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Standouts emerge in East-West Shrine practices


The overall talent level of prospects attending the East-West Shrine Game in Houston has improved steadily each of the past two years.

Texans wide receiver Jacoby Jones, Saints wide receiver Marques Colston, Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, Dolphins quarterback John Beck and Bears defensive back Danieal Manning all improved their draft stock with strong performances in Shrine practices in the previous two years.

In fact, that is where the Texans discovered Jones, a third-round draft pick from Lane College.

The week of Shrine Game workouts in the Methodist Training Center adjacent to Reliant Stadium proved that there continues to be an upward trend in talent.

The Texans primarily have been evaluating defensive backs and running backs, but several players grabbed the attention of scouts from across the league.

East Team standouts
Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson may be small, but the 5-10, 180-pound wideout showed exceptional speed and quickness, which allowed him to create good separation on his routes. Jackson also made strong moves after the catch.

"This week of practice has been pretty cool," said Dexter, who garnered national attention when his school upset Michigan last season. "I've been meeting guys from bigger schools, me coming from Ap State, which is Division I-AA. It's been a real blessing to be here, learning from coach (Dick) Vermeil and Shawn Jefferson, our receiver's coach. It's been cool just learning the system from the NFL."

Another receiver getting attention was Wisconsin's Paul Hubbard. The 6-4, 213-pound prospect ran track in college and showcased his NFL size and the speed. Scouts, however, commented that his route-running needed improvement.

"They are telling me to work on the routes, refine the routes because sometimes I like to drift upfield a little bit on some of the routes and give the DB's a chance to get in there," Hubbard said. "But I feel like I did a better job of it today, you know, staying on point with the routes and the route depths."

Coastal Carolina wideout Jerome Simpson could be the most hyped player in the Shrine Game. The small-school prospect entered the week with a fair amount of buzz after racking up 27 touchdowns in the last two seasons. During the weigh-in session on Monday, the 6-2, 190-pounder measured the longest arms and second-biggest hands. He put those assets to use, stretching out for long-range grabs and consistently holding on to the ball.

{QUOTE}Virginia Tech offensive tackle Duane Brown (6-5, 302) was the most impressive offensive lineman, utilizing his outstanding size and good footwork feet to get into position.

"I just wanted to work hard and try to get better everyday and I think I did that today," Brown said.

"I'm a real underrated prospect. I'm not really one of the top tackles and I just want to show the nation that I belong in this league with this caliber of players."

Another Hokie standout was safety D.J. Parker, who delivered big hits and made several interceptions on deep throws. At 5-11, 190, Parker played bigger than his size and showed an outstanding sense of timing when hitting receivers over the middle.

"I had a good day," Parker said on Wednesday. "I had an interception in seven-on-seven and broke up a couple of good passes.

"There's a lot of competition out here, but competition is good because it pushes me."

Georgia running back Thomas Brown and South Carolina rusher Cory Boyd also deserved mention. Brown showed his toughness, fighting for extra yardage and holding on to the ball after taking big hits. Boyd proved his field awareness, taking advantage of blocks and making tough catches on solid routes.

West Team standoutsOklahoma tight end Joe Jon Finley (6-6, 260) stood out as more than just a big body, he ran crisp routes, made sharp cuts and did a nice job of separating from his defenders. Finley doesn't possess explosive speed, but he makes up for it with his fundamentals.

Finely said the most challenging part of the week was interviewing with scouts.

"It's something I didn't expect," Finley said. "They ask me everything from stuff about my parents, my girlfriend, to what kind of drugs I may have used and whether I'd like to be a dog or a cat. It's a little weird, but I guess they've got to do what they've got to do."

Oklahoma's Allen Patrick emerged as the highest-rated running back on the West squad. He consistently ran through seams and showed good footwork when bursting through holes. Patrick could probably play on special teams in the NFL, but his receiving skills needed improvement.

UTEP's Marcus Thomas also proved himself on the ground with quick and shifty footwork. The 6-1, 215-pound running back racked up 1166 yard rushing and 16 touchdowns last season, but Thomas said he wanted to prove that he can block and catch.

"I think scouts saw that I can run the hard," Thomas said. "But I've got to keep working."

Speaking of hard work, defensive tackle Derek Lokey earned the respect of scouts with his relentless tenacity on the field. The 6-2, 290-pound tackle was quick off the line, employed sound technique and pushed away blockers with his strong hands. Lokey lacked the size of a first-round pick, but showed he could add depth to an NFL defensive line.

At the end of the week, all of these players just hope that attendees like Houston general manager Rick Smith, Cleveland general manager Phil Savage, Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome and Jacksonville general manager Shaq Harris will remember their standout play on draft day.

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