The second day of practice for the East-West Shrine Game was held in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday under sunny skies with temperatures in the low 80s. The East team was in full pads and had a physical practice. With the players in full pads, the focus was on the linemen. The majority of scouts and the top decision-makers present focused on the battles between the offensive linemen and defensive linemen.
The players broke into individual drills following the warmups. The offensive linemen worked on their blocking technique as coached by former Kansas State and Indianapolis Colts assistant Ron Prince. South Carolina center T.J. Johnson was the best-looking player in the early going.
Johnson had some early draws in the one-on-one battles against offensive linemen, but finished his reps with an impressive win against Maryland tackle A.J. Francis. Johnson stuffed a bull rush and knocked Francis to his knees.
Many of the defensive linemen had good practices, but Francis wasn't one of them. He had a win against Minnesota Duluth guard Garth Heikkinen, but lost reps to Penn State guard Matt Stankiewitch and McMaster University's Matt Sewell. Francis looked better on Monday.
The defensive line was winning the majority of battles early in the day. Rutgers defensive end Scott Vallone had an impressive showing. He beat Glenville State tackle Mark Jackson with a quick spin move on one rep and a speed rush on another. In the team scrimmage, Vallone had a sack after beating Rutgers teammate R.J. Dill with a speed rush.
South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor had a strong session, winning three out of four of his reps. The first was a fast bull rush through Arkansas-Pine Bluff tackle Terron Armstead. Armstead then won the rematch as he rode Taylor around the pocket. A strong punch from Taylor and a cut to the inside defeated Dillon the third rep. Taylor finished his work by beating Dill again with a quick bull rush and shed block.
The 6-foot-8, 267-pound Taylor had a solid practice, but is a frustrating player. He clearly has the skill set to produce, but didn't turn that potential into impact plays at South Carolina. Taylor could be a mid-round pick who would fit best as a 3-4 defensive end to set the edge and occupy blockers.
One small-school defensive lineman who had a good day was Missouri Western State defensive end David Bass. He showed a nice repertoire of moves with some speed off the edge. Bass beat Memphis tackle Jordan Devey with a nice spin move. Bass then used speed around the corner to get by Jackson. Bass had a hard-fought draw with Massachusetts tackle Nick Speller, beating him in another rep. Bass may not play himself into a draft pick, but he could be earning a spot as an undrafted free agent.
Florida State defensive tackle Anthony McCloud had an active day. Stankiewitch stuffed a bull rush from him, but before that, McCloud rolled over Stankiewitch to get to the marker. McCloud held up well in run defense at the point of attack in the team scrimmage.
After the one-on-ones, the team broke into seven-on-sevens with the receivers and defensive backs, and nine-on-sevens. The East finished the scrimmage portion of practice with a full-team battle.
Louisiana Tech's Colby Cameron and Southeastern Louisiana's Nathan Stanley were the best quarterbacks of the day. Cameron lofted in a nice pass that was snatched with a great one-handed catch by Auburn receiver Emory Blake. Stanley connected on a deep out to North Carolina's Erik Highsmith for a good gain. The pass showed nice arm strength and ball placement.
Stanley showed nice mobility and threw well on the run while rolling out. In the red-zone scrimmage, he ran in a couple of touchdowns on perfectly executed read options from the 5-yard line.
Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein looked better on today, but still had some struggles. He had a well-thrown ball to Highsmith on a quick out, but followed that with a terribly inaccurate pass, which sailed out of bounds on a short dump off. Some scouts were laughing at the Wildcats signal-caller's poor throw.
Klein tossed a deep pass for Florida State wide receiver Rodney Smith, but it fell incomplete as he couldn't make a one-handed catch. Smith pushed away Vanderbilt cornerback Trey Wilson in a clear penalty, but the pass was poorly placed and should've gone high to allow Smith to use his 6-foot-6 advantage over the 5-foot-11 corner. Wilson did well defending the big receiver and slapped away a jump ball from Stanley on the previous play. Wilson has held his own through two days.
There were a few defenders who really stood out on Tuesday. Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges continues to impress. He was superb defending the run in the nine-on-seven and team scrimmage. Hodges showed speed to get to the perimeter and stuffed a run from Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy. Hodges was also physical in the box and plays with a chip on his shoulder.
Hodges had other good plays and worked his way into position repeatedly to stuff runs near the line of scrimmage. He has the talent to be a second-day draft pick, and it wouldn't be surprising if he is a late add to the Senior Bowl next week - if he wants to play in it and take the injury risk. Hodges probably won't need to, assuming he finishes an impressive week in St. Petersburg.
Two other linebackers had good days. Connecticut's Sio Moore and Florida State's Nick Moody each made his presence felt. Moody had a big hit on Stacy to stuff a run on the edge with Hodges just a hair behind him. Moody had some more tough contact near the line of scrimmage and other stops. He helped himself by standing out on Tuesday.
Moore had a good session on Monday and was equally good on Tuesday. He did a great job defending a read-option play and stuffing Stanley at the line of scrimmage. In a goal-to-go situation, Moore fired into the backfield to stop Stacy for a loss of a couple. Moore also did well in pass coverage in seven-on-sevens. He's really helped himself through two days.
Two safeties, Florida's Josh Evans and North Carolina State's Earl Wolff, stood out on Tuesday with nice performances. Wolff had a massive hit flying from the middle of the field to rock a running back on a perimeter run. It was the second straight day that he was impressive.
Evans had good coverage on Blake, but the Auburn wideout made a beautiful contested catch. That happened again against Boston College tight end Chris Pantale, but Evans was impressive with his ability to blanket those receivers and not allow separation.
Evans stood out during the team scrimmage as well with some good plays against the run. He has been one of the most impressive players on the East squad aside from Hodges. Evans could be playing himself into a mid-round pick.
There were a few other players who were noteworthy. Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham had a long touchdown run on a cutback to the right side. Clemson safety Rashard Hall took a bad angle that let Graham break free. Miami cornerback Brandon McGee had a strong day in coverage. He made a leaping interception in front of a receiver and returned it a long way for a possible touchdown. Graham and McGee looked better on Tuesday than they did on Monday.
Out of sheer boredom and the upcoming NBA draft has gotten me itching to make a new mock draft. Of course the NFL draft is a whole lot less predictable than the NBA draft, but also provides more success stories than the NBA draft. Again, I used schedules to determine each team's records and if you get upset with me just remember it's June and a whole lot can change by next April.