News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Coaching, scouting, winning
Gruden feels pressure in Mobile

By Bradley Handwerger 340-2462

MOBILE — The pressure is on Jon Gruden this week.

The talent his team has should put his team over the top.

And to think, Gruden, the head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, isn't even coaching in the NFL playoffs.

Instead, he and his staff are in charge of the North team in Saturday's Senior Bowl in Mobile's Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

The North team boasts Troy Smith, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Ohio State; H.B. Blades, the Pittsburgh linebacker who was this season's Big East defensive player of the year; and Paul Posluszny, the Penn State linebacker who won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player.

And that's only a few of the standouts for the North.

"There's a lot of pressure on me as a coach," Gruden joked.

Yes, the South team has its hands full.

But the North team won't have the home crowd.

When your squad is full of Southeastern Conference all-star players, including five from Auburn and three from Alabama, naturally you're going have the majority of the expected 40,000-plus fans behind you.

The South will counter the North with players who have a lot of ability as well, including Florida quarterback Chris Leak, Alabama running back Ken Darby, Auburn running back Kenny Irons, Auburn receiver Courtney Taylor and LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe.

While the final score won't mean much in the grand scheme of sports, the week still plays an important role for the players.

Mike Nolan and his San Francisco 49ers coachign staff are heading the South team for the second straight year, and he's seen up close what this game can do for a team's draft.

"Last year, we were here and we drafted four players out of this game, including three from the South squad, which was the one we coached," Nolan said.

"One was from the North, a player that kind of tore us up in the fourth quarter, so we felt we ought to get him in Michael Robinson from Penn State," Nolan added.

When the game begins at 3 p.m., don't be surprised if you see big hits and circus-like catches. The talent is there.

"The parameters of the game really allow the players to go out and physically play," Gruden said. "You're going to see the guys that like to hit.

"You're going to see the guys make plays. You're going to see the guys that really, physically and mentally, are at the top of this year's crop."

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