My week in St. Pete for the 94th annual East-West Shrine game is over. The West beat the East, 21-17, in a game pitting aspiring NFL draft prospects from all over against one another.
Here are my awards for the week of practices and the game.
Best Practice Player: Daniel Wise. From the first few individual reps on West practice on Monday, it was obvious Wise was here to chew bubblegum and kick butt, and he was all out of bubblegum. The Kansas defensive tackle made life miserable for the West OL all week. To his credit, Wise never took his foot off the gas in any rep, even drills on the side.
Mr. Congeniality: Montre Hartage. Standing on the sidelines during practices, it was impossible to not see how much respect his teammates had for the Northwestern cornerback. He was always encouraging, always helping guys up, always attentive to everything going on. There weren't any overly gregarious yappers this year, except maybe undersized McNeese State LB BJ Blunt.
Practice Play of the Week: Ulysees Gilbert blowing up a running back on Tuesday, firing through the A-gap and slamming the runner to the ground almost as soon as he took the handoff. An amazing play by the Akron linebacker. That just edges a pick-six from Kentucky CB Derrick Baity where he essentially took a pitch from Auburn WR Ryan Davis, who bobbled it right to him.
Biggest Disappointment: Easton Stick. The North Dakota State QB came in with a lot of hype from both fans and draft analysts, thanks in part to his winning pedigree and badass name. Unfortunately, the arm strength was visibly lacking throughout the week relative to the other QBs. When Stick tried to get something extra on the throws, his accuracy badly suffered. The increased speed of the defensive players was a problem for his touch/timing-based game.
Most Unheralded Player: Lamont Gaillard. Georgia's center quietly had himself a solid week in practices. Nothing flashy, nothing egregiously lacking. The NFL scouts here seemed a lot more intrigued by him than the draft media (myself included) expected. That was true of Illinois center Nick Allegretti, who played very well in the game, too.
The Gamer: Jordan Brailford. The first sack of the game went to Oklahoma State's lanky EDGE. He spun around San Diego State LT Ryan Pope like he wasn't even there and smashed Boise State QB Brett Rypien to the ground. On a subsequent drive he got another big lick on the QB after forcing an errant throw, then snuffed out a run on the same drive and later recovered a fumble. Brailford did not stand out in practice other than a couple of early-week reps, but he brought it once the stands were (half) filled.
Most improved from Monday to Saturday: Markus Jones. A D-II stud pass rusher from Angelo State, Jones did little to stand out in Monday's position matchups or Tuesday's early West team drills. But the 6-3, 258-pound edge kept grinding and found his footing by the end of that second practice. Jones looked lively and powerful on Wednesday, and he played well in the game too.
First Shrine Game player drafted: Oli Udoh. Ask 10 different draft analysts this question and you get 8 different answers. That's exactly what I did, and Udoh was one of two players (Terry Godwin the other) who got multiple mentions. The Elon offensive tackle has the central casting size and movement skills for NFL teams to work with. He does indeed need the work, but his solid performance earned him one of the few callups to the Senior Bowl. Those are almost always the result of NFL GMs asking to see more. In a bad tackle class, Udoh can hear his name in the top 100.