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Senior Bowl rosters announced; Key players to watch


*Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage breaks down the key players in this year's game: *

For one week every year, the center of the football world is 150 miles from the closest NFL stadium.

The 2018 Reese's Senior Bowl will be played next Saturday, Jan. 27, but the real work gets done during the week of practices, where NFL scouts gather to watch the top outgoing seniors from college football. For the first time, the crew will be there to cover it. So stay tuned for practice highlights, prospect reports, and the latest on what the draft experts are saying.

With that said, the 2018 rosters were finalized on Thursday. The Texans coaching staff, led by Bill O'Brien, will coach the South team, while Vance Joseph, coming off his first year as head coach of the Broncos, will guide the North.

Players will arrive by Jan. 22 to begin practices the next day. Kickoff for the 69th Reese's Senior Bowl is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET on Jan. 27 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Both the NFL Network and ESPN will televise the practices during the week, and NFL Network will carry the game live on Saturday.

The biggest name to accept an invite this year was Baker Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. The Oklahoma product will be one of eight quarterbacks to participate, a group that also includes Wyoming's Josh Allen, regarded as one of the top prospects in his class.

"I think Josh Allen is going to be a real name to watch," said Phil Savage, who joined the Senior Bowl as its executive director in 2012 after working in the NFL as a coach, scout and executive for 20 years. "He's the biggest of these quarterbacks. He's the one with probably the strongest arm. I had a chance to see him down at the Manning [Passing] Academy last summer, and he was impressive. So I think in this venue, he gets an opportunity to showcase that arm and meet with the clubs behind the scenes and then ultimately apply some of the coaching that he gets in the classroom to the field. I think Josh Allen could help himself as much as anybody over the course of the week."

On Mayfield, Savage added: "What is his goal and objective here in Mobile? Number one, answer a lot of questions off the field with these 32 NFL clubs. But, secondly, get on that field and show that he's something more than just a spread offensive quarterback, that he can go under center, that he can play-action fake, make the reads and ultimately be tall enough to either throw through or around those big defensive linemen."

Savage served as the director of college scouting and later the director of player personnel with the Baltimore Ravens, helping assemble a roster that included 12 Pro Bowlers and claimed a victory in Super Bowl XXXV. He also spent four years as general manager of the Cleveland Browns, drafting or acquiring five Pro Bowlers during his tenure, including future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Joe Thomas.

Now he's in charge of the week in Mobile, where 30 percent of the players in the NFL started their professional journey.

The Giants hold a top-five pick in April's draft for the first time since 2004, the year they acquired Eli Manning. We will wait to see what new general manager Dave Gettleman and the incoming head coach have in mind for the selection, but in the meantime, Savage broke down the rest of the quarterbacks making it to the Senior Bowl.

On Kyle Lauletta (Richmond) and Kurt Benkert (Virginia):

"Both of those guys showed a lot of promise during the season. Lauletta played in somewhat of a pro-style system for the Spiders. I think people are going to be really impressed with him. Benkert has got a strong arm. He flashes a lot of good plays. He's got to show more consistency here."

On Mike White (Western Kentucky) and Brandon Silvers (Troy):

"[White is] a quarterback that's got size, but he can really spin the football as a passer. He threw for over 8,000 yards, 61 touchdowns, only 14 interceptions in his two years at Western. And then our eighth quarterback is a local product, Brandon Silvers from Troy University, played nearby at Gulf Shores [High School], Alabama. But Brandon is a four-year starter and he's helped Troy win 21 games over the last two seasons."

Stay tuned to next week for all of your Senior Bowl coverage.

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