The 81st Shrine Game: Practices come to close

Wednesday's session during 81st Shrine Game week was the first and only time that players from the East and West squads practiced together, and the last time players will practice in full pads. The scrimmage and unit drills offered players and coaches a more upbeat and competitive environment, giving scouts on hand an opportunity to watch more matchups. Several scouts gave their impressions of what they saw throughout the week before leaving San Antonio.

Most scouts agreed none of the quarterbacks were top-level prospects.

Paul Pinegar distinguished himself from the other signal callers Wednesday by throwing tight spirals and hitting receivers in stride.

Wide receiver Brandon Williams has had a very positive week. Showing deep speed, excellent athleticism, and crisp routes, Williams has been the most consistent and explosive player in San Antonio.

New Mexico running back DonTrell Moore also impressed scouts. Moore runs low to the ground and displays excellent balance and quickness. Patient carrying the ball, Moore found the secondary holes when forced away from his primary running lane.

Northwestern linebacker Tim McGarigle not only showed speed in pass coverage but also the ability to make plays on the ball as well. Brandon Hoyte redeemed himself in the eyes of scouts by playing aggressive and physical football all day. His teammate Oliver Hoyte had the best hit of the practice when he popped a running back in seven on seven drills. Kevin Schimmelmann continued to cover lots of ground, making several tackles in space.

The highlight of the day came during the lineman drills. Texas A&M coaches set the tone early, annoying the Arkansas staff by taking their time in between each rep and using double counts. Auburn defensive tackle Tommy Jackson was fooled five or six times by this ploy. Jackson did, however, beat his man most of the day.

The most impressive linemen from the West were TCU tackle Michael Toudouze and Cal guard Aaron Merz. Merz is a mauler who dominates the opposition, yet also did a nice job of getting out to the second level. Toudouze has the footwork to play in space but may need more strength and technique training in order to hold up against NFL caliber pass rushers.

Chris Kuper rebounded with a better effort in Wednesday's practice. Though still outclassed, Kuper does have the ability to lock onto then turn his man off the play. Oklahoma center Chris Chester also had a better day. Chester got out to the second level, destroying linebackers and held up well during the scrimmage. He was not as consistent during one-on-one drills, however, getting beaten off the line and forced backwards several times.

Rob Ninkovich, Tommy Jackson, and Kedric Golston remain the class of the Eastern defensive line. All three built on their performances earlier in the week. At the other side of the field the East offense squared off against the West defense. Donovan Raiola led the way, opening holes for most of the Easts running backs. Joining Raiola were Andrew Whitworth, Isaac Sowells, Rob Sims, Kyle Roper, and Jason Spitz.

Sims, Sowells, and Cornell guard Kevin Booth were the most effective during drills. Booth drew praise from scouts for physically mauling his man once he got a hold of him. Dan Stevenson also impressed scouts with his ability to get to the second level and pull around the outside. Stevenson played with good leverage and was difficult to overpower once he locked onto his man.

USC defensive end Frostee Rucker continues to show solid pass rush skills and an array of moves. On several occasions Rucker set up his man on one side, only to beat him in the other direction. Texas A&M defensive tackle Johnny Jolly also showed a surprising burst in pursuit and bull-rushing skills. Jolly made several plays outside on the sidelines.

Chris Gocong has worked exclusively at defensive end this week. Gocong is best suited as an edge rusher as he lacks the bulk to mix it up in the middle. CFL scouts were praising Gocong in Wednesday's practice.

Most scouts apparently think very little of the defensive backs in this year's game, which will be played Saturday at the Alamodome.

Danieal Manning and Charlie Peprah were singled out as the best of the bunch, though neither has good hands or appears to be a complete player at this point in time.

Interestingly, one of the most impressive performers during this week's practices may have hurt himself by talking and jawing too much.

Jackson, the feisty Auburn defensive tackle, stood out every day with his play. Yet his gift of gab - or, more to the point, his inability to shut up - annoyed scouts. Jackson was over the top with his rhetoric and several scouts mentioned that his cockiness and constant jawing left them unimpressed.

Scouts feel there were fewer gaps in the Shrine roster this year. The consensus on the top five performers of the week included Brandon Williams, Isaac Sowells, Frostee Rucker, Leon Washington and Andrew Whitworth.

Williams displayed better than expected speed, while once again Sowells silenced the critics about his ability to play the left tackle position. Rucker played stronger then advertised while Washington performed as most scouts thought he would have during his senior season. Whitworth was dominant though most agree the former LSU left tackle is solely a strong-side blocker in the NFL.

Were it not for his constant gabbing, Tommy Jackson would've been included in this group.

San Antonio is a friendly city but ticket sales have been worse than expected, something which led to the demise of the game last year in San Francisco.

However, almost no local people knew anything about the Shrine Game. San Antonio may get the game again next year with a ramped up marketing scheme.

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