A large portion of the NFL's future is in Mobile, Alabama this week for the 2004 Senior Bowl. This game showcases the top senior prospects for the NFL draft for a week of practice and culminates with the game on Saturday afternoon. The teams are put together on a geographic basis and thus create the North and South. The South squad is coached by the San Diego Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer and his coaching staff. The North will be coached by the Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. While the coaches are assigned by the NFL, rarely does a team pass on the opportunity to spend a week up close and personal with the players they will be looking to draft in April. Not only are the San Diego and Cincinnati coaching staffs in attendance but over 700 NFL personnel make the trip annually to this unique game. In that 700 are general managers, head coaches and scouts from every team in the NFL.
Looking over the rosters of both teams, two things jump to attention. The first is the number of SEC players (22) in the game and the other is the stable of running backs that are scheduled to see action. Since the Doak Walker Award winner Chris Perry bowed out of the game, the spotlight will focus on the standout running backs such as the North squad's Michael Turner of Northern Illinois and Pittsburgh's Lou Polite. Their counterparts on the talented South squad will be Cedric Cobbs of Arkansas, Shaud Williams of Alabama, Mewelde Moore of Tulane and Greg Jones of Florida State.
The quarterbacks that will see action for the North are Bowling Green's Josh Harris, Michigan's John Navarre and Cody Pickett of Washington. The South squad again shows a decided edge as they will have two possible first rounders, J.P. Losman of Tulane and Phillip Rivers of N.C. State, who will see action at quarterback. Also on the South roster is Virginia's Matt Schaub.
The receiving corps for the North and South will allow for some prospects to increase their draft value as many of the names that will be called early on Draft Day are not here. In a draft that could see the underclassmen dominate, the seniors playing in this game will be looking to add their names to the list of hot NFL prospects. The two highest ranked wide receivers will be the North squad's Michael Jenkins (projected as a possible first rounder) of Ohio State and on the South squad, Jerricho Cotchery of N.C. State. Other notable receivers scheduled to see action will be Johnnie Morant of Syracuse, B.J. Johnson of Texas and Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford.
Some of the biggest names in this game are at the tight end position. The South will field two of the best prospects in Ronnie Ghent of Louisville and Ben Watson of Georgia. TheHogs.net's draft expert, Scott "Scooter" Moore has them ranked as the third and fourth best tights available in the upcoming draft.
Other names to watch will be defensive linemen Tommy Kelly of Mississippi State, Chad Lavalais of LSU, Auburn's DeMarco McNeil and Florida's Bobby McCray. At the linebacker position, Michael Boulware of Florida State will command the attention of all those in attendance. In the secondary, a number of prospects will be looking to make a name for themselves. Among that group, the most notable are Oklahoma's Derrick Strait, Guss Scott and Keiwan Ratliff of Florida, Keith Smith of McNeese State, Nathan Vasher of Texas and Rich Gardner of Penn State.
* Be sure to check back for a Senior Bowl game recap.