MOBILE, Ala. — Don’t stress over the quarterbacks’ performances during the week of Senior Bowl practices.
They struggled, yes, but that’s the expectation. They arrived in Mobile for the first phase of the most important job interview of their lives, to go through meetings, to learn pared-down versions of new offenses and to get on the same page as their skill players and linemen.
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It’s a lot, and it’s why the timing was off, according to team evaluators and scouts. It happens every year at the Senior Bowl.
One more issue: The footballs were slicker than usual earlier in the week, according to one league source. It created obvious and understandable problems with the QBs’ ability to deliver passes with standard accuracy.
The bigger test, the evaluators said, would be Saturday during the game. That showing could begin to impact draft boards if it magnifies what the quarterbacks put on tape throughout the week.
Oregon’s Bo Nix and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. headlined the Senior Bowl QBs. Nix is in the mix to be the fourth quarterback off the board, potentially drafted as high as the middle of the first round. Penix’s stock suffered during a disappointing loss to Michigan in the national championship, but he’s still a likely Day 2 pick.
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South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler, Tennessee’s Joe Milton III, Tulane’s Michael Pratt, Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman and South Alabama’s Carter Bradley rounded out the group. They’re viewed as depth picks, although Rattler and Pratt generated some buzz this week.
League sources suggested Rattler delivered the best set of practices from start to finish, but Nix improved quite a bit by the final practice. It’ll be an encouraging sign if either QB carries that into the game.
Teams continue to want to see how these players will interview and test in a month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Then they’ll hit the pro day circuit. There’s so much to digest, and a lot of the NFL’s head coaches and general managers weren’t even onsite at the Senior Bowl, which further shows why the more important steps remain on the horizon.
USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU’s Jayden Daniels are still widely viewed as the three best quarterbacks in the draft class. Nix, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and potentially Penix are competing to distinguish themselves in the next tier.
Maye, who is working out at QB Country in Mobile, made an appearance this week to watch practice. He’s been working out with Nix and played at UNC with wide receiver Devontez Walker, both of whom are playing for the National team this week.
Here’s a rundown of other items we heard this week in Mobile.
Baker and the Bucs
Quarterback Baker Mayfield is coming off the best season of his career, completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 4,044 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his first go-round with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Mayfield’s resurgence, of course, played a role in the Carolina Panthers’ decision to hire Dave Canales as their head coach. As the Bucs’ offensive coordinator, Canales ran a user-friendly system that helped the offense flourish after a stale approach in 2022.
But despite Canales’ departure, Mayfield and the Bucs are still expected to pursue a contract extension as he enters free agency, according to a league source. It could help the cause if the Bucs hire Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen as Canales’ replacement. Mayfield and Coen overlapped down the stretch in 2022 when Coen was the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator, and Mayfield played well under difficult circumstances.
However it shakes out, Mayfield has been versatile. He’ll play for his seventh offensive coordinator in his seventh NFL season in 2024.
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Questions in New England
It remains to be determined whether the New England Patriots will name a general manager, and that’s been a hot topic around the league for weeks.
When the Patriots were discussed among league and team sources, the same question continued to come up: What are they going to do at general manager?
Head coach Jerod Mayo began reaching out to candidates shortly after he was hired. It seems likely a new voice will be added to the personnel department, but that role or title is still anyone’s guess.
In-house candidates Eliot Wolf and Matt Groh have also been under consideration. If it’s Wolf running the show, expect the Patriots to give a long, hard look at drafting a left tackle with the No. 3 pick.
Whether the Patriots name an official general manager, they will tab someone to run the department, and it’s viewed as an attractive job opening. They’ll have a blank slate with a new head coach and an owner, Robert Kraft, who is highly regarded by league executives.
So, while sources around the league are curious about the process of hiring a department head, it’s also because they’re hoping to get in on the action.
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Familiar names with the Rams
Rams coach Sean McVay made a popular decision this week to promote Chris Shula to defensive coordinator. Shula has been with the Rams since McVay arrived in 2017, most recently as the pass rush coordinator and linebackers coach this season.
Shula, the 37-year-old grandson of Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, was drawing interest elsewhere and is viewed by peers as a coach on the rise. Those who know Chris Shula regard him as incredibly sharp with the ability to lead a room and present well when speaking to coaches, executives and players.
He might have head coaching opportunities in the future.
Somewhat surprisingly, McVay went with Shula after interviewing former defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who is coming off his three-season stint as the Los Angeles Chargers coach. Staley and McVay have had a strong relationship for several years.
Staley has had other opportunities, too, so he still has a good chance to land a job soon.
New Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris had been destined for another job in recent years, and he had plenty of backers around the league.
McVay and his staff adored Morris and strongly believed he deserved an opportunity to lead a team again. Morris, who coached the Buccaneers from 2009 to 2011 and was the Falcons’ interim coach in 2020, was under consideration for their job once already.
It’s a good sign that Morris’ new offensive coordinator, Zac Robinson — the former Rams quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator who had multiple OC interviews elsewhere — always intended to follow Morris if he got a job.
Kansas City Chiefs left guard Joe Thuney is in danger of missing the Super Bowl with a pectoral injury, according to a league source.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid hasn’t publicly ruled out Thuney, but the All-Pro didn’t practice Friday and will have to make significant improvement over the next week to have a legitimate chance. Thuney has been undergoing tests to determine the severity of the injury and whether it’s something he can play through, but there hasn’t been a lot of optimism.
Staying in Seattle?
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams played well enough for the Seattle Seahawks after they acquired him at the trade deadline, and there’s hope the sides can reach a contract extension, according to a league source.
The Seahawks traded a 2024 second-round pick and a 2025 fifth-rounder to the New York Giants for Williams. That second-rounder will be No. 47, so the Giants did well with the swap. Suffice it to say, the Seahawks will feel the same way if they can retain the impending free agent to play under new coach Mike Macdonald.
(Photo of Bo Nix: Michael Wade /Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)