January 13, 2017

Players will begin showing up for the Shrine Week activities this weekend, with the game scheduled for the 21st. Sunday will be the day that players find out what this game is really all about with visits to the Shriners’ Children’s Hospital in Tampa. ‘Strong legs run, so weak legs may walk’.
This year’s event will mark the 92nd Shrine Classic, with the first game having been played in 1925. Sometime back in the ’60’s the Senior Bowl passed the Shrine Game as the pre-eminent Star game, aided in great part by their partnership with the NFL to provide coaching staffs for the game. That and the emergence of the SEC as a true power conference for providing players to the game.

Most of the Shrine’s history lies on the West Coast. I recall as a youngster watching the Shrine Game being played in Palo Alto at STANFORD Stadium. I believe I was watching it on ABC’s Wide World of Sports broadcasts initially. Like me, the game has now been in Florida since 2010. The first two years they were in Orlando at the Citrus Bowl, and 2017 will mark their 6th year at The Trop in St. Pete.
The biggest change for the 2017 game edition will be that the coaching staffs will be comprised of up-and-coming young NFL Assistant Coaches. You can read more about the selection process at the Shrine website, . I’m anxious to see how that new process works out, but am most pleased to see the Shrine and NFL forging more of a partnership around the game.
Overall the Shrine venue now plays second fiddle to the Senior Bowl in player procurement. Most agents will suggest their player clients head to Mobile if invited, with the Shrine Game being the back-up option. This can be challenging for Game Director Harold Richardson and his staff as players initially committed to the Shrine Game get late invites from the Senior Bowl as injured and elite players back out of their prior commitments to that venue, thus leaving the Shrine Game to find bodies to fill their rosters. Thanks to some informed consultant work, by DAN SHONKA of Ourlads in particular, some very worthy replacement players are brought in right up until game time.

So what’s up with this year’s crop of prospects who will be in action down here.

As usual there is a large and decent quality group of DB in this year’s contest. I am particularly interested to watch S/WESTON STEELHAMMER/Air Force (what a great football name), TEDRIC THOMPSON/S/Colorado, FABIAN MOREAU/CB/UCLA & BRAD WATSON/DB/WAKE. DB is usually one of the top groups at the Shrine venue.
The WR group is not stellar, but there looks to be some potential pros on hand. Of particular interest to me there are STACY COLEY/MIAMI, RODNEY ADAMS/USF, and AUSTIN CARR/northwestern. I am also anxious to see small school standout BILLY BROWN, a big wideout (6’4/240) from Sheperd College. I’ve seen his name around, but never watched him in action personally.

One of the more interesting prospects in this game could be DEATRICH WISE/DE/ARkansas. WISE has the look of an elite pass rusher, but has been dogged by constant injuries during his college career. I am anxious to watch him in action, and frankly to see if he makes it healthy to game day. On the interior DL DEANGELO BROWN of Louisville has gotten rave reviews from some, and indifference from other Draftniks. He’ll be high on my watch list next week.

I will also be looking for a sleeper or two within the OL groups. Normally there are some pretty impressive OL candidates in those groups, but as has been noted almost everywhere this year’s crop along the OL is a bit down in general. AVERY GENNESY/T/TX A&M, EVAN GOODMAN/T/G/ARIZ ST, DAN SKIPPER/OT/ARKANSAS, WILLIAM HOLDEN/T/VANDY & ALEX KOZAN/G/Auburn stand out for me right now.

As has been a continuing trend this decade there are a goodly number of famous last names in this group. GUNNER KIEL is related to former Notre Dame QB/BLAIR KIEL. TREY GRIFFEY/WR is indeed the son of former MLB star KEN GRIFFEY, JR. HARDY NICKERSON/LB/Illinois is the son of the father of the same name who starred at LB in the NFL, primarily for the Steelers. DE/BRYAN COX/Florida is indeed the son of the former NFL LB of the same name. There a few other familiar names on the rosters that I need to research a bit more to check their football family tree.

A big key to an exciting game always revolves around the QB group, depending upon their talent level and how quickly they grasp the schemes being taught by the game coaches. In most instances after only a week of practices, with all new receivers, the Defense dominates the action. Guys who may prove to be the most serviceable in generating some offensive juice for this game may be ZACH TERRELL/W. Michigan and COOPER RUSH/C. Michigan, both from the MAC, but playing on opposing squads in this contest fortunately. Those two may be the best actual long term pro prospects, but keep you eyes peeled on NICK MULLENS of S. Mississippi, who may possess the best all around tools for an All-Star venue with a strong arm and good wheels to move around and extend plays, ala CHASE DANIELS coming out of Missouri some years ago.

After Monday morning weigh-in proceedings both teams will practice in the afternoon. Those practices are limited, and just a notch above walk-throughs, but will give us a chance to get a feel for athleticism and energy level early on. I should have some tidbits for you Monday night, albeit a bit later in the evening than the rest of the week.

Don’t forget folks that the proceeds from this game go to support the Shriners’ string of children’s’ hospitals and medical research. IF you can afford it go to their website and make a donation if you can’t attend the game. You folks in the Tampa Bay area buy a game ticket or two and head to the Trop next Saturday afternoon. Let’s get attendance above 30,000 for this year’s game.

Cheers all!