Scouting the Shrine Game Football League

The real pre-draft jockeying began this week, with practice for the first of three college all-star games. The East West Shrine game kicks things off tomorrow at 3 p.m. at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

The Shrine Game is the oldest of the games (it has 62 NFL Hall of Famers – and Tom Brady and Brett Favre – as alumnus) and has coaching staffs the NFL helps put together. This year, the West coach is 21-year vet Marty Schottenheimer, who in 2004 was the NFL’s Coach of the Year. The seven Big East players in the game, meanwhile, have been put through their paces by Romeo Crennel, a five-time Super Bowl winner as an assistant coach.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock was kind enough to go over those seven prospects with me earlier. So, without further ado, here’s a look at the Big East players, what folks are saying about them down in Orlando and what their NFL prospects look like right now.

Connecticut Running Back Andre Dixon (6-0, 200)

Reports out of Orlando have identified a decent buzz about Dixon. CBS Sports’ Chad Reuter wrote that his quick feet have made him one of the week’s risers and the experts at DraftGuys.com highlighted his efforts in each of their daily practice reports. Mayock said that will all be very important as right now, “there are a bunch of running backs that kind of fit into the same mold as him. He has average speed and there’s nothing that really screams about him. It’s hard to distinguish yourself when you’re in that category.”

Dixon does have a strong first step, he runs with good pad level and his footwork has absolutely improved. He knows where and how to cut and his production this year (1,093 yards, 14 touchdowns) was irrefutable.

Projection right now: Fifth Round

Connecticut Defensive End Lindsey Witten (6-4, 250)

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay put Witten in his list of top players to watch at the Shrine Game. He called him the most fluid and athletic of the East squad’s linemen and commended his athleticism. Mayock said the same, noting Witten’s long arms, but both he and McShay questioned his ability to stop the run. McShay thinks he may be better pegged as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, Mayock disagrees and sees him as an end in a 4-3. It’s probably why he’s practiced only at end (Wisconsin end O’Brien Schofield has spent the week working at linebacker) in Orlando.

One more notable: Witten the younger brother of Donte Whitner, the Bills’ first round pick in 2006. Mayock said bloodlines aren’t irrelevant, if only because of the expectation that if parents raised one child to be hardworking, they likely did the same for the second.

Projection right now: Third Round

Pittsburgh Cornerback Aaron Berry (5-11, 180)

Berry is a two-time All-Big East pick, but he’s probably still on the cusp of draftables right now. He tipped a pass away from West Virginia’s Alric Arnett – who’s having a great week – Wednesday and that earned him a little buzz. He’ll need more of that without much separating him now.

Projection right now: Late Round/Free Agent

Pittsburgh Tight End Nate Byham (6-4, 240)

Mayock joked that if Byham and fellow Pitt tight end Dorin Dickerson – a Senior Bowl invitee – could fuse into one, “you’d have the ideal tight end.” Byham can catch and showed this year that he isn’t afraid to go get balls, but it’s his blocking that’s more notable; Mayock said he may be the best blocking tight end in the entire draft.

McShay wrote from Orlando this week that although Byham doesn’t come out of his blocks in any particularly notable way, he’s made crisp cuts and tracked the ball well. “He shows all the necessary skills,” McShay wrote, “to develop into a productive short-to-intermediate receiver.”

Projection right now: Fourth Round

Rutgers Offensive Tackle Kevin Haslam (6-7, 295)

Haslam suffered the double-edged sword of playing on Anthony Davis’ line: everyone saw him as they watched the sure first-rounder, but it’s hard to compare athletically when eyeballed next to Davis.

The fifth-year senior is also on McShay’s list of players to watch at Saturday’s game. He thinks Haslam could stand to put on a little weight and he likes that he has experience playing guard if teams would like to move him inside. The Sporting News’ Russ Lande said NFL scouts are still waiting to “figure out whether he has the footwork to protect the corner against NFL speed rushers.”

Projection right now: Fifth Round

South Florida Linebacker Kion Wilson (6-2, 235)

He had 95 tackles this year and Mayock said every time he popped in tape to watch South Florida’s superstar ends – Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie – Wilson kept getting in the way. “I like him,” Mayock said. “He’s a tough guy, he comes downhill hard and he plays hard.”

Wilson has great instincts, was an excellent run stopper this year and Scouts, Inc. said he also showed strong recognition skills in pass drills this past week.

Projection right now: Fifth/Sixth Round

West Virginia Wide Receiver Alric Arnett (6-2, 190)

Arnett is definitely faster than most receivers his size, but he’s also leaner and he came into this week with questions of whether he could effectively fight corners. “Arnett is the only receiver on this whole roster who can drive a defensive back off the ball,” Scouts, Inc. wrote this week. Now part of that may be Arnett’s wiles – he runs good quick slants and cuts sharply on angled routes.

He’s caught the ball well down in Orlando, he’s shown good hands and this whole year he proved he can stretch the field. He could very well rise these next few months.
Projection right now: Fifth/Sixth Round

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *