Tuesday, January 13, 2009

84th Annual East-West Shrine Game – Practice Day 1

By: John Murphy, Next Level Scouting, Inc. (www.nfldraftbible.com)

Houston, TX –
The “Meat Market” portion of the all-star game circuit kicked off this morning shortly after 9:00 AM as players from both teams had their arm, hand, height and weight measured and recorded as a full room of scouts and evaluators from the NFL and CFL received their first true look at the prospects body types.

“You look for body types… can a player add weight… how are the proportionate for the position they play and then you can even make note of some scars or possible past surgeries to review later on the players bio sheet”, explained one evaluator when asked about what he was looking for this morning.

Near perfect weather conditions greeted the East team, who practiced first as Bobby Ross, a former NFL and college head coach, led his squad through a fast paced two-plus hour practice session.

Here’s what I gathered from an initial look at the East Roster:

- Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer… throws a very catchable ball, has a bad habit of patting the ball prior to his release, but has a good release and shows good leadership skills in the huddle.

- Louisville QB Hunter Cantwell… looked too hesitant to make mistakes today and held the ball for an eternity on several plays. He looks skinny for his size and just had a few issues with both the plays. Maybe playing in a new scheme for the first time with the pressure of all the scouts watching too.

- Clemson WR Aaron Kelly… showed very consistent hands, was open on most of his routes during 7-on-7 and even team drills and uses his size (6’5”) to his advantage when the ball is in the air.

- Tennessee State RB Javarris Williams…
has good drive in his legs, keeps moving upon initial contact and showed a decent burst on a few good runs.

- Iowa OG Seth Olson… handled his opponent effectively during most of his one-on-one’s, including a few times where he stoned or drove the defensive lineman right back off the snap.

- Kent State OT Augustus Parrish… had good footwork during one-on-one’s, he was active on his feet and did not over-extend. Parrish was better today than on most of his senior tapes, but during team and run plays he lacked strength at the point of attack and took a step back into the middle rounds based on his overall performance.

- Memphis DT Clinton McDonald… very quick off the ball, shed initial blockers in most of his one-on-one reps, made good use of his hands and stood out among DT’s.

- South Carolina ILB Jasper Brinkley… at first look, he seems a little stiff and upright running to the ball, but he shows good feet, balance and explodes well both when he plants his foot and comes forward and when getting to the ball carrier.

- Stillman (AL) DT Sammie Lee Hill…
very good natural size, wide-body frame, flashed some quickness off the snap, had a nice spin move that would have led to a sack if it was a live drill, but later had a slight limp to his step due to a slightly strained left hamstring.

- Wisconsin DE Matt Shaughnessy… showed a good first step off the ball, liked his burst to the ball and showed a few moves during one-on-one drills that gave Ohio State OT Alex Boone some problems, was the most refined of the outside pass rushers in this group.

- Iowa CB Bradley Fletcher… has the best size of the CB’s on his side and he used it today as he had a few good plays, including an interception during the 7-on-7 portion of the workout. Area scouts already knew he ran 4.4’s in the spring, so a big week here could push him towards being a 3rd-4th round choice.

Over on the West side, the stoic former Alabama, Texas A&M and NFL head coach Gene Stallings marched his team right on time and had a strong tempo to their late afternoon practice session.

First look at West side prospects:

- Central Washington QB Mike Reilly…
his ball was a little inconsistent today, seemed like he might have been pressing a bit during his first chance to impress the large contingent of NFL evaluators, gripping the ball too tightly can lead to some misfires, but during warm-ups and individual drills I liked his foot work and he’s athletic for his size.

- Colorado State RB Gatrell Johnson… showed up trim and down 10-12 pounds from the start of his senior campaign. He ran hard during team drills and showed some of the same burst and hustle that now has him rated among the Top-5 senior backs on many boards, but he needs to work hard on his pass routes and developing more quickness/agility to his game.

- Texas A&M FB Jorvorskie Lane… made a pair of one-handed catches during his first practice. He needs to do everything at full-speed in order to impress. Something is missing from his all-around game and I'm not sure he’s only 275 pounds as listed; would seem higher to me in-or-out of pads.

- Rice WR Jarett Dillard… caught the ball very well, went up and grabbed it away from defenders and was not shy from contact on inside routes; has a chance to improve his standing among this group of receivers as he is still more quick-than-fast, but is so sure-handed as anything near him was caught today.

- Houston OT Sebastian Vollmer… rotated between left and right tackle, under-rated, homegrown talent who is still very new and raw to football; born in Kaarst, Germany, long, he has a lean frame and could be a nice developmental type tackle for a team that employs a zone blocking scheme.

- Texas DT Roy Miller… short, stout interior defender that makes his money by having a strong motor, he keeps fight opposing blockers, but has limited pass rush moves, needs to play with leverage and use his low pad level to drive the pocket back; nice situational guy for a team that rotates their DT’s.

- Western Illinois LB Jason Williams…
certainly passes the eye-test with flying colors with a well-defined upper-body. Is a little tight in the hips when dropping back into coverage, but he flies to the ball and shows an extra burst of closing speed in the open field.

- USC cornerback Cary Harris… really was excited to see him up-close as he played as well as any senior cornerback this season on tape. He has good size, can match-up with most of the smaller receivers here at the game, keeps his feet active and is not caught flat-footed on shorter routes. Harris drives well on the ball but need to get a better judgment of his make-up speed when the ball is in the air.

- USC safety Kevin Ellison…
did not show any ill effects from late season injuries and has very good natural size. Some scouts indicated that his best fit might come as a 4-3 WLB. All-Star game practices are the worst thing possible for guys like Ellison who is better playing in the box and given short area pass coverage responsibility, but you still see his intensity and willingness to be physical. The game itself will be a better evaluation of his talents.

- USC kicker David Buehler…
is a big, athletic kid for a kicker. He kicked field goals at the end of practice when everyone’s attention was free, but on his own he was warming up and kicking off on a side field; his leg strength on kickoffs alone will earn him a shot to make someone’s team as a rookie as he can knock it through the end zone with regularity.

Overall, most scouts initial reaction was that the West side might have more talent player-for-player, but it’s early in the week and the next two days of practices will really tell the tale of the tape here in Houston.


* The Senior Bowl has invited West Virginia linebacker Mortty Ivy, who will remain in Houston for the remainder of the Shrine Game festivities. They also invited Wisconsin offensive lineman Andy Kemp who weighed in this morning, but has opted to sit out the week and will be replaced by Nebraska offensive lineman Matt Slauson, who will join the action in time for Tuesday morning’s practice.

* Texas offensive guard Cedric Dockery seemed the most surprised of the players in attendance that he had not yet received an invite to the NFL Combine; his brother Derrick is a long-time NFL offensive linemen.

* Several familiar faces were seen along the sidelines during this afternoon’s practice sessions including Houston Texans All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson, former NFL GM Ron Hill, Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Robaire Smith and roughly 40-50 NFL player representatives.

* Word has it that the Detroit Lions may be contemplating the idea of offering a front office position to former Cleveland Browns GM Phil Savage, who attended all of today’s activities while keeping a low profile and taking judicious notes as if he were still working in his former capacity; his humble beginnings as a scout will now aid his search for a new gig.

* According to several NFL sources over 150 underclassmen have submitted paper work in the hopes of receiving a current draft grade or evaluation of their respective talents. The same sources said that an expected 45-50 junior/red-shirt sophomores could opt into the NFL Draft.

* According to an NFL source Oklahoma red-shirt sophomore defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has opted to return to school for one more season rather than entering this year’s draft.

* According to USC defensive back Josh Pinkard he has filed all the necessary paper work to the NCAA in order to potentially receive a medical hardship year for a past knee injury that would allow him to return to the Trojans next season.

* According to LSU defensive tackle Charles Alexander he has turned down the chance to attend this year’s NFL Combine as he plans to return to the Tigers for a sixth-season of eligibility because of a past knee injury, and the chance to likely replace junior Ricky Jean-Francois in the starting lineup since he has declared his own intentions to leave for the NFL a year early.

* A total of 43 players were drafted out of the 83rd annual East-West Shrine Game.

* According to Shrine Game staffers over 300 credentials were created for NFL coaches, scouts and support staff for this year’s game.

Photo Credit: Draftguys.com, OU Athletics Department, WVU Sports Communication