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2014 EAST-WEST SHRINE PRACTICE REPORTS
         by 'Pigskin' Paul Guillemette, editor of Paul's Pigskin Place and Special GBN Scout
      
       Thursday     January 16

Alrighty boys and girls here is a wrap on the final day of practice for Shrine Week. As expected it was a padless walk through, but there were a few moments worth mentioning.

I was impressed with the quickness and footwork of Georgia Tech DB JEREA THOMAS who has been playing safety this week. The position surprises me because I’m not aware of many, no make that any, 5-9, 191-pound safeties in the NFL. My memory says I saw him at CB watching TECH play multiple times this past season. He showed his ball awareness with a nice end zone INT of a deflected ball during 11-on-11. He’s made plays all week and should be a late round pick in May.

The EAST offensive co-ordinator JUNE JONES has clearly created a package of plays for athletic Northern Illinois QB JORDAN LYNCH that will allow him to run with the ball as an option more than we usually see. It was on display this morning and quite effective. LYNCH was gaining chunks of yards with his feet, and looked more comfortable as a passer with that being almost a second option.

I had a smile on my face for a good 10 minutes watching TIM KRUMRIE work out with his defensive line group this morning. He was stressing the importance of keeping blockers hands from locking into the chest of his DL. He did an individual “slap” game with each player and the guys were all hooting and hollering and laughing as they took turns trying deflect KRUMRIE’s maneuvering and hand slapping. It was a great episode of effective teaching and bonding. Football is still a game and this session proved that it can still be fun. How is KRUMRIE not an NFL DL Coach right now on some staff? In fact, the quote of the day from KRUMRIE, talking to his guys about holding their water and not anticipating the snap count: “But if you screw up, keep going and do it at 100 miles per hour.”

Bowling Green TE ALEX BAYER appears to be the No. 1 option for long snapping, with Tennessee C JAMES STONE being the second option.

Coastal Carolina WR MATT HAZEL has proven once again that small school guys generally respond positively to the higher level of player competition and coaching at these venues. HAZEL has looked better and more comfortable every day this week. I fully expect him to have a good game Saturday.

After 4 days of observation I would expect the EAST squad to win the kicking battle on game day. ZACH HOCKER, has looked better than Texas K ANTHONY VERA with his accuracy and mechanics. VERA may actually have a slightly stronger leg, but he is more erratic overall. I will give the Punting edge to RICHIE LEONE of Houston of the WEST squad. He kicks farther and with better hang time than STEVEN CLARK, who has not displayed the control that he exhibited in his effort against Alabama.

The EAST seems to have really developed some team chemistry and spirit this week. In addition to the DL fun the team also carried one of JERRY GLANVILLE’s assistants off the practice field on their shoulders, chanting at the end of practice. Another pretty cool, fun moment.

The best watch of the afternoon today was the LB group. With Michigan State bulldog MAX BULLOUGH and Southern Cal‘s DEVON KENNARD leading the way they are a pretty noisy, active group. They kid with their coach and themselves, but work pretty hard. It is clear though that the stone hands of the group is Notre Dame OLB PRINCE SHEMBO. In their ball drills they cheered when PRINCE would actually make a catch.

Valdosta State WR SEANTAVIOUS JONES is another small school player who has really improved as the week has gone on. He looked particularly dangerous today on end zone throws. He was very effective on back shoulder catches.

And speaking of players from small schools, CB MARCUS WILLIAMS from FCS national champion North Dakota State also looks the part of a legit prospect. He got better every day and was very receptive to coaching.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the practices this week was the apparent refusal of a few players to accept the coaching work trying to be done. The worst case of it came from one of the WEST RB group who literally refused to change the way he cradled the ball while running, to help prevent stripping by the defenders. The coach was preaching “high & tight” and this player still carried it out and loose. I’ve made a personal note in my Shrine book that this kid fails to make an NFL team next fall with that kind of attitude. The staffs here may not be current NFL coaches, but overall I saw a lot of quality coaching for both teams, by a bunch of guys who have NFL playing and coaching experience. Players had a solid chance to learn this week and most did.

I’m sure hoping that we have enough players on hand Saturday to play the actual Shrine Game. Some elite players (at least in heir agents’ minds) are dropping out of the Senior Bowl every day now. And more and more Shrine Game guys are being announced as their replacements. It’s getting damn close to game time here, and I hope they finish the week here and play before leaving for Mobile.

That’s a wrap folks, since Friday is a brief walk through in The Trop, which media has no access to. I’ll be at the game and will file a report later this weekend on observations there. Hope I’ve been able to provide you with some insight and info on what it’s been like down here this week. And thanks to the GBN again for letting me be his eyes and ears down here.  Back at you next week from Mobile.

        Wednesday, January 15

WEST PRACTICE

Sorry to say, I think I dozed off three times while standing on my feet watching the WEST practice. The pace differential between the two squads practices is incredible. Now watch the West put a solid licking on the East come Saturday.

Much like the West Squad last year, ROMEO’s charges should be super prepared for Special Teams play for all the time they spend on it in practice under the guidance of Coach LOUIE AGUIAR.

One of the biggest surprises on this squad to me has been South Dakota OLB TYLER STARR. The strapping 6-4, 249-pounder has been all over the field during 11-on-11 action. He topped today off with an acrobatic sideline pick. He wasn’t on my radar at all a week ago. Now he’s a nice addition to my draftable LB list.

Michigan State MLB MAX BULLOUGH has also been outstanding so far. He weighed in at a whopping 265 lbs. on Monday.  He has been incredibly active and around the ball constantly. He had a big interception in the middle of the field during 11-on-11 this afternoon. I’m still not convinced that this is his ideal playing weight, but it does not appear to be hindering his play so far.

Big Wisconsin DT BEAU ALLEN is throwing his weight around quite effectively, both literally and figuratively. The big inside player, who indicated to me that despite the lack of glamour playing on the Nose he enjoyed the change in scheme this past season in Mad Town. The standard 4-3 scheme used in these All-Star Games is still looking like it plays to his bulk and strength. He’s been pushing OL teammates all week.

Baylor TE JORDAN NAJVAR is also making an impression this week with his practice work. The big physical specimen has shown both blocking and receiving skills. He also catches your eye with his 6-6, 262 pound frame. In a speed receiver offense, NAJVAR had only 10 catches last season, but he looks like a solid all-around TE prospect this week.

It’s not a big year for senior RB prospects, so a willingness to look at undersized but productive college players is needed more than ever. One such player to look at from the West squad is Sam Houston State’s TIMOTHY FLANDERS. He rushed for 1430 yards last fall at an average of 5.9 yards per pop. He’s not blowing anyone away this week, but he’s done a little bit of everything and with his power has to be listed as short, but not small. Don’t be surprised if he makes his mark in the game Saturday. He’s hard for defenders to see behind this tall offensive linemen and is very quick to and thru the hole.

The West receiving corps has been whittled down because of injuries. Both T.J. JONES of Notre Dame and Nebraska‘s QUINCY ENUNWA were out of practice today, and the East team has transferred over Army wideout PATRICK LAIRD.  With both squads being down to 5 WR both groups should have plenty of snaps for all the remaining receivers.

KEITH WENNING of Ball State continues to look like the best of the West QB group. He throws the best spiral and long ball of the three on this squad. He is also mobile enough to escape pocket pressure. There are times he looks a little hesitant to try to squeeze the ball into his receivers. QB Coach CHRIS PALMER appears to be working on both a few sloppy throwing throwing mechanics as well as his psyche with WENNING.

EAST PRACTICE

Cool temps, no rain and the East football squad greeted me as I arrived at practice this Wednesday morning.  The team looked refreshed and ready for some contact after being relegated to an indoor walk thru Tuesday.

I decided that since I always end up spending too much time watching the big uglies work I would at least start my morning with DB drill work. Lo and behold, who should be camped out directly beneath the goal post watching the same group but TED THOMPSON?  It’s a large group of DB despite the absence of E.J. GAINES who is nursing wounds from the Mizzou Bowl game. I quickly identified two good sized CBs who looked smooth with their footwork in ball direction drills in ANDRE HAL of Vanderbilt and small-college star PIERRE DESIR of Lindenwood. HAL had a strong steady career at Vandy and reminds me some of CASEY HAYWARD his former Commodore teammate who is now with the PACKERS. He’s not flashy and is probably best suited in a primarily zone cover scheme, but he can turn his hips and accelerate quite nicely after a change of direction. He also locates he ball well. DESIR is the highly touted small school guy who has the length of frame and arms that scouts always look for and rarely find. He’s on a pretty big stage compared to what he’s used to from small school days. He seems a bit slower than HAL in reacting to the ball, but can get to it and shows good coordination and balance.

But I couldn’t stay away from the big boys for long. I was drawn to some drill work by the DL, under the supervision of former BADGERS/BENGALS  DT TIM KRUMRIE. I continue to be drawn to the smaller school guys and couldn’t keep my eyes off of the big energizer bunny, ZACH KERR of Delaware. Though lacking a bit in finesse, KERR displays a high rev motor and great enthusiasm for the game. Krumrie calls him Delaware and offers advice and encouragement constantly. In later scrimmage type work KERR inflicted some big hits on blockers and ball carriers. He has a knack for pushing the middle right into the pocket. He’s not running anyone down from behind, but he will chase.
 
Long and strong is how I would describe Richmond DE KERRY WYNN.  I show WYNN’s weight at 270, but he looks a bit thicker than I would have expected. I am anxious to see what his arm length measurement is. He sticks those arms out and deflects passes and stops runners in their tracks.

I’m still thinking that Cornell QB JEFF MATHEWS is the top overall QB down here. But his lack of play against top-level competition is showing in his hesitancy to squeeze the ball into his receivers against D1 level CBs. He holds it a bit longer than you would like and is gong to get sacked way too often. He certainly has NFL talent and athleticism, but he’s going to be a grooming project before he’s ready to compete for a starting job as a pro.
Watching Northern Illinois QB JORDAN LYNCH run the O at midfield I couldn’t help but think to myself that he was sorely tempted to tuck it and run on multiple occasions. The 11-on-11 moved to the red zone, at the 15-yard line, and sure enough on the second play LYNCH tucked it and ran a QB keeper for a TD, straight up the middle.

I don’t see him as much of an NFL prospect, but some CFL team should be excited about the prospects for McGill OT LAURENT DUVERNAY-TARDIF as a big time candidate for the Canadian league. LDT may not look pretty from an NFL blocking technique standard, but he’s reasonably athletic and battles to the whistle. I can see him starting right away for some CFL team.

Arkansas PK ZACH HOCKER had his teammates fired up this morning with his FG kicking which seemed to get better the longer the attempt. He was up to 50 yards when he finally missed a long one, and his mates were hooting and hollering for him to make one more kick. You’d have thought he was possibly earning them all a no curfew night.

His work is far from perfect, but I keep seeing good things from Tennessee C/G JAMES STONE, who has moved from OC to OG this week. He’s showing more strength than I expected, and in a limited area is moving his feet very well. He’s quick in a short area and uses his hands very well to move bigger DL away from the pocket. He’s also quick to the second level blocks on running plays. He’s been much more impressive than I remember from the film study I did of him at OC for Tennessee.

The best RB for my money continues to be another RAJION NEAL, another former Volunteer who is a solidly built guy who has shown incredible quickness, cutting ability and flat out speed. He took one to the house during 11-on-11 work this morning. He faked a couple of defenders out of their jocks with one jump-cut. Then he outran everyone to the end zone. He looks to me like the best RB out of Tennessee since the equally unheralded ARIAN FOSTER. Yes, I like him that much this week.

Louisville OLB XAVIUS BOYD used his speed and athleticism to be all over the field this morning. He penetrated into the backfield on multiple occasions during 11-on-11, but on a couple of occasions the ball was headed in the other direction. His athleticism will be highly coveted by NFL personnel people, but his “guessing” and lack of assignment discipline will also cost him in some personnel evaluations. His overall play clearly indicates he has a future as a starter in the pros, just maybe not immediately.

I took time to chat with Penn State OG JOHN URSCHEL after practice. The double degree math man was arguably the top legitimate  student/athlete in the country this past season, although he is very intent on giving a pro football career a serious try. He says he had a special relationship with JOE PATERNO and will always consider him one of the strongest personalities who ever influenced his life.  I think URSCHEL may be drafted if he can put up decent numbers at the combine and/or his pro day. He’s a stout body guy, and may be tough to cut once he’s on an NFL roster. He’s also very articulate and polite. That should count for something.

I mentioned Louisville OLB DERRELL JOHNSON on Monday and I continue to be impressed with this large, athletic LB. He put his hand down on the ground for some blocking/pass rush drills and showed an impressive combo of power and speed. In an NFL defense where the DC is creative and willing to move this guy around he could become a star. He will have to work on his pass drops, but has enough going for himself already to be a top 100 pick and see plenty of action in sub packages… at the least.

Another solid, high energy practice was orchestrated by JERRY GLANVILLE and his staff of well respected coaches including JUNE JONES, TIM KRUMRIE, PAUL SPICER, MARCUS MASER and more. And yes ELVIS, Glanville will be leaving 2 tickets for you at the will-call window if you are in the area Saturday.


        Tuesday    January 14


We got off to a strange start to the Shrine Week day two. It rained in Central Florida this morning and to many Floridians that is like waking to 8” of blowing snow in Chicago. People panic if they have to go outside. It took me over two hours to commute 80 miles to the morning practice. When I got there, ten minutes late, I was told there was no one there practicing. Minutes later my cell delivered the message that due to rain the East practice was being held as a walk-through inside the Trade Winds Resort ballroom. That was not even worth traveling the extra 25 miles for. So my only report for the day is of the WEST afternoon practice.

The team showed up in full pads and ready to rumble. I had the Pigskin Paul stop watch primed and ready for measuring the hang time of RICHIE LEONE’s punting efforts. Other than one early shank his 7 punts I watched were all between 4.13 and 4.70. And his leg strength looked good. His punts were high but also long with everything well over 40 yards. I would estimate the average at about 45 yards. I’ll be checking STEVEN CLARK in the morning East practice.
We’re beginning to see noticeable differences in the mechanics, arm strength and accuracy of the 3 QB as they spend time with QB Coach CHRIS PALMER. I’m still feeling pretty sure that TOMMY REES does not have the requisite arm strength required of an NFL QB.

The best looking ball comes off the hand of KEITH WENNING. He can throw it deep with a tight spiral and good accuracy. He looks a little unsure of his reads at times and holds the ball too long against good coverage. I have been a bit disappointed at the inconsistency of KEITH PRICE/Washington. He moves the best of all three and has very good arm strength. But on the move he makes some very poor throws. His accuracy overall has not been as good as WENNING.

I spent considerable time watching the WR group today. I think the surprise of the group may be QUINCY ENUNWA of Nebraska. He’s a good-sized guy at 6’2/225, who can really move for his size. He has long arms and nice big hands that he uses to hand snatch almost everything thrown his way. He was very impressive catching hard, short throws in a circle drill. He also displays quick feet. He may have flown somewhat under the radar in college because of a pretty vanilla Offense at Nebraska and lack of an elite throwing QB. He looks to me like a guy who could have a better pro career than in college.

BERNARD REEDY/WR/TOLEDO may be the best looking “little guy” of the receiving corps so far. He is both quick & fast, with good if not great hands. He’s also directing traffic and helping his fellow receivers identify coverage in drills. I would assume he would also be of help in the punt return game. Another “unknown” small school guy who has caught my eye more than a few times thus far is SEANTAVIUS JONES/WR/Valdosta State. He looks even longer than his listed 6’3”. He stride nicely and generates speed in about 10-yards. His legs are longer than those of ERIN ANDREWS. In fact watching him at times I am reminded by daddy long-legs JACOBY JONES of the RAVENS. He also appears to be a solid hands-catcher.

I checked with RYAN GROY/OG/Wisconsin today and he hasn’t long snapped in live action since high School. He practiced some as a true freshman at Wisconsin and was an emergency back up, but was never called upon in live action. He was getting some one-on-one instruction on foot placement during blocking drills, and was moving DL around quite effectively in the 11-on-11 scrimmaging.

Also tied to scope out the work of small school standout DAKOTA DOZIER/Furman who is practicing inside at OG this week. My initial take is that he has the athleticism to play at the next level and is a natural knee bender. But he is going to have to beef up by a good 10-15 lbs. to hold up against big NFL DT. His arms do look long and he seems to have a good grasp of the importance of hand positioning inside the chest cavity of opponents.

Surely the best DB work in two days has come from CARRINTON BYNDOM/CB/TEXAS. He has decent size (5’11/190) and plays with a feisty attitude. He will hit anything moving with the ball. He also showed deep cover ability on several long throws this afternoon. What was most impressive was his ability to turn his head, while running full speed in coverage, and find the ball in he air. He had several impressive break-ups in passing work today. He also shows the ability to turn his hips at full back pedal; speed to react to the ball and/or receiver.

Without a doubt the biggest/long body on this squad is DANNY KISTLER/OT/Montana. He towers above his fellow OL, and his is a large group. He has long arms and uses them well at times to keep defenders off of his body. But he does appear raw at times and can get twisted in circles by a faster DE. He looks like NFL material, who should go in the late rounds and could blossom in a couple of years under the guidance of a vet OL Coach.

Another OL of note may be GABE IKARD/OC/Oklahoma. He’s a sound blocking technician and looks like a very solid 290 lbs. He may need a bit more bulk, but he appears functionally strong and seems like a real student of the game. He’s constantly asking formation and assignment questions of his OL coach, and it doesn’t seem like it’s because he doesn’t understand what’s going on. I feel like he’s making sure he understands what everyone’s assignment is and why.

It is also indisputable that the biggest anchor (in fact I would use the word “huge”) belongs to DERRICK HOPKINS/DT/VA TECH. I stood right behind him on the sideline today during 11-on-11, and I am not sure I have seen such a wide body between his knees and navel in all my years at these venues. Stout is the best way I can think of to describe his presence.

It was another very vocal and active afternoon for DEVIN KENNARD/LB/USC. He is very vocal in supporting and urging on the play of his teammates and certainly appears to be very a very smart alert football player. He and MAX BULLOUGH appear to be the verbal and emotional leaders of this West defense.

That’s a wrap for Tuesday. No more rain is projected for a while so I am hopeful I’ll get to practice on time and see 2 full workouts on Wednesday. Good night from Florida Draftniks.

MONDAY      January, 13

We are off and running at Shrine Week 2014.  After a double-secret closed player weigh in session this morning both teams hit the practice fields this afternoon.

EAST

The early session went to Jerry Glanville’s East Squad. The team turned up in full pads and had a hustling, vigorous practice session of 100 minutes. Glanville got off to a flying start with some direct snaps even going to the RB out of shotgun formation. I spent the first part of practice with the LB group, which I consider to be the most talented position group on either team. And their drills did not disappoint. A player who gained buzz after the 2013 regular season is East Carolina OLB Derrell Johnson. He’s an imposing looking athlete with a listing of 6-2, 263. He does not look to be carrying any excess around on his frame and is very fluid for his size. I’m ready for him to lay the wood this week, but his rep is also that of being very fluid in his pass drops. At the same time, LBs Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd of Western Kentucky, De De Lattimore of South Florida and Penn State’s Glenn Carson all looked solid in their overall work.

The offensive and defensive lines took turns having trouble with snap counts precipitating an offsides or false start call about every 4th play during 7 on 7 drills. For now let’s chock that up to maybe being asked to do a bit too much, too soon. I expect to see improvement in that area from everyone on Tuesday. If not the coaches’ volume and cursing is going to ratchet up considerably.

Some of the small school guys got off to a solid start today. Delaware DT Zach Kerr, for example, was in on a lot of plays and beat his blockers into the backfield on a regular basis, while Richmond DE Kerry Wynn played long and strong. He also showed good foot movement. He looks to have those very long arms that can be so handy in pass rush and at blocking passes.

It’s only Day 1, but I was a bit surprised to see that for now big Georgia DT Garrison Smith is playing inside at DT, while Florida State’s Demote McAllister was used outside as a DE. Remember that in the actual game a base 4-3 set must be used exclusively with no 3-man lines allowed.

Tennessee OG Zach Fulton was nowhere to be seen this afternoon, although his name remains on the roster, while Texas OG Donald Hawkins was added to the roster.  At least for today, the most versatile and effective offensive lineman was Tennessee G/C James Stone. He looks bigger and plays stronger than his listed 6-3, 300.

None of the 3 East QB blew us away, but none of them looked lost out there, like some have in recent years. I would say the QB with the best mechanics and the strongest looking arm (no coincidence there most likely) was Jeff Matthews from Cornell. He also has to be the East player most likely to be described as baby-faced.

I was very impressed with the burst and overall quickness of Tennessee RB Rajon Neal, a late replacement for Wisconsin’s James White who moved on to the Senior Bowl in Mobile.

No surprises here that Miami WR Allen Hurns was the smoothest, fastest looking WR on this squad, who can really stretch that 6’2, lean frame for high throws. At the same time, Ball State TE Alex Bayer looks to be able to go deep better than one might expect from a 6-4, 253-pound TE. He bears watching this week.

WEST

As the day clouded up it was the West team’s turn to strut their stuff. To the surprise, and disappointment, of more than a few scouts Romeo Crennel decided to start the week without pads for his guys. The first half of his practice was very slow paced with coaches introducing the players to formations and schemes. But I must admit the pace picked up with every half hour time increment.

The DT group for the West may lack in numbers (only 3) but they make up for that in girth and talent. Indeed, the three - Beau Allen of Wisconsin, Justin Ellis of Louisiana Tech and Derrick Hopkins of Virginia Tech - make up a formidable group who showed size, strength and intensity all practice.

In watching the offensive line it was a surprise that Fresno State OT Austin Wentworth is playing at OG, while Boise State LT Charles Leno stayed outside at OT. Based on their size and footwork I thought the opposite would happen. And no, I am sad to report, Eric Mangino is not in St. Petersburg to coach the offensive front for the West. A loss for all of us in attendance at the practices to be sure.

Since the Shrine Game does not assign a specific roster slot for a long snapper, which the Senior Bowl now does, each squad has to find a long snapper for the game. During punting drills Wisconsin G/T Ryan Groy was handling that task. I’m not convinced the snap speed was up to NFL standards, but at least for today, the snaps were pretty accurate.

I would say the edge at QB in St. Petersburg, at least for the first day, would go to the East group, but Washington’s Keith Price had a very good practice, and was especially sharp and mobile in an 11-on-11 limited scrimmage.

By the time the scrimmage began the players were lathered up and hustling all over the field. It looked like some of the guys were rally anxious to lay some wood, but most restrained themselves and settled for flag football type contact, but at a hectic pace.

We’ll certainly know more when Tuesday practice rolls around with full pads for the West, but once again this LB group of theirs looks pretty strong as well. Michigan State’s Max Bullough was very active and lathered today. So much so that I could not muster the courage to ask him why he was suspended from playing in the Rose Bowl. Maybe another time…
Colorado State OLB Shaq Barrett who played as a DE with his hand down much of the time in college, looked athletic and very natural in his footwork as a stand-up OLB. So was USC’s Devon Kennard, who has a similar college resume and was also was very athletic and aggressive as an OLB today.

I was sorry to see that Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward was a game scratch because of injury. Former Badgers’ DT Beau Allen, who described Southward as his best friend on the Badgers team, said that the latter  reinjured a wrist, which he had broken earlier in the season. Also in talking with Allen he gave a two-thumbs-up when I asked him about new Badgers’ head coach Gary Andersen, whom he said had a solid grip on the team and every player new that he had their back in any situation. Allen feels like he could call Andersen personally at any time, and his coach would get back to him in a heartbeat, about any subject. He thinks Wisconsin will continue its winning ways under Andersen.

Lastly, as a quick aside to all Packers’ fans… even though I could not report a Ted Thompson sighting at the EAST practice it took me no more than 5 minutes on the field during the West session to find Whitey in the end zone, watching the defensive line get some work in as the practice began.

          *******

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