There have been plenty of impressive performers — including those documented on this site from Alabama and Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp. But as we end our time here in Mobile, let’s check in with some of the individuals who played their college ball in Southern California.
ZACH BANNER, OFFENSIVE TACKLE, USC
Banner started 39 games for USC in his collegiate career, serving as a captain in his senior season of 2016. Having started on both sides of the line, Banner has been working at both left and right tackle during the week. On Thursday, he primarily worked on the left.
“I think I finished dominant,” Banner said. “Today they challenged me — they put me on the left side. I think I had my one and only team rep that I’ve lost the whole week on the left side, that one play. And it bothered the hell out of me. Coach told me to calm down a little bit, ‘It’s OK, it’s one out of 200.’
“But it’s a challenge — it’s something I accept,” Banner continued. “I want to be able to do that at the next level, so I’ve got to get used to it.”
“Playbook was easy — we’ve been doing that at ‘SC’ for lots of years, the pro-style offense,” Banner said. “The coaches identified that I know my stuff, and they trust in me, so I think I won that part, also.”
STEVIE TU’IKOLOVATU, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, USC
A graduate transfer from Utah, Tu’ikolovatu played his 2016 season for the Trojans, starting 12 games. He was named the Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game after recording eight tackles against Penn State in USC’s 52-49 victory.
“It was crazy — I never thought that I would play in a Rose Bowl game in my whole life,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “And to have it be one of those crazy games like that — to the last second — was the cherry on top of it.”
With his size — 6-foot-1 and 350 pounds — Tu’ikolovatu’s strength is stopping the run. During one of the practices, he was audibly fired up after an inside run drill.
“That’s where the men play,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “I was just yelling all that mess just to get in their heads, and it worked a little bit, so that was an accomplishment.”
“I need to do better in my pass game,” he said. “But I’m doing a pretty good job in the run game. That’s what I need to improve on, so I’ll be working on that.”
CONNOR McDERMOTT, OFFENSIVE TACKLE, UCLA
McDermott started all 12 games at left tackle for the Bruins as a redshirt senior, and was named second-team All-Pac 12 by the coaches. This week, he’s been looking to show his physicality and ability to play on either side of the offensive line.
“I’m just happy to be out here with this group of guys,” McDermott said. “It’s fun playing with a new group of people and it’s been a great experience.”
DONNEL PUMPHREY, RUNNING BACK, SAN DIEGO STATE
Pumphrey is an intriguing prospect, as he set the FBS career rushing record with 6,405 yards in his four years at San Diego State. he had a superb 2016, rushing for 2,133 yards on 349 attempts to average 6.1 yards per carry.
“It meant the most to me, just doing it in front of my family and friends and my teammates,” Pumphrey said of setting the rushing record. “I do it all for my teammates — I don’t really play for accolades. I just play to win the game.”
But one of the elements that may come into play for Pumphrey is his size. He’s just 5-foot-8 and checked in at 169 pounds, which could be seen as a disadvantage.
“I’m trying to showcase my versatility the most,” Pumphrey said. “I’m trying to prove to the scouts that I’m able to pass block as well, and do what I can out of the backfield.
“It’s all heart for me,” Pumphrey continued. “I’ve been this size my whole life, and that hasn’t stopped me.”
I’M NOT A SCOUT BUT…
It seems to me that some of the smaller guys at the Senior Bowl have a shot to be successful if they get in with the right offensive systems. Pumphrey strikes me as one of those players — someone who clearly has skills with the ball in his hands, but at only 169 pounds, he could maybe stand to add some more bulk.
Louisiana Tech wide receiver Trent Taylor is another example. From my observations, he’s the kind of receiver who can work the field from the slot, make a catch, and then evade defenders well to get up the field. But, again, he’s someone listed at just 5-foot-8 and 177 pounds.
Really, the vast majority of NFL players have to go to the right situation in order to be successful. But to me, these are players who will particularly be able to show off their skills if they are nurtured in the right way.