The East-West Shrine Game: Practice begins

As the 81st East-West Shrine Game began practices in San Antonio on Monday in preparation for Saturday's game at the Alamodome, one only needs to inspect the rosters of NFL playoff teams to understand the importance of this week. Of the eight playoff teams from the past weekend, nine players from last year's Shrine Game were on the field at any given time, including four starters. A youngster who shined in last year's game, Fred Amey, also made an impact as a rookie with the 49ers this season.

Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur represent the starting left side of the New England Patriots offensive line. Along with reserve defensive tackle Santonio Thomas, the Patriots came away with three solid players from last year's event. The Denver Broncos are also relying on a pair of former Shrine veterans. Starting cornerback Dominique Foxworth and reserve cornerback Karl Paymah both excelled in the 80th Shrine Game last year. Chris Kemoeatu, a reserve offensive guard for the Steelers, also impressed scouts when the game was in San Francisco a year ago.

In the NFC, several rookies who participated in the 2005 Shrine week helped their teams into the playoffs this year. Seahawks starting strong side linebacker Leroy Hill has led a rejuvenated defensive movement in Seattle. Stefan LeFors is Carolina's third-string quarterback. And though no longer the team's starter, no rookie had a greater impact on his team than quarterback Kyle Orton did with the Chicago Bears this past season.

Other teams also relied on rookies that played in last years Shrine Game.

Amey - who changed his first name from Fred to Otis before the season began after making the team as San Francisco's only undrafted rookie free agent - did enough to earn himself a roster spot, then made an immediate splash in San Francisco's opener against the St. Louis Rams. Amey returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown the first touched the football as a NFL player to spark a 28-25 upset of the Rams.

Michael Roos started all season at offensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans. Philadelphia Eagles running back Ryan Moats, a junior when he played in the '05 Shrine Game, was impressive in late season action. Jay Ratliff played well for the Cowboys defensive line rotation. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick started several games for the Rams when their veterans were injured.

So who are the prospect on the radar screen as practices began in earnest Monday morning?


Wisconsin receiver Jonathan Orris a physically gifted athlete who showed minimal consistency in college. A big week could push him up draft boards.

Leon Washington was a highly-rated running back coming into the season. Yet a porous Florida State offensive line and terrible passing game was part-n-parcel to the disappointing campaign suffered by the Seminole ball carrier. Washington needs a big post-season to jump back into the draft's top 75 selections and his opportunity starts tomorrow.

Ohio cornerback Dion Byrum flashed big-play ability all season, being the difference-maker in several games. Byrum has the opportunity to prove to NFL scouts '05 was no fluke as he'll be pitted against several outstanding receivers all week.

Jason Spitz has been a dominant offensive lineman for several seasons now. Holding down the guard position at Louisville for three years, Spitz will be able to show his versatility by playing center. Good performances will only enhance his draft value.

Considered the top I-AA prospect in next April's draft, Cornell's Kevin Boothe was a devastating blocker on the small school level. He needs to prove he can handle a step up in competition at the offensive tackle position.


After an exceptional first campaign at BYU, game-breaking wideout Todd Watkins took a step back as a senior. A receiver with the ability to stretch opposing defenses, a good week of Shrine practices could get Watkins back in the good graces of NFL scouts.

This year's new Internet icon, Abilene Christian's Danieal Manning, possesses the size/speed numbers which legends are made of. Yet no one is quite sure what Manning's best NFL position is. A junior invited to the game, Manning needs a big week of football to impress scouts.

A former tight end at Oklahoma, Chris Chester did an outstanding job last year after moving to the offensive line. Effectively handling both the guard and center positions despite a knee injury, Chester's draft stock has been on a straight shot north since September. Good performances in San Antonio could push him into the draft's first day.

Another who stood out in his first year on the offensive line was TCU tackle Michael Toudouze. Doing a terrific job on the blind side all year, Toudouze could continue to improve on a splendid senior season against some of college football's better pass rushers next week.

Both the East and West squads will conduct separate practices throughout the week at Trinity University. Both teams will then have a walk-through practice Friday at the Alamodome before the annual Players Award Banquet later that evening.

The game is scheduled for a 3:03 p.m. kickoff Saturday and will be broadcast by ESPN2 and on the Armed Forces Radio.

Starting Today, premium subscribers of can look forward to daily coverage of the goings-on every day in San Antonio.

Practice reports will be available on from both the East and West side every afternoon. Breakdowns of those who impressed and those who disappointed will be posted Monday through Wednesday.

Every night the practice reports will be followed up with a look at which players NFL teams are concentrating on as well as the rumors swirling at the Shrine Game and any other breaking news.

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