Context is always key.
For the NFL draft, it's always important to keep things in perspective. Last year, a handful of teams missed out on the chance at Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater because those teams took pieces of evidence ("skinny knees," poor throwing sans gloves at pro day) without the context of looking at the smaller pieces of the scouting pie with the proper scope.
For the Shrine Game, the context of the caliber of the game is important, but more importantly, the context of the players around him, the coaching the player gets and even the quality of the playing surface is pretty integral to the scouting process.
Following the rain of Day 1, Day 2 featured better play in the morning practice, but the afternoon practice had about as sloppy field conditions as one can have outside of FedEx Field in Washington. It made it difficult to get a real feel for the offensive skill-position talent—especially considering the poor quality of the quarterbacking as well.
Former NFL defensive tackle and current agent John Thornton put it best, saying that the best athletes are often the most penalized by poor field conditions, as their upper gears (you know, the ones they're trying to show off) are more apt to create slips and falls.
So, in that context and with my standard disclaimer that the Shrine Game is a small part of the overall process, here's what I saw and heard on Day 2.
Day 2 Scouting Notes
—Based on practice reps, we're looking at a possible (probable) starting QB matchup of Hutson Mason (Georgia) and Taylor Kelly (Arizona State). This is not great for the game or for their teammates, as I don't have a draftable grade on either guy, nor do I think either has much of a future in the NFL.
—Monday, I praised Mason's management of the offense and thought that even with his limited physical talent he could facilitate an offense and be a long-term backup, but Tuesday he was berated by offensive coaches for not commanding his huddle. The East team's continuous false starts were on Mason as the players in his huddle didn't know the play call let alone the snap count. It's a small and improvable thing, but it wasn't a good look.
—The Shrine Game tends to attract bigger receivers with polished aspects to their game, so it's hard not to have "draft crushes" on these guys when they're going against lower-quality defensive backs in practice. With greater catch radii, they can also make a number of throws that smaller slot-type guys won't make in tighter windows with less accurate quarterbacks.
This year, that guy is Rice receiver Jordan Taylor. At 6'5", 210 pounds, the guy is a beast. He looks comfortable on the field, has clear (and impressive) muscle definition in both his arms and his legs and he looks the part of a poor man's Jordy Nelson. That said, although I want to like him, he's clearly got a ways to go in terms of concentration and route running.
—Speaking of Rice, one of my plays of the day was by cornerback Bryce Callahan from Rice. He had good, tight coverage on a number of plays as many of the defensive backs struggled with an emphasis on illegal contact. His best was on a deep route down the near sideline, where he stayed right in the receiver's hip pocket and then showcased his athleticism by jumping and shielding the receiver with his body. Neither player came down with the ball, but it was a fantastic pass defensed.
—Player of the day was LSU running back Terrence Magee. I had some positive things to say about Magee and his teammate Kenny Hilliard yesterday, but Magee set himself ahead of the pack on Day 2. What I like most is his first couple of steps to from handoff to the hole. It's a crucial moment for a back, and his initial burst in that regard is fantastic. I also watched a number of plays from the end-zone angle, and he showcased a unique ability to find creases other backs did not.
I talked to Magee extensively following the practice, and there will be more on him later in the column.
—There is a fine line between a practice session that is quiet (usually a bad thing) and a coach who is far more interested in winning the Shrine Game itself rather than preparing the players for the NFL. A tough week of practice with lots of reps and lots of install may get players ready for Saturday, but there's also the need for these guys to get one-on-one instruction from position coaches who are of a higher caliber than what they're used to.
Mike Singletary has been running mostly quiet practices this week, but whereas I've complained about it in years past when it was someone like Brad Childress having players just standing around, I've seen far more teaching in this year than in years past. One player who took to that coaching like a sponge was Central Michigan defensive lineman Leterrius Walton. He asked a lot of good questions and immediately improved his technique in certain areas.
Quote of the Day
Our quote of the day may not be a direct quote because it would be about 500 words had I actually recorded and transcribed the whole thing, but it makes a funny anecdote nonetheless.
The defensive line coach for the East squad was trying to hype up his crew with the carrot of breaking the Shrine Game sack record. However, he had not taken the time to look up what that record happens to be. He asked Singletary (who did not know), so he settled on each of his players getting two sacks, which he said should add up to about 20 total.
There were only six players standing around him.
He could've meant a lot of things—adding sacks from linebackers, expecting more than two from some with two being the absolute minimum each player should have—but his players were clearly doing the math in their head and looking around at his fiery (if incorrect) boast.
Who to Follow on Twitter
One of the ways I keep notes during practices is on Twitter. Yet, I'm not the only set of eyes out there, and one person can only see so much. Here are some other vetted and talented types I'll be bumming around the sidelines with:
- Cecil Lammey—Bleacher Report Featured Columnist/ESPN Radio Denver
- Josh Norris—Rotoworld
- Dane Brugler—CBS
- Greg Auman—Tampa Bay Times
- John Owning—Bleacher Report FC/Football Insider
- Charlie Bernstein—Football Insider
- Emory Hunt—Football Gameplan
Better Know a Player
I waited about 10 minutes to talk to LSU running back Terrence Magee because I tend to give deference to the NFL scouts who want to jump in. They could wait for me (and many would gladly), but typically they only ask a few questions (what's your number? email? agent? training facility?) and then skedaddle to another player.
With Magee, though, it was longer, as the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and one other scout (Seattle Seahawks, I believe, though not 100 percent positive) were getting more than just the basic information. Now understand this means nothing, as each team has a lot of scouts here and will get that info one way or another anyway and talks to everybody, but on this day with the performance Magee had, he was a popular guy.
As I waited to talk to Magee, I was struck by what a respectful young man he is. A lot of "yes, sir," and "no, sir" to both the team guys and me, with a genuine manner of response that lacked the polished non-answers one gets at this time of the year.
Magee credited the Shrine Game coaching staff with helping him see things in a different light, though he said he ran many of the same concepts at LSU (with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron) even if they were called something else.
This whole process may be new to Magee, but he's not going through it alone. He speaks regularly with his "big brother," Alfred Blue of the Houston Texans, who has been helping him with the predraft process, and there's a big group chat between all of the LSU backs like Blue, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, etc.
He said his biggest positive for NFL teams and something he brings to the table others might not is his ability as a third-down back. He trumpets his pass protecting (both physically and grasping the mental aspect) and his route running as things teams might value him for above his peers.
Part of that comes from his history as a high school quarterback, learning the game from a wider angle and being able to adapt that to his position while understanding what other positions on the field are doing, but he also credits the LSU coaching staff for developing those skills, which not all college running backs can say they have.
Next week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, it's all about the barbecue (Saucy Q and Brick Pit are a couple of my favorites, along with plenty of NFL stars and royalty over the years), but Tampa has an underrated food scene as well. If you're doubting my bona fides as a foodie, I'll direct you to my profile picture as proof I know my way around a kitchen and a restaurant menu.
Charlie Bernstein is another invaluable resource as well because he's another person who enjoys the finer things in life while also being a longtime Tampa resident and former radio host in the area.
Two great burgers over the last few days at different joints I could not recommend more highly.
—At Engine No. 9 downtown in St. Petersburg, the menu is absolutely insane, as is the beer selection. I had the Van Helsing, which was a burger with jalapenos, bacon and crushed garlic bulbs. Somehow, it also makes the best tater tot I've ever had, which seems like a pretty hard thing to improve on, but this place has done it. With its fantastic food, great beer selection and TVs at every table, it was a great choice to watch the college football championship.
—I rarely get the same thing twice at a restaurant and tend not to want the same types of foods too often in a row, but I couldn't come to St. Petersburg without a stop at The Burg Bar & Grill. Everyone else at the table went for the "Double Grilled Cheese Bacon Burger," but I doubled down on the menu's Greek influence for the second year in a row with "The Burg Gyro Feta Burger." My cardiologist will be happy to know I didn't eat it all in one sitting.
—For the 21-and-older in the group, Florida has a bad rap as a beer state and deservedly so, but the St. Petersburg/Tampa area has been trying to change that for years. Not only does it have a solid brewery in Cigar City Brewing, but many of the bars here have a level of beer snobbery I haven't experienced since my days bumming around in Chicago. This portends good things for the quality of beer consumption.
What Others Are Saying
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.