On the ground again in St. Petersburg, FL for Day One of the 2018 Shrine Game practices. Because of the morning National Scouting player weigh-in, which the press is strangely barred from, both Monday practices are in the afternoon. The temps had risen to the low 60’s with mostly clear skies and warm sunshine.
The EAST took the field first, per usual. One of the rooster highlights for this group is the QB group which features J.T. BARRETT/Ohio St, QUINTON FLOWERS/USF and RILEY FERGUSON/Memphis. This is a most interesting group with very different skill sets. But now that I have teased you with that info, I will move on and stick to my rule of thumb that the QB need a few days to get acclimated to the new playbook and receiver group before I’m going to start making observations and evaluations.
Basics are basics so I always consider the OL and DL as fair game from the get-go. There are some really quality looking DL on this squad. The most impressive DE to my eyes in one-on-one, as well as 11-on-11 work, was KENTAVIUS STREET/NC State, who just smoked various OT with a blazingly quick start off the snap of the ball and a dipped shoulder that he used to sweep past his opponents. I might also note that he moves not only with speed, but with good power. Inside the star of the drills today was DEADRIN SENAT/USF, who is fairly squat at about 6’1, but very powerful at over 300 lbs. He got underneath the pad level of blockers and just pushed them back into the pocket. He is low and plays low!
An early standout on the OL was OC/BRIAN ALLEN/Michigan State, who looks and moves like your father’s OC. He bows off of his snap and drives into defenders, driving them back off the ball in general. I think we will see some balling out in the next few days between ALLEN and SENAT. AUSTIN GOLSON/Auburn looks the part and I am sure we will see his position versatility come into play as the week progresses.
Sorry to say that within minutes of my making a note that TE/CAM SERIGNE/Wake Forest was going to surprise some people with his effective, if not overpowering, blocking I saw him heading to the sidelines with one of the trainers. He did come back out in a few minutes with an overwrap tape job on his left ankle, but he was noticeably favoring that foot/ankle area. I’ll look for him Tuesday morning. I had a chance to chat with AARON EVANS/OT/UCF who was with the OL group but in sweats. I asked if he had gotten hurt in the UCF bowl win. He indicated he has played through a bulging disk in his back for two seasons and had a procedure performed on it right after the bowl win. He then proceeded to show me the new zipper right in the middle of his lower back. I saw about a 6″ scar which continued down below his belt level. Nasty looking that!
One of my curiosities for the week on this team is Punter JOE DAVIDSON/Bowling Green who is a long and lean 6’6″+ guy. I want to ask him about the challenges of a fluid motion and drop point when his body is that long. Gotta be tough on his timing. Next week we see another long one in SCOTT from Alabama. As a side note, let it be known that the Shrine has followed suit and each team has a full-time Long Snapper on their roster. This is a first for the Shrine. In previous years one of the most interesting searches each year had been auditioning for someone to emerge as the LS for the game. Gonna miss that personally, but it probably makes the kicking guys sleep easier at night this week.
One of the real standouts today was Ohio State ILB CHRIS WORLEY. He spent a lot of time calling out info to his defensive teammates about the formation and play tendencies for the Offensive formations. That fine art requires a lot of general film study and a very high FBI. Impressive start for Worley.
Kept my eyes on MARCUS MARTIN DE Slippery Rock who was a TFL/sack master at his college playing level. It will be interesting to see how he fairs against D1 OL. It was quite obvious he plays with a lot of energy and burst to his pass rush. He’ll likely play DE even tough he’s a bit small. Defenses are not allowed to line up in a 3-4 defensive scheme.
One other note that I found at the bottom of a page was an observation that CB/RS GREG STROMAN of Virginia Tech looks like an absolute stick figure out on the field. I knew he was thin and wiry, but I did a double take when I actually saw him out of the corner of my eye.
WEST PRACTICE late afternoon. Still under a nice warm winter sun, until that sun dipped below the tree line about 5:30. Then the chill crept in fast.
My first revelation of the West practice was watching some initial warm-up amongst the OL. I could not take my eyes off of CODY O’CONNELL/OG/Washington State. He’s listed on the roster sheet as 6’9/38 lbs. I will check the weigh-in numbers but I bet they are close to the roster numbers. I can honestly say he looks to me to be the biggest player I have stood next to at any All-Star Game, and that includes a guy named MOUNT CODY in Mobile one year. My comp for O’CONNELL is the famous Andre the Giant. Seems like a very nice guy. You can bet I will be watching him in coming practices.
The WEST may also have the biggest TE in captivity, in JORDAN THOMAS/Mississippi State who towers above his fellow TE at about 6’5/75 lbs. And he can move a bit. He’s listed on the roster right now as a WR, but he practiced in the TE group today. And he can move folks. But then again let’s also keep in mind that All-Pro JASON PETERS/Eagles was a TE in college.
The WEST has some interesting wideouts in their WR group. They have some speed guys, some big guys and if the QB group can the ball to them we could see some downfield fireworks on Saturday. I’ll pick out a few to isolate on Tuesday.
I am also impressed with the overall quality of the West squad secondary. Some real nice players here with serious pro potential I believe. I give the nod as practice player of the day to S/COLE REYES/North Dakota. He showed some speed, toughness and good hands today. He broke up a long sideline pass to WR/JAKE WEINKE and really jolted WEINKE to the ground. Later he showed excellent hands and ball awareness to pick off the pass in the middle of the field and brought it back about 20-yards. CB DAVONTAE HARRIS/Illinois State was a real eye catcher as well. Very physical in press cover on wideouts and a body build like a Greek God.
The one-on-one drills went heavily in favor of the DL unit today. JOE OSTMAN/DE/Central Michigan played with his hair on fire. He clearly intends to make a big impression this week. In one match-up with a poor OL who shall go nameless, OSTMAN blew in off the snap and left the blocker standing alone as he burned past him with an inside spin move. He was also a whirling dervish pursuing he ball in scrimmage work. OSTMAN played with explosion and tenacity today. The West DL group features two shorter than usual DT, both of whom played with surprising speed, and excellent power generated from their low center of gravity. I speak of POONA FORD/Texas and P.J. HALL/Sam Houston State. But I think for my money today the best DL overall was BILAL NICHOLS/Delaware. He showed power and speed, with good hand work to move OL out of his way.
The OL who accounted for himself best to my eyes was OT/ZACHARY CRABTREE/Oklahoma State. He held up quite well overall on the outside of the OL. He showed the confidence and patience to stand his ground and not lunge or get off-balance against some pretty impressive DL play.
I was also curious to see how ex-basketballer turned OT GREG SENAT/Wagner would do. He is incredibly long, but lacks any bulk at all. He looks to have a lot to learn about the position, and will have to add some meat to his bones in an NFL Training Room. I will watch him more, based on potential, but I see him as likely being a multi-year project at the next level. He’s athletic enough that a team will have to keep him on their 53-man roster, and have him inactive for at least a couple of years.
My biggest general fear coming out of these practices is that the DL/LB groups for both teams are going to stymie the Offenses by outplaying the OL. A scrambling QB might inflict the most damage by running for 100 yards, but that is not what the pro scouts want to see. So….
Tell you more of what I see Tuesday night.
Cheers from St. Pete.