Lucky for us, the East-West Shrine Game is right in our backyard. The 94th annual invite-only all-star game was held at Tropicana Field again this year and prospects entering the 2019 draft came in from all over the country to participate. For why you should care, the Bucs have ended up with participants from the game on their roster. This past year, both wide receiver Justin Watson and safety Godwin Igwebuike played in the Shrine Game before appearing on Tampa Bay's roster. In other words, it serves as a first-look at potential future Buccaneers.
Perhaps more important than the game is the week leading up to it. Prospects are divided into two teams, aptly named East and West, and under the direction of NFL coaches, practice as a team in the week prior to the game. During these practices, players are able to show off their abilities as well as their adaptability. It’s not easy to play the ultimate team game when you’ve only been a team for seven days.
Between practices and the game, which was broadcast on NFL Network on Saturday afternoon, I’ve picked a few standouts to know as draft season gets underway. The Bucs have the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, putting them in a good position to nab who they want early.
The game itself ended with a score of 21-17 in favor of the West. But it’s really all about the individual performances so here are the guys who stood out:
RB Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska
Ozigbo did well in practice this week, so it was no surprise when he ran in the West’s second touchdown of the game following a defensive takeaway. Ozigbo is big, standing at six-foot and weighing in at 235. He’s got great hands, too, and proved he can be a good pass-catching back that you can use on all three downs.
RB Nick Brossette, LSU
Brossette had the first score for the West on a 22-yard catch in the end zone. It was tied for the second-longest play by the West in the game. Brossette was very active on the opening drive on the ground and in the air. He got some work on the second series as well but then tapered off as the game went on.
CB Montre Hartage, Northwestern
Hartage had a tackle on the opening drive for the West of RB Ty Johnson out of Maryland on a slant for a minimal gain to bring up third-and-long. The big play of the game for the Northwestern product came when he stripped Offensive Player of the Game WR Terry Godwin II out of Georgia of the ball, which was then recovered by Michigan safety Tyree Kinnel. The West then scored easily off that bonus possession. Hartage almost had a pick on Wednesday in practice after a ball went through the hands of a receiver in front of him. He couldn’t quite hold on but his forced fumble on Saturday afternoon more than made up for it.
LB Justin Hollins, Oregon
Hollins showed out and was named Defensive Player of the game for his performance on Saturday. He was all over the field for the West, and more importantly, in the East backfield, recording two sacks in the game. He added a tackle for loss on top of those and 10 combined tackles before the afternoon was over. He also had a fumble recovery. He’s just over six feet (a true six feet) and his 242-pound frame makes him a menace, especially when coming in on the blitz. He’d probably do well in a 3-4 scheme at the next level.
WR Jesper Horsted, Princeton
Horsted was realistic when talking about the uphill battle he faces as an Ivy League product surrounded by prospects from the Power 5 FBS conferences. But an Ivy League wide receiver making it to the next level has been done before, as recently as last year and as close to home as the Bucs. Horsted played against Penn-product Justin Watson, who was drafted by Tampa Bay in the fifth round of the 2018 draft and saw some time on special teams while learning from a stacked receiver corps. Horsted, who wore number 84 in the Shrine Game is built a little more like another 84 Ivy Leaguer in the Bucs’ Cameron Brate when you look at him. During practice, he was very physical and deceivingly quick for his size. His highlight play came on a 38-yard contested completion in the third quarter to get the East offense going as they almost pulled off a comeback after being down 21-0 at one point.
DT Chris Nelson, Texas
Nelson was getting into the backfield all week leading up to Saturday’s game. He then recorded a TFL in the fourth quarter with the game winding down to help hold the East to a field goal on a drive that would have tied the game with a touchdown. He’s a big dude, as you’d expect from a Longhorn, weighing in at 315 but lacking a little bit of height at only 6’1”.
CB Tim Harris, Virginia
In practice this week, Harris played very physical and was able to diagnose and jump routes. He had a couple pass breakups and played good, tight coverage against the aforementioned 6’4” Horsted out of Princeton. On Saturday, he had three combined tackles throughout the game.
WR Jamal Custis, Syracuse
If you’d been paying attention, you’d been hearing all week about how good Custis looked. He did miss a long ball early for the East that would have put them inside the red zone in the first quarter, but he ended up making up for it down the stretch. He had a big first down catch in the red zone in the third quarter where he fought his way for extra yards on a slant. He finished the game with four receptions for 55 yards.
K Matthew Gay, Utah
This guy has a leg. He was drilling 60+ yarders in practice this week. He made good on his two extra points for the East and hit a 47-yarder for the only field goal of the game.
RB Ty Johnson, Maryland
Johnson nabbed back-to-back hard-fought first downs to open the game for the East offense. During practice this week he had great ball security despite the efforts of defenders trying to rip it out. He’s big and and tough, too, playing at 212 pounds and nearly six-foot. He has good hands as well.
WR Terry Godwin II, Georgia
Godwin won Offensive Player of the game for his performance on Saturday. The showing included not one, but two touchdowns for the East in the third quarter, catching passes from QB David Blough out of Purdue, who had Godwin sign a Georgia mini helmet following the game. His second touchdown brought the East to within a score on a 3rd and 12 play where Blough hit him right before the pylon in the left front corner of the end zone. The performance wasn’t totally unexpected from Godwin who had a good week of practice. At 5’11, he’s a bit undersized but he could be good in the slot at the next level.
LB Cole Holcomb, North Carolina
The 6’1” 235-pound linebacker out of North Carolina had two straight pass breakups to force a West punt in third quarter, keeping the game in range for the East who had trailed by as many as 21 in the game. His first pass breakup came at the line as he leapt up to bat it down, showing off some surprising vertical skills. It’ll be interesting to see where he tests at the Combine and could definitely be a sleeper to keep an eye on.
LB BJ Blunt, McNeese State
Blunt was all over the place on Saturday – much like he had been all week. The play of the game for the small-school product came on a diving interception in the third quarter that he returned 21 yards, putting the West just outside the red zone. One play later and it set up another West touchdown. He finished with six combined tackles and another pass broken up. You couldn’t miss Blunt during the week, either. He was very noticeable in practice, singing during warmups, hyping up his teammates and bouncing around. He could really be a great asset on special teams with his athletic ability and energy at the next level.