The 91st annual East-West Shrine Game takes place Saturday, but the action on the practice fields and at the team hotel--the beautiful Tradewinds Resort in St. Pete Beach--is already at a fever pitch.

Here are some practice notes from the Wednesday sessions, as well as general NFL scuttlebutt gathered from talking to, and shamelessly eavesdropping upon, the NFL cognoscenti and personnel in and around town.

East practice

Illinois RB Josh Ferguson was a standout on a sunny morning. He’s been a treat to watch in the passing game all week, both as a receiver and pass protector. Wednesday he showed some juice a runner too. On a couple of stretch runs, Ferguson was very quick to get the edge and turn it upfield (sprung once courtesy a crushing block by Arkansas State TE Darion Griswold). Once in the open field, the 5’9.5”, 195-pound Ferguson has some serious wheels.

Stony Brook DE Victor Ochi continues to humiliate anyone who dares try to block him. He is simply too fast off the snap and able to consistently clear his inside shoulder around the outside of the tackle. It’s a good thing for the East QBs he isn’t allowed to actually finish the sacks.


I asked a couple of NFL scouts where they expect Ochi to come off the board. They both independently expressed reservation with his lack of length (he’s 6’1”, though his arms are long) and the fact he’s pretty much limited to playing 3-4 OLB at just 244 pounds and relatively lacking strength to play in-line. Yet both also came back with the same basic answer: he’ll be gone before the 3rd round compensatory picks start.

Another guy making money this week is South Carolina State DT Javon Hargrave, he of the bubble butt.


Hargrave weighed in at 315 pounds, about 18 more than he played for the FCS-level Bulldogs. There is legit burst off the snap but also tremendous functional strength. He has a nice swim move but is also good at a rip/twist move to get off blocks versus the run that calls to mind Jared Odrick at his best.

Juston Burris, a defensive back from North Carolina State, made a solid impression. Burris showed some fluidity and ankle flexion in coverage, as well as a pretty quick change of direction and burst. Here’s a glimpse:

I was impressed with his size, ability to keep one eye on the ball and the other on the receiver. He has helped his stock by showing versatility and a strong football IQ. Being over six feet tall helps too.

There are a pair of Canadian collegians on the East, Charles Vaillancourt and Sean McEwen. The former is an offensive guard from Laval, while McEwen is a center from Calgary. They’ve both had their moments. Vaillancourt definitely has NFL caliber strength, but at 6’3” and with just 31” arms he’s on the squatter side. The hand placement and strength is solid, and he brings the intensity nicely. McEwen also has short arms at just 30” and it shows. He’s also lighter at under 300 pounds and doesn’t have the playing strength of his East pivot peers. Hargrave’s power just overwhelmed him, though he handled reach assignments pretty well. I suspect both wind up back in the CFL, but Vaillancourt at least deserves a long look in an NFL camp this summer.

Speaking of measurements which stood out…

UMass wideout Tajae Sharpe is 6’2”, which is nice length. However, his hands measured at just 7 ¾”. That’s tiny. I got a close-up look just to validate and the number seems legit. Here’s a pic that sort of shows it:


He’s had a great week otherwise, and the small hands have not hindered his ability to catch the ball. But this is a major flag; most teams don’t even consider wideouts with hands less than 8.75” and Sharpe is a full inch under that threshold.

Some East players who had a good day include:

  • Maryland RB Brandon Ross
  • Notre Dame WR Chris Brown, his best day by far
  • Vanderbilt TE Steven Scheu, with a leaping catch on the back line of the end zone
  • Penn State DT Anthony Zettel
  • Georgia Southern LB Antwione Williams
  • Miami S Deon Bush, standing out on special teams reps
  • Florida State DT Nile Lawrence-Stample, who got cheered on by former Seminole teammate Jameis Winston and Winston’s little dog too
  • Notre Dame DE Romeo Okwara, doing a fine job shedding and avoiding blocks 

West practice

The first 40 minutes or so were largely pointless, but then Head Coach June Jones finally turned loose the team drills and offense vs. defense positional stations too. Then we got to see some action!

Illinois WR Geronimo Allison continues to stand out, and the scouts and media are really taking notice. He made several great catches away from his body, and he showed good footwork for a longer wideout. Late in team drills he quickly flew across the field on a crossing pattern and reached way out to pluck a throw from Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty on the dead run and turned it into a TD. Then there was this beauty from Vernon Adams…

Another Big Ten guy who didn’t have a lot of success in the fall but has exploded onto the scene here is Minnesota LB Devondre Campbell. I’ve been particularly critical of him in work here and at Draft Breakdown, but all three days all this guy has done is turn heads and make plays. So I owned up to it when I talked to him after practice and he was gracious. He talked about feeling more comfortable playing in his home state and with only football to focus on.

Colorado OT Stephane Nembot continues to be a mixed bag. He’s very tall at 6’6.5” and a freakishly long 82” wingspan. At times he uses the outstanding length to his advantage, but he can be slow to coordinate his movements and allow defenders to get into his chest and control leverage. By my charting he “won” exactly half of his pit drill reps, and fared about the same in team drills. When he can land the initial punch and stay bent and balanced, he’s pretty darn good at walling off the edge.

It was a down day for Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld, who had some real positive momentum headed into the afternoon practice. Contrary to what others have reported, the zip on his throws is not impressive. IN fact, it’s nonexistent at times; he threw a deep ball which ultimately got picked off by Colorado CB Ken Crawley as it hung in the air. It darn near stopped in midair. He struggled with ball placement on shorter routes too, once again missing repeatedly on plays which required a low target. There was another botched handoff, not his first rodeo with that either. He doesn’t get the ball low enough, and that’s even with running backs Storm Woods and Daniel Lasco who are both at least 5’11”.

Utah LB Gionni Paul had some strong reps in the team session. He’s smaller than the safeties at just 5’9”, but he does not lack power. When he can hustle and flow behind the defensive line and then strike quickly at the ball, Paul looks great. He has shown cover skills, too. I highly doubt he gets drafted at that height but it’s worth it to see what he can do in training camp.

Bowling Green guard Alex Huettel and Illinois guard Ted Karras continue to dominate the West defensive line. Karras is so technically sound and has no real holes to his game. He’s just on the smallish side at 6’3.5” and 308 and is only an average athlete for the position. Huettel moves a little better but has short arms and small hands that will scare some teams.

Other Wednesday winners include:

  • Wisconsin FB Derek Watt, who caught the ball well in team sessions and then showed off his long snapping acumen just after practice. As the special teams coach gushed, if the FB doesn’t work out he can play longer in the NFL as a long snapper than his brother. You know, J.J. Watt…
  • Kentucky DT Cory Johnson, who has won at both end and tackle and isn’t shy about letting folks know he won his reps, either
  • Colorado CB Ken Crawley, who aside from the aforementioned INT showed excellent backpedal and transition technique and quick reactions
  • Purdue WR Danny Anthrop, fly traps for hands
  • Oregon DT Alex Balducci, stout in team drills
  • Southern Utah DE James Cowser, a repeat winner

And a couple of guys who are not helping themselves here…

  • Wisconsin OT Tyler Marz, on the business end of many of Cowser’s strong reps and generally clunky
  • Ohio State OG Chase Farris, who has managed to get into the coaching doghouse for whining after reps. He’s been repeatedly coached up to get his feet closer together, to punch with power, to put his back and hips into the block, pretty much everything.
  • Western Kentucky WR Jared Dangerfield, measuring in at just 6’1” after being listed at 6’3” and then dropping two passes, one of which was a money throw in the back of the end zone by Hilltopper teammate Doughty, who had his best day today

Random NFL tidbits

A lot of the fun of coming here is getting the dirt from folks on the inside. Here are some things said, heard and whispered around the practice fields and in the Tradewinds resort lobby…

--former Auburn WR Duke Williams will not be drafted. He’s not even listed as a prospect for several teams. As someone noted, “flags don’t get redder” than Williams has.

--the Chip Kelly hiring in San Francisco is raising several eyebrows. Several older coaches are frustrated that he’s getting another shot so quickly after his egomaniacal experiment in Philly went horribly wrong.

--the Eagles hiring Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator is widely seen as a strong move. I agree. Even though he largely failed as head coach in Detroit, Schwartz is a fantastic defensive mind and also the right kind of personality to forge a group of men into a cohesive unit.

--this is reading between some lines on my part, but expect both the Chargers and Raiders to have some trouble courting free agents with their home locations uncertain in the immediate future. It won’t matter as much at the top end, but the lower-level free agents don’t want to sign and have to pay to move again, and again. The idea of playing as lame ducks in a city is wildly unappealing to players, too.

--I tweeted this Monday night and it drew quite the reaction. A veteran NFL personnel man told me he strongly believes that if North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz has a strong performance at the Senior Bowl next week, he’s very likely to be drafted in the top 3 overall. When he saw the strong reaction, he reaffirmed his take to me on Tuesday and a scout from his team nodded in agreement.

--the reaction to Tampa Bay promoting Dirk Koetter to replace Lovie Smith is also quite positive. Koetter is well-liked but also respected for having fresh ideas. I cannot tell you how lowly peers regard the deposed Smith, a genuinely nice guy but a lousy head coach.

--look for several position coaches to change teams in the coming days, notably a couple of defensive line coaches and a running backs coach who could actually be getting hired about two tables away from me right now.