April 23, 2014

East-West Shrine Game Review

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

The East-West Shrine Game gets less attention (and, yes, less talent) than the Senior Bowl, but it’s a great showcase for players with the potential to fill a late-round niche. Just ask New England rookie Myron Pryor, who had a standout performance in last year’s contest (as mentioned in PD’s 2009 review).

It took a while for the offenses to get on track in this one. After the West’s only touchdown gave them a 10-6 lead midway through the fourth, the East came back with a last-second score for an exciting 13-10 win. Below, some players of distinction from a Pats-centric point of view.

Get Carter: The best linebacker on the field was UCLA’s Reggie Carter, who read and reacted with fluid consistency. He stuffed East screen plays and broke off coverage to make tackles up the middle.

Other LBs of note? O’Brien Schofield converted from his usual defensive end position for the first time this week and gathered an interception in the first quarter. Though probably too small for New England’s 3-4 defense, UNLV’s Jason Beauchamp looked athletic getting to the edge.

Kafka’s Trial: Northwestern QB Mike Kafka led the East on their game-winning drive,lofting a pass to tight end Andrew Quarless in the end zone. (Quarless also distinguished himself with a nifty one-handed grab in the first half.)

Hall Pass: The other touchdown of the game came on a throw from BYU’s Max Hall, who went three-for-three for 66 yards on that drive. Hall’s college teammate, tight end Dennis Pitta, had a 30-yard catch and run and held on to another pass despite having his helmet knocked off.

Helter Skelton: Fordham QB John Skelton (who at 6-foot-5, 258 pounds is larger than many of the players rushing after him) showed off his arm as well as his inconsistency.At times Skelton fired the ball through small windows; at others, he missed open receivers.

Barnes Storming: He’s not fast. He’s not big. He played for oft-overlooked Bowling Green. Still, Freddie Barnes had 155 receptions this past season, so he must be doing something right. (For perspective, Wes Welker had 123 catches in 2009.) Barnes drew double-coverage throughout the game but came on late with two grabs on the winning drive, managing to get out of bounds and stop the clock both times.

The Blair White Project: Great game from Michigan State receiver Blair White, the Big Ten 2009 reception leader with 70. Like Barnes, White has mediocre speed, great hands, and an uncanny ability to get open. He and Barnes paired up in the final two minutes to help make Kafka the winning QB.

UConn Jacked: With limited playing time for running backs, Andre Dixon stood out the most. The UConn product displayed solid vision and elusiveness, whether cutting up the middle or sliding past defenders on screen passes. Miami’s Javarris James has been credited as a better all-around back, but he got little chance to show it on Saturday.

The Eastern Front: Hard to judge the play of the offensive line in this one, but those who stood out included Miami interior lineman A. J. Trump and Rutgers tackle Kevin Haslam.

Hitting The Wall (And He Hits Back): Cornerback Jamar Wall had a strong game for the West, breaking up a fourth-down pass to White that – with 2:35 remaining – seemed to seal the game. Wall proved the most consistent DB of the contest.

An In-Nate Sense: Nice work by undersized defensive lineman Nate Collins of Virginia (6-2, 290), who played with high energy and got into the West backfield throughout the day.

So It Is Witten: Not a great game for UConn defensive end/outside linebacker Lindsey Witten, who seemed a bit slow coming around the end and a bit stiff breaking down to catch scrambling quarterbacks.

Ahem, Alem: Though he doesn’t appear to have the lateral moves for a switch to outside linebacker, Rahim Alem provided consistent pressure in the backfield and knocked down a pass. Ole Miss end Greg Hardy had a sack but – much like his injury-plagued season – seemed to fall short of expectations heaped on him last fall.

Ruffin The Passer: Thought small-school defensive end James Ruffin deserved a mention for his fourth-quarter sack. Plus, how could I resist that pun?

One Win, One Ross: We figured we should mention linebacker Ross Pospisil. Not because he got to play much for the East, but because he attended the Naval Academy, which gives him a pretty good shot at a Patriots tryout.  (Just ask the three Navy players who signed contracts in 2009.)

Keep an eye on this spot next week for a report on the Senior Bowl.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]