In the last decade, the East-West Shrine Game has bounced from San Francisco to San Antonio to Houston to Orlando, and NFL scouts have followed it all the way east.
The Shrine Game is part of a series of college all-star games held in January and like its somewhat more high-profile brother, the Senior Bowl, it brings together dozens of players who have a chance to be drafted into the NFL a few months later. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Director of Player Personnel Dennis Hickey calls the game – and more importantly, the week of practices leading up to it – a "supplemental" part of his team's year-long draft preparations.
As such, it's quite convenient that the latest move by the Shrine Game was to St. Petersburg, just last year. The Bucs would have a scouting contingent at the game's practices no matter where in the country they were held, but having it just across the bay from One Buc Place offers a chance for more eyes on the sideline. In addition to Hickey, the Bucs have sent Director of College Scouting Eric Stokes, a group of college scouts and even General Manager Mark Dominik out to several of this week's workouts. Tampa Bay staffers are even providing the usual video support at every practice.
"It's very convenient," said Hickey. "We know our way around and we know the people who work it. It's a great atmosphere."
The East-West Shrine Game's web site points out that such NFL Hall of Famers as Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers and Alan Page are among its alumni. These days, the game is more likely to be populated by prospects teams will target in the later round of the draft, but that doesn't make it any less useful. Last year, Buccaneer personnel evaluators got a close-up look during the Shrine Game week at a pair of West Virginia standouts, LB Najee Goode and DB Keith Tandy, and ended up drafting them both.
This year, the most anticipated participants in the Shrine Game include Kansas State QB Collin Klein, Texas A&M RB Christine Michael, Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham, UCLA TE Joseph Fauria, Miami CB Brandon McGee, Notre Dame S Zeke Motta and South Carolina DE Devin Taylor. Though there may not be a lot of these names called in the first or second round in April, Buccaneer scouts may still be eyeing NFL difference-makers this week. The Washington Redskins presumably liked what they saw in St. Pete a year ago from Florida Atlantic RB Alfred Morris, who they nabbed in the sixth round last year. Morris helped the Redskins to the playoffs with a 1,600-yard, 13-touchdown rookie campaign this past fall.
Even those prospects who don't end up in the draft in April can help launch their careers this week. Hundreds of undrafted rookies sign with NFL teams as free agents every spring, and events such as the Shrine Game help scouts sort through them. Last year, the Bucs eventually signed four players they had seen at St. Pete High: G Desmond Wynn, T Bradley Sowell, C Moe Petrus and WR Tyler Shoemaker.
"There's always good players out of the East-West Shrine Game," said Hickey. "There's no doubt. A lot of players get drafted out of the East-West Shrine Game every year, so it's very valuable for us to be here and to watch these players."