After playing dynasty football for close to ten years, one of the most important skills to develop is looking where everyone else isn’t. The Andrew Lucks, the Robert Griffins, and the Trent Richardsons of the world are easy to spot. Their athleticism jumps off the screen and these players have played against the best competition. Everyone knows who they are, including the causal fan. I know there are many dynasty owners that are gearing down their interest and taking a break, please don’t let that be you.
There are lessons to learn during the East/West Shrine Game week, both in practices and during the game. I am very excited to be covering these for DLF. Three years ago, tight end Dennis Pitta and safety Kam Chancellor had an outstanding week of practice and games. Just this past January, a running back that was originally projected as a fullback, Alfred Morris, impressed Mike Shannahan at the Shrine Game enough to draft him. Morris finished the 2012 season with over 1,600 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. There is gold to be mined, so let’s get our boots and shovels and go to work!
The practices had very different styles as the East coaching staff had a purpose from the start. The East team was wearing full pads and hitting was encouraged. Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy looked a bit on the tubby side when he lifted up his jersey, but it was all power once the horn sounded. The running back smashed the line hard, looking for contact. Stacy has very quick feet and when given the chance he bounced things outside. He made a point to finish every run hard 20 yards down the field.
Ray Graham, running back for the Pittsburgh Panthers, was very muscular and lean. He showed good acceleration and got small in the hole avoiding contact. I thought he showed good side to side movement and had good vision. Unfortunately, he looked a little more like Dion Lewis than LeSean McCoy out there.
The opening buzz was about Kansas State’s quarterback, Collin Klein, but that quickly faded. He has very small, skinny legs and seemed to want to throw the short ball, always checking down. The quarterback looked more like a developmental project than a soon to be starter. Perhaps in a few years, Klein can develop into a starter, but it is not a guarantee.
The Army quarterback, Trent Steelman, who was converted to wide receiver for this game caught every slant that was thrown his way. He looked like a natural on those throws by catching the ball with his hands out in front of him. Unfortunately, Steelman looked out of place with other patterns. It was only his first practice at receiver, so he may get better.
The star of the East practice was Marcus Davis, the wide receiver from Virginia Tech. He made almost every catch thrown his way. Davis did a bit of body catching at the beginning, but seemed to correct that the longer the practice went. The receiver was very smooth running his routes, he hustled on every play and made sure he returned the ball to the coach regardless if he made the catch or not. Davis ran some nice deep routes and did a good job tracking the ball in the air.
Running back Montel Harris ran smooth out there. He showed second effort, kept his legs churning, and demonstrated good balance going through the line of scrimmage. Harris showed some prowess as a returner as well.
Virginia Tech’s wide receiver Corey Fuller had a few nice deep grabs where he tracked the ball right into his hands. He also looked good contorting himself low to make a line drive catch.
The West team’s practice was more laid back as they were in helmets and shorts. This seemed to be a distraction for a few of the players. Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams exploded through the line, sometimes even a little out of control. While he looked like his former teammate, Robert Turbin, during the bowl game, Williams looked like a more physical Michael Smith while practicing Monday. He showed off great hands, excellent vision, and patience letting his rushing lane develop.
Christine Michael, the oft injured and perhaps troubled, Texas A & M running back looked very quick and agile. He has very nimble feet and was powerful running the ball. I liked that he was trying to get his knees high, knocking tacklers away with his legs.
UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria had a mixed practice. He looked very skinny and did not have good body control. On a few plays, the ball would clunk off his outstretched hands. Then on his final catch of the day, he laid out for the ball and made an amazing reception. Too bad, after that catch, Fauria did not return to the practice field.
I liked a lot of what I saw from small school hopeful Jasper Collins. He is a wide receiver from Mt. Union, yes Garcon’s and Short’s alma mater. He did a great job of catching the ball at its highest point and climbing the ladder despite his 5′ 11″ height. Collins’ hands were a bit inconsistent, but he showed great body control to bring in difficult catches. I want to see more.
Dan Buckner, the wide receiver from Arizona State, was tall and lanky without a lot of muscle tone. He had three impressive downfield bucket catches where he would look over his shoulder and just cradle the ball for a nice reception. Buckner caught a few shorter passes with his hands, but looked more like a deep threat.
Eastern Kentucky wide receiver Tyrone Goard ran precise routes, showed good hands, and skied for the ball. I don’t think I saw him drop a single pass. He was a very impressive small school prospect.
Zach Sudfield, a Nevada tight end, made some tough catches over the middle. If anyone would earn the title as a mudder, it would be him as he did everything that was asked of him.
All in all, it was a very productive first day in St. Petersburg. Can’t wait until tomorrow.