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East-West Shrine Game Recap, Notes, Observations

The 2017 East-West Shrine Game was largely a defensive struggle.

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NCAA Football: East-West Shrine Game
East Team defensive end Trey Hendrickson (99) and West Team running back Eli McGuire (1) pose for a photo as Hendrickson is the defensive player of the game and McGuire is the offensive player of the game of the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field. West Team defeated the East Team 10-3.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 East-West Shrine Game was a matchup with little to offer in the way of offense. The offensive lines for each squad were not very good, and the quarterbacks were worse. This usually makes playing offense rather difficult.

The West team defeated the East by a score of 10-3 in a game that saw a combined total of 14 punts.

The West squad got off to a fast start with a 37-yard pass downfield to Samford wide receiver Karel Hamilton followed immediately by a 35-yard gallop by Utah running back Joe Williams. However, things quickly stalled as the team failed to convert a 4th and 1 at the East two-yard line.

The West forced a quick three-and-out to get the ball back in East territory and emerged with a field goal. After trading three-and-outs, the East answered back with a field goal of their own to tie the game at 3-3.

After a lengthy series of punts, turnovers-on-downs, and missed field goals, the West finally put together a touchdown drive. Hamilton got the West moving again with another catch downfield, this time going low to pluck the ball out of the air and managing to keep it off the turf.

Three plays later, Louisiana-Lafayette running back Eli McGuire finished off the drive with an 18-yard scamper to the house for the game’s only touchdown.

The East tried furiously to mount a comeback, taking over possession at the West’s 13-yard line after Gabe Marks muffed a punt. However, a fumble by Michigan running back De’Veon Smith gave the ball right back to the West with just over five minutes to play.

The East would have one more chance, but Drake tight end Eric Saubert couldn’t haul in a tough catch just across midfield on 4th and 3 with 42 seconds left. West quarterback Zach Terrell did the kneel-down honors and finished the game.

Overall, the defensive lines of each team completely overwhelmed the offensive linemen matched up across from them. This made it difficult for the running backs to find room to run and for the quarterbacks to find time to throw.

Despite the relative lack of offense, there were a few players that stood out on both sides of the ball. Below, my observations...

  • DeAngelo Brown, DT, Louisville: Brown was getting constant penetration, disrupting numerous plays in the backfield. He was responsible for the 4th down stop on the game’s opening drive, and I noticed him making plays in the backfield on multiple occasions.
  • Deatrich Wise, Jr., DE, Arkansas: Wise is a big kid who looks the part of an NFL defensive end. Listed at 6’6”, 270 lbs, Wise was making trouble all game and even had a strip-sack the East were fortunate to recover.
  • Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic: Sticking with defensive ends, Hendrickson generated buzz during the week of practices, and he continued to stand out in Saturday’s game, even recording a strip-sack of his own. He was disruptive all afternoon and wound up winning the game’s defensive player of the game award.
  • Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA: As a Titans fan, if there is one name to know from the Shrine Game, I think the name to remember is Fabian Moreau. The 6-ft, 200-lbs corner may have been the best overall prospect to play in the Shrine Game. He was sticky in coverage, demonstrating patience, fluidity, and good feet. On one play, Moreau showcased his discipline by not biting on a fake, resulting in a coverage sack for his defense. He was frequently around the ball, getting his hands on a couple of passes, and showed great effort to make a special teams tackle from behind on a punt return. Moreau started his final 40 games for the Bruins, and his week of practice for the Shrine Game earned him an invitation to next week’s Senior Bowl. Daniel Jeremiah even said during the game: “I’m not going to be shocked if Moreau goes in the first round.”
  • Nate Hairston, CB, Temple: Hairston reportedly impressed coaches and scouts during practices by being a tenacious competitor. He played pretty well on Saturday, doing a good job of sticking with his man. He broke up a pass in the end zone and had a really nice special teams tackle on a punt return. Hairston plays very physical - maybe too physical downfield, and he is grabby. He’ll have to work on getting his head around, as he had great coverage on Hamilton’s big catch to start the game but never made a play on the ball and allowed the 37-yard catch downfield.
  • Kermit Whitfield, WR, Florida State: The speedy Whitfield was one of the most prolific players in Saturday’s game, garnering many targets despite only hauling in three passes. The 5’8” receiver lined up in the backfield on a few occasions and flashed his speed on a few punt return opportunities. He needs to be more consistent making catches, but there’s no doubt about his electric abilities with the ball in his hands.
  • Karel Hamilton, WR, Samford: As I mentioned, Hamilton made two very nice catches downfield. He didn’t have much separation on either play, but he showed good concentration and excellent hands.
  • Austin Carr, WR, Northwestern: Carr was almost exclusively a slot receiver at Northwestern, utilizing his speed and precise route-running to beat both man and zone coverage. He is a shifty player that Pro Football Focus graded as the top receiver in the nation. According to PFF, Carr was one of the nation’s more sure-handed receivers with a drop rate of 10th-best drop rate of just 4.26. He only had two catches for 19 yards on Saturday, but he demonstrated the crisp route running that allowed him to lead the Big 10 in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns with 90 catches for 1247 yards and 12 touchdowns. This is another player to put a star next to, as I believe Robinson could target a slot receiver to replace Kendall Wright in the back half of the draft.
  • Trey Griffey, WR, Arizona: Griffey doesn’t have much college production; he only started 6 games his first two years and then was injured for much of his junior season, recording just 11 receptions in 6 games. However, Griffey looked good hauling in three catches for 34 yards today. He is a big player with soft hands who runs smooth routes. He showed good awareness working back to the ball on one play. Daniel Jeremiah and Mike Mayock of NFL Network said scouts have praised Griffey’s work ethic, attitude, and ball skills.
  • Javancy Jones, LB, Jackson State: A late addition to the East roster, Jones flashed some natural instincts and played pretty well at a position mostly unfamiliar to him. Jones made a strong impression and could development into a solid inside linebacker and good special teams player at the next level.
  • Victor Salako, OG/T, Oklahoma State: Salako played offensive tackle for Oklahoma State, but he was lined up at guard on Saturday. While neither offensive line played particularly well, Salako made a nice block to spring Joe Williams’ early 35-yard run.
  • Geoff Gray, OG, Manitoba: Gray played offensive line at Canadian college Manitoba. Gray was a Canadian university first-team all-star as well as a Canada West all-star and its top lineman this year. Manitoba's offense averaged 34.5 points, 487.1 total yards and 333.1 yards passing per game. Gray is a better run blocker than pass protector at this point, but he is strong at the point of attack and could develop into a starting-caliber guard. He had a key block to spring Eli McGuire’s touchdown run.
  • Eli McGuire, RB, Louisiana-Lafayette: McGuire ripped off a number of impressive runs on Saturday, including the only touchdown scored by either team. He displayed an impressive stop-start ability, ran with patience and vision, and used his feet well to avoid tacklers in the backfield before exploding with good burst. McGuire was named the offensive player of the game, finishing with 7 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown.
  • Dare Ogunbowale, RB, Wisconsin: Another running back who showed good patience, vision, and burst was Wisconsin’s Ogunbowale. Ogunbowale did lose a fumble on his way to 8 carries for 42 yards. Both of these West running backs made things happen when the offensive line wasn’t creating much space.
  • Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo: The senior tight end from Toledo had a good day catching the ball with a couple of nice runs-after-catch. On one play, Roberts demonstrated a nasty stiff arm, running through three defenders to pick up nine yards. Roberts is a talented pass-catcher who led the nation with 16 touchdown receptions in 2016, though he is a bit raw as a blocker.
  • Taylor McNamara, TE, USC: McNamara is a solid blocker with pretty good athletic ability as a pass catcher. Primarily an H-back/blocking tight end at the next level, he could fit nicely with the Titans in the “Craig Stevens” role, or as a replacement for Anthony Fasano if he doesn’t re-sign with the Titans.

It wasn’t all pretty, however. There were two players that had many scouts and members of the media excited after the Shrine Game practices who were rather disappointing in the big game.

  • Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State: The favorite receiver of many, Marks was billed as a sure-handed, technical route-runner with good quickness but limited overall athleticism. Marks found himself open on a few occasions but was guilty of dropping multiple passes and even had a costly fumble on a muffed punt at his own 13-yard line. Marks did show good burst on an 8-yard pickup on an end-around, but overall he did not have a good game.
  • Eric Saubert, TE, Drake: The Drake tight end was another who received rave reviews from the practice sessions, but when the real game kicked off, Saubert was not as exciting as many had hoped. He was held without a catch, was guilty of a false start, and was pushed into the backfield trying to block on numerous running plays. Saubert had a chance to make a 4th-down catch and keep the East’s comeback drive hopes alive, but he couldn’t reel in the ball. He did find himself open downfield on a couple of occasions, but his quarterbacks missed him.

With the Shrine Game concluded, the next big event on the scouting circuit (Saturday’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl notwithstanding) is the Senior Bowl. Practices begin early next week, and the game itself will be played on Saturday, January 28th.