It was a defensive struggle for the 98th edition of the East-West Shrine Bowl, as turnovers ultimately won the day in a 12-3 kick-fest on Thursday night under the primetime lights.
All 15 points were scored by each roster’s respective kicker, as both offenses struggled to produce against such strong defenses. Michigan kicker Jake Moody won offensive MVP honors, while Florida safety Trey Dean III won defensive MVP for the game.
The MAC representation was evenly split between the East and West rosters, with EMU edge Jose Ramirez and Central Michigan tight end Joel Wilson representing the East, while Toledo defensive lineman Desjuan Johnson and Ball State corner Nic Jones representing the West.
When official stats come in, we will update this page to reflect those numbers, but for now, we review the tape from the game itself for all four of the MAC prospects who participated:
Jose Ramirez, EDGE, Eastern Michigan
Ramirez was one of the prospects coming into the week who had the most eyes on him. He finished the 2022 season as the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year, and was named to three All-American end-of-year teams. This made him a highlight player, and he lived up to the reputation.
Ramirez forced a key turnover in the second half, lining up at the edge position in wide-nine formation, getting around Ole Miss tackle Mason Brooks to strip sack Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito.
This is great hand usage and flexibility by EDGE Jose Ramirez.— Alex King (@AKing_Evals) February 3, 2023
Gets a good jump up field on the vertical rush, shows the long arm before transitioning to a rip move.
Bends the corner staying on his feet thru the hold, sharply flattening the corner for a sack. pic.twitter.com/N5SyKg48lI
Ramirez consistently beat his assignment throughout the game, finding himself in the backfield fairly often. His entire Shrine week lived up to the billing, and he will have another chance to prove himself at the NFL Scouting Combine in March.
Nic Jones, cornerback, Ball State
Nic Jones was not on a lot of radars coming into this week, and played his way into the conversation, dominating one-on-one drills as a coverage corner. The Detroit native was a force on the West defense, frustrating receivers both in practices and in the game.
Jones made at least two key plays which changed the pace of the game, with a pass break-up on third-down early on, and then a heads-up interception on a tipped pass from Tim DeMorat, who had just entered the game for the East.
On the interception, Jones was in coverage on Fresno State’s Nikko Remigio, sitting in zone coverage. When DeMorat was accosted by the oncoming rush, Jones peeled off and dove towards the falling ball for the turnover. He even mamaged to avoid the ground and pick up a decent return, showing his athleticism.
Jones was noted by the coaching staff as one of the most improved players on the defense, and was highlighted several times on the broadcast as one of the most valuable defensive players.
His performance throughout the week had already elevated his potential draft stock from a fringe candidate to perhaps an early Day 3 grade even before the game, and it could well go higher.
Desjuan Johnson, IDL, Toledo
Desjuan Johnson, much like his fellow MAC defensive stars, proved his worth over the week of practices, winning the majority of his one-on-one reps over four days of sessions. The first-team all-MAC down lineman showed great burst and want-to, consistently getting around assignments by blowing past them with his feet, then tossing them aside with his hands.
Johnson helped set the tone early in the game for the West defense, slipping through the gap on the designed counter run pay, then eschewing the block of Penn State interior offensive lineman Juice Scruggs to reach Tulsa running back Deneric Prince for a tackle-for-loss.
He proved his ability to wreck plays, but will have to overcome some poor measurements in order to garner more NFL looks.
Joel Wilson, tight end, Central Michigan
To put it succinctly, the East offense struggled, and every receiver suffered for it.
Quarterbacks wearing white completed just 13 of their 30 combined passes on the day, leaving the leading receivers with two receptions (Jordan Mims) and 27 yards (Joseph Ngata.) Wilson went for one four-yard catch on the day, with a drop on a targeted pass in the redzone which ultimately resulted in an interception by Shrine Bowl Defensive MVP Trey Dean III.
Even if he caught the ball, he would have had a tough time making much of it, as he was draped in coverage by Georgia Tech linebacker Charlie Thomas.
Wilson also struggled in blocking, getting pushed backwards by assignments repeatedly. This was always a weak spot in his game, but he has to improve on it if he wants to be considered as a professional prospect.
One wonders how he would have performed in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl had he stayed there, which was much more wide-open from an offensive perspective.