By Dan Durkin-

MOBILE, Ala. (CBS) — While it wasn’t a fully padded practice, the North squad’s team period (11-on-11) featured some spirited competition in the trenches. Thursday marked the fourth day the North team has worked with Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith and his staff, so tolerance was low for players who were misaligned or using the wrong technique.

Here’s my notebook from Day 4 of Senior Bowl week:

  • Last year’s Senior Bowl class featured 10 first-round draft picks, three of which were top-five selections. This year’s class may feature – at most – four total first round picks. The overall top-tier talent is low, but three of those four potential first-round picks are on the North squad: Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin, Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman.
  • Martin lined up at left tackle, but his best position in the NFL may be right tackle, or potentially a move inside to guard. Martin has great footwork, which allows him to mirror edge rushers in 1-on-1 engagements, and flows well to the second-level.
  • Donald lacks ideal size (6-0, 288 pounds), but he has elite first-step quickness, which is so critical in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Donald plays with a low center of gravity and his lateral quickness allows him to beat bigger blockers across their face. Donald projects best as a three-technique in a 40-front (4-3).
  • Hageman, on the other hand, has the ideal height-weight-speed that scouts covet. At 6-6, 311 pounds, Hageman carries his weight well, and lined up both at tackle and end. A long-strider, Hageman used his wingspan to keep blockers hands off his frame, and on pass rushes that he didn’t get home, he frequently got his hands up to eliminate passing lanes, tipping a few passes at the line of scrimmage.
  • Washington State safety Deone Bucannon not only looks the part (6-1, 216 pounds), but he possesses all the tools scouts look for, size, speed, and an explosive break on the ball. Bucannon projects as a strong safety because of his physique and physical play, but he played a lot of free safety for the Cougars. Bucannon has fluid feet and hips and has established himself as the best safety prospect playing this Saturday.
  • While the lion’s share of attention for local prospects has gone to Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward was very active in practice. Ward (5-11, 192 pounds), showed versatility, playing as a box safety, a single-high safety, and a slot corner, breaking up a few passes over the middle.
  • Stanford’s Trent Murphy is a tweener prospect, who may be too small as a 4-3 base defensive end, and could project best as a 3-4 outside linebacker. The teams are required to play 4-3 fronts for the game, however, during the defensive line’s individual period, the Falcons coaches had Murphy off to the side for a portion working on coverage drops, which he’d be asked to do in a 3-4.
  • Rice kicker Chris Boswell did something I’ve never witnessed on a football field. During the special teams period, Boswell approached the ball with his hips pointed to the left, swung his right foot over and around the ball, only to kick it back to the right side of the field. Whether this is tried in the game or not remains to be seen, but it was impressive to watch.
  • Three players did not participate in Thursday’s practice: UCLA linebacker Justin Zumwalt, UCLA wide receiver Shaquelle Evans, and Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.

Friday’s practices are a walk-thru to put in the final installments for Saturday’s game. The game kicks off at 3 p.m. CT and will be televised on NFL Network.

Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin

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