Prospects eager to impress in East-West game

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 20, 2012

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Head coach Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings reacts against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Goodbye spread offense, hello pro-style attack. Former NFL coaches Brad Childress and Bobby Ross have a good understanding of what it takes for college prospects to succeed on the next level. They are showing players in Saturday's East-West Shrine all-star game some things that will help them showcase their skills for scouts and others evaluating their potential. While many of the players likely to be drafted early in the NFL draft are headed to Mobile, Ala., for next week's Senior Bowl, the standouts that Childress and Ross have worked with over the past week are getting an opportunity to impress teams that might consider selecting them in later rounds. Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is here. So are Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish and Florida's John Brantley, also hoping to show where they stack up in a draft class that's almost certain to be led in April by likely No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. Receivers B.J. Cunningham of Michigan State and Greg Childs of Arkansas, Boise State defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford, TCU linebacker Tank Carder and cornerback Justin Bethel of tiny Presbyterian College are among those trying to bolster their stock as well. ''This is a huge game for me. I can show that even though I went to a little school, I'm capable of competing at the highest level,'' Bethel said. ''This is a week to make my name, this and the (NFL) combine. I feel like I'm on a level playing field. It doesn't matter what school you're from out there. If you make a play, people are going to notice.'' That's what Childress and Ross have in mind. Although spread offenses have become very popular in the college game, pro teams are interested in finding out more about how players might fit into schemes they're likely to be asked to learn when they wind up in NFL or even Canadian Football League training camps. ''Some of these guys have worked in offenses that don't necessarily translate to what they'll be doing in the NFL. ... I'm a coach who believes in the players making the system, not the system making the player. The talent is going to shine through,'' Ross said. ''Nobody's paying attention right now to any one particular person. For the guys who were the big guys on their team, this is a little bit of a different deal. It's a little more like what they'll be seeing when they get in a camp. The talent level goes up. ... Our job is to put in a base operation, then let them perform. Let these scouts evaluate them. They don't want a spread offense. They want a pro offense.'' Childress, who recently interviewed the head coaching vacancy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, agreed. ''This also is a great place to see who can take in a lot of new information and transfer it quickly to the field. That's one quality everyone is watching,'' the former Minnesota Vikings coach said. ''We're limited by formation, but we're not limited by volume. So you throw it all at them and see what sticks.'' Persa and Harnish, who'll play for the West, are eager to get on the field. ''For me, it's an opportunity to work in a pro-style offense after working so much in a spread. I'm looking forward to improving,'' Persa said. ''This is a crazy week. It's about seeing something, walking through something, then having to execute it pretty quickly. You've just got to go play. You can't be looking around, worrying about what they think about you. Most of what you've done is on film. This is a chance to refine the process and let them get to know you a little more.'' Harnish and Brantley, who's playing for the East, likened the experience of learning a new offense and preparing for the game at Tropicana Field to a week-long interview for a job. ''It's a cram session. There are whole new concepts we have to learn and a whole new set of terminology. We're getting together with new guys and trying to get down our timing. We've got to learn to step around and deal with an NFL-style pass rush. This is huge for us,'' Harnish said. ''At the beginning, everybody was still a little confused, but then everybody picked up on it easier,'' Brantley said. ''You can learn a bunch. You've learned so much in the past, but there's always more. You're never perfect. You never know it all. The more you can pick up here, the better.''
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