2016 Shrine Game: East Practice Notes from Day 1 and 2


Notes from the East Practice from both day 1 and 2 combined.

By: Chris Kouffman


I would love to say that between Blake Frohnapfel, Joel Stave and Jake Rudock we were able to see a clear pecking order in terms of accuracy and effectiveness at running the offense, but this was not necessarily the case. None of the quarterbacks made it through the day clean. Rudock threw an interception during scrimmage to Boston College safety Justin Simmons, while Joel Stave threw what should have been an interception to Terrance Smith, and Frohnapfel threw an ill-advised seam pattern against cover three that was nearly picked off by two defenders simultaneously. None of the three looked particularly compelling on the day. On the bright side, all of the quarterbacks seemed generally able to complete passes in simple drills as receivers ran patterns against air.

Running Backs

The East squad’s running backs may be the best unit in the entire Shrine game. Illinois’ Josh Ferguson stood out immediately for his quickness and cutback ability. He was driving defenders and pursuers nuts in the open field. Devon “Rockhead” Johnson (listed 6’1″ and 244 pounds) of Marshall has always reminded of Mike Alstott, which made it all the more interesting that Alstott became his running backs coach at these Shrine practices. A former H-Back at Marshall, he looked the part as he caught passes smoothly out of the backfield with soft hands. But then, like his coach Alstott, Johnson showed a gear you do not see from fullbacks as he took a hand-off from an upback position in the backfield, made one cut in the backfield and burst through a hole and into the secondary before the defense could react. Notre Dame safety Elijah Shumate was left trying (unsuccessfully) to play two-hand touch with Johnson as Devon made one more cutback in the second level that may have freed him all the way for a long score. It is also worth noting that former Navy pivot Keenan Reynolds has been making the switch to tailback during the week of practices and has not looked at all new to the position. Maryland’s Brandon Ross has drawn praise from other onlookers, though I personally did not witness anything compelling.

Wide Receivers

The receiver that stood out immediately for his quickness, feet and catching skills was Tajae Sharpe of University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He seemed to garner the respect of his teammates throughout the first day of practice. One other receiver that stood out for some specific traits was Ole Miss wideout Cody Core. Core was known as a speedster and deep threat at Ole Miss, but what stood out at practice were his large and reliable hands.

Tight Ends

Arkansas State’s Darion Griswold looked the most physically compelling of all tight ends on both squads. Listed at 6’5″ and 255 pounds, he has a fluid burst combined with a large catch radius, balance after the catch, and the willingness to get nasty in the blocking game. He may grade out as one of the best tight ends in the entire class. Steven Scheu of Vanderbilt did not particularly grab the attention in a positive or negative way on the first day. Penn State’s Kyle Carter seemed to become a favorite target of quarterbacks in short ranges, but did not particularly show any compelling skills that would make him stand out. In consecutive 11-on-11 plays, Carter failed to make a play for the ball as the quarterback found him while in distress. Both catches would have been challenging due to coverage, but these players are here to show that they can make these sort of NFL plays.

Offensive Line

Michigan Center Graham Glasgow stood out during pit drills on the first day of practice. Listed at 6’6″ and 303 pounds, he looked large and very strong in the trenches. He was difficult to move and showed a lot of power and anchor. I expected a little more than what I saw of Purdue Center Robert Kugler. The only other offensive lineman that drew my attention was Cincinnati’s Parker Ehinger, who looked all of his 6’7″ and 318 pound listing and played with control and strength.

Defensive Line

It did not take very many snaps to see that Javon Hargrave of South Carolina State was the alpha of this group. His build spoke of power and his play did not disappoint. He made plays both in pit drills as well as in 11-on-11. I thought Stony Brook’s Victor Ochi also stood out as an outside rusher during the first day of practice. Penn State’s Anthony Zettel came with a lot more fanfare, but I was disappointed for the most part as he looked eminently blockable throughout the first day, with the exception of one snap.


The Mr. Universe award for the East squad definitely belongs to Georgia Southern’s Antwione Williams, who checks in at 6’3″ and 245 pounds with washboard abs. He and Louisville’s James Burgess worked at middle linebacker, and both had plenty of opportunities to flow to the football during 11-on-11’s, as linemen struggled to get out to the second level. Linebackers rarely get a chance to stand out in these All Star practice settings, I have found over the years. I have learned to take them with a little bit of a grain of salt.

That said, I was impressed with Florida State’s Terrance Smith because of his awareness in the passing game and the quickness with which he reacts to the quarterback keeping the ball off play-action and his effectiveness covering underneath receivers in both man and zone. He had two nice pass break-ups demonstrating these skills. One was in man coverage against tight end Kyle Carter, off play-action. The other was particularly impressive as he bit on the boot-action play fake but was able to recover and get enough depth to knock down a pass intended for tight end Darion Griswold. That break-up could have been an interception.

Defensive Backs

The standout of the day on the East squad had to be Boston College’s Justin Simmons, who intercepted one ball from his safety spot and nearly intercepted another. On the near-interception, Simmons (listed 6’3″ and 194 pounds) broke from his position in deep center on an attempt by Blake Frohnapfel to hit a seam pass to Notre Dame receiver Chris Brown. Florida corner Brian Poole did an excellent job pattern matching on the play, coming off his outside receiver to also make a play on the seam receiver. The result was a pass break-up, but easily could have been an interception. The ball he successfully intercepted was a poorly placed seam throw from Rudock to tight end Darion Griswold. Simmons had underneath coverage from inside the box, trailing Griswold, easily snatching the underthrow.


North Carolina State’s Juston Burris seemed to consistently struggle on when to break his back pedal. Notre Dame safety Elijah Shumate seemed to struggle in both phases as he was late from his deep center spot to read the quarterback’s intentions on a deep route, was late and then stumbled on another play as he attempted to assume coverage in the flat, and whiffed on Devon Johnson on a big run. Miami safety Deon Bush looks well put together and moved like a professional. He engaged his man coverage responsibilities from an in-the-box position very effectively.

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