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East-West Shrine Game


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Here are some notes from the first practice:

TAMPA -- With dozens of prospects on a field together for the first time, the Monday practice sessions at all-star events are typically the toughest to digest.

For most players, it's their first exposure to pro coaching so a learning curve is expected. It's the progression that scouts will be look for during the course of the week.

NFL decision makers make note of early-week struggles and watch to see if players respond to coaching and show steady improvement.

As expected, it was the skill-position players who stood out on day one.

East practice

Physically, the most impressive quarterback on either roster is B.J. Coleman out of Tennessee Chattanooga. Not only did he weigh in at a solid 6-feet-3 and 234 pounds, but he also has the strongest arm of any quarterback here. Coleman's passes were all frozen ropes and he showed the ability to drive the ball downfield. He did struggle at times with his deep accuracy and showed raw fundamentals, but he really improved his footwork and passing stance throughout the day, doing a nice job of adhering to the techniques taught to him by coaches.

Florida quarterback John Brantley has an effortless throwing motion and throws a pretty ball, but he has a bad habit of putting all of his weight on his back foot and not staying balanced as he begins his delivery. He has a borderline draftable grade by most scouts, so this week of practice is extremely important for him.

Division II wide receiver Thomas Mayo out of California (PA) is an impressive athlete for his size (6-1, 207 pounds), showing quick acceleration off the line of scrimmage and getting downfield in a hurry. His footwork in and out of his breaks looks a bit raw, but there is a lot to like about Mayo's skill set and he could emerge as the best wideout in attendance. An FCS-level receiver with a good first day was Tennessee Tech's Tim Benford, who turned out to be a pleasant surprise. He showed his fearlessness in tight coverage with very good quickness and caught everything that came his way. Both of these small-school receivers are worth monitoring moving forward.

Teams looking for a poor man's Aaron Hernandez should take a long, hard look at Temple's Evan Rodriguez. He showed his versatility in practice, lining up outside the tackle on the line of scrimmage and also in the backfield. Rodriguez isn't very impressive physically, measuring a hair over 6-1 1/2 and 242 pounds, but he put his reliable hands on display with very good vision and focus to reel in tough catches. He is a smaller target and struggled in blocking drills, but Rodriguez is an intriguing pass-catcher.

On the downside, Michigan State's BJ Cunningham seemed to have more drops than receptions Monday. He doesn't have the natural burst or quickness to create much separation from defensive backs so a player with his average athleticism needs to be able to make consistent catches in traffic, something he struggled with. Cunningham has the smallest hands (8'1/4") among the East receivers and needs to do a better job this week securing the catch and proving he can be a dependable receiver.

Several small-school defensive backs flashed their talent, showing they belong here.

Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman used his size (6-feet 1/2-inch, 203 pounds) and length (32' 1/2" arms) to consistently make plays on the ball with impressive ball skills and confidence. I'm anxious to watch him the rest of the week. Other defensive backs from smaller schools who had positive performances include Micah Pellerin (Hampton) and Justin Bethel (Presbyterian).

West practice

The quarterbacks on the West squad were very underwhelming. Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish has enough size (6-1 1/2) and athleticism to warrant late-round consideration, but he showed Monday why scouts have concerns about his ability to throw downfield. His passes ranging from 5-to-15 yards were sharp, but he really struggled with throws over 15 yards -- a problem most quarterbacks coming from a spread, quick-strike offense often encounter.

A pair of Iowa prospects stood out. Despite measuring in at just 5-10 and 185 pounds, cornerback Shaun Prater showed off his quickness and short-area burst, getting his hands on a number of passes in 7-on-7 drills. He had a few dropped interceptions that he should have picked off -- and he knew it by the way he dropped to the ground and grinded out a few pushups following a drop.

On the other side of the ball, offensive lineman Markus Zusevics weighed in at 6-5 and 296 pounds with average arm length (33 inches), but his on-field temperament was full-go the moment he stepped onto the practice field. He did a nice job squaring his shoulders to rushers and displaying his raw strength and toughness. Zusevics had to be reminded repeatedly to keep his head and eyes up, but he's off to a good start.

Receivers Devon Wylie out of Fresno State and Arkansas' Jarius Wright don't look like much on the field, but both are quicker than fast, showing their coordinated footwork and body control in drills. They are players to keep an eye on as the week plays out.


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