, though, he may be more prized as a left guard than left tackle in long-term NFL circles.

9. When watching the special teams move about … it’s fun to wonder what percentage of the players actively partook in these drills during their college days?

On Tuesday night, a pair of SEC assistants acknowledged how a tailback from their own school — who’s part of the 2015 draft class — may be "lost" if his NFL obligations extend beyond running/catching the ball out of the backfield.

That’s just another cold reality separating college ball vs. professional ball:

Assimilate … or cease to exist.

And finally …

10. None of the North running backs — Ameer Abullah, David Cobb or Jeremy Langford — particularly stood out during the morning practice.

To be fair, though, the Wednesday outing had the look of a passing-installation day, which kind of put the trio of Big Ten rushers (Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan State, respectively) on the back-burner.

One day of relative inactivity still doesn’t change the following notion: The 2015 crop of running backs — Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley (ACL injury in November), Miami’s Duke Johnson, Boise State’s Jay Ajayi, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne, plus Abdullah, Cobb, Langford — may be the NFL’s best RB class of the last 30 years.

Here are the other nominees:

2013: Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Gio Bernard, Montee Ball, Andre Ellington, Christine Michael, Zac Stacy, Knile Davis, Latavius Murray, Theo Reddick.

2008: Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Justin Forsett, Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, Rashard Mendenhall, Kevin Smith.

1986: Bo Jackson, Keith Byars, Neal Anderson, John L. Williams, Tom Rathman, Dalton Hilliard, Reuben Mayes, Allen Pinkett, Barry Word, Ronnie Harmon, Napoleon McCallum.