ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Practices for the 89th East-West Shrine Game kicked off today and there were several NFL talent evaluators looking for a player -- or players -- who can help their team the way running back Zac Stacy, who played for the East last January, helped the Rams in 2013.
East head coach Jerry Glanville and West head coach Romeo Crennel approached their first practices in different ways. The East practiced in full pads and featured plenty of contact in the earlier practice, while the West practiced in helmets and stressed installation of schemes over physicality in the second practice of the day.
There were more mistakes in the first practice, but evaluators prefer Glanville's approach because they understand players are trying to pick up what they are being asked to do, so the scouts expect mistakes.
As it is in the NFL, the Shrine Game is all about the quarterbacks and the East appears to have the edge. Cornell's Jeff Mathews put good touch on his downfield passes and made a couple of throws down the seam with pinpoint accuracy during the red zone drill.
Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo didn't field an errant shotgun snap cleanly and the ball fluttered once he released it, which raises concerns about his smaller hands, but he got through his progressions and released the ball quickly once he located the open man. While the most erratic of the three, Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch flashed and made some crisp throws.
The West quarterbacks didn't fare quite as well. Notre Dame's Tommy Rees consistently took the checkdown and didn't show great arm strength. Washington's Keith Price got better as the practice progressed but appeared indecisive early. Both Reese and Price are on the shorter side and their lack of height stood out on the field.
The one standout in the West's group is Ball State's Keith Wenning, who put good velocity and touch on his downfield passes.
Remember to keep these performances in perspective. On one hand, these quarterbacks are all wearing non-contact jerseys and taking advantage of the lack of a pass rush. On the flip side, their accuracy and efficiency should improve as they get more comfortable with their targets.
Here are a couple of other notes from each of today's practices.
Northern Arizona running back Zach Bauman had the best day out of all the backs -- East or West. He made quick decisions, accelerated well and kept his pads downs. Tennessee's Rajion Neal made some nice lateral cuts but his lack of straight-line burst is noticeable. Mississippi State's LaDarius Perkins' lack of power showed up near the goal line, where Georgia Tech safety Jemea Thomas and Louisville safety Hakeem Smith stopped him on consecutive plays.
Looking back at practice, there were several false starts, neutral zone infractions and drops, but Penn State offensive guard John Urschel jumping on two consecutive plays stands out. Urschel also had a tough time anchoring and staying in front of defenders during one-on-one pass protection drills. It wasn't a great practice for Penn State overall, as linebacker Glenn Carson didn't fill the correct gap at one point and struggled with long snapping during a special-teams period.
Outside of appearing to give up on one route too early, Baylor's Jordan Najvar stood out from the other tight ends and his quarterbacks started to look for him more often as the practice progressed. He tracks the ball well and can snatch it out of the air before it gets to his pads. He also did a nice job of absorbing contact from Oklahoma State safety Daytawion Lowe and holding on to the ball on one play.
Southern California's Devon Kennard and Notre Dame's Prince Shembo, 3-4 outside linebacker candidates, have their limitations in space but both did a nice job of masking those limitations by getting physical and rerouting backs. Shembo also came up with a pick after Penn State safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong tipped a Rees pass.