Seniors get a chance to shine one last time

Somewhere in the world, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound man is probably smiling.

At the same time, dozens of people much smaller are smiling as well.

The cause for joy is the same, but the reasoning is completely different.

Why? Tomorrow is the Senior Bowl, the Super Bowl of scouting (until the NFL Combine next month).

The larger man is smiling because he’s not there. The smaller people are smiling because of everyone who is.

It’s a tale of two smiles — or something like that.

If you haven’t guessed by now, the defensive tackle-sized man is, in fact, a defensive tackle. He’s Ndamukong Suh, the former Nebraska defensive tackle and can’t-miss prospect. Suh is probably smiling because he has to do little more than show up in New York City on Thursday, April 22, for the NFL Draft.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has probably already written these words on a note card somewhere to practice: “With the first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle, Nebraska.”

And barring incredibly unforeseen circumstances, months of practicing those words should pay off.

Suh is probably smiling because he hasn’t had to endure the stress of this past week of practices, which culminates in tomorrow’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. He hasn’t had to worry about footwork, arm strength, explosion off the ball or coverage skills.

No, Suh just has to make sure his suit is tailored, his tie is properly tied and his shirt isn’t wrinkled.

While he plans his wardrobe, dozens of his peers are busting their butts in Mobile to prove to scouts and experts that they can play at the professional level.

And that’s where the other group of smiling people comes in.

For the countless draft gurus who report back to teams, news outlets and their own personal blogs, the Senior Bowl is a weeklong party. It’s time to dust off the big boards, sharpen the mock drafts and brush up on trade value charts.

It’s the start of the best three months of the year.

They’re smiling because the NFL Draft is one of the greatest spectacles in sports, and the march towards Radio City Music Hall began in earnest this week.

People finally get a chance to see former college standouts prove their worth in a pro-style system. They get to see if these guys are NFL material.

Sure, it’s just a college all-star game. And one week of practices culminating in an otherwise meaningless game isn’t the be-all, end-all for these players. But for the gurus, it’s a chance to scrutinize every move. It’s the first step toward piecing together the draft puzzle.

For them, it’s fun.

But as Suh smiles, what about those who are not as fortunate to be in his position?

Take Tim Tebow for example. For four years, we watched in awe as he developed into arguably the greatest college football player of all time. Now, we watch in horror as a week’s worth of bad snaps from center and an elongated throwing motion unravel everything he’s worked for.

What about former Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour? He must prove to scouts that his NCAA-record 150 touchdowns were more than a product of the system he played in.

Former Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount must show he can be a viable NFL runner, despite missing most of his senior season after an opening night haymaker.

And a few former Trojans are trying to make an impact.

Safety Taylor Mays spent four years as one of the most feared defenders in the game. Now, he has spent a week trying to ready himself for the next level. His ability to prove his worth this week, and over the next three months, is equally as important as the work he put in to reach the pinnacle of the sport — if not more so.

Stafon Johnson has a chance to prove he can still play football at the highest level, despite a weightlifting injury in September that could have ended his life.

Offensive lineman Jeff Byers has seen reps at guard and center. Tight end Anthony McCoy is proving he’s an NFL-level blocker and pass catcher.

For 100 seniors hoping to make it at the next level, this game starts a grueling stretch. Who will be smiling along with Suh and the gurus?

We’ll find out soon enough.

“Thrilla on Manilla Paper” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit or e-mail Grant at