Weather turned south for the second day of practices at the 2014 East-West Shrine Game.
This left the morning practice in an indoor format with barely enough room to walk through plays. In the afternoon, perimeter players struggled with footing on the high school field. Overall, it was a bit of the throwaway day in terms of scouting prospects and NFL teams weren't happy about that. (More on that, later.)
The progression I have found works best for scouting players is: watching backs and quarterbacks on the first day, which is typically lighter contact. The second day is for receivers, tight ends and defensive backs. Wednesday is best for contact-heavy players as the intensity typically ramps up.
With a rough second day in terms of weather, it will make Wednesday all the more important and may force teams to run a little more on Thursday—usually a walkthrough day.
Pass-Catchers Start to Specialize More and More
|Top 5 Shrine Game Receivers on Day 2|
|1||Seantavius Jones||Valdosta State||West|
|2||Chandler Jones||San Jose State||West|
|4||Erik Lora||Eastern Illinois||East|
|*East Practiced Indoors|
As I've come to this game more and more over the years, there's been a clear shift from taking good all-around wide receivers toward taking specific receivers who fit specific roles. Yesterday, we talked about how more tight ends dot the roster this year, but the amount of smaller, slot-style receivers has increased as well.
On the second day of practices, the slot receiver who stood out the most was Chandler Jones of San Jose State. In the muddier and wet conditions in the afternoon practice, Jones showcased good footwork as his peers were still trying to find their proverbial sea legs.
On the other end of the spectrum, one of the non-slot receiver types here was probably the best overall prospect of the day. Seantavius Jones of Valdosta State stood out, literally, as he's head and shoulders taller than most of the receivers and defensive backs in Tampa, Fla. Jones has great movement for a player his size (listed at 6'3", 200) and catches the ball well away from his frame.
Bernard Reedy of Toledo struggled time and again with multiple slips and drops. He seems like a great linear athlete, but the conditions did him no favors.
Practice Conditions Anger Players, Scouts and Agents Alike
While I touched on this story yesterday in "Odds and Ends," the narrative ramped up a bit today, as the rain compounded the mistakes of Romeo Crennel yesterday, when the West team practiced without pads.
On Monday, it was the team scouts who disliked the move, but on Tuesday, it was agents and players who were upset that they may not have a true chance to showcase their skills until Wednesday—if at all. One agent, who asked to remain anonymous but has two players on the West squad, told me that he "doesn't bring players here for this crap."
Ironically, this may be one of the best crops of talent at the Shrine Game in some time, with tons of draftable players dotting both rosters. Yet with one practice without pads, one in a ballroom and another in poor conditions, the players aren't exactly getting a fair shake.
Some of this falls on the Shriner organization, who do a phenomenal job overall but aren't football-minded people. A move to the University of South Florida campus was posited by a number of people today, including Bleacher Report's Cecil Lammey and local radio personality Charlie Bernstein. USF has the facilities to house players and more than enough hotel space around for teams and media.
After this year, something needs to change.
Defensive Players Start to Take Steps Forward
On Monday, it's difficult to really show what one can do as a defender. Even in the poor conditions, some defenders started to show their worth today.
The first defender to catch my attention was cornerback Pierre Desir of Lindenwood College. Desir is one of the most perfect examples of what these games can do for a prospect, as tons of scouts and media have affirmed their desire to go back and learn more about the corner. Listed at 6'2", he looks a bit shorter but has nice length to go along with natural movement through his backpedal. Hips are important for man corners, and he has some of the fluidity that teams love.
Bruce Gaston Jr., a defensive tackle out of Purdue, looked like a bit of a physical specimen. It isn't often that a defensive tackle shows off his midsection during practice—that's a total D-back move. Yet Gaston looked chiseled and moved well for a man his size. He also had a J.J. Watt-esque batted pass, which drew some cheers from the assembled crowd.
Nate Dreiling of Pitt State caught my eye at the linebacker position, mostly because his Pitt State uniform pants proudly proclaim "Gorillas" along the leg with a garish mustard yellow and red color scheme. Yet, when I actually started watching him play, I liked what I saw in a limited contact situation. He has great size, is put together well without a lot of extra weight on his frame and could make some team very happy as a core special teams player with upside in the later rounds.
Odds and Ends
—Teddy Bridgewater (QB Louisville) isn't here because he's a junior, but the rumor is that he's whittling down his options for signing with an agent. Those agents in play are here, and are clearly working hard to land the presumptive top player, though Bridgewater may take some time to make his final decision.
—Not to totally pile on Romeo Crennel, but he had offensive linemen receiving kicks today at practice. The agent of one kick returner on the West roster was visibly upset at the process and said, "This is why they couldn't win a game in Kansas City."
—General mangers usually eschew the Shrine Game, sending the scouts instead, but Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson is here all week, and Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff was spotted on Monday. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik was at practice as well—presumably networking for a new job.
—It's important to put a lot of these players in the proper perspective. While top players do pre-combine prep at top facilities around the country, that costs money. Agents usually front players that cost and won't do so for players that aren't going anywhere. Of course, that filters down, and more and more quality training facilities and private coaches are becoming available, but one almost has to feel bad that the guys who need the most help can't afford it.