The 81st Shrine Game: Tuesday's practices
EAST PRACTICE Quarterbacks definitely had the hardest time producing in today's conditions. Bruce Gradkowski's arm strength was severely tested as he was consistently short and behind on his throws throughout the day. On a more positive note, Gradkowski did display a knack for making throws on the run and finding his check down receivers when pressured. Tarvaris Jackson had another difficult day struggling with both arm strength and accuracy throughout the day. Jackson did appear to adjust to the windy conditions as practice wore on in terms of his velocity but his accuracy remains a question mark. Brett Basanez had the best day of the East quarterbacks. Basanez put nice touch on his deep balls and was able to consistently throw accurate passes throughout the practice. FSU running back Leon Washington had one of the better days on both teams. Washington hits his hole at full speed displaying great shiftiness and balance while running. He also looked natural in the passing game. His small stature may concern some scouts, as he is not a physical player and put the ball on the ground after some of the days "hardest" contact. Virginia running back Wali Lundy also looked impressive hitting the holes well and running with good balance. Lundy appeared to be the most comfortable of the running backs at catching the ball out of the backfield. Arkansas running back De'Arrius Howard did not stand out except for his upright running style. Nick Hartigan showed good technique as both a blocker and a receiver. The fullback from Brown also showed an impressive motor throughout the practice. Wisconsin receiver Brandon Williamsappears to be the best athlete on the East team. The only thing Williams has not excelled at is throwing the ball downfield, a play that the East team worked through several times. Marques Colston used his size advantage over the defensive backs to make plays throughout the day. The large receiver from Hofstra runs precise routes and extends his hands when making the catch. Fearless over the middle Colston may not have the speed to be a deep threat in the NFL. Auburn tight end Cooper Wallace is a willing blocker that also displays a knack at finding the seam in the defense and extending his hands to make the catch. The offensive linemen rebounded from an unimpressive performance the day before. Ohio State guard Rob Sims is a physical blocker that locks onto his man and displays a nasty streak. Dominic Raiola again displayed the ability to get out side and to the second level though he was admonished by the coaches for not maintaining proper knee bend and for playing without leverage. Arkansas center Kyle Roper had a difficult time snapping the ball and blocking his man in one on one drills. Roper does show a great deal of heart and is surprisingly athletic. Miami tackle Rashad Butler is an athletic offensive linemen with the quickness to stay with anybody. He appears to be a little thin though and could use another twenty-five pounds of muscle as he gets overpowered. He also has a bad habit of bending at the waist instead of the knees. Isaac Sowells is another athletic tackle playing for the East team. The former Indiana Hoosier not only displayed excellent footwork, he was not beaten during drills, and he also displayed proper knee bend and balance while blocking. Cornell offensive guard Kevin Boothe has the physical attributes that scouts are looking for but remains very raw in his fundamentals. Florida offensive tackle Randy Hand had another difficult day on the outside. Louisville offensive guard was a dominating blocker during drills and used the scrimmage portion of practice to demonstrate his ability to get to the second level and blow defenders off the ball. Defensively, Tommy Jackson appears to not only be the defenses best player but also its e motional leader. Jackson was seen and heard cheering on his defensive teammates and jeering at his offensive teammates throughout the practice. Jackson is a quarter step quicker off the ball than any of the East interior offensive linemen. Kedric Golston gave the SEC two terrific defensive tackle performances today. The former Georgia standout bull rushed his way through all of the eastern offensive linemen throughout the day. Jason Hall bounced back from his thrashing at the hands of Andrew Whitworth the day before by beating Whitworth in their first face off during drills. The Tennessee product was able to get off of blocks all day long. James Wyche appears to be best suited to rushing the quarterback from the outside. Purdue defensive end Rob Nincovich had a superb day consistently getting pressure from the outside. The linebackers also had a more noticeable day after flying under the radar for much of Mondays practice. Northwestern linebacker Tim McGarigle impressed coaches and scouts alike by displaying near perfect fundamentals throughout the positional drills. The outside linebacker continued to show good instincts throughout the day. Oliver Hoyte made his presence known during the teams scrimmage session. The NC State alum was explosive while playing downhill or from sideline to sideline. Rocky McIntosh looks like a work in progress as he has better athleticism than most of the other linebackers but appears to be a bit slow to react and he has trouble staying in control. The former Miami Hurricane gets good depth on his drops but has a difficult time changing directions. Virginia Tech linebacker James Anderson may be the most complete linebacker here. Anderson got good depth in pass coverage, displayed excellent speed to the sidelines, aggressively attacked the backfield, and showed solid reactions. While he may be the most physical of the East linebackers Anthony Schlegal appeared uncomfortable in pass coverage. Charlie Peprah remains the best defensive back on the East squad. Peprah not only is impressing as a safety during scrimmage but he is getting beat less in man coverage drills than most of the cornerbacks in attendance. Dion Byrum showed good closing speed today and though he is susceptible to double moves he does have the speed to stay with the receiver down the field. Nate Salley, though physically impressive, is not using his size properly and does not make a play on the ball when it's in the air. Louisville defensive back Gerrick McPhearson is fundamentally sound and fast. McPhearson also does a nice job of getting his hands on the ball before the receiver can control it. WEST PRACTICE Like their colleagues from the East, the West team's second practice was considerably more physical than the previous day. With the offensive and defensive schemes fully installed the West team spent most of its time in scrimmages and unit-on-unit drills. This appealed to scouts in attendance and many were remarking on how informative this practice was. The difficult wind conditions did not hinder the West team quarterbacks as much as the East quarterbacks. Fresno State quarterback Paul Pinegar had the best day of all quarterbacks in attendance, displaying nice touch on his deep balls and throwing a perfect spiral on almost every occasion today. Drew Olsen continued to impress on short and medium range throws but his deep balls and medium-range out passes tended to flutter. Reggie McNeil made one of the best throws of the day delivering a deep out while on the run. Unfortunately for McNeil that was his only highlight of the day as he consistently missed receivers high, low, and wide. San Diego State receiver Jeff Webb does a nice job extending his hands when making a catch. Colorado State receiver Tim Anderson continued to make great catches all day building off of a strong first day. Todd Watkins made several more highlight reel catches and scouts appear to have been taking notice. Watkins was very busy with a handful of teams after today's practice. Texas A&M receiver Jason Carter also had a nice day. Carter ran crisp routes and made several great catches. Carter also has the speed to get deep and the fearlessness to make plays over the middle. Both of the West's tight ends continued to shine. Tim Day continues to make plays downfield and is more than effective as a blocker. Texas TE David Thomas, meanwhile, consistently seems to do everything fundamentally correct. Thomas also shows the ability to get downfield and make plays. Jeromy Clary remains the best offensive lineman on the West team. Clary can use his size and strength, quickness, or textbook fundamentals to beat his man on any given play and frequently does. Joe Toledo also continues to hold up well though Toledo was more susceptible to the outside rush today. Toledo is definitely more inclined to maul his opponents rather than finesse them. TCU tackle Michael Toudouze also displayed nice footwork today and showed the ability to play in space. While he appears to have the necessary physical skills to play Toudouze may need some more strength and refining of his technique before he is ready to produce at the next level. Paul McQuistan, of Weber State, gives the West team another raw but talented offensive tackle prospect. McQuistan has impressive size and enough quickness to play in the NFL should he improve his technique and his playing strength. Cal guard Aaron Merz was the most dominant of the interior linemen today. Once Merz locked onto his man he directed him away from the action. Oklahoma guard/center Chris Chester had an up and down day. Still having difficulty on the quarterback-center exchange Chester had a difficult time during the early part of one on one drills. Later in the practice though Chester showed his athletic skills and was able to keep up with even the quickest of the defensive tackles. The Western defensive MVP of Tuesday's practice was likely USC defensive end Frostee Rucker. Rucker has a quick first step and the ability to beat his blocker with speed, finesse, or power. Nebraska defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith also showed several moves other than a bull rush during drills. At one point Smith got off the snap and put a spin move on the center before the center was able to touch him. Scouts from the Seattle Seahawks were heard comparing Smith to current Minnesota Viking Kevin Williams. Steve Fifita appears to be the strongest lineman here. Standing barely six feet tall, the former Utah Ute used his natural leverage and size to bull rush the offensive linemen all day. What Washington defensive tackle Manase Hopoi lacks in bulk he makes up for in quickness. Hopoi has a great first step and is very difficult for offensive linemen to get and keep a hold of. Devan Long again showed promise as an edge rusher. Today, however, Long also showed the ability to quickly adjust and pursue the ball carrier. During scrimmage he made several tackles on the sidelines. Texas A&M defensive tackle Johnny Jolly is one of the most physical players on the West roster. When he gets leverage on an offensive lineman Jolly is unblockable. Jamar Williams had a second solid practice in as many days. The former Sun Devil is aggressive when playing downhill and can cover from sideline to sideline. Williams is not as impressive playing in reverse though. Oregon State linebacker Keith Ellison got the highest grades for pass coverage potential. His immediate reactions, quick burst, and ability to get depth on his drops was impressive. Stanford linebacker Kevin Schimmilmann is effective at cutting off angles in pursuit and playing downhill. Daniel Manning is playing both safety and cornerback and continues to stay with his man throughout the field. Texas Tech safety Dwayne Slay is a big safety that may be best suited on special teams or in a defensive system where he can stay in the box. He has shown neither speed nor instincts in pass coverage. Darrell Brooks is another who is having a difficult time. The Arizona safety does display better range than Slay but still does not make enough plays on the ball. USC cornerback Justin Wyatt has good closing speed and enough deep speed to stay with receivers. He tends to give receivers too much cushion and is often only in position to make a quick tackle rather than breakup or intercept a pass. Josh Powell remains one of the most physical players in San Antonio. Powell is also likely to be confined to a scheme that limits his coverage responsibilities.
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