Senior Bowl Day 2 observations: Potential Lions fit at cornerback shines

MOBILE, Ala. — Kyu Blue Kelly did himself a favor on Day 2 of the 2023 Senior Bowl, making a handful of aggressive plays to the ball, including a 40-yard pick-six interception.

The former three-year starter at Stanford is a long, athletic cornerback who flashed his quick-reaction ability and strong ball skills on Wednesday. Kelly intercepted the Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham by ripping the ball out of the receiver’s hands and taking it to the house. He played the ball strong all day, with those plays in coverage hard to erase from memory. The entire defense joined him in the end zone to celebrate the score to end seven-on-seven drills.

He also flashed in offense vs. defense sets, making a stellar read on another Cunningham throw. Kelly jumped the route and swatted it away from the Oklahoma tight end Brayden Willis. Kelly flashed his ability in man and zone coverage looks throughout the day, leaving his mark on the early practice from Mobile.

And the Stanford standout certainly makes a ton of sense for the Detroit Lions. Kelly has played outside and inside for three years under former head coach David Shaw. The 6-foot-1 cornerback allowed 22 catches on 44 targets for 373 yards and two touchdowns last season. He was an all-state and Nevada state champion track athlete during high school, with those wheels and agility popping at the college football showcase. He is also the son of former NFL cornerback Brian Kelly, who spent the final season of his career with the Lions.

Related: Senior Bowl Day 1 observations: Towering Ohio State OL dominates, QBs underwhelm

Related: Lions pushed for assistant Shaun Dion Hamilton to get Senior Bowl opportunity

It was a strong day for the defensive backs, in general. Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson was all over the ball, diving and making high-effort plays in the secondary. He credited Lions defensive assistant Shaun Dion Hamilton for instilling a physical mentality into the American team cornerbacks through these first two days. South Carolina’s Darius Rush had a pretty similarly feisty day in coverage, making it tough for those quarterbacks.

See below for more observations and takeaways from the second day of practice:

— Before we dig into those quarterbacks. Michigan State’s Jayden Reed might have been the best player on the field on Day 2. Reed was the fastest player from either roster to open business on Tuesday. And then on Wednesday? Reed did it all. He flashed that speed while making a pair of downfield 35-yard touchdown catches in one-on-one drills. Reed beat Maryland cornerback Jacorian Bennett downfield to the pylon, finishing the play with the reception. He then got the better of USC’s Mekhi Blackmon on a hotly-contested one-on-one route. Reed burned the defensive back with a move inside and then back out to the end zone, with Blackmon showing a serious ability to track the ball and make it a tough catch. Still, Reed came out of this day looking like a big winner.

— So, the quarterbacks were better. It’s not anything to write home about, though. But BYU’s Jaren Hall and Fresno State’s Jake Haener looked much more comfortable on Day 2. Hall dropped a couple of dimes in the bucket from 35 yards out on back-to-back reps in one-on-one drills. He put the ball where it needed to be each time — with one of those to Reed — and avoided any repeat ugly fumbles. Haener did the same in cleaning it up and keeping the ball off the ground. His best throw of the day was an incomplete pass in the end zone, but it was quite the throw out of the pocket, putting it where only his guy could get it. Haener was on the run more with the up-tempo practice, flashing some of his fun playmaking mentality. The second session was a touch worse, with the American team quarterbacks still struggling to find that rhythm. TCU’s Max Duggan had his best moments in team drills, leading the offense while flashing that leadership ability. Duggan dropped a beauty along the sideline in two-minute drills to the Oregon State tight end Luke Musgravetoo for his top throw of the session. Shepherd’s Tyson Bagent and Houston’s Clayton Tune had more solid moments than on Day 1. But there was still inconsistency accuracy and shaky moments, including a handful without a defensive line or rush in their faces. There isn’t a first-round quarterback in this group. Haener has been the most consistent since his ugly start, while Duggan has been with him.

— Coastal Carolina defensive tackle Jerrod Clark continues to look the part. The big man made an impressive move at the line for the second consecutive day to get his mitts in the air to knock a pass away. Clark pushed North Dakota’s Cody Mauch back, then got those hands up to make the play. He’s shown some spark inside, with a recent history of stuffing the run. It’s hard to get a taste of his ability against the run through these tackle-free afternoons. But his power and blueprint to succeed at the next level are easy to spot. Speaking of Mauch, the tackle has been repping at guard and center this week. That’s a new task for Mauch, with him playing center on the play where Clark got through.

Dawand Jones was the big winner on Day 1. The Ohio State offensive lineman wasn’t out there on Wednesday, reportedly getting evaluated “to see if he’s healthy enough to return this week.” And in other injury news, Texas running back Roschon Johnson is out for the week after breaking a bone in his hand. Texas Tech running back Rodorick Thompson Jr. took his spot, and was active, getting some looks to start his impromptu week in Mobile.

— Tulane running back Tyjay Spears put the bow on another solid day. Spears flashed his ability in space on a screen to open yesterday’s practices. And then he took that to another level to end the second day of sessions for the American team. Spears’ ability to make cuts and reads at the second level has been remarkable. He broke a long run, making many people miss, and later took a screen to the house. Spears made the low catch out of the backfield, broke towards the sideline and then cut back through the middle of the field. And while there isn’t any tackling in these practices, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting to the ground on those looks.

— TCU linebacker Dee Winters did himself a favor in a hurry. On back-to-back snaps in 11 on 11s, Winters intercepted the pass over the middle and ripped the ball out of a ball carrier’s hands to force a fumble on the next play. There are height concerns at 5-foot-11, but it’s hard to ignore those plays and his instincts clicking in whenever bursting towards the football.

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