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Sports on Earth: The Big Leap

By Sports on Earth

By: Mike Tanier, Sports on Earth

MOBILE, Ala. -- Colin Kaepernick arrived at Senior Bowl practices two years ago and made a case for himself as a high-round draft pick and potential franchise quarterback. Few people outside of NFL front offices noticed.

Russell Wilson arrived at the Senior Bowl last year and began wowing NFL executives and coaches with a combination of athleticism, poise and preparation that forced them to look beyond his 5-foot-10 inch shortcoming. Few people outside of NFL front offices noticed.

Two of the most impressive young quarterbacks in the NFL launched their careers in Mobile, where more than 100 college seniors endure a grueling week of practices and interviews in preparation for Saturday’s Senior Bowl all-star game, as well as the upcoming draft process. The practices are open to the public and televised on NFL Network. The players are made available for dozens of media interviews when they are not being cornered by coaches or scouts. There are plenty of opportunities for draftniks and armchair scouts to spot the next big thing. Yet no one really noticed Wilson or Kaepernick.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers

This year, we are paying closer attention.

Time to adjust. Ryan Nassib does not look comfortable. His passes sail high, beyond receivers’ fingertips, during 7-and-7 and full-squad drills. When he throws while rolling out, the pass tails toward the sideline. He keeps making some of the little mistakes that scouts harp on, the ones that push the football a few precious feet off target: over-stepping with his feet, dropping his arm.

As the Tuesday morning practice wears on, however, Nassib settles down. He connects with Alec Lemon, his Syracuse teammate, on a pretty pass up the sideline. He finds tight end Jack Doyle with a pair of tight passes up the seam. Tuesday’s gains disappear on Wednesday, as Nassib again spends the early drills of practice overthrowing receivers.

Quarterbacks have it rough at the Senior Bowl. They arrive on Sunday, receive a bare-bones playbook, meet most of their receivers for the first time (Nassib at least knows Lemon), and are expected to throw perfect passes by Monday morning. The resulting overthrows and miscommunication can be mistaken for ineptitude; a quarterback who threw for 9,190 yards and helped turn a major program around (as Nassib did) can suddenly look like he is stepping onto the field for the first time.

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