The first day of the East-West Shrine practices started a lot like every other football practices does in this state of Florida.
It was hot.
After acclimating a bit to the Florida heat – remember, a lot of these guys aren’t from the south – the players began to really settle into not only their environment, but also their coaching.
The point of these little All-Star events is to see how each player responds to something new. Most of these players have been learning from the same coaches in the same system for the last three or four years. When you can throw them around players and coaches they’ve never seen or heard before, that’s when you really get the chance to see pure talent stand out. How each player performs outside of a familiar system, as well as how well they retain coaching in just a few short days is what NFL scouts, coaches and general managers come to observe and make note of. And, yes, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht was at both practices today watching the prospects himself, along with members of his scouting staff and also a handful of coaches.
The first day is all about standing out. It’s the chance to let real athletic ability shine. You can’t be too critical (if at all) on these guys on the first day for getting confused on assignments, gaps or even coaching tips, but when it comes to natural ability, day one is where players separate themselves from the rest of the pack. There were a few players from both the East and the West who already took steps in the right direction in terms of boosting their draft stock for certain teams.
Florida Atlantic defensive end Trey Hendrickson was my top takeaway player of the day for the East team. Not only did he physically look the part at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, but when he got up to the line for one-on-one drills, his motor was going at 110 percent (and it was noticed by many).
As seen in the video above, Hendrickson was giving offensive linemen fits all day. He was successful with both inside and outside moves, but really gave it to Michigan OT Erik Mgnuson on this one with a great spin.
This time Hendrickson beat Joseph Dieugot inside. Coaches loudly praising Hendrickson's effort every rep. Some team's going to fall in love. pic.twitter.com/lPtEsp57ks
In the next clip above, Hendrickson again won to the inside due to the offensive lineman being scared to get beat around the edge. When Hendrickson saw OT Joseph Dieugot’s shoulders open up, he quickly moved left with an inside step, and did a nice job of ripping his arm up to make sure Dieugot couldn’t get any kind of leverage.
Hendrickson’s name already had some buzz coming into the week. The three-year starter had 29.5 sacks and 41 tackles for loss during his college career. I think a lot of teams took notice of him today, if they hadn’t already.
Whitfield was another player who I thought had a pretty nice day.
With all the athleticism he possesses, if he didn’t stand out on the day where guys are usually just trying to get their bearings, I would have been a bit worried, but he did.
In the clip above, Whitfield wins on a route you’re going to see a lot form him if he’s ever going to be a real offensive piece in this league. We know he can be a dynamic kick returner, but in order to play offense, he’s going to have to master quick separations form the slot in instances like the one above. There was no push off or contact even made by Whitfield because he knew he didn’t need it. That’s what we wanted to see from him today and he showed it.
MICHAEL ROBERTS, TE, TOLEDO
Roberts got a head start on winning the day after Ourlads scout Dan Shonka reported Roberts’ hand size of 11 and 5/8 inches was the largest of any player at the Shrine Event. With that official measurement in mind, it makes sense that he was able to lead the country in touchdowns for a tight end this season with 15.
Toledo TE Michael Roberts almost brings in a really nice catch. Couldn't quite hang on. Athletic effort, though. pic.twitter.com/gzIZD8v3GH
Roberts’ athleticism with his body size jumps right out at you the moment you watch him. The West team is going to use him a lot in mismatch situations during the game this Saturday, and that’s the same way he’ll be used in the NFL.
In the clip above, he put some of that athleticism on display. Though he didn’t reel in the catch to completion, he was able to fully turn his body around in the air and still snatch it out of the air. He and USC tight end, Taylor McNamara, had a solid first day for the West team.
Roberts was getting plenty of after-practice interviews with NFL teams, too.
The 6-foot-3, 265-pounder, Avery Moss, started three games for Nebraska as a redshirt freshman, registering 36 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 4.5 sack. However, after being banned from campus and eventually the Cornhuskers football team following a public indecency charger in 2012, Moss transferred and followed his Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini to Youngstown State.
In his final season at Youngstown State, Moss recorded 11 sacks and 14 tackles for loss with four forced fumbles.
Knowing all that, it now makes more sense why a guy from Youngstown State looked that explosive off the edge in the clip above.
Moss was a force in every drill he participated in. He flashed quite a few times, and was getting by almost every lineman he faced. He was definitely trying to showcase his speed of the snap today, but just needs to make sure his footwork stays right while doing that so he’s not going off balance when he finishes like in the first clip above. If he can do that, he’ll get plenty of looks this week, including from the Bucs.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org