MOBILE, Ala. – Repeating 2016 won't be easy.
That's an obvious observation regarding the quarterbacks at the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl, because when it comes to football's most important position, last year's game is difficult to duplicate.
Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, huge NFL storylines this past season, both played in the 2016 game. But while there may not be a quarterback of that profile this year, Senior Bowl Director Phil Savage early this week sounded confident about what's going on behind center at this week's game.
Savage sounded particularly positive about Pittsburgh quarterback Nate Peterman.
"He has a golden opportunity to really showcase what he can do," Savage, a former director of college scouting and director of player personnel with the Baltimore Ravens, said.
Savage said Peterman, who played high school football at Jacksonville's Bartram Trail, has timing "in his feet, and his arm."
"He's got a good head on his shoulders in terms of anticipation and timing," Savage said. "He was one of the senior quarterbacks out there who probably had the most buzz even though it was sort of under the radar. I think Nate is probably in the best position [among quarterbacks] going into the week."
Savage said the Senior Bowl is a particularly important evaluation point for quarterbacks because of the dramatic difference between college football and the NFL.
Take a look back at images from some current Jaguars players who participated in the Reese's Senior Bowl.
"Same sport, two different games," Savage said. "For some of these quarterbacks it is a quantum leap to go from what they've been doing in high school and college."
Peterman will play for the North team Saturday, with Sefo Liufau of Colorado and C.J. Beathard of Iowa also playing for the North. Davis Webb of California, Antonio Pipkin of Division II Tiffin and Josh Dobbs of Tennessee are the South quarterbacks.
Savage said Webb also has a chance to "establish himself in the mix of this class of quarterbacks that probably has more questions than answers," and called Pipkin because of his small-school background "maybe the guy who has the most to gain of anybody in the game."
"My hope is they'll all be able to showcase what they can do," Savage said.
Wentz, who played collegiately at North Dakota State, played at the Senior Bowl last year and was the No. 2 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft by Philadelphia. Prescott played at Mississippi State and was selected in the fourth round of the '16 draft by Dallas. He started all 16 games and was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team as a rookie.
Prescott first met with the Cowboys at last year's Senior Bowl, with the Cowboys' coaching staff coaching the North team in the game. With Prescott playing for the South team that was being coached by the Jaguars' coaching staff, that Friday was the first time Prescott and Dallas' coaches could meet.
"We do a swap with the teams and the coaching staffs [on the Friday before the game]," Savage said. "That was the meeting that really intrigued them about Dak Prescott and although they tried to get other quarterbacks in the draft, ultimately they took him in the fourth round. There was something magnetic about his personality, and I think they got that because of the exposure here."
FOR CLARIFICATION'S SAKE
Savage early this week also offered clarification on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson's absence from the game. Watson according to a Monday Morning Quarterback report was asked by the Cleveland Browns to play in the game. The Browns hold the No. 1 and No. 12 selections in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. "[Clemson Head Coach] Dabo Swinney is one of my good friends in football; we've known each other almost 30 years," Savage said. "Once it became apparent that Deshaun and some of their other players would graduate and be eligible for us, we of course extended that invitation. It was on the table for basically the last six weeks if not two months. … I did ask the Cleveland Browns to reach out to him, to talk to him about the positives of the game. I do not know the context of that conversation. I do know he was noncommittal at that point. He never said no to the Browns. He said no ultimately to the Reese's Senior Bowl in a very polite conversation between myself, him and his agent last Tuesday night."
Two juniors will play in this year's game: Clemson wide receiver Artavis Scott and Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone. "We usually submit a list of about 10-to-12 potential [juniors] to the league office back in December," Savage said. "They vet the candidates with the schools. I do not want to put our organization between a player and his school in terms of whether a play should come out or not, but we're interested in attracting players who graduate and put themselves in a position to be part of the game here. I don't know that this will be a trend where we end up with 10, 15 or 20 someday but I do think it gives players who are going in as a mid-year enrollee – a high-school senior – it gives those players who get into their fourth year and have graduated an opportunity to be here."