The East team started off the second day of the East-West Shrine Game with a morning practice in St. Petersburg, Fla. For the first time this week, the East squad wore pads and had full hitting. Players were not tackling ball carriers to the ground, as instructed. On a stop, the defender would wrap and hug the ball carrier before letting go. This practicing technique is done to prevent injuries.
To get the practice started, the East worked in its individual position groups. Overall, the wide receivers had a bad case of the drops on Tuesday. One receiver who struggled in particular was The Citadel's Kevin Hardy. He had a dropped pass and struggled with the technique of keeping his eyes up while running routes. His inclination is to look at the ground and that hurts him for seeing how quickly the ball is coming towards him. Another receiver who had problems catching the ball was California University of Pennsylvania product Thomas Mayo. After multiple drops, he was dispirited and took his helmet off in frustration. That earned Mayo some yelling from the coaching staff.
Michigan State wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and Temple tight end Evan Rodriguez all dropped passes. Cunningham's came on a deep bomb in one-on-ones after he got a step on the cornerback. Jenkins' drop was after he stumbled, and throughout the practice, Jenkins had some problems maintaining his footing. He did have a nice gain after beating USF safety Jerrell Young on a slant route.
Miami tight end Chase Ford (6-6, 258) had a good practice on Tuesday after looking bad the day before. He made a nice catch in one-on-ones over the head of Duke safety Matt Daniels. In the team scrimmage, Ford caught a deflected pass for a good gain. University of Miami has been a factory for good tight ends, and he is more athletic than one might think. If Ford finishes the week strong, he could be a quality sleeper prospect for the third day of the 2012 NFL Draft.
One of the early stars of the East-West Shrine has been Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. He had a dominant practice on Tuesday. In tight coverage, Norman made a twisting acrobatic interception of Tennessee Chattanooga quarterback B.J. Coleman. Norman is physical with and some nice hits. The 6-foot, 203-pounder has good size to go along with athleticism. He is really helping himself thus far, and is making the case to be a mid-round pick.
With the pads on, it was a great opportunity to see the battle in the trenches between the defensive and offensive lines. They showcased their abilities in a nine-on-nine run scrimmage session, a one-on-one pass rushing scrimmage, and a full 11-on-11 team period to end the practice. Generally, the defensive line got the better of the matchups.
South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson had his second straight strong practice. On one play, he swallowed a back at the line of scrimmage after not budging in an inch. Robertson beat Mississippi State center Quentin Saulsberry repeatedly in the scrimmages and in a one-on-one. He wasn't the only one, as Robertson had an impressive rush with a rip move to defeat Rutgers guard Desmond Wynn. Robertson is helping himself, although he got shouted at for getting overly aggressive and putting a nice tackle on a running back in the team scrimmage. However, some coaches will like seeing that.
Saulsberry has really struggled this week. For the next level, he will need to add some more power as the 6-foot-2, 302-pounder has gotten pushed around. Saulsberry lost reps to Miami's Micanor Regis and Baylor's Nick Jean-Baptiste. Wynn didn't perform as well on Tuesday as he did in the first day, but he had some nice plays. In the run scrimmage, Wynn sprung a back by getting to the second level to block a linebacker. In the one-on-ones, he had a nice win against Regis and did well at a rep at left tackle. Saulsberry has been a disappointment up to now, while Wynn has played well.
Jean-Baptiste may be the most impressive defensive lineman thus far. He dominated the one-on-ones and was a tough load at the line in the run and team scrimmage. The massive Jean-Baptiste (6-1, 335) powered his way through Miami center Tyler Horn on a few reps. He also had wins against Saulsberry and guard Rishaw Johnson. The only rush Jean-Baptiste lost was when he rushed from defensive end against offensive tackle Jeremiah Warren. Jean-Baptiste has natural pad level. He gets under the pads of linemen and uses his heavy weight and size to bull rush into the backfield. Jean-Baptiste should get a real boost this week and have an appeal to 3-4 teams looking for a nose tackle.
Two offensive tackles did well. South Florida's Warren played much better on Tuesday after a bad day on Monday. Warren beat Robertson in a one-on-one play. Ole Miss offensive tackle Bradley Sowell had a quality showing. He had some wins in one-on-ones and combined with Wynn and Johnson to open up a big running lane in the team scrimmage. The coaches have flipped Sowell from left and right tackle. He could be a backup swing tackle on game days, but as a permanent player in an NFL lineup, Sowell should probably be a right tackle.
West Virgnia defensive end Julian Miller had a strong practice. He had a few good stuffs in run support. On one of them, Miller held his ground against a pulling guard and shed the block to make the tackle. In the one-on-ones, he beat left tackle Joe Long from Wayne State on a nice spin move.
There were some other brief notables from the Tuesday practice. None of the quarterbacks really stood out, and Southern Miss Austin Davis is the best of the bunch. Coleman has to improve his footwork and accuracy. He threw one easy screen pass into the dirt unintentionally. Brantley threw an interception to Penn State's Nick Sukay on a poorly underthrown deep ball that dropped short of Rodriguez and fell into Sukay.
Pittsburgh defensive end turned outside linebacker Brandon Lindsey has been fairly quiet this week. Lindsey (6-1, 255) had a dropped interception in a pass in the flat during the team scrimmage. Canadian product Akiem Hicks played better on Tuesday with a win against Saulsberry in the one-on-ones, but also had a loss against Sowell. The small-school product Rishaw Johnson did not play as well on day two, but still won some of his blocks.
Here is a run down of some of the post-practice interviews between the player and a team that was spending some time talking to the prospect:
Jacksonville - Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman
Arizona - University of Regina defensive tackle Akiem Hicks
Houston - Tennessee Tech wide receiver Tim Benford (second day of interviews)
San Francisco - Virginia defensive end Matt Conrath
New York Giants - Miami wide receiver LaRon Byrd
New York Jets - California University of Pennsylvania guard Rishaw Johnson and Columbia offensive tackle Jeff Adams
New Orleans - Rutgers guard Desmond Wynn
Kansas City - University of Regina defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and Rutgers guard Desmond Wynn
San Diego - Temple tight end Evan Rodriguez
Indianapolis - Florida Atlantic running back Alfred Morris and Presbyterian cornerback Justin Bethel
Philadelphia - California University of Pennsylvania wide receiver Thomas Mayo
Buffalo - Notre Dame cornerback R.J. Blanton
Minnesota - Miami defensive end Micanor Regis
Baltimore - South Florida offensive tackle Jeremiah Warren, Columbia offensive tackle Jeff Adams and Florida quarterback John Brantley
As the NFL Draft approaches, I will be making weekly adjustments up until the 27th of April. Rest of the writeups will be coming later this week. Any questions/comments/criticisms can be voiced in the comments. I will respond to all.