If you're feeling in need of a football fix today, given the fact that both NFL conference championship games are tomorrow, I highly suggest that you tune in to the 2011 East-West Shrine Game at 4 p.m. on NFL Network.
For those unfamiliar with this tradition, the East-West Shrine Game pits collegiate all-stars from schools in the Western United States against counterparts in the Eastern United States and all the while serves as one of the first major postseason scouting events for NFL clubs.
Like every other team in the league, the Colts will have their scouting staff at the game, making evaluations. They have already shown interest in Utah guard Caleb Schlauderaff, and this afternoon, fans might be able to ascertain -- or at least enjoy projecting -- which players will make their case to appear on the Colts' scouting radar.
After the jump, we'll preview this game from a Colts fan's perspective and give you some things to consider when you tune in this afternoon.
Historically, this contest has proved particularly valuable to the Colts. As BBS noted in a Stampede Blue conference call this week, the Colts love to utilize the game as a method for scouting Canadian players. How do we know this? In 2010, WR Jordan Sisco was invited to participate...the Colts picked him up in undrafted free agency. In 2008, WR Samuel Giguere was invited to participate...the Colts picked him up in undrafted free agency and stashed him on the practice squad for the year. In 2006, OT Daniel Federkeil was invited to participate...the Colts picked him up as a practice squad stash that eventually spent some time on the active roster. So while 2009 and 2007 ultimately proved to be quiet on the Canadian front, the Colts have shown a history of using the Shrine Game to scout Canadian players.
This year's Shrine Game features two Canadian invitations: WR Anthony Parker (Calgary) and OT Matt O'Donnell (Queens, Ontario.) We'll keep an eye out on both, as the Colts have shown interest in those positions from the Canadian crop in recent years.
The Colts have also shown interest in American players invited to play in this game. Last year, Javarris James and Blair White played for the East side and proved to be the only Shrine Game players to end up on the Colts' roster aside from Sisco (LT Chris Marinelli made a brief appearance when Charlie Johnson was injured in training camp, but couldn't stick) but that isn't to say that the game was lacking for rookie talent. A quick survey of last year's participants would turn up John Skelton (QB, Arizona), Rodger Saffold (LT, Indiana), Andrew Quarless (TE, Green Bay), Kam Chancellor (S, Seattle), Seyi Ajirotutu (WR, San Diego), T.J. Ward (S, Cleveland), Emmanuel Sanders (WR, Pittsburgh) and Alterraun Verner (CB, Tennessee), all of whom made significant contributions their rookie season.
Typically, the game doesn't attract the elite, top-of-the-first round talent, guys like Nick Fairley, Patrick Peterson, Da'Quan Bowers or A.J. Green, but in my experience, those guys are boring anyway. We know where they're going in the draft. In that sense, provided they stay intact between now and April, their stock is going to remain at the top. The East-West game is exciting for the same reason the NFL Scouting Combine is: it gives lesser-known prospects a chance to shine and improve their draft stock. It gives draft nuts ammunition for making that six millionth change to their mock draft, and it gives us a better idea of what kind of players constitute the 2011 NFL Draft class.
As far as 2011 prospects in the American pool, I thought we might want to keep an eye on the following players today:
- Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina: you can almost guarantee that the Colts shy away from this kid due to character concerns, but there will be no more talked about prospect playing today. Austin was once considered a top 15 prospect before he got caught up a recruiting schedule. He has a chance to 'wow' scouts and force them to downplay those character concerns in favor of acknowledging his talent. Austin will be an interesting player to watch in the broader NFL draft sense, not specifically for the Colts.
- Justin Rogers, CB, Richmond: the Colts need help at cornerback. That's my stance anyway. Jerraud Powers is a terrific talent who has been injured down the home stretch of his first two NFL seasons (though he did return to play, briefly, in last year's Super Bowl) and Kelvin Hayden seems destined to play about 10 games a season and call it quits. Justin Tryon proved to be a steal, but the Colts simply cannot rely on guys like Jacob Lacey and Cornelius Brown to play major minutes. They also have to continue their shift toward corners who can handle man coverage, who have the speed to run with receivers down the field and the ball skills that a guy like Powers possesses to break up passes. Rogers might be a player in that caliber. He's undersized, but has great speed and is also a weapon in the return game.
- David Sims, SS, Iowa State: Sims is an undersized safety who has proved to be a tackling machine. He had 17 tackles against Oklahoma last year. That's not a typo. He's hard-hitting and hard-working and should be of interest to an Indianapolis defensive backfield that was forced to start Aaron Francisco last year. At the very least, a guy like Sims would be helpful on special teams. I hate making draft prospects out to be more than they are -- I'm rarely confident enough about a player to claim he absolutely will make an NFL squad, much less make an impact -- but Sims at least seems to be in the mold of a player who could contribute for Indianapolis.
- Terrence Turner, WR, Indiana: never overlook backyard talent; it's too easy to scout. As an IU alum, I've, of course, seen all the IU prospects in this draft in game action. Turner made some waves with a surprisingly good senior season. Quiet most of his career, Turner exploded for 67 receptions for 681 yards and three scores for the pass-happy Hoosiers. Not eye-popping numbers, but Turner was the third receiver behind fellow draft prospect Tandon Doss and junior receiver Damarlo Belcher, and most of his receptions were critical, chain-moving types. Turner doesn't have blazing speed, but he has good size at 6-3 and is a possession-type receiver that's proven adept at moving the chains. I like IU prospects Doss, QB Ben Chappell and RT James Brewer much more, but Turner, as a backyard prospect, is at least worth watching.
- Brandon Bair, DT, Oregon: as the Colts look to potentially replace some departing DTs, Oregon's Bair could be answer. At 6-6 but only 272 pounds, Bair has a bit of an awkward build, but you can't argue the one thing the Colts value most: his productivity. Bair led the PAC10 in tackles for loss last year and plays with great leverage. SB Nation Atlanta identified him as one of three PAC10 players to watch as the NFL Draft approaches. Bair would not be the answer to the Colts' problems at DT, but could be a player in the build of Eric Foster that just plays with a good motor and forces his way into plays.
- Joseph Barksdale, LT, LSU: the Colts will obviously be taking a look at the OT ranks in this year's game, and Barksdale may be among the best of the participants. At 6-5, 315, Barksdale possesses tremendous athleticism and good footwork. He has long arms and is a great pocket protector because he's adept at riding defensive ends out of the play. Many NFL Draft sites are puzzled as to why Barksdale isn't rated higher than someone like Derek Sherrod. Barksdale was apparently perfect all week in Shrine Bowl practice and proved that he's game to play LT at the NFL level.
- David Carter, DT, UCLA: Carter is another player that had a tremendous week of practice, causing havoc in the backfield and beating blockers with startling consistency. At 6-5, 297, he seems to have an ideal build for a three-technique DL for the Colts and is currently being projected as a fifth or sixth rounder.
- Patrick DiMarco, FB, South Carolina: I only mention DiMarco for two reasons. First, it's rare that scouts actually rave about a fullback at Shrine Bowl practice, but DiMarco apparently had a very impressive showing both blocking for runningbacks and quarterbacks. Apparently he just destroyed some defensive linemen. And perhaps more importantly, the Colts are looking to take the run game in a different direction, or so excuses the firing of former running backs coach Gene Huey. Might they be considering writing a fullback into the playbook? A real fullback, not a defensive tackle convert? I think this very realistically could be a move the Colts are looking to make, and DiMarco might be the best fullback prospect in this draft, so you can see why he should spark interest.
- Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon: If you watched the BCS National Championship game, you heard announcers talking about how good a guy like Maehl would look at the next level with Peyton Manning throwing to him. And it's hard not to envision it. I hate to stereotype that all tough, white receivers end up as Colts, but Indy's roster speaks for itself sometimes. Maehl, like Austin Collie, is an extremely proficient route-runner who, despite lacking ideal speed, just finds a way to get open. I could easily see Maehl being on the Colts' board.