On Wednesday, practice at the East-West Shrine Game thinned out considerably.
Media members are hoping to catch just a little bit of practice before heading home and preparing to turn right around and fly to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl. Teams have likely had the chance to talk to as many players as they'd like and start to filter out as well. They'll receive tapes of the practices they don't attend. Agents go to L.A. if they have players at the NFLPA Game or around the country to check in at pre-combine training facilities.
If attendees hadn't left by Wednesday's afternoon practice, the stylings of West coach Romeo Crennel probably drove them away—it worked for me. I don't want to belabor the point, as I've spoken about it in each practice column, but you should know exactly what I'm talking about when I complain about his practice routine.
- Practice starts at 2:40; coaches mill around and talk to players until 2:50.
- Offense warmed up by running a "two-minute drill" at 50 percent speed (let that one sink in), including a practice spike to stop the clock. Standing around people who have covered teams like the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars, no one had seen a practice spike as part of warmups.
- Defensive backs spent at least 15 minutes standing around and listening to Crennel talk to them about what they should do rather than rep what they should do. One agent called it "surreal."
- Twenty-five minutes into practice, I took a picture of the notebooks of two people who usually take copious notes. As you can see, there was nothing that had happened worth noting. This was still the case until about 45 minutes in.
- During the Wednesday practice, there were three separate sessions of punting. At that time, numerous players not involved with special teams just stood around. It was better than one of the Tuesday sessions, when offensive linemen caught the punts.
- Offensive players continually practiced against only offensive players for most of the practice. It's pretty easy to catch a pass when the "defender" is another wide receiver who is giving you a 10-yard cushion.
In a vacuum, each of these things could probably be excused. Yet over and again, "Good luck, Houston" was the refrain from onlookers who couldn't believe that Wade Phillips had gotten fired for the man running these practices.
On a positive note, the inclement weather had cleared up by Wednesday morning, and the fields had dried for the most part. This allowed the East team (run by Jerry Glanville) to have a crisp, efficient practice.
|10 Players that Stood Out During Shrine Game Practices|
|Zach Bauman||RB||Northern Arizona||The most electric player at the practices, but NFL teams will worry about his size.|
|Seantavius Jones||WR||Valdosta State||Bigger, faster and stronger than lots of his competition in both college and at the Shrine practices. Will it translate?|
|Jeff Mathews||QB||Cornell||Great attitude, better size, even better arm. Has some bad habits, but a fine small-school/mid-round prospect.|
|Pierre Desir||CB||Lindenwood||This setting is perfect for small-school corners to shine, and Desir did. He's got the length to appeal to teams looking for the "new breed" of physical defensive backs.|
|Nevin Lawson||CB||Utah State||Physical like you expect a Utah State corner to be, but looked more polished in both man and zone than you'd expect and corner at the Shrine Game to be.|
|Bruce Gaston Jr||DL||Purdue||Passes the look test with ease, but slowed down throughout the week.|
|Jordan Lynch||QB||Northern Illinois||Looked better as a passer than he often did in college. If he continues to improve throughout the process, he could go much higher than expected.|
|Jimmy Garoppolo||QB||Eastern Illinois||Consistency needs to improve. College scheme worries me, but the tools are there.|
|Jordan Najvar||TE||Colorado State||Jordan says it's pronounced "Niver." Get used to saying it, because he should be a matchup problem for plenty of NFL defenders.|
|Zach Hocker||K||Arkansas||Kicked a 50 yard field goal with about 10 yards to spare, then barely missed from 55.|
|*In no particular order|
Linemen Finally Able to Make Their Mark
Listed at 6'10", Matt Hall (OT Belhaven) may be the beneficiary of some generous measuring by his small-school staffers, but he is certainly head and shoulders above many of his peers. That's not always a good thing, however, and could lead teams to shy away from him if he doesn't show plenty of natural flexibility. Quicker defensive ends ate him alive during Wednesday's practice, though small-school tackles often struggle with top athletes, the likes of which they've never faced before.
In the first couple of days, I had little good to say about John Urschel (OG Penn State). I did, however, call out some solid play from Bruce Gaston Jr. (DL Purdue).
On Day 3, Urschel handled Gaston like a ragdoll on a number of plays. That's the nature of some of these snippets in time, and it reinforced the idea that tape still rules as the best predictor of NFL success.
Kerry Wynn (DE Richmond) was one of the defensive ends who beat Hall in a few drills, and I liked how he used his hands with good initial violence to set up his second move. However, the second move itself left lots to be desired. With nice bend and speed around the edge, the tools are there. He just needs to learn to be more of a craftsman.
Quarterbacks and Receivers Find a Little More Rhythm, So Do Defensive Backs
Jeff Mathews (QB Cornell) and Jimmy Garoppolo (QB Eastern Illinois) both continued to take steps forward as they solidified themselves (at least to this analyst) as the top two quarterbacks of the Shrine Game crop.
Mathews' one area of concern on Wednesday was a reluctance to step up in the pocket, taking what would have been sacks in game-time situations. Garoppolo is going to fight "small hands" talk and didn't help himself with an unforced fumble during passing drills. It was a lighthearted moment, but things like that can haunt a player more than they ought to.
Jeremy Gallon (WR Michigan) benefited from the increased tempo and rhythm of practice. I noted—as I had during his college career—that his routes almost look lazy. While one is used to the choppy feet of most slot receivers, Gallon almost glides in and out of his routes. Following practice, Gallon told me that his goal is to make cornerbacks feel as if he's moving slower than he really is. It works.
Another prospect who flashed on Wednesday was Matt Hazel (WR Coastal Carolina). Although he struggled to gain separation against some of the better corners, when the ball was in his hands, he was electric. He took a wide receiver screen to the house and showcased a ton of acceleration in the process.
Yet as the quarterbacks and receivers started to heat up, it shined a huge spotlight on defensive backs like Nevin Lawson (CB Utah State). The physical corner looked solid in zone coverage with good click-and-close ability, but he really starred in man coverage, where he shut down a number of top receivers on the day.
Odds and Ends
—Some around the Denver Broncos organization at the Shrine Game pointed out that Adam Gase is more than just a pretty face in Denver and that they don't want to lose him to a head coaching gig. The thought that some have had is that he'll be considered a head coach in waiting if he stays. John Fox is 58.
—I stood after practice and watched members of the Cleveland Browns organization stick around to get Jeremy Gallon's phone number. I'm telling you this for one reason: They'll probably get every receiver's number by the end of this process, and most teams will have Gallon's. Don't read too much into every little snippet you hear by now and the draft. That's just how this works.
—St. Vincent's in Indianapolis is becoming a bigger pre-combine training locale each and every year. It's a sports medicine facility attached to the hospital, and a member of the training staff described the conditions as "excellent...best I've worked with." More and more Midwestern prospects are flocking there.
—Zach Bauman (RB NAU) has been one of the standouts this week. On Friday, however, a fumble stuck out like a sore thumb in a practice setting where most mistakes are unforced errors. One fumble does not mean that Bauman "has a fumbling problem," but at his small size, he'll need to be near perfect to convince teams he can make it in the NFL.
—While Bauman stole the show early in the week, it was Tim Flanders (RB Sam Houston State) who was impressive as the week drew to a close. Working at both running back and fullback, Flanders showed talent as a receiver out of the backfield and good long-strider speed. Scouting talk gets weird at times, but never weirder when 10 guys along the sideline are complementing a running back's backside. (It's where the power comes from and all that...)
—Speaking of backsides, our quote of the day comes from East Team coach Jerry Glanville (via Charlie Bernstein on Twitter): "Excuses are like assholes, we don't need them."
Not sure Glanville understands anatomy as well as he understands football...