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Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson signs autographs after the South team practice for the Senior Bowl.
AP photo by Mark Almond
Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson signs autographs after the South team practice for the Senior Bowl.

Senior Bowl can make or break football futures

By Bradley Handwerger 340-2462

MOBILE — For so many years, Mobile's Ladd-Peebles Stadium has hosted the Senior Bowl college football all-star game.

It started in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1950, moved to Alabama's port city a year later and has remained there since.

But what it began as is not what it has become.

Then, it was just another sporting event that extended the college football season.

Now, Saturday's game legitimately serves as the first of many pre-draft events that can make or break futures, that can help a paycheck come with substantially more zeros or fewer of them.

Now there's almost no doubt that if you get a call from the officials of this invitation-only event, you ask when the first plane to Mobile takes off.

"I think it can help them tremendously," said John Gruden, head coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The numbers speak for themselves. Hundreds of pro scouts descend upon Mobile, filling up hotels, spending money on gas and food — but most importantly, filling out scouting reports and talking with players for the first time.

More to the point, it's the place to be seen and begin making a name for yourself.

Don't believe it?

Check this out:

  • Of the 100 players who participated in the 2006 edition, 15 went in the first round.

  • The bowl game has had a top-five overall pick in the past six years.

  • An average of 11 first-rounders a year play in Senior Bowl.

  • Over the past six years, NFL teams have taken an average of 90 percent of each year's crop.

    The big thing about this game is that it has a direct relation with the NFL. So direct, in fact, that two of the league's coaching staffs coach in the game.

    The aforementioned Gruden and his Tampa staff will coach the North team. Mike Nolen and his San Francisco 49ers staff will lead the South team.

    "Coming down here means a lot to a lot of guys," Auburn offensive guard Tim Duckworth said in the Mobile Convention Center as agents, scouts, general managers and head coaches milled around.

    "It's that last chance to boost up stock or whatever it may be. For some guys it hurts them; for some guys it helps. Hopefully I'm on the side it helps."

    Even those not playing in the game find it important enough to fly the friendly skies down to Mobile.

    Three years ago, Ben Roethlisberger attended the Senior Bowl, and he didn't even play. In fact, he wasn't even eligible, having just completed his junior season at Miami University, Ohio.

    He was taken as the 11th overall pick of the 2004 draft. Two years later, he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl victory.

    Can Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn be this year's Roethlisberger?

    Quinn, coming off a less-than-stellar performance in the Sugar Bowl against LSU, was scheduled to play in the game. But he injured his knee before this week and won't participate. That doesn't mean he didn't show up.

    "It's the game, without a doubt," Quinn said. "I know all types of different players talk about it and hope to get invited. It's known as the place to be if you're looking to go somewhere in the draft."

    If anything, the game is a great chance for players to begin to get a feel for the speed of NFL players and the style of NFL practices.

    "Things happen in a hurry," San Francisco 49ers scout Oscar Lofton said. "Our coaches have probably laid a lot of stuff on them here in a short time. They expect them to perform right away. There's no adjustment period. That's the way things are going to happen in training camp. Things are going to move a lot faster."

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