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Bears Fan Takeaways From First Two NCAA Senior Games

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We have limited pick this year, and these two games featured a lot of players sure to be on Chicago’s draft board

East-West Shrine Game
Matthew Gay #19 from Utah playing on the East Team kicks off against The West Team at the 2019 East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on January 19, 2019 in St Petersburg, Florida.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

I watched the first two NCAA Seniors games of the season, the East/West Shrine Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game, with an eye out for players that will be available in the third round or later

These games, especially the early ones, mostly feature the later round to UDFA type talents, which is where Ryan Pace is going to have to concentrate this year. Fortunately for all of Bearsdom, low round gems is what Pace does best.

Even more fortunate for the good guys, newly minted Bears Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano was the coach for one side in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, giving him some unique insight into what the players on his half of the field are like to work with personally.

The bigger of the two games, the East/West Shrine Game, is officially sanctioned and supported by the NFL. Not surprisingly, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is sponsored by the National Football League Player’s Association, so it’s pretty “official” as well.

Here are some of my thought on both games

The East/West Shrine Game

Setting aside my disdain for the venue (what a horrible ballpark Tropicana Field is... and it’s worse for football than it is for baseball), the game went pretty well.

The guy Bears fans was looking at first and foremost probably was Utah kicker Matt Gay, a young man who reminds me very much of Sebastian Janikowski in size and leg strength.

It’s really hard to tell much about a kicker in one of these games if he comes out and makes all of his kicks, as Gay did. I was surprised that on his one kickoff (they only had two kickoffs in the whole game, one at the start of each half), he didn’t boot the ball out the back of the end zone (this is a guy who has hit 70-yard field goals in practice) but on that one attempt, he barely cleared the goal line. Of course, I don’t know if he was told to kick it short to make it returnable, but that one sure was.

I’m sure the front office folks got a much better look at Gay and the other kickers. I suspect that he will probably be drafted much higher (as high as the 4th round) than the Bears are willing to go, assuming we haven’t already signed a veteran by that time.

Gay hit his kicks but he almost doinked an extra point and a field goal. Of course, it wasn’t his regular holder so… there’s that.

Gay’s counterpart, John Baron II out of San Diego State, performed very well following an outstanding college career. Baron did have a miss, but it was a last-ditch 65 yard attempt (his range is the high 50’s) and the Aztec hit it right down the middle, just 5 yards short.

Who stood out?

I was most impressed by the following players, in no particular order:

Jordan Brailford, EDGE, Oklahoma State had a monster game and a good week of practice. Brailford is the kind of player Bears fans are looking for to give us some pass rushing depth on the edge. Brailford’s stats didn’t jump out as much as Hollins’ did, but he passed the eye test. He had two tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. He also was being held on every play, and created chaos.

Justin Hollins, EDGE, Oregon, was an absolute monster. He flat owned everybody who was in front of him, using both bull rushing and spin moves to blow past or over the opposing team’s left tackles. Hollins had 10 tackles, an assist, two sacks, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. Yeah, he could be a mid-rounder to lower rounder to REALLY look at for Chicago.

Both edge guys looked like they had good bend in this game, and had frames that you can work with. Both of them will be around when we are drafting those positions unless one of them blows up the combine. Hollins was named the game MVP.

Nick Brossette, Running Back, LSU, looked really strong. Big, strong, great running back size, excellent pass blocker with good hands, he’s very much in the “Jordan Howard but with better hands coming out of college” mode, a one-speed runner but that’s a pretty good speed. I’m not sure he’s a fit for the Bears, but he’s a good player and should find a spot in the league. He made a great play and got open for a nice long TD pass.

Terry Godwin, Wide Receiver, Georgia. Godwin showed good separation and hands, although he did have a fumble in a ‘teachable moment’ sort of way. He was named the offensive MVP, he’s probably a slot kinda guy, will have to see how he tests out on his speed at the combine but he looked like a player in this game.

The three that impressed me the most were Hollins & Brailford and Godwin,

I also liked Shawn Poindexter who’s a real project wide receiver out of Arizona. Poindexter has fantastic size, good hands and moves… but again, he’s totally a project.

I also like David Blough at quarterback as a late-late-round or UDFA backup kind of guy… he seems to have decent tools, a high football IQ and is a very high character guy. Fact is in 2020 we are going to need a cheaper option than Chase Daniel and I’d rather get him this year on cheap rookie money and let him have a year learning the system.

NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

New Bears Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano coached the winning American Conference side, along with defensive coach (and rumored possible future Bears assistant) Ed Reed. After watching and listening to Pagano (he was mic’d up) Bears fans can expect to see a much more animated and emotional coach on that side of the ball then they are used to.

Let’s start with the good and the bad from Notre Dame’s special teams squad.

First, we have “Chicago Style” kicker Justin Yoon, who displayed both Cody Parkey’s ability to doink a critically important field goal off the right upright and also Connor Barth’s ability to not only whiff on getting the ball anywhere near the upright but to actually nearly miss the entire end zone on a kick. Let’s just say Yoon is a “no thank you” for me. He’s a weaker legged version of Cody Parkey.

Having said that, Irish punter Tyler Newsome should be a Chicago Bear next year, if for no other reason than that amazing mullet he rocks...

Tyler Newsome’s amazing mullet. The Mann would be proud.

How did he punt? Who cares, look at that hair!

Who stood out for something other than hair?

The guy who stood out most to me (and everybody else) was a guy I just don’t see Chicago drafting, even though he will fall to the mid/late rounds, Wes Hills, RB, Slippery Rock.

That’s right, by far the best player in the game was a guy who played at Slippery Rock.

Why? Because he not only ran past and around people, he ran over them. Good speed, good vision, and a punishing runner once contact was made. Many of his yards were after contact.

Even though Hills performed at a very high level (he’s going to be a top-level RB in the right system in the NFL) he’s basically a younger Jordan Howard, and I just don’t see that he fits in Chicago.

On the defensive side of the ball, Randy Ramsey, EDGE, caught my eye as another guy we could well be taking a long look at. He’s in the mold of long, lean, very athletic and fast that Ryan Pace looks for.

The announcers were saying that Ramsey’s performance at practice far outpaced his numbers from Arkansas, where he only had three sacks this year... I can see that, because this Ramsey was decisive and explosive, and it’s obvious that he’s been working with somebody coaching-wise.

Ramsey’s raw and will need to develop, so he’s a project kind of player... and he does come with some red flags. Fortunately, they are not “bad guy” red flags, but they are there.

The red flags are from academic problems that cost him both his scholarship at Arkansas and is place on the team.

His character, however, nobody questions. He refused to give up, he got his grades up and was able to come back and contributor the razorbacks this last season.

Due to the nature of scholarship availability at Arkansas, they had none left to offer him, so Ramsey came back to the program as a walk on. He was so broke he slept on the floor of his friends apartment, and that’s how he got to where he is today,

Kyle Shurmur, QB, Vanderbilt had a good game, he showed great improvisation and creativity. The son of NY Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, he proved both that he can throw the ball downfield and make creative, spontaneous plays. Shurmur had the usual gaudy passing numbers we have come to know from just about any college QB, but he did his in the SEC which means something.

The bottom line is that some guys can make plays under pressure, can see downfield during the chaos, and Shurmur showed that he’s one of those guys.

I also liked a couple of small school corners who showed good anticipation and ball-hawking skills.

The first was Nate Brooks from North Texas, who showed both good anticipation and that he has skills in jumping routes. This year, the Mean Green senior had 48 solos, 19 assists, 4 TFL, 6 picks and a forced fumble. He was also a C-USA Defensive Player Of The Week this year, and has been clocked sub-4.5 in the 40. Will be interesting to see his times at the combine & his pro-day.

The second was Darius Williams out of Colorado State University - Pueblo. This is a kid who had 8 picks in 2017, taking three of them to the house. A D-2 All American, Williams has good size at 6-0, 193 and this year he had 9.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks to go with 3 picks. He certainly caught my eye, we will have to see his speed numbers at the combine and/or his pro day.