Clermond Has Big Week At Shrine Game

Statistics were not available for Joe Clermond, Pitt's only representative in the 83rd East-West Shrine Game Saturday in Houston, Texas, but he received accolades from scouts who watched the West squad win 31-13.

A two-time All-Big East defensive end for the Panthers, Joe Clermond was mentioned by three different NFL front-office types who said his performance during practices and the game helped his draft standing.

Several NFL teams reportedly wanted to see if Clermond, who led Pittsburgh in sacks with 10.5 as a down defensive end, would perform as an outside linebacker in the three-four alignment. The early results were encouraging.

Clermond, a defensive captain for the Panthers, was tied for fourth with 53 total tackles this past season. An outstanding pass-rusher the past two seasons as a starter at Pitt, Clermond's average of .88 sacks per game ranked tied for 11th nationally and third in the Big East.

Utah State's Kevin Robinson had 129 all-purpose yards, including a 72-yard punt return for a score and a five-yard touchdown reception, to key the West's big win. However, San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson completed 5 of 11 passes for 78 yards with one touchdown and ran for 91 yards on three carries to take offensive MVP honors.

Iowa State linebacker Alvin Bowen returned an interception for a score for West, which played under former Cal and Illinois head coach Mike White. Houston running back Anthony Alridge also scored for West.

South Carolina running back Cory Boyd had the lone touchdown for East, which was helmed by Dick Vermeil, who coached collegiately at UCLA, and in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, and Kansas City Chiefs. Wisconsin kicker Taylor Mehlhaff added two field goals for East. Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith completed 8 of 15 passes for 110 yards, but was picked off twice.

Mehlhaff made a 42-yarder to open the scoring with 4:07 left in the first quarter and give the East a short-lived lead. Robinson's punt return with 49 seconds left in the quarter put the West on top to stay.

Oklahoma kicker Garrett Hartley kicked a 23-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to put the West up 10-3 at halftime, and Alridge's four-yard scoring run put the West ahead 17-3 with 5:58 remaining in the third quarter.

Mehlhaff's 28-yard field goal made it 17-6 with 13:43 to play, but Johnson found Robinson for a five-yard scoring pass to push the West ahead 24-6 with 11 minutes left. Boyd's five-yard score cut the deficit to 24-13 with 4:18 left, but Bowen's 20-yard return of a Smith interception iced the win for West.

The West has won six of the last eight games and has a 45-33-5 all-time edge. ... East quarterbacks threw four interceptions. Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli was picked off twice and just 3-for-11 overall. ... Arizona linebacker Spencer Larsen was named the defensive MVP. ... Most NFL scouts spent the past week in Houston to watch practices and had some distinct impressions.

Along with Clermond, the player who might have opened more eyes than anyone was wide receiver-punt returner Dexter Jackson. Because Jackson played at Appalachian State, this was the first time many scouts saw him in person. Their only previous exposure had been tape of him scoring against Michigan. One general manager said Jackson "played at another speed,'' from the other players on the practice field in Houston.

San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson also helped himself by showing he could play under center. In college, Johnson played in a spread offense that usually had him in the shotgun. "He was by far the most talented athlete of the quarterbacks here,'' one AFC scout said.

Another player trying to show he could make the transition to a conventional offense was Hawaii wideout Jason Rivers. He impressed the scouts with his ability to run routes. Rivers' toughness and competitiveness also stood out.

A player who impressed scouts with his intensity in practices was Georgia's Thomas Brown. The running back consistently hit the hole hard and ran downfield 30 yards even if the play was stopped at the line. Two scouts commented on his explosiveness. The speed of wide receiver Paul Hubbard has NFL teams questioning why he wasn't more productive at Wisconsin. Hubbard still has a chance to be picked as high as the second round.

Two quarterbacks who failed to distinguish themselves were Morelli and Sam Keller of Nebraska. Scouts questioned Morelli's decision making and accuracy, and Keller drew criticism for an odd release and a lack of accuracy.

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