East-West Shrine preview: Part II

Thursday, we took a look at the top matchups to watch on the East team when practice begins next week for the 85th East-West Shrine Game in Orlando on Jan. 23. Today, we take our first look at the West. The NFP will be posting daily practice reports, rumors and our takes on some of the nation’s top NFL prospects when workouts begin.

The West breakdown

Rosters from Shrinegame.com

Head to head

Some of the most anticipated one-on-one battles to look forward to next week during West practices:

Texas DT Lamarr Houston vs. Washington State C Kenny Alfred

This is a matchup between two gifted athletes at their respective positions, as Houston displays the initial burst to surge his way up the field and uses his hands well to slip blocks on contact. However, Alfred is one of the draft’s most underrated center prospects, and although he lacks ideal power on contact, he displays the footwork and overall body control to slide his feet laterally in space. An intriguing athlete-on-athlete battle.

Kansas WR Kerry Meier vs. Arizona CB Devin Ross

When you watch tape of Ross, he has the skill set to make play after play when he’s asked to click and close on the football in coverage. However, as good an athlete as he is, he lacks balance flipping his hips and struggles to stay with savvy receivers in coverage. And unfortunately for Ross, Meier is as savvy as they come. He’s a former quarterback who has a great feel in the pass game, and even though he might not be able to generate much separation vs. Ross next week in practice, he uses his big frame extremely well to shield defenders from the throw and knows how to go up and pluck the ball.

SMU WR Emmanuel Sanders vs. USC CB Kevin Thomas

Thomas is a tall, long-armed corner who lacks ideal balance/burst when asked to close on the football, but he’s physical in press coverage and knows how to reroute receivers off the line. His matchup with the undersized but shifty Sanders should provide a good barometer of not only how Thomas will handle quicker wideouts off the line, but also if Sanders can consistently beat the press vs. a big-school talent.

Kansas State DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald vs. Stanford OT Chris Marinelli

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Marinelli isn’t the most athletic or physical of offensive tackles, but he’s long-armed, does a great job getting his hands inside on contact and simply finds a way to stick to his blocks. His matchup with Fitzgerald should go a long way toward determining if he has the base to anchor vs. bigger defenders on contact at the next level.

Prospects who need a big week:

CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA
He made his share of plays at UCLA, but Verner lacks ideal flexibility in his drop and struggles when asked to turn and run down the field. He needs to prove next week that he has the ability to cleanly flip his hips and locate the football vertically in man coverage. If not, his potential is very limited at the next level.

C John Estes, Hawaii
He wasn’t impressive in any area of the game this season vs. marginal competition, so it will be interesting to see how Estes stacks up next week against some of the nation’s top interior defensive linemen.

SS Darrell Stuckey, Kansas
A thick, well-built athlete, but he isn’t overly instinctive or physical in run support and lacks ideal range vs. the pass. He doesn’t quite play like the starting-caliber prospect he’s been made out to be.

OG Brandon Carter, Texas Tech
I love his size and demeanor, but can he hold up in pass protection in an NFL-type offense? We’ll quickly find out.

Prospects whose draft stock could soar:

RB Dimitri Nance, Arizona State Nance is one of my favorite senior running backs in the draft. He’s a thick, compact runner who showcases good lateral quickness and can create on his own inside. He ran behind one of the worst offensive lines in the Pac-10, but I expect him to open some eyes in Orlando.

SS T.J. Ward, Oregon
He isn’t the biggest or fastest safety, but Ward is an instinctive player whom I expect to see separate himself quickly as one of the top talents at this year’s Shrine Game.

SS Larry Asante, Nebraska
Asante is another talented safety who lacks great straight-line speed but makes up for it with his instincts and ability to quickly click and close on plays in front of him. Looks like a potential starting-caliber strong safety at the next level.

DE James Ruffin, Northern Iowa
A talented small-schools pass rusher who knows how to get after the quarterback in a variety of ways and could make a name for himself with a strong week.

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