Photos | Left: MIAMI DOLPHINS BRIAN FLORES Courtesy of the Miami Dolphins
Right: CAROLINA PANTHERS MATT RHULE Photo | Courtesy of the Carolina Panthers
In what could be the most important Reese’s Senior Bowl in some time — in terms of player evaluation and interviews — the Carolina Panthers coaching staff, led by head coach Matt Rhule, and the Miami Dolphins coaching staff, led by head coach Brian Flores, will have the best view.
The two staffs were selected to serve as the coaching staff for this year’s game, the 72nd annual, which will be played Jan. 30 for the first time at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the University of South Alabama campus. The game, with limited seating based on COVID-19 protocols and restrictions, is already a sellout. It will be televised live on the NFL Network. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
“We are extremely grateful to have two of the brightest young minds and respected leaders in the league coaching our Reese’s Senior Bowl rosters this year,” Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy said in a press release. “Matt Rhule and Brian Flores are both excited to get to Mobile and our players are incredibly fortunate to have a week-long experience learning under these two great teachers and their respective staffs.”
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, NFL personnel have not had as much access to players this season as in the past. As such, the Reese’s Senior Bowl will offer the league’s scouts, coaches and general managers, as well as others, an opportunity to evaluate the participating players on the field during practices as well as in one-on-one interviews. While that has been the case in past Senior Bowls, having that access is a plus this season.
The Dolphins currently hold the No. 3 and No. 18 overall picks in the first round of the NFL Draft in April, while the Panthers own the No. 8 pick.
Rhule said, “We’re thrilled to coach at the Senior Bowl. Every year, Jim Nagy and his staff put together the best showcase of college talent in the nation, and we’re really excited to lead and get to know a team of this year’s top draft prospects.”
Flores added, “The entire Miami Dolphins organization is excited to take part in this year’s Senior Bowl. In this unique run-up to the draft, the Senior Bowl will be a great opportunity for our coaches and personnel department to interact with these players for a full week. We look forward to working with these prospects as part of this premier event with a tradition of featuring top-tier talent.”
The Reese’s Senior Bowl, long considered the country’s best college all-star game, has always used NFL coaching staffs to direct the teams. The participating teams are prioritized based on the NFL Draft order with the main caveat being that teams must have a staff in place before arriving in Mobile, which generally precludes teams with head coaching turnover to participate.
The only time the Panthers staff has coached in the game previously was in 2000 under George Seifert. The Dolphins last participated in 2010 when Tony Sparano was the head coach.
Coaching in the game and especially directing matters during the week of practices and team meetings provides the coaching staffs a behind-the-scenes look at the players, not only on the field but off the field as well. Access has always been an invaluable part of the evaluation process for participating clubs; however, this year there is even greater significance since NFL scouts were not allowed on college campuses this fall.
Also, according to recent reports, there is the possibility the NFL will not hold its annual combine this year. If that happens, the Senior Bowl will serve as one of the few pre-draft evaluation opportunities.
“It has really worked out well,” Nagy, interviewed on Sports Talk 99.5 Monday morning, said of the selection of the coaching staffs. Nagy said it took a lot of other teams passing on the opportunity or not having a head coach and staff in place for the offer to drop to the Dolphins staff.
Nagy also noted in some cases teams were led by older head coaches or members of the coaching staffs and they felt because of COVID-19 issues it wasn’t a good idea to accept the offer to coach in the game. He also noted some teams said they had spent the entire season away from their families and they didn’t want to take more time away to spend a week coaching in the game.
Of the head coaches who will be involved in the game, Nagy said, “They are great young coaches and great young teachers. So, the players are going to get a lot out of their week here.”
This year’s game will feature a change in terms of the team names. Instead of the game featuring the North vs. the South, this year the teams will be divided among the American and National roster. Nagy said he “felt it was time for a change with North and South,” which led to the new team names.
He also noted the Panthers will coach the American team and the Dolphins will coach the National team, with the American team featuring mostly players who would have made up a South roster, while the National team will take on the former North roster players. Nagy said Reese’s Senior Bowl officials wanted to keep the rosters similar, but under different names. He added the keys to the rosters will be competitive balance and keeping teammates with teammates, meaning all Alabama players will play on the same team, as will all Auburn players and players from other teams. The goal will also be to have most SEC players on the American roster.
The Reese’s Senior Bowl is coming off two of its best NFL Draft records. In each of the past two drafts, the Senior Bowl has produced 93 total draft picks, including 40 in the first three rounds. The 186 total players represent 37 percent of the past two draft classes.
The 2019 and 2020 rosters have included the following rookie and second-year standouts: QB Justin Herbert (Chargers), OLB/S Jeremy Chinn (Panthers), WR Chase Claypool (Steelers), WR Brandon Aiyuk (49ers), QB Jalen Hurts (Eagles), DB Kyle Dugger (Patriots), DT Javon Kinlaw (49ers), RB Antonio Gibson (WFT), QB Daniel Jones (Giants), WR Terry McLaurin (WFT), OL Chris Lindstrom (Falcons), WR Deebo Samuel (49ers), OL Elgton Jenkins (Packers) and DL Montez Sweat (WFT).
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