The third day of practice for the East-West Shrine Game was held in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday under sunny skies with temperatures in the low 80s. The East team was in shells (helmets, shoulder pads and shorts) and had a physical practice.
The offensive linemen had their best showing of the week by far on Wednesday. The defensive linemen seemed to be a step ahead on the first two days, but today was a completely different story. The offensive line generally got the better of their opponents the one-on-one battles.
A number of offensive linemen had improved showings on Wednesday. That group included James Madison's Earl Watford and Rutgers tackle R.J. Dill. Watford had an impressive win against Georgia Tech tackle Izaan Cross as the latter was driven outside of the pocket. Dill did well against Missouri Western State's Davis Bass, a pass-rusher who was impressive on Tuesday. Princeton defensive end Mike Catapano had some good battles with Dill.
One of the best interior linemen this week has been South Carolina center T.J. Johnson, and he had a good practice on Wednesday. Johnson (6-5, 315) had some good battles with Florida State tackle Anthony McCloud. In the nine-on-seven run-scrimmage portion of practice, Johnson rode McCloud (6-2, 322) into the ground to blast open a hole for Temple running back Montel Harris to get a touchdown run.
Johnson was tenacious as he was blocking through the whistle. That led to a near fight with a couple of defenders midway through practice, but scouts have spoken highly of Johnson this week. He is playing himself into a third-day pick and is a sleeper center prospect who could be worth developing.
A college teammate of Johnson's, defensive end Devin Taylor, flashed during the team-scrimmage session. On the first snap, he beat the tackle with a speed rush to have a potential sack of quarterback Nathan Stanley. Taylor busted behind the line on the next play to stuff a run for a tackle for a loss.
Taylor had other plays on which he applied pressure. Taylor has had a good week overall, but he flashed in his college career without much production to match his athletic potential. Still, Taylor helped himself toward being drafted at the East-West Shrine.
The tight ends stood out on Wednesday, too. Rutgers' D.C. Jefferson and New Mexico's Lucas Reed had good sessions to finish quality weeks.
Jefferson worked his way wide open in the end zone, but quarterback Colby Cameron managed to badly overthrow the pass to the mammoth tight end. Another bad throw from Collin Klein led to an incompletion on a potential touchdown for Jefferson, who had a mismatch against a smaller defensive back in the corner of the end zone. However, terrible ball placement Klein's part resulted in an incompletion.
Reed made one of the best plays of the day on a touchdown reception. He ran a corner post and had a step on Clemson safety Rashard Hall. The pass was slightly underthrown and Hall got a piece of it, but Reed made a great adjustment to snatch the deflected ball and take off down the field for a 35-yard score.
The younger brother of Texans linebacker Brooks Reed, Lucas Reed has really helped himself this week since New Mexico was incapable of throwing the ball in 2012. That resulted in him not seeing many touches as a senior. Reed (6-6, 255) could get consideration for the mid-rounds, but should at least be drafted.
The other tight end who made his presence felt on Wednesday was Boston College's Chris Pantale. He connected with Klein for a touchdown on a quick slant in the seven-on-seven session. Pantale beat South Florida cornerback Kayvon Webster badly. Pantale's second touchdown catch came after he found a soft spot in zone coverage. Sources told WalterFootball.com that the Ravens are interested in Pantale in the late rounds.
With the offensive line and tight ends having a good day, the running backs benefitted from some good blocking. Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham had a nice touchdown run on a cutback with a giant hole. He ran the ball well aside from a play on which Izzan Cross made a good tackle in the backfield on a screen pass.
Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy had a long run after cutting to the backside. He also had a touchdown run after Massachusetts tackle Nick Speller had a great kick out block on Bass.
Two defensive backs really stood out on Wednesday. One was Georgia's Branden Smith. He had a nice pass breakup on a sideline out route. Smith showed a good burst to break on the ball. He followed that up with a quick stop on Virginia Tech wide receiver Corey Fuller on a swing pass. Late in the team-scrimmage session, Smith chased down an overthrow along the sideline to make a nice interception. He flew over in zone coverage with a good-hands catch.
Miami cornerback Brandon McGee did well for the second straight day. He had good coverage in the one-on-one's and the team scrimmage. McGee (6-0, 197) has a nice combination of size, speed and athleticism. He definitely has helped himself this week. McGee could be a nice value in the fourth or fifth round.
There were a few other prospects worth mentioning for their Wednesday performances. North Carolina wide receiver Erik Highsmith played well. He had a good run off a bubble screen and beat Vanderbilt cornerback Trey Wilson for a touchdown catch on a jump ball. Wilson could've had an interception later in the day, but didn't turn to locate the pass thrown short of Florida State receiver Rodney Smith. Wilson should've read Smith's hands to make a play on the ball.
Klein had his best practice of the week in large part because he ran the ball well. He had 15-yard touchdown run on a read-option play like he ran frequently at Kansas State. Klein had another touchdown run in the goal-line scrimmage.
Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis has been excellent all week. He has showed off a booming leg and has been making field goals from beyond 50 yards with ease. Stugis drilled a 54-yarder with plenty to spare yesterday and then was good on kicks from 54 and 57 today. He has a consistent motion and a powerful leg. Sturgis looks worthy of a draft pick in April.