There are very few compliments better than the ones you don't expect. When Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians approached inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell and asked if he would be interested in getting involved with the East-West Shrine Bowl, it was a massive compliment and vote of confidence in the NFL veteran turned coach. From there, the recommendation became reality as Caldwell took to gathering a staff for the oldest collegiate all-star game in the nation: the 95th Annual East-West Shrine Bowl.
Not only would he have to gather his staff, Caldwell was thrust into role of head coach, game planner, organizer and mentor. It's daunting for anyone, even in a condensed format such as an all-star game.
"I've had two good guys to kind of follow, Coach Arians and Coach Bowles," Caldwell said. "The organization part – you just get there and you've done it. You put your own little schpeal on it. I added a wrinkle here, a wrinkle there but just try to have the coaches understand what you want them to do so they can get the players on the same page and get them out there so we can always have 11 on the field and be going to the right spot."
Easier said than done when your roster is made up of players from all different schools, conferences and levels of football. There were guys like wide receivers Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain, both from a big-time SEC program in the University of Florida, but then there were also guys like linebacker Cameron Gill from FCS Wagner and even offensive tackle Carter O'Donnell from the University of Alberta in Canada.
It's good exposure, though, for the coaches who will spend a week with these draft prospects.
"We get a little bit more time with them so we can understand the player a little bit more, how they learn, how they are," Caldwell said. "We get a week with them so you should get a pretty good feel from them, who can play, who can do what. I think it's a big advantage to be here."
Look no further than the following evaluation from Bucs offensive assistant and nine-year NFL veteran Antwaan Randle El, who coached wide receivers on Caldwell's staff this week:
"We got some talent," said Randle El. "Josh Hammond is a kid that can really get after it. He's a kid from Florida, more of an inside guy. Both guys from Florida really get it in terms of running routes. They have a good understanding of where they need to be, especially on the inside. The outside, Keith Gavin, kid from Florida State, he's been doing pretty well. You gotta get him lined up to where he needs to be, but when he does, he goes up and makes plays. Isaiah Wright [from Temple], he's been making plays and he's a guy that can block. Each and every one of them have their own way and I'm trying to find out what they got. Malcolm Perry from Navy is doing real well, it's just new to him – he's been a quarterback so long. And then on the outside, Diondre Overton from Clemson, he did really well. Had a catch in the back of the end zone, did some things in one-on-ones. He's a kid that I think can play, he just has to get a little stronger and have a little more awareness, but I think he's going to be all right."
You don't get all that intel without actually being able to interact with prospects for a longer period of time. The Shrine Bowl has produced many notable players who may have never gotten a chance to showcase their talents otherwise. Players on the Bucs roster who are alums of the game include kicker Matt Gay, offensive lineman Earl Watford and running back Dare Ogunbowale.
"The thing about it is, you have guys out here making plays," Caldwell said. "If you can make plays, everybody is going up to a different level. No matter what level, everybody is going to have to make that adjustment. If you're used to making plays and you can continue to do that, then that's somebody that we're looking for."