The first day of Senior Bowl week felt like a blur.
NFL coaches, scouts, and media members from all over the country filled the Mobile Convention Center eager to meet, and speak with the college prospects on hand. Both Oakland Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden and San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan spoke with reporters as well, each sharing brief evaluations of some of the players they’d be coaching this week.
For the Raiders, the team has a long list of needs it needs to address in the 2019 NFL Draft, and free agency, but getting to know some prospects here in Mobile, Ala., is a good start. General Manager Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden are going to be busy determining which players fit in the big picture this week, and after hearing Gruden speak at his media availability Monday, we know a couple of players that have piqued his interest.
“I like it,” Gruden said when asked about the pass rushers on the North roster. “I like [Montez] Sweat obviously out of Mississippi State, Ferguson from [Louisiana] Tech, he’s been very impressive. We have a lot of guys on our team, [L.J.] Collier out of TCU, and there’s a lot of guys that are going to get an opportunity to help themselves in this camp. We got a kid from Boston College, Zach Allen, that I like a lot. He wears No. 2, he’s easy to find on the Boston College film, so those guys always get a chance to move up the board in Mobile.”
After hearing Gruden’s comment yesterday, I made it a priority to monitor Collier and Allen during practice, and it was clear why he’s intrigued by their talent.
The duo of pass rushers have similar physiques, Collier standing at 6’4” and weighing in at 276 pounds, while Allen is 6’5” and checks in at 285 pounds on the scale. Each are capable of bullying offensive linemen at will, and they both demonstrated a good awareness against the run Monday.
When asked after practice what they thought of Coach Gruden’s comments, they shared similar answers.
“I knew from his background that he was a hell of a coach, and he expects a lot out of us, so I was trying to give him my best today, and work hard for him today, and give him everything I got,” Collier said. “I’d really love to play for the Oakland Raiders, and they’re rebuilding right now, and I’d love to be a part of that rebuild.”
“It’s quite an honor, and he’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, so to have him recognize me is fantastic, and I just got to give him something to work with this week,” Allen added. “Today I felt I did pretty good in the run, could’ve done a little better in the one-on-ones. Wasn’t as solid as I wanted to be, but just getting back into football. Been out of it a couple months, so just getting my feet on the ground again."
In most cases, actions speak louder than words, and even though one of Collier’s biggest strengths is stopping the run, he isn’t shy about expressing his confidence. On a couple of occasions, the former TCU Horned Frog could be heard on the field from the sideline jawing at his opponents, refusing to back down from the competition. This stems from his love of the game, and he thinks it’s a quality his coaches appreciate.
“Because of the fire I play with, and the tenacity, and aggressiveness I bring to the table. I fear no one,” Collier said. “I come from the country, and guys think that because I come from a small town they think they don’t have to respect me, so I’m going to make them respect me.”
In the brief encounters I had with the two pass rushers, they had different demeanors, but shared a similar approach to the game. Collier, an outspoken and passionate player, and Allen, a methodical and high-motored player, know they have skill sets that can succeed at the next level, but they’re absorbing everything the Raiders coaching staff is telling them in an effort to help them develop.
When asked about why he thinks he stood out to Gruden, Allen believes his versatility is one of his best attributes.
“I think I have versatility across the board,” he said. “Today I was playing 4, 5, 9 [technique], so in my tape you see me doing everything from a 0 to a 9. So that’s kind of what I was able to do in college and to be able to be that flexible is intriguing for some coaches.”
The week is far from over, but Collier and Allen have quickly made positive impressions on Gruden and the coaching staff. As the next couple of days go by, the duo are both expecting to improve, not be complacent, and prove that they can compete with anyone.