Most NFL scouts left Orlando well before the 86th annual East-West Shrine Game was played to prepare for the next phase of the pre-draft process -- next week's Senior Bowl.
But the game itself does have meaning. Teams aren't looking for good practice players, after all. They want players whose best performances come on game day.
While many made an impression during the practice week, the 10 players listed below stood out from the 100 players who participated in Saturday's game. Players are listed alphabetically.
TE Kyle Adams, Purdue: The former Boilermaker only caught two passes for 13 yards, but demonstrated fluidity as a route-runner, soft hands and impressed with his effective blocking and play on special teams. It was Adams' seal block of Nevada's Dontay Moch that allowed Syracuse running back Delone Carter to easily get the edge for a touchdown in the opening minutes of the game. Later, Adams' hustle on punt coverage helped pin Ryan Donahue's kick down at the two-yard line.
G/C J.C. Brignone, Mississippi State: Brignone served as one of the few bright spots for a group of offensive linemen overmatched most of Saturday's game. Playing right guard and center, Brignone was able to turn and seal defenders, creating running lanes; he also pulled to get out in front and block linebackers in the open field. He was beaten by a swim move by Penn State DT Olong Ogbu for a pressure in the second quarter that forced an early throw from Idaho QB Nathan Enderle, but generally played well in pass protection, especially at his customary spot in the middle.
DT David Carter, UCLA: The 6-feet-5, 298-pound Carter was one of many defensive linemen who feasted on inferior offensive line talent. Carter demonstrated good burst up the field and the strength to hold up in the running game. Carter enjoyed a strong week of practice leading up to the game, prompting scouts to wonder where this production had been earlier in the year.
|Syracuse running back Delone Carter runs for 54 yards and is named the offensive MVP. (AP)|
RB Graig Cooper, Miami: He averaged only 3.3 yards per carry, but if you watched the game you'd know why he helped himself in the eyes of scouts. Cooper struggled this season after electing to play in 2010, only months after suffering a devastating knee injury in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl. The lateral agility and acceleration that made Cooper one of the nation's better running backs a year ago is starting to return, and he's worthy of a draft selection.
QB Nathan Enderle, Idaho: At 6-feet-5, 235 pounds, Enderle's height and big arm immediately stand out, especially in a game in which several of the other quarterbacks have only marginal size and zip. On Saturday, however, it wasn't Enderle's arm strength that impressed, but his touch. Though only credited as a 5-yard touchdown pass to Portland State tight end Julius Thomas, Enderle's second-quarter throw actually covered nearly 30 yards as he dropped deep, rolled slightly to his right and led Thomas to the left corner of the endzone. Seconds later Enderle proved his touch was no fluke with a similar soft toss to Thomas for a successful two-point conversion. In completing only 6 of 12 passes for 45 yards, the former Vandals' numbers were just OK. He outplayed the other quarterbacks in this game.
SS Shiloh Keo, Idaho: There might have been more impressive defenders in this game, but Keo's passionate play and versatility will leave an indelible impression on scouts. The strong safety filled the hole aggressively against the run, showed better than expected agility in coverage, covered punts and kicks on special teams and returned both. That type of versatility will make him tough to cut.
OLB Josh McNary, Army: The East-West Shrine Game serves as a jumping off point for NFL prospects, but for McNary and other players coming from military academies -- like Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs -- it is one final game before serving a two-year commitment protecting our country. Their service warrants mention in itself, but so too did McNary's play. McNary's quick feet, balance and reliable open-field tackling stood out Saturday, perhaps proving that the former walk-on's career 49 tackles for loss and 28 sacks (both Army records) prove he's a rare service academy prospect worth keeping an eye on in the future.
TE Greg Smith, Texas: Considering the 2010 season wasn't a great one in Austin, Smith needed a strong performance to generate positive press. He came through, leading all Shrine Game receivers in catches (four) and yards (77), while providing the longest play from scrimmage with a 35-yard reception in the third quarter. Athletic with soft, reliable hands, Smith could sneak into the late rounds, considering this year's weak class of tight ends.
QB Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech: Enderle was the most impressive quarterback on this day, but some of that can be directly attributed to the fact that Taylor only attempted five passes. He was the only quarterback who completed more than half of his attempts (four) and he threw for more yards (59) than any other quarterback. Of course, Taylor is best known for his mobility. He again demonstrated his running skills, rushing for 13 yards on three carries. Taylor's athleticism was impressive in that he didn't use his feet to scramble, but rather to buy time in the pocket and exhaust his throwing options. Taylor makes a throw or two each time we see him that makes me wonder if he wouldn't surprise if given a legitimate chance as an NFL quarterback.