Unfortunately, a thunderstorm forced the first day of Shrine Game practices inside, and players didn’t don pads for what was a very bizarre practice in the Rosen Plaza Hotel’s ballroom. Instead of bracing to be hit by linebackers, wide receivers did their best to avoid crashing head-first into walls, and errant sideline throws made some of the assembled scouts feel like they were playing a game of dodgeball with the Shrine Game QBs.
As a result, the practice didn’t provide a great deal of useful scouting info, but there were some noteworthy strong showings and, alternatively, less than sterling starts for the game’s participants.
Coming off a year-long suspension, North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin did well for himself by showing up at a solid 312 lbs. He didn’t look slow or out of shape in practice, where the big man made a sizable impact. In 11 on 11s, Austin quickly disengaged from a block before making a nice stop. And on a passing play, he managed to get his hands up and deflect a Ricky Dobbs pass, adding to what was a good day for the DT.
Another East Squad player who had an impressive day was Connecticut’s Anthony Sherman. The fullback surprised some with his big, muscular build, and he also displayed some ability as a receiver out of the backfield. If he keeps it up, Sherman will prove to be especially appealing for WCO teams looking for a pass-catching fullback.
On the other hand, small school East squaders Pat Devlin and Cecil Shorts didn’t do much to impress. Devlin only threw three picks this season, but he quickly had an ill-advised ballroom throw deflected by a DB and intercepted. All season long, the Delaware QB showed good field vision and decisionmaking, but he’ll have to show this week that he do the same while taking snap from under center. It will be interesting to see how well he distributes the ball, especially when he’s not worried about throwing a guy into a wall or hitting the ceiling.
Shorts appeared to have some struggles adjusting to a new set of coaches and expectations. He was repeatedly coached up on his stance and route running. Perhaps that affected his concentration, as the Mount Union product proceeded to drop two passes, one of which was eminently catchable.
On the West squad, two lesser known defensive linemen made strong first impressions. UCLA defensive tackle David Carter made plays against the run and the pass. He looked explosive as a pass rusher, and he did a nice job on one run play of extending his arms and playing both sides of an offensive guard, leading to the running back hesitating his way into a dead play.
Rice defensive end Cheta Ozougwu was another surprise standout, showcasing a solid speed rush. Ozougwu only notched two sacks as a senior, but he twice beat West squad offensive tackles around the edge for quasi-sacks. LSU offensive tackle Joseph Barksdale ended up going to the ground trying to stop Ozougwu; it will be interesting to see if the Ozougwu can keep giving OTs fits for the rest of the week.
The West squad also featured two defensive ends trying to make the transition to outside linebacker in Nevada’s Dontay Moch and Fresno State’s Chris Carter. As one would expect, neither looked particularly comfortable, but Moch seemed to struggle more. On one play, he forgot about the RB in the flat, leading to a catch and long run. Carter had his struggles as well, but he appeared to be less tentative in coverage. Moch will need to show he can adjust just as well mentally; if he does, his superior athleticism will win out.
Another situation to monitor is the competition between two West tight ends, small schooled Julius Thomas and Nevada’s Virgil Green. Similarly sized, both tight ends offer more as athletic pass catchers at this point than they do as blockers. Of the two, Green does appear to be more explosive off the line and getting in & out of his breaks. Thomas, on the other hand, has a thicker lower body, which may lead to him impressing when practices become more physical.