By Matthew Postins
The East-West Shrine Game is the oldest collegiate all-star game around. Launched in 1925, the game has hosted some of the best college seniors in its game. This year the game is played at the cozy confines of Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. NFL Network will carry the game at 3 p.m. CST Saturday.
Like the other two all-star games this weekend – the Raycom All-Star Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl – the rosters are filled with players hoping to get attention from NFL scouts, including the Dallas Cowboys. The ramp-up to the game during the week may be more important to their prospects than the game itself. But a great performance in the game never hurts.
The quality of player in this game is a little better than the other two all-star games this weekend. That’s due to this game’s reputation. The Senior Bowl draws more attention because the NFL is heavily involved in it. Bu the play on the field Saturday should be a little better than the other two games.
So which players should Cowboys fans be paying attention to if they watch? Here’s a list of players to keep an eye on and why.
RB Ray Graham, Pittsburgh: At the moment Graham is a mid-range prospect who really needs to play in this game. He missed the Panthers’ bowl game due to injury. He’s a smallish back at 5-foot-9, 192 pounds. But he was quite productive with the Panthers in both pro-set offenses and spread offenses. He once gained 734 yards in five games. Wow. There are questions surrounding his surgically-repaired knee, but he’s a year removed from the ACL tear. He’s not blazing fast, but he’s earning comparisons to Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy. He would make a quality backup to DeMarco Murray.
OT R.J. Dill, Rutgers: Dill is a late-round or undrafted free agent who has tremendous size for the tackle position at 6-foot-6, 316 pounds. Dill played at Maryland, then moved to Rutgers for his senior year, and started 42 straight games. He earned All-Big East honors in 2012. He’s been a steady tackle in two different conferences. I think the Cowboys are going to draft at least two offensive linemen and Dill might be worth a late flier.
C Matt Stankiewitch, Penn State: Another potential late-round steal. Stankiewitch was a Rimington Award finalist, given to the nation’s best center. He started two straight seasons for the Nittany Lions and showed the ability to grasp two different offensive systems. At 6-foot-3, 303 pounds, he’s actually lighter than current centers Phil Costa and Ryan Cook. But he’s been a vital part of productive offenses at PSU. He’ll be in a competition somewhere during training camp.
DT Anthony McCloud, Florida State: Any productive player from a big-time program is going to get some scrutiny. McCloud could be on Dallas’ radar because he’s a beefy tackle (6-foot-2, 309 pounds) and the Cowboys need to replenish their depth. McCloud has a reputation for crashing the line of scrimmage against both the run and the pass. The Cowboys could use that in their new Cover 2 defense.
RB Zach Line, SMU: Scouts are projecting Line as a fullback in the NFL, since he’s 6-foot, 233 pounds. But that’s really a disservice to Line’s capabilities. I saw him play in person twice this year and he runs like a bowling ball, bouncing off tacklers and piling up yardage. He left SMU with 46 touchdowns, more than 4,000 yards rushing and three 1,200-yard rushing seasons. He could help the Cowboys in short-yardage situations and can carry the load if Murray gets hurt or needs a breather.
OG Blaize Foltz, TCU: Another local collegiate product, Foltz is a load inside, coming in at 329 pounds. He was first-team All-Mountain West in 2011 and second-team All-Big 12 in 2012. Plus, he’s two years removed from an ACL tear and showing no signs of issues. The Cowboys struggled to run the ball and it’s no given the Cowboys will have Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings back in 2013. Foltz is a talented project that can be had on the last day of the draft.
WR Keenan Davis, Iowa: Davis is an interesting prospect. He has the height and weight (6-foot-2, 216 pounds) to be a NFL receiver. But his numbers at Iowa suggest that he underachieved, based on how heavily recruited he was. Right now he’s an undrafted free agent. But a great week in St. Petersburg could put him in the draft. He’s done some kick returning. Producing in that department would help his stock. Wide receiver is a secondary need in Dallas, even if Kevin Ogletree leaves in free agency.
OT Braden Brown, BYU: Right now Brown (6-foot-6, 305 pounds) is considered a seventh-round prospect. But he has the size and speed (5.19 in the 40) to be a legit NFL prospect. He started for three seasons and scouts believed he grew into his frame and into his skill during his time in college. He’s probably not a legit starter in 2013, but he has the tools to be a starter down the road. Scouts say he must get better at run blocking.
SS Jahleel Addae, Central Michigan: Addae is 5-foot-10, 200 pounds and projects as a seventh-round pick right now. He has to immediately show scouts he can complete at a level beyond the Mid-American Conference. But he was highly productive at CMU, picking off eight passes, amassing more than 300 career tackles and earning three All-MAC selections. The Cover 2 requires safeties that can defend the pass, and that’s one thing Addae can do.
FS Zeke Motta, Notre Dame: Motta is a larger free safety at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. But that’s all right in the Cover 2. The free safety has to be able to hit and Motta can do that. He’s also showing coverage skills during Shrine Bowl practices. He wrestled away an interception from Iowa wide receiver Keenan Davis. If Motta shows he has the strength to match up with tight ends over the middle that will improve his stock as well.