by Grumpy Lindsay, GBN Editor and Publisher
The small SHALL inherit the earth … That was the theme of the football sermon during Saturday’s East-West Shrine all-star game in St. Petersburg where Oregon QB Vernon Adams was the unquestioned star of the game. Indeed, while the other QBs all struggled to one degree or another, Adams who looked all the part of the second coming of Russell Wilson just looked like he was having fun out there. He was certainly in control as he led the West team to TDs on each of his three drives. In the process, Adams was quick, elusive and confident. What one really liked about Adams was that his eyes were always looking downfield even as he darted around avoiding the rush. And while he doesn’t appear to have Wilson’s pure arm strength, Adams has a quick release and throws a very catchable ball. Of course, the enduring question for Adams will be that, at 5-10.5, he lacks the prototype size for an NFL pocket passer; however, Wilson may have broken that mold with the Seahawks so it will be intriguing to see when some team pulls the trigger on Adams come this year’s draft in April.
What was unusual about Adams’ game was that QBs are almost at a disadvantage in all-star game settings as they are usually working with new receivers in an unfamiliar offense; however, Adams looked like he’d been working with his teammates all fall. Not so much the other QBs in the Shrine game, though, as none was able to do much to enhance their draft grade. In particular, they either showed some arm strength, but didn’t always seem to know where the ball was going (Nate Sudfield of Indiana; Wisconsin’s Joel Stave, and UMass’ Blake Frohnapfel) or looked more like touch passers (Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty and Jake Rudock of Michigan) who also didn’t always know where the ball was going. Indeed, WKU’s Doughty had a couple of passes picked up, while three of the other four also threw an interception.
At the same time, a pair of undersized defensive linemen from lower level schools were able to build on their strong week of practice in the actual Shrine game. Unheralded DE Victor Ochi of unheralded Stony Brook, for example, was a thorn in the side of the West offense all day; Ochi only measured in at 6-1, 245 at the Shrine weigh-in, but in Saturday’s game he was just exploding off the snap, all the while making himself hard to block as he kept his pads low, used his 33.5 arms effectively to get off blocks and was relentless in pursuit. However, while he dominated with his hand on the ground in St. Petersburg, Ochi is still likely too small to play DE at the next level and will probably have a find a role as a 3-4 edge-rushing OLB.
Meanwhile, South Carolina State DT Javon Hargrave, arguably the best player in the week’s practice sessions, was almost as good as Ochi, although maybe not quite as noticeable in the game as he was working inside. However, the West team paid Hargrave the ultimate compliment in an all-star game setting by double-teaming him on most plays. Indeed, Hargrave was almost as quick off the snap as the much smaller Ochi and was just plain violent when contacting opposing blockers. And like Ochi, Hargrave looks to be able to take advantage of his ‘shortish’ (6-1) stature in that he plays with a naturally low pad level with the ability quickly redirect his charge after bouncing off initial contact; for good measure, Hargrave was just relentless chasing down the ball. If there was an area Hargrave needs to work on, though, is that at times he penetrated the backfield too quickly and deeply and tended to overrun plays.
Several other defensive linemen also had pretty good Shrine games as overall they won more than their share of individual battles with their opposite numbers on the offensive side of the ball. DTs David Dean of Virginia and Florida Atlantic’s Trevon Coley, for example, both showed surprising quickness off the snap, while North Carolina State DE Mike Rose was able to get consistently get pressure on the pocket coming around the corner as he showed nice get-off and the strength to maintain leverage despite the fact he has relatively short (31 ¼ inch) arms. Meanwhile, tweener DEs Aziz Shittu of Stanford and Canadian David Onyemata of Manitoba also had strong games. Onyemata, in particular, was something of a revelation. He’s built more like a DT at 6-3, 305, but was very quick and athletic for a guy that size as he consistently showed nice change of direction and acceleration skills.
On the other hand, defensive linemen that had disappointing games included Penn State DT Anthony Zettel and Notre Dame DE Romeo Okwara. Zettel, in particular, looked lost at times; he struggled to find the ball as he was bounced around like a top and just never seemed to be able to set his feet properly and anchor. Meanwhile, Okwara looked the part of a long, lead edge rusher with 35 ½ inch arms; he also ran well in space and showed good energy. However, there was just too much wasted movement when Okwara engaged with blockers such that he seldom was able to generate much separation, even with those long arms, and seldom threatened the actual pocket. With Okwara, though, there were signs of some natural athletic such that some 3-4 teams may look hard at him as an edge-rushing OLB where he would have a little more space to operate.
Teams looking for a potential sleeper at LT, even a developmental type, were probably disappointed with what they saw at the shrine game. Indeed, the only OT to show even a hint of the kind of athleticism teams are usually looking for in that position was Tyler Marz of Wisconsin. Marz actually played on the right side for much of the game, before switching sides where he did a nice job neutralizing Stony Brooks’ Ochi in the latter stages of the game. While hardly a dancing bear, Marz was very economical and technically sound with his movements and hand placement. Marz showed good balance and the ability to cleanly mirror with the ability to replant and change direction; he was also able to consistently lock on, although at only 33-inches, he doesn’t have particularly long arms. South Carolina RT Brandon Shell also had a solid game after a solid week of practice. He’s another huge guy (6-6, 325) with the strength to lock when he got his hands on the pass rusher; and again, whiel no dancing bear type, Shell did appear to have at least adequate feet and change of direction skills, although he tended to look a little clumsy when trying to cut-block the defender in front of him.
On the other several other big OTs including Stephane Nembot of Colorado and Keith Lumpkin of Rutgers really struggled when they were forced to move more than 2-3 steps, plus both were very slow planting and redirecting. At the same time, it would not be a stretch to say that Fahn Cooper of Ole Miss and Arizona’s Lene Maiava looked totally out of place trying to protect the edge such that it would appear there only hope at the next level would be to kick inside to OG. Meanwhile, Nebraska OT Alex Lewis, who reportedly was one of the best players at practice last week in St. Petersburg, also really struggled to cut off the edge. He just wasn’t very quick or compact coming out of the snap and was slow to get his arms extended; as a result, he ended up spending much of the afternoon either pushing and chasing edge rushers on their way to the pocket.
In fact, one could make a pretty good case that the best offensive lineman in the actual Shrine game was UCLA C/G Jake Brendel. Brendel was textbook all day with a quick, smooth set, along with good balance and functional strength; plus he took no prisoners and battled to the whistle. North Carolina State OG Joe Thuney also had a solid afternoon, as did Bowling Green OG Alex Huettel, while Illinois OG Ted Karras of the famous football family, wasn’t real smooth, but more than got the job done with a combination of strength and tenacity.
• Wisconsin SS Mike Caputo, the Shrine game’s defensive MVP, had a couple of picks including a well-timed interception off of former Badgers’ teammate Joel Stave.
• Illinois RB Josh Ferguson: undersized, but very quick and instinctive; California RB Daniel Lasco also had a pretty good all-around game
• Fellow Illini WR Geronimo Allison isn’t going to win many foot races, plus he bobbled a couple of balls early, but is a rangy receiver with long arms and impressive catch radius; he also showed some decent initial quickness and wasfeisty as a downfield blocker.
• Florida Atlantic CB Cre’von Leblanc was very sticky in coverage; same for Briean Boddy-Calhoun of Minnesota
• Speaking of small: Utah LB Gionni Paul, who measured in at under 5-10 and 232 pounds at the Shrine weigh-in, did get caught up in the trash on occasion, but made like a heat-seeking missile in space with several thumping tackles that probably had special teams coaches around the NFL smiling in appreciation.