Observations From The 2011 Shrine Bowl

The 2011 East-West Shrine Game concluded with the East winning 25 to 8 over the West.  It's a score nobody will remember and few will particularly care about, and it was hardly a game that will be chronicled in football history.  But, as is the case with all Shrine Games, it was still a significant event for NFL scouting departments and prospective NFL players.

Obviously, the bigger draw will be next Saturday's Senior Bowl.  The 2011 Senior Bowl will feature almost every player you've heard projected to the Colts with their first-round pick: Gabe Carimi, Stephen Paea, Nate Solder, etc.  In terms of high-profile players, the Senior Bowl certainly boasts a more impressive roster than the Shrine Bowl.

But, as I mentioned in my Shrine Game preview, the Shrine Bowl still features legitimate NFL talent and has historically been a significant draw for the Colts' scouting department in particular.

After the jump, I'll offer some of my suggestions - as a Colts fan - from Saturday's collegiate all-star game.

1.  Caleb Schlauderaff had a solid day on a disastrous line.

BBS confirmed that the Colts were showing interest in Utah guard Caleb Schlauderaff in Shrine Bowl practices, so naturally he was a player to watch on Saturday.  The West offensive line struggled to even slow the East pass rush, but none of that was on Schlauderaff.  From my initial analysis, Schlauderaff held up remarkably well in pass protection.  The vast majority of the East's pressure came from the right side of the line, specifically targeting right tackle Matt O'Donnell from Queens, Calgary.  Schlauderaff, playing left guard for most of the game, held up well in pass protection.  In the run game, though, Schlauderaff seemed to be a non-factor.  He didn't get pushed back, but he didn't provide much push either.

Overall, Schlauderaff struck me as your typical Indianapolis interior lineman: much better in pass blocking than run blocking.  It's a bit early to project his draft status; I haven't seen any sites listing him, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say he'll be slotted from the seventh round into undrafted free agency.

2.  To little surprise, Marvin Austin dominated.

Austin, a North Carolina defensive tackle who was dismissed from the team for his involvement in a messy agent situation, absolutely took this game over.  He created havoc up the middle for the entire afternoon, drawing multiple blockers and freeing up other players to tally sacks.  Austin also had a fumble recovery for a touchdown.  He was all over the place and the West offensive line absolutely could not block him.

The Colts will have an interesting decision to make with Austin, particularly if they trade down from 22.  As a general rule of thumb, the Colts avoid any player with red flags in the character department, and you would certainly think being dismissed from a football team would be one gigantic red flag.  But Austin is absolutely first-round talent -- he was being touted as one of the top defensive tackles in the nation prior to his dismissal from the Tar Heels' program -- and the Colts could certainly use a player of his caliber in the defensive trenches.  Further, as far as I can find, the recruiting scandal is the only knock against him.  He doesn't have any arrests or past violations that I can find on a quick Google search, so it leaves the Colts with an interesting question: are the concerns around Austin, a top defensive talent at a position of need, significant enough to drop him from their draft board?

3.  Purdue TE Kyle Adams had the best outing of any local prospect.

Adams provided a beautiful seal block for the East's first touchdown, a downhill scamper by Syracuse RB Delone Carter, and that was just a sign of things to come.  For the rest of the afternoon, any time the East ran off tackle with Adams in the game, he was there absolutely stonewalling a defender.  The former Boilermaker also showed some nice hands on his lone reception of the evening, plucking the ball out of the air.  

I don't know that there is a major need for another blocking tight end on the roster with Brody Eldridge already on the team, but Adams showed well regardless of whether or not his skills interest the Colts.  Other local prospects on display were WR Terrance Turner from Indiana and CB Darrin Walls from Notre Dame.  It's difficult to make an assessment of any wide receiver in this game because the quarterbacks were constantly pressured and rolling out, so I can't say much for Turner other than noting one nice hands grab he had to move the sticks on a 15-yard comeback route.  Walls also had solid coverage on one play I can recall, but didn't appear to be either burned or ballhawking on the afternoon, so he was relatively quiet.  Still, the Colts like Notre Dame defensive backs, they've brought more than a few into the facility over the years, so don't be surprised to see Walls around 56th Street at some point.

4.  More than a few special teams prospects were unearthed.

Let's face it: most of the players in this game won't ever start a game in the NFL.  This game isn't necessarily about unearthing starters, but NFL players.  Especially guys who can step in and make plays on special teams.  And I don't know if you've heard or not, but the Colts could certainly use some help on their coverage units.  Yes, even when healthy.

I thought a few players stood out in particular in terms of just making plays regardless of their measurables.  Linebacker Eric Gordon out of Michigan State, who has started the most games at linebacker in Spartan history, could be a special teams find for someone.  Erroneously projected as a safety for this game, Gordon insisted on staying at linebacker and did nothing but produce at that position, as he did all season.  I think he's certainly a legitimate special teams prospect.  

A few safeties also stood out.  I noted Iowa State SS David Sims as a player to watch for the game, and he had a few nice plays in the box on the afternoon.  Ohio State SS Jermale Hines was very similar, and also projects as either an in-the-box safety or SAM linebacker (if bulked up.)  Both prospects strike me as solid special teams players who can tackle well even if they lack in coverage skills and/or foot speed.

Perhaps the most visible player on the night, though, was Boise State linebacker Winston Vernable.  I saw Boise State play a handful of times this season and Vernable made noise every time.  Again, this is a player that probably doesn't have a future as an NFL starter and won't be mistaken for Patrick Willis any time soon, but he's just a fundamentally-sound, playmaking linebacker.  Sometimes, you just have to invest in good football players.  Vernable is one of those.

Finally, Idaho SS Shiloh Keo had a beautiful blocked extra point, prompting one of the announcers (forget who) to claim: "he reminds me of Jamie Silva."  

5.  Draft stock was impacted both positively and negatively in this game.

I suppose that's a "no duh" statement, but here's a look at players I feel improved their draft stock and players that may have hurt it.

Rising are the aforementioned Adams, Austin, Carter and Vernable.  Addiitonally, a few players that helped themselves on the afternoon were P Ryan Donahue (Iowa), ILB Greg Lloyd (Connecticut), OLB Josh McNary (Army), DT Olong Ogbu (Penn State), OT Jah Reid (UCF), DT Brandon Bair (Oregon), DE Bruce Miller (UCF), CB Korey Lindsey (Southern Illinois), OLB Dontay Moch (Nevada) and CB Brandyn Thompson (Boise State.)

Moch, for the record, was said to have run a 4.19 forty at his 2010 Pro Day.  We all know that Pro Day numbers tend to be fudged, but if even remotely true, that's incredible for a DE/OLB.

Guys who hurt their chances were: RB Graig Cooper (Miami), QB Jerrod Johnson (Texas Tech), RT Matt O'Donnell (Queens, Calgary), QB Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech), RG Andrew Jackson (Fresno State) and RB Alex Green (Hawaii.)

It almost feels like a stretch to say that Taylor hurt his draft stock when he just proved to be the player scouts have always thought he was.  He's not a legitimate NFL QB prospect.  But two of those listed players who really took a chainsaw to their chances were Johnson and O'Donnell.  Johnson had a bad senior year and followed it up with a sloppy, turnover-prone Shrine Bowl.  O'Donnell only received an invite because of his intriguing build (he's 6-11), but proved completely overwhelmed by collegiate talent.

6.  Canadian players didn't do much to distinguish themselves.

I talked about the Colts' tendencies to use the Shrine Game as a chance to evaluate Canadian talent in the game preview, but unless the team has overwhelming evidence to offset this performance, or unless they really value Canadian game tape, this may very well be one of the "off' years for Canadian Shrine Bowl talent.

I already talked about O'Donnell's stock-shredding performance, but the other Canadian player, WR Andrew Parker (Calgary) was largely invisible as well.  As I said before, it's difficult to evaluate WR talent in this game and no receivers really stood out.  But obviously if you don't do anything, you don't improve your chances either.  If the Colts express any interest in Parker, it's because their scouting services within America's Hat have already seen enough of his play to warrant further examination.

7.  Ryan Donahue had the play of the night.

After a bad snap, the former Hawkeye punter was able to gather the ball, sidestep the rush, scramble toward the sideline and barely get off a rugby-style boomer that ended up about 40 or 45 yards downfield.  If you want a better visual of that, just picture Giants punter Matt Dodge, and then picture the opposite of that.

It's difficult for punters to get noticed, so plays like these help.  This may have earned Donahue a "camp leg" spot somewhere, and that's never a big thing.  Reggie Hodges was once a designated Indianapolis camp leg and now is the starting punter for the Cleveland Browns.

8.  The announcers couldn't stop praising Ryan Whalen.

Like the other wideouts, the former Stanford Cardinal didn't have many opportunities to showcase his skills, but for whatever it's worth, the commentators were having a certifiable verbal lovefest with the guy.  Whalen, a 6-2 slot receiver, apparently caught everything thrown in his general direction in practices this week and is coming off a 41 catch, 439 yard season for the Cardinal.

This draft may be teeming with receivers who tend to work the middle of the field, a skillset that could arguably interest the Colts with the uncertain, to varying extents, futures of Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez.  Whalen is likely one of those guys, as well as Shrine Bowl counterpart Jeff Maehl from Oregon.  We'll have to keep an eye out for Hawaii's Greg Salas in the Senior Bowl, as he seems to fit this group as well.  I hate to stereotype that the Colts like the same kind of player: a scrappy, "white" receiver who runs precise routes and has great feet (no Rex Ryan joke), but looking at their roster, they seem to stockpile those guys.  As such, I would not rule out Indy's interest in Whalen.

9.  Joseph Barksdale remains an enigma.

I highlighed LSU RT, prospective NFL LT Joseph Barksdale as a player to watch, but he missed the game with a pulled hamstring.  Scouts don't know what to make out of Barksdale.  He's athletic, has freakishly long arms and displays exceptional footwork for his position.  At the same time, though, he's never played up to his potential.  In his Tiger career, he never really performed at the level he should have.

Barksdale could be a high-risk, high-reward prospect.  He's intriguing enough, in terms of measurables, to go in the late first or early second round regardless of his game tape.  At some point, though, potential needs to be turned into production.  Whoever drafts Barksdale is going to bank on the light going on with some pro-level coaching, but with what's likely to be a second-round pick, that could prove to be a risky move.

10.  We'll get a better idea about some Indy prospects in a week.

The Senior Bowl, which will kick off at 3 p.m. and will be broadcast on NFL Network, will featured more first-to-second round talent, as I already said.

On the offensive line alone, this game will feature: Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), DeMarcus Love (Alabam), Kristofer O'Dowd (USC), Mike Pouncey (Florida), Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State), Nate Solder (Colorado) and James Brewer (Indiana.)  This game is going to significantly impact some of these players' draft stock.

Players I will be watching in addition to those OL prospects include DT Stephen Paea (Oregon State), DT Christian Ballard (Iowa), DT Sione Fua (Stanford), DT Drake Nevis (LSU), DE Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), SS Ahmad Black (Florida), CB Kendric Burney (North Carolina), CB Chris Rucker (Michigan State), CB Ras-I Dowling (Virginia), LB Quinton Carter (Oklahoma), RB/RET Noel Devine (West Virginia), WR/RET Niles Paul (Nebraska), WR Austin Pettis (Boise State), WR Titus Young (Boise State) and WR Greg Salas (Hawaii.)

Pettis is one of my favorite prospects in this draft.  I'll write more about him later, but it's just a shame that the Colts probably can't afford to spend their first-round pick on him, because I've rarely seen a player that just screamed "future Colt" more than Pettis did at Boise State.  He'll almost certainly be gone by the time the Pacers Colts pick in the second round, though, so I highly doubt he's a realistic target.

I should be here next Saturday, camping out in another game thread.  If you feel like joining me and making your own observations, feel free!  Remember, the game kicks off at 3 p.m. on NFL Network.

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