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STEPHEN’S REPORT: Alabama in the Senior Bowl

It’s been an intense week of practice, but Saturday marks the first audition to the National Football League for many seniors. Mobile, Ala, will be packed for the 2015 Reese’s Senior Bowl inside Ladd-Pebbles Stadium. NFL Network will air the contest at 3pm CT. Four Alabama players will participate, as each one looks to improve its draft stock.

FB Jalston Fowler (6-1/264 pounds)

Jalston Fowler was one of Alabama’s best all-around players. He is an exceptional blocker, runner and pass catcher. Fowler ended his career with 738 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He’s totaled seven touchdown receptions in the last two seasons (2013, 2014).

Fowler excels at setting edges in the run game. He guided Alabama’s backs to 206.6 yards per game and 35 touchdowns in 2014. Size was one thing Fowler was concerned about after the season. He went on a vegetable diet and dropped six pounds.

Fowler has assured NFL scouts that he will be able to run the ball more at the next level. Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage had some high praise for the former Alabama fullback.

“Jalston is a general manager’s dream because he saves you a roster spot,” Savage said to Tuscaloosa News. “I think he can go as high as the third round, I really do, which is a little bit unusual. Most of these top fullbacks go somewhere in that fourth round neighborhood, but I think he is going to be that valuable.”

OG Arie Kouandjio (6-5/318 pounds)

His brother, Cyrus, was a better pass protector, but Arie Kouandjio has smooth footwork and is a potent run blocker. Koaundjio’s long arms (34 ¾”) and wingspan (84 ½”) helps him create leverage at the line of scrimmage and open up running lanes. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry both neared 1,000 yards rushing with Kouandjio leading the way.

He improved in 2014 as a pass protector. Koaundjio came off the ball quickly, and shielded defensive linemen away from the quarterback.  Arie will get a lot of comparisons to Cyrus, but many NFL analysts have said that Arie looks a lot better than Cyrus at this point of the process. CBSSports.com has given Kouandjio a second-round grade.

OT Austin Shepherd (6-5/320 pounds)

Austin Shepherd was a stud at right tackle for Alabama. He was stationed there for two seasons and became a consistent offensive lineman. Shepherd started all 13 games in 2013 and didn’t allow a sack in the regular season. He’s taking reps at right tackle throughout senior bowl preparations, but Tuesday’s practice saw him at guard.

“When you are at tackle, you are by yourself,” Shepherd said to AL.com’s Michael Casagrande. “You’re in a wide open space and you kinda control yourself. When you’re at guard, you’re in a little box. You pretty much have bumpers on each side of you.”

Shepherd was a part of an offensive line that helped Alabama average 36.9 points and 484.5 yards in 2014. CBSSports.com and NFL.com both have Shepherd listed as a tackle.

QB Blake Sims (6-0/223 pounds)

Blake Sims had a rough outing Tuesday, but rebounded Wednesday. He regained focus and placed balls in the right spots. Sims’s arm strength was huge on a lot of slant routes. He hit receivers in stride and threw the ball well on the run. Sims completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 3,487 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2014.

Drew Brees and Russell Wilson both defied stature to become successful NFL quarterbacks. Sims looks to do the same thing. Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley was one of few people that enjoyed watching Sims at Wednesday’s practice.

“Sims has put his natural leadership ability to display throughout the week of practices, which should work to Sims’s advantage throughout the draft process,” Bradley said.

Sims must improve his arm strength on passes toward the sidelines. He tends to short hop throws along the hash marks. Sims is making strides, but still has a ways to go. CBSSports.com tabs him as a sixth-seventh round draft pick.

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