QBs, top prospects take different routes to Senior Bowl
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett once battled for a starting spot at Florida. Now, they're competing on opposite sides of the Senior Bowl in a game that's more about impressing NFL teams than who starts - or even who wins.
Saturday's showcase game for senior NFL prospects marks another step toward the pro ranks in careers that hardly went the way the once highly touted recruits anticipated.
Brissett wound up transferring to North Carolina State and starting for two seasons.
Driskel fared well after heading to Louisiana Tech, starting last season following an up-and-down stint with the Gators that included a broken leg early in 2013.
''I ended up here,'' said Driskel, who passed for 4,033 yards and 27 touchdowns in his lone season at Louisiana Tech. ''Not the path I would have expected, but I wouldn't have changed it.''
The two ex-Florida starters wound up at the same all-star game and even on the same flight from Atlanta, reconnecting after their careers diverged.
The Senior Bowl's eight quarterbacks all took different paths but five of them at least began their careers in the Southeastern Conference, a league that otherwise had plenty of passing struggles last season.
The total number is up from six in past Senior Bowl games.
National championship quarterback Jake Coker of Alabama, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and Arkansas' Brandon Allen are leading the South team, along with Brissett.
The hottest quarterback prospect in Mobile has gotten less national exposure. North Dakota State's Carson Wentz is widely projected as a first-round pick and possibly the first quarterback selected.
The other contenders include underclassmen Paxton Lynch of Memphis and Jared Goff of California.
Driskel, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and USC's Cody Kessler join Wentz on the North team. Possibly the game's top prospect, Wentz said the main thing is playing smart.
''You come here and all these quarterbacks here and everybody, and you want to show off,'' he said. ''But at the end of the day, you just want to come and show you can make smart decisions.''
Coker is a Mobile native who grew up coming to Senior Bowl practices and games.
Like Driskel and Brissett, he wound up transferring in search of more playing time. The Florida State backup to eventual No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston led the Crimson Tide to a national title in his lone season as starter.
Looking that good in an all-star game with a week to get familiar with a new offense and teammates can be challenging.
''Getting in sync with a quarterback usually takes months maybe even a year, but trying to jam all that in one week is hard,'' Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard. ''I feel like we got enough reps in with those guys to make it look smooth enough for the game.''
Besides Wentz, top prospects playing in the game include Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, Utah State linebacker Kyler Fackrell, Ohio State receiver Braxton Miller and Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, who started his career with the Buckeyes. Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (sprained knee) isn't expected to play.
Here are some things to know about in the Senior Bowl:
MILLER TIME: Miller, who starred for the Buckeyes as a quarterback before switching positions, has shined in practices and appears to have boosted his draft stock. The speedy, athletic receiver was named the top practice player by NFL scouts and Senior Bowl officials.
THE GAME MATTERS: Most NFL staffers headed out of town after Thursday's practices, but North coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys said the game still is probably the most important gauge. Garrett says he and his staff watch the tape ''over and over and over again.'' ''It's really important to see guys in the meeting room and see how they respond,'' Garrett said. ''It's important to see how they respond in the walk-through. It's important to see how they practice. But ultimately it's about evaluating them in the game.''
BIG BOYS: Powerhouse programs Ohio State and Alabama have the most players in the game. Miller, tight end Nick Vannett, defensive lineman Adolphus Washington and defensive back Tyvis Powell represent the Buckeyes. Alabama's group includes Coker, Ragland, tailback Kenyan Drake, defensive lineman Jarran Reed and cornerback/return man Cyrus Jones.
SMALL SCHOOLS: Never heard of Wentz? Southeast Missouri receiver Paul McRoberts? Frackell? Or even Spence? NFL teams have, and they'll be among some 10 FCS products in the game, depending on injury situations.