With the final Senior Bowl padded practice taking place on Wednesday, most of the NFL decision makers had already departed Mobile by the time Thursday's afternoon session in shorts rolled around. Not so for the 49ers, who as coaches of the South squad were still in full force for the blistery practice.
"The whole week has been really good," said defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. "It was a nice way to finish it up, there weren't any pads but the guys worked hard and the rain mostly held off. They've all been coached well before coming here, but you coach them on a couple of little things here and there, and then all of the sudden guys start understanding what you are talking about and it's a good deal."
Several of the 49ers scouts were also in attendance for what was really the final practice as Friday's session is primarily a walk-thru.
"It has gotten quiet here because the main two days of the senior bowl are like any college season where Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days to get a look at these guys because they are in full pads," said 49ers area scout Trent Baalke. "Today in shorts, you aren't going to get as much value, but for us there are still some things you pick up. In watching the guys come out, you can see how they prepare and how they compete regardless of the situation. They are working hard, they seem to have picked up things real well this week, and I think on Saturday it will show. It should be a good football game."
Cutups from the game will get distributed to all 32 NFL teams for further evaluation, but the 49ers believe they've definitely gained the edge in this year's draft by working the game.
"There's no doubt it's been a benefit for us, and as I've said before, the draft is not an exact science," said general manager Scot McCloughan. "So, when you get to see them in person and have the coaches and scouts spend more time with them and gain more insight, it's only going to help you. The more you know about them as people, the importance of football to them, their passion for the game, and their intelligence, it makes your decision that much easier when it comes to the draft."
After being examined all week, the seniors still have their final exam so to speak this Saturday when the North squares off against the South.
"We accomplished an awful lot this week," said head coach Mike Nolan. "We got to work with them, got to coach them and the next step is Saturday, and it's a chance for them to play and showcase their skills and we are looking forward to it."
The South squad took a few hits with injuries this week, losing two of its big-time receivers in Early Doucet and Limas Sweed, but it's still a group that improved from the week of practice.
"We hadn't practiced in a while after our college bowl games and coming out and doing drills right off the bat that first day was a little sloppy for everyone, but we progressed throughout the week," said Georgia Tech linebacker Phillip Wheeler. "This week I gained a lot of fundamental work from the 49ers coaches that I think will help a lot towards my NFL career. They say the little things are going to keep you in the NFL longer, and I know I hope to have a long career."
It's also a group of all-star players who believe they came together as a team.
"As a team we really bonded," said Tennessee State corner Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie. "We first came out here and it was all about individuals but throughout the week we really came together. A few guys got hurt but the competition is going to be great and it should be a good game. It's been a perfect week. I am just happy to be here, blessed to be here, and just looking forward to Saturday.
BRIEFLY: Nolan had said he planned to continue his search for the vacancies on his offensive staff during the week in Mobile.
Asked for an update on that, Coach responded, "I have talked to several coaches about other coaches who I wanted their opinions on, as well as talking directly to some I might be interested in. No decisions have been finalized. There's not a lot of time when you are coaching the game, but I have been working on it. I turned down a heck of a dinner offer about two nights ago to stay in my room and work on this, and I have been able to talk to a lot of people this week."