The 89th East-West Shrine practice week officially kicked off Monday afternoon at Shorecrest Prep in St. Petersburg when former Atlanta Falcons head coach, and East team coach Jerry Glanville led his team on the high school football field.
Under partly cloudy skies and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, the East team began the week under the watchful eye of representatives from every NFL team, plus some from the CFL and Arena League. Spotted in attendance were former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and numerous front office executives from around the NFL.Tampa Bay Director of College Scouting Eric Stokes represented the Buccaneers along with scout Byron Keifer.
Also spotted was former Bucs offensive lineman James Lee who played in the CFL last season. Lee spoke highly of the hiring of Lovie Smith to coach the Buccaneers and said from the players he has spoken to, they all seem to be very excited to have Smith as their new coach.
The Shrine game isn’t the top senior all-star game, that distinction still belongs to the Senior Bowl (PewterReport.com will be in Mobile next week), but still offers a glimpse of some of the best – and at times overlooked – talent from the college ranks. Last year’s game produced Zac Stacy from Vanderbilt who ended the season as the Rams starting running back, and the year before saw an unheralded and deemed too slow running back by the name of Alfred Morris.
The East team quarterbacks, Northern Illinois Jordan Lynch, Eastern Illinois Jimmy Garoppolo and Cornell’s Jeff Mathews didn’t look very sharp at times, but of course this was their very first day trying to pick up the new offense. Of the three, Garoppolo showed the strongest arm of the trio, particularly on the 15-yard outs. Garoppolo throws a very tight spiral that gets to the target quickly. Heisman finalist Lynch held his own on Monday and looked in command despite numerous false starts and offsides by both offensive and defensive lines. Mathews (6-4, 229 pounds) has the look and physique of an NFL quarterback and was probably the one who looked most comfortable, although Garoppolo appears to have the early lead on being the starter in Saturday’s game based on the number of first team reps he received Monday.
Glanville apparently doesn’t believe in wasting time and the practice was fast paced and intense. Offensive guru June Jones is an offensive assistant and the East offense worked out of the pistol formation for the most part on Monday. Taking the majority of the first team reps at running back was Tennessee’s Rajion Neal. The former Volunteer ran hard and showed toughness and even a burst to get outside a times. Neal, who led Tennessee in rushing in 2013 with 1,124 and added 12 touchdowns, is a player to watch, especially when the pads come on Tuesday.
Northern Arizona running back Zachary Bauman was another running back that stood out on Monday. The 5-10, 200-pounder showed an impressive burst and vision, something that had several scouts raving about on the sidelines during Monday’s practice.
Another player who flashed on Monday was Coastal Carolina’s Matt Hazel. Hazel showed a good ability to adjust to the ball and also good hands. Miami’s Allen Hurns was very crisp in his route running but made a big blunder in the 9-on-7 drills when he went up high for a pass, but instead of attacking the ball at the high point, let it come to him and tried to made a bread basket catch. The ball slipped through his hands and body and drew an audible groan from scouts in attendance, prompting one NFL to scout to mumble, “Hurns, you have to go get that ball.”
Defensively it was hard to make many impressions from Monday’s practice without the ability to actually tackle players but two defensive linemen did show some glimpses that made scouts take notice. Purdue’s Bruce Gaston Jr. was relentless in the pas rush drills and physically pounded an offensive guard who was trying to block him at one point and West Virginia’s Will Clarke made the most of his 6-foot-7 frame and long arms to get around the right tackle on a number of occasions.
Featured Player Of The Day- Tennessee RB Rajion NealNeal got a lot of the work early in the day and showed some flashes that had to make the coaching staff smile. Neal led the Volunteers in rushing 1,124 yards and started all 12 game in Knoxville his senior season. Neal had one of his best games of his career against No. 6 Georgia, rushing for 148 yards.
The East-West game has produced a number of NFL running backs, like the Rams’ Zac Stacy, something that isn’t lost on Neal.
“As a competitor you keep up with different things like that and it is always great to be the company of players of that caliber,” Neal said. “Stacy being an SEC back, from a rival of mine (Vandy) you definitely want to compete but also you want to come here and represent for your team and some of the former guys that played in this game.”
Seeing Glanville and Jones on the sidelines is something that Neal will carry for a lifetime the Georgia native told PewterReport.com following Monday’s workout.
“Honestly it is a privilege because I guarantee, if I make it or not, or some of these other guys, we probably won’t be able to say they have been coached by guys of this caliber,” Neal said. “Honestly I am happy to be here and enjoy it. I want to make the most of it and display my talents.”
The East team will be back on the field at Shorecest Prep Tuesday morning at 9:40 in full pads. The practice is open to the public.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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