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2023 Senior Bowl Day 1 standouts: BYU WR Puka Nacua impresses; center rising into Round 1?

MOBILE, Ala. -- With Reese's Senior Bowl practices getting underway on Tuesday, 100-plus prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft are in the midst of a crucial job interview.'s Lance Zierlein and Eric Edholm provide a look at standouts from Day 1, as well as news and notes from the day's events.

Tune in for live coverage of Senior Bowl practice Wednesday and Thursday beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET on NFL+, and don't miss exclusive coverage Saturday of the Senior Bowl game at 2:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network.

Five stars from Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice

DJ Dale, DT, Alabama

Coming into this week, I had Dale pegged as a solid backup who could contribute as part of a defensive line rotation. After the first practice here in Mobile, Dale is making a case that he can play a bigger role at the next level. He constantly challenged interior offensive linemen with great leverage and penetration. 

Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State

Jones is the biggest and longest prospect at the Senior Bowl (6-foot-8, 375 pounds). He looked like a mountain of a man on the practice field Tuesday. I have some concerns about the way Jones redirects his weight and keeps his balance against movement up front, but he had a rock-solid performance in his first practice of the week. In both his run-blocking and pass-protection reps, he was effective in using his frame against opponents. The former Buckeye was able to envelop and halt his challengers more times than not.

Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State

There's a reason coaches, scouts and personnel executives from across the league flock to Mobile each year at this time -- they want to get a chance to see some of this year's top prospects in person. Game film doesn't always do proper justice to a prospect's size and physical attributes. The up-close perspective can have a huge impact on the evaluations of NFL decision-makers. Musgrave was already considered one of the better tight ends in a strong class at the position this year, but I came away even more impressed after getting a chance to see him in person for the first time on Tuesday.

He has a well-proportioned 255-pound frame that made him stand out from the rest of the players in his Senior Bowl position group. He's coming back from a knee injury that limited him to two games last season and was cleared to run routes just a few weeks ago, but you would never know it based on the way he buzzed around the field in Mobile.

Puka Nacua, WR, BYU

Nacua found ways to get open and flashed top-notch ball skills to bring in challenging catches on a couple of different occasions. On tape, his hands and ability to make the tough grab stood out, but his separation quickness wasn't always the best. On Tuesday, he was open and he was productive.

John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota

Schmitz came into the week with a chance to challenge for the title of top center in the draft. He might leave Mobile with that title and put himself squarely in the conversation for Round 1. He impressed me the most of all the prospects I was able to see on Tuesday. Schmitz showed off plenty of core strength and leverage to battle against stronger players. He might be more than just a zone-scheme center -- the ability to play in multiple schemes would elevate his draft stock.

Five Senior Bowl takeaways from Tuesday

1) SMU's Rashee Rice gave up a nap to stand out on Tuesday.

Rice knows how to get open, and that trait was on the line at the end of Tuesday's practice.

The American team coaches pitted a series of five one-on-one battles -- O-linemen versus D-linemen, linebackers versus running backs, receivers versus corners -- to close out the session. It was tied at two wins for the defense, two for the offense.

That left Rice to battle with South Carolina CB Darius Rush for the tiebreaker. Rice won off the snap and quickly gained separation on the dig route, but Shepherd QB Tyson Bagent's throw was off-target. That was technically a win for the defense -- and that meant Rice and his teammates owed 15 push-ups. 

"It's fine, we'll get that one tomorrow," Rice said with a smile, "if they give us another shot at it."

Rice was a Day 1 standout and appears to be among the more gifted receivers at this year's event. He also hoped he was among the most prepared.

"I was studying all night and all morning," he said. "I didn't put the playbook down. I was like, I can't take a nap. I had to get these plays down. I didn't want to come out here and be like the guy who didn't know what (he was) doing. Everyone out here is competing for jobs, and I didn't want to be unprepared and look foolish."

Rice, who measured 6-foot, 200 pounds at the Senior Bowl, caught 96 passes for 1,355 yards and 10 TDs in 12 games last season. Tuesday was his most competitive action in a couple months, as he last played in a game on Nov. 26. 

"I had to regain my quickness a bit," he said, "and it took me a few reps. These corners are fast."

2) TCU QB Max Duggan's up-and-down day finishes on high note in full-team work.

Duggan spoke Tuesday morning, reflecting on what he called an "eventful" and "special" season with the Horned Frogs, but one that came with several twists and turns.

He initially lost his battle to Chandler Morris for the starting QB job but regained it when Morris got hurt in the opener. Duggan never looked back, leading TCU into the College Football Playoff and being named a Heisman Trophy finalist. The season then ended with a thud after Georgia thumped the Frogs in the title game, 62-7.

"We got our butts kicked, but you know, there's a lot to learn from it," Duggan said. "... (Learning) how to handle something that (was) a failure in our eyes, and how to, you know, get up from it."

Duggan started slowly in individual work and had his pass jumped by Alabama's DeMarcco Hellams for an interception in 7-on-7 work.

But in full-team reps, Duggan started to shine. He completed all five of his passes in the session, twice sidestepping the rush to find Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo, who also had a good day.

It was a nice start to the week for Duggan, an unorthodox passer who nonetheless has helped his stock noticeably over the past six months. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said Duggan has worked himself into the upper portion of Day 3 of the draft.

3) Georgia RB Kenny McIntosh has injury scare.

McIntosh entered Senior Bowl week as one of the more exciting backs in Mobile but left his first practice early with what initially appeared to be a scary injury.

McIntosh went down and was tended to by trainers after running a route and trying to corral a loose ball on the Hancock Whitney Stadium turf. He remained down for several minutes before walking off under his own power.

Fortunately, the injury is not considered serious. NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported it was a cramp in his calf. Several players spoke after practice about the unexpectedly hot conditions and how coaches reminded them frequently to hydrate.

McIntosh passed his first test in the event's weigh-in, coming in at 210 pounds (his listed weight on Georgia's roster) and just under 6-foot. Hopefully he will be able to return to practice this week and show off the skills that allowed him to rush for 829 yards and gain 504 receiving yards last season for the national champs. 

4) Ronnie Bell works through drop to turn in strong first day.

Midway through the National team practice, Michigan WR Ronnie Bell ran over to the sideline, did 15 push-ups and then ran back on the field for more work.

Bell's transgression?

"I can't have drops out here, man," Bell said. "Gotta be 100 percent. So I went over, did my pushups after that rep, but then you know, I just gotta keep moving for the next play and try to continue to have good practice."

Bell did, dusting Ohio State defensive back Ronnie Hickman on a slant route during individual work. He also showed the ability to adjust to off-target throws and catch balls outside his frame. Bell said the latter was something he especially wanted to display this week.

"Without a doubt," he said, "it's got to be in my heart, you know, to be able to catch anything thrown at me, so if it's close, I definitely have to put it on display that I can do that. I'm not the biggest guy (5-11, 192), but I have the reach (31 1/8-inch arms) to make those plays."

5) If you're a Steelers fan wanting help for QB Kenny Pickett, it might be your lucky offseason. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin was front and center for offensive line drills during the National team session.

What's the big deal, you ask? Well, one year ago, Tomlin seemed to be glued to the quarterbacks. The Steelers ended up drafting Pickett, a 2022 Senior Bowl attendee, in Round 1. The offensive line is a top need for Pittsburgh this offseason. Will they address the position in the first round? We'll see.

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