Southern Cal's Mays conducts safety clinic at Senior Bowl practice

Posted: January 26, 2010

MOBILE, Ala. - Much of the NFL gathered at the South team practice yesterday at a high school stadium in Fairhope, Ala., to watch Tim Tebow's first NFL-style workout.

The Eagles' presence was minimal. Coach Andy Reid and presumptive general-manager-to-be Howie Roseman weren't scheduled to attend practices until today. That tells you something, or at least confirms something you thought you already knew - the Birds aren't likely to add Tebow to their crowded quarterbacking circus.

The Florida phenom clearly interested throngs of fans, though, who filled the stands and later pressed against a chain-link fence, yearning for a closer glimpse or perhaps even an autograph as No. 15 walked toward the bus. The secondary buzz was created by Alabama coach Nick Saban, who chatted on the sideline with St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator (and former Eagles quarterbacks coach) Pat Shurmur.

Tebow and Saban clearly were the chief dignitaries on the scene, which told you where you were, in SEC country, really not an NFL environment. Saban's brief dalliance with the Miami Dolphins was a disaster, and a lot of NFL personnel people doubt Tebow's arm will ever make him an every-down pro starter. Particularly in the early part of yesterday's workout, an observer would have been hard pressed to differentiate Tebow from the QBs he threw with, West Virginia's Jarrett Brown and Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson.

From an Eagles perspective, it was more interesting to get a glimpse of USC safety Taylor Mays working against the Senior Bowl receivers. Of course, nobody knows if the Eagles will draft Mays with their first-round pick, 24th overall, or if he will even last that long. Some mock drafts have the Birds getting Mays. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock thinks Mays will go considerably earlier. But if the Eagles end up unloading one of their three QBs, they could certainly move up in the first round.

We're still in January and everything right now is incredibly speculative, but if you had to pick a position to key in on from an Eagles' perspective, safety makes a lot of sense. The Birds had a terrible time trying to replace Brian Dawkins in 2009. The coaching staff went through Quintin Demps, Sean Jones and overmatched fifth-round rookie Macho Harris, never getting solid coverage or really strong tackling. Down the stretch, the play of strong safety Quintin Mikell seemed to suffer from the instability of the other safety spot (though not so much that Mikell wasn't added to the NFC Pro Bowl squad yesterday).

There aren't any star-quality free safeties in line for unrestricted free agency this offseason, so most likely, if the Eagles are going to upgrade, they're going to have to do it in the draft, and not with another fifth-round-type guy. So let's entertain Mays as a first-round working premise. (Of course, the Eagles also have a big need for an impact defensive lineman; some mock drafts see them taking Penn State's Jared Odrick. And their offensive line isn't really set, and they sure could use an impact linebacker, and so on.)

The first thing you notice about Mays, as one former NFL assistant on the sideline observed, is that he is huge. Tight end-sized. Southern Cal listed him at 6-3, 230; he towered over the other d-backs at yesterday's practice. He moved very well for a big man, covering large chunks of the field effortlessly. When Mays ranged over to help out Alabama corner Javier Arenas, breaking up a pass intended for Citadel wideout Andre Roberts, dozens of scouts murmured appreciatively.

Right now, Mays is probably the second-best safety prospect in the draft, behind Tennessee underclassman Eric Berry, often pegged as one of the top five players overall. (Berry isn't in Mobile, because, well, it's the Senior Bowl. No underclassmen.) Neither Mays nor USC had as good a 2009 season as they'd hoped; some scouts seem to feel Mays didn't improve his draft stock by staying for his senior season.

Not surprisingly, Mays disagrees. "I just wanted to get better," he said as he walked off the field. "It was important that I take all the chances I had to be the best. I don't regret any of it. I thought I went back and became a better player physically and mentally, became a better student of the game, and that's what I wanted to do."

Mays is one of the higher-profile prospects at the Senior Bowl. Agents often counsel high first-round picks to showcase themselves in more controlled settings, such as their school's pro days.

"I feel I have something to prove I didn't get a chance to prove at USC," he said. "I'd feel awkward, turning down a chance to play."

Stewart moves on

Brian Stewart, the former Dallas defensive coordinator who was added to Sean McDermott's staff as a "defensive assistant," working with the Eagles' secondary last season, has left to become defensive coordinator at the University of Houston.

Stewart was McDermott's most experienced assistant. His departure highlights the possibility of staff changes for a defensive unit that gave up more points than any Eagles team to make the playoffs in the Andy Reid era.

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

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