The East-West Shrine Game kicked off its first practice Monday afternoon, as the all-stars from the East team competed in all types of drills led by current Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
"Whenever you work with a group of players who have never played together, it's tough to get too many things done on the first day," Crennel said. "The key is to keep things simple so that they can learn quickly. We don't have much time before Saturday."
The quarterback trio of Fordham's John Skelton, Penn State's Daryll Clark and Northwestern's Mike Kafka aren't at the top – or even the middle – of most mock drafts, but they certainly grabbed the attention of NFL brass in attendance.
Skelton possessed the best arm of the trio, and his quick setup and underneath accuracy was stellar. He displayed an effortless throwing motion and had legitimate snap on the out routes.
Clark struggled in all facets during the practice, as he was inaccurate on even the shortest of routes and lacked the arm strength to throw anything deep. He struggled in his drops and had major problems taking routine snaps from center.
Kafka showed very good footwork and was accurate on all short- to moderate-length routes. He was able to put some zip on the football but failed on a few of his longer throws during skeleton drills.
"I believe my best asset is my arm strength," small-school star Skelton said following practice. "I believe I can throw it as well as anyone."
In any non-contact set of drills, running backs will normally look pretty good. This was certainly the case, as former University of Miami back Javarris James – cousin of Edgerrin – looked nimble in the hole, displayed good hands and showed a nice burst. Connecticut's Andre Dixon showed good size, although he appeared to run upright. Tulane's Andre Anderson showed good footwork but appeared to lack burst, as he was unable to run away from defenders.
As a whole, the East wide receivers were fairly underwhelming, as none could gather much separation when lined up against corners. The ultra-productive Freddie Barnes of Bowling Green showed the best hands of the group, as what you'd expect from a player who set an FBS record with 155 receptions as a senior. Buffalo's Naaman Roosevelt showed a good ability to run routes but lacked top-end speed. Michigan State's Blair White caught every ball that touched his hands, but he too lacked the suddenness you'd like to see from a big-time receiver. Colgate's Patrick Simons was a big target at 6-5, but his play hardly stood out.
Although there doesn't appear to be an impact tight end on this particular roster, Army's Alejandro Villanueva turned heads with his sheer mass, as he stood 6-10 and weighed in at 285 pounds. Despite being an extremely large individual, Villanueva showed solid athleticism and good hands. His size alone should garner him some consideration as a late-round project.
There weren't many one-on-one situations for the East offensive linemen, so it was difficult to tell which player was at fault in some situations. A player that played a near-perfect practice was Iowa's Kyle Calloway. Calloway lined up at right tackle and stoned every lineman in front of him.
"I think the best thing I offer NFL teams is my versatility," Calloway said. "I can play anywhere on the right side, and I can even play at left tackle or guard."
The headliner of the defensive ends was certainly Mississippi's Greg Hardy, who is rated by many scouts as a potential first-round pick. The 6-5, 270-pound Hardy looks the part of an every-down defensive end, but he hardly stood out on the first practice day. Ohio State's Doug Worthington and Connecticut's Lindsey Witten had many cameos in the East backfield during the practice.
Perhaps the most impressive defensive lineman was local UCF product Torrell Troup, who had many scouts taking notice as he was able to get penetration on seemingly every play and dominated the smaller interior offensive linemen. Purdue's Mike Neal also made plays consistently in the backfield.
"I had the first-day jitters," admitted Troup, "but it was good to finally get out and hit someone. It's been a long time since my last game. I was very anxious to start practice."
Wisconsin linebacker O'Brien Schofield seemingly stole the show at his position, as he displayed not only great pass-rush ability, which was expected, but the ability to drop into coverage and make plays. USF linebacker Kion Wilson was also very quick to the football.
The top corner for the East team during this practice session was Clemson's Chris Chancellor, who did his best Darrelle Revis impersonation. When any of the East receivers were lined up on "Chancellor Island," they came away with incompletions or were stuck making a tackle after an interception. Virginia Tech's pair of defensive backs, Kam Chancellor and Stephan Virgil, were stellar, as they ran step for step with each of the perspective pass catchers lined up across from them.
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Charlie Bernstein is the editor-in-chief of JagNation.com.
East-West Shrine Game: Day 1
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