The Reese’s Senior Bowl unveiled the rosters for its 74th annual all-star game on Monday, and Jim Nagy, the game’s executive director, was gratified to say that in the face of change the quality had stayed the same.
Last year, the NFL partnered with the East-West Shrine Bowl to move that all-star game to Las Vegas as part of the league’s Pro Bowl week activities, placing the contest two days before the Senior Bowl.
This year, for the first time, the Senior Bowl teams will not be guided by NFL coaching staffs, but by staffs made up of NFL coaches. While the league assigned the staffs of the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons to run the East-West Shrine teams, the Senior Bowl, after 73 years of having that courtesy accorded to it, will have its teams directed by staffs of assistant coaches assembled from half the league’s clubs.
“It is gratifying,” Nagy said about the quantity of NFL Draft prospects who will be in Mobile next week. “They had to market their game and recruit. They recruited heavily, and a lot of things they said to players and coaches got back to me and didn’t sit well with me, so to be sitting here the week before the game and our rosters to look the same as they’ve always looked, it’s definitely gratifying. It’s been a different year, for sure. It’s been a stressful year.
“It speaks to the brand of the Senior Bowl. Frankly, these kids today don’t even call it the Senior Bowl. They call it the Reese’s Bowl. And then it speaks to relationships. It’s reinforcing to me that relationships really matter. I felt like the 32 NFL teams really had our back, I felt like the agent community really had our back because we had treated them right over the years and the city of Mobile’s treated them right. They like coming here. So again, that wasn’t a vote of the 32 general managers, I promise you. They feel strongly about the Senior Bowl.”
CHECK OUT THE NATIONAL ROSTER
CHECK OUT THE AMERICAN ROSTER
While making the shift from having two teams transfer their entire football operations to Mobile for a week to taking over those duties for an all-star assemblage of assistants, Nagy said the change could work out better for the Senior Bowl prospects.
“For our players, I think it’s a really good thing,” Nagy said. “Rather than two teams leaving Mobile with really good, behind-the-scenes access to our players, it’s 16 teams, and it’s the top half of the draft that have a lot of needs. From our players’ perspective, I think they’re going to really like it.”
The Senior Bowl has produced 28 first-round draft picks over the past four years, and Nagy estimated this year’s game could hit that average of seven.
The roster construction is all but completed, with the marquee position being the final one to nail down. The National team has Shepherd’s Tyson Bagent, Fresno State’s Jake Haener and BYU’s Jaren Hall as its quarterbacks, while TCU’s Max Duggan and Houston’s Clayton Tune are the American QBs.
The Senior Bowl announced on Monday that another quarterback would be coming to Mobile, but Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker will be limited to meetings and interviews after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in November.
Fresh off a second straight CFP national championship, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett would be a notable addition to the other 29 SEC players gathered on the American roster.
Nagy called adding Bennett to the game “a work in progress.”
“We’d love to get Stetson here,” Nagy said. “He’s a guy who deserves it. He earned it. For us, getting guys drafted is really important. Right now, I think the league’s in a place where Stetson’s worked himself up into that fifth- through seventh-(round) range of the draft, where at the start of the season he was probably a free agent for most teams. He’s had a great year. There’s a lot to like about Stetson the player.”
The 2023 Senior Bowl is bursting with state connections.
The American roster has eight players from Alabama, two from Auburn and two from South Alabama:
· Alabama safety Jordan Battle
· Alabama defensive lineman DJ Dale
· Alabama offensive lineman Emil Ekiyor Jr.
· Auburn defensive lineman Derick Hall
· Alabama safety DeMarcco Hellams
· Alabama tight end Cameron Latu
· Auburn linebacker Eku Leota
· South Alabama cornerback Darrell Luter Jr.
· Alabama offensive lineman Tyler Steen
· Alabama linebacker Henry To’oTo’o
· South Aabama wide receiver Jalen Wayne
· Alabama defensive tackle Byron Young
Auburn linebacker Owen Pappoe was supposed to play in this year’s Senior Bowl, but an injury has sidelined him for the game.
Two Troy players are on the National team – center Jake Andrews and linebacker Carlton Martial.
Andrews prepped at Stanhope Elmore, and Martial played his high school football at McGill-Toolen in Mobile. On the National team, Martial will be reunited with another former Yellow Jackets standout, Maryland cornerback Jakorian Bennett.
Appalachian State running back Cameroon Peoples from Central-Clay County is also a member of the National roster.
Former Alabama high school players on the American roster include Dale from Clay-Chalkville and Wayne from Spanish Fort.
Peoples is part of what might be the strongest position group at this year’s Senior Bowl.
“That’s a position that’s difficult for the Senior Bowl to get over the years just because running backs leave the juniors,” Nagy said, “and I don’t think any of us judge those guys too harshly. I know the NFL certainly doesn’t. You’re a junior running back, you get a toll taken on your body. So to get guys like Kenny McIntosh of Georgia, who I think’s going to be an NFL starter, (Illinois’) Chase Brown, who I think’s going to be an NFL starter, Tyjae Spears from Tulane, who I think’s going to be an NFL starter — that’s a good group. That’s a really good group from top to bottom, all those guys. I should mention them all by name.
“They’re all really good backs, and we’ve had good ones over the last four or five years. Tony Pollard made the Pro Bowl for the Cowboys this year. Rhamondre Stevenson got to a thousand yards. I was just watching Elijah Mitchell last night for the 49ers to do some good things. I think we’ve gotten better at that position over the years, but I think this year’s group is probably the best one we’ve had.”
McIntosh and Spears are on the American team with Oklahoma’s Eric Gray and Kentucky’s Christopher Rodriguez Jr. Peoples and Brown are on the National team with Northwestern’s Evan Hull and Texas’ Roschon Johnson.
A name for draftniks to watch coming out of this year’s Senior Bowl, Nagy said, is Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave, who’ll line up for the Americans.
“Luke’s only played two games this year out at Oregon State,” Nagy said. “Pac-12, again, we don’t see a lot of that football down here. But 6-6, 260. He could run 4.4′s, so I think when it’s all said and done that Luke’s going to be a guy that leaving Mobile, there’s going to be a ton of buzz about him.”
The 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl will kick off at 1:30 pm CST Feb. 4 at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile. NFL Network will televise the game. Tickets can be purchased online.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.