East-West Shrine's biggest player Ellis expands skills

Published January 16 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Justin Ellis understands that his size alone helps him stand out on a roster. At 351 pounds, the defensive tackle from Louisiana Tech is the biggest of the 100-plus players in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.

His challenge this week is to show coaches and scouts how much he can do with his massive frame to disrupt opposing offenses. His first three practices for the West squad have been an impressive showing of his power.

"There are great guys from all over the country here, so you can get that NFL feel, what it's going to be like at that level," Ellis, who had 48 tackles and 5½ for losses as a senior playing for former USF coach Skip Holtz, said Wednesday.

"I've been getting better every day. I think I've had a decent week."

Ellis was listed at 357 pounds on Louisiana Tech's roster and weighed in officially at 351 for Saturday's game but said his goal is to put himself in shape to play at 335, if not lower. His strength is a given, so he's focused on showing athleticism and a burst of speed at the line of scrimmage, lining up in practice against elite program stars such as Oklahoma C Gabe Ikard.

"All my life I've been the strongest person on my team. I'm pretty powerful in the weight room," said Ellis, who has been training in Houston since the end of his senior season with other draft hopefuls.

BIG KICKS: The game has played host to top kickers in recent years: Georgia's Blair Walsh (Vikings) and Missouri Western State's Greg Zuerlein (Rams) played in 2012 at Tropicana Field, and Florida's Caleb Sturgis (Dolphins) played in last year's game.

East coach Jerry Glanville said his kicker this year, Arkansas' Zach Hocker, connected on a 60-yard field goal in Wednesday's morning practice. Hocker went 3 for 4 beyond 50 yards this season with a long of 54 yards.

The West's kicker might have a stronger resume: Texas' Anthony Fera was a Lou Groza Award finalist and second-team All-America selection. He went 6 for 8 beyond 40 yards with a season-long of 50 yards. He also handled the punting for the Longhorns.

THIS AND THAT: Practices have drawn more than NFL scouts, with dozens of Canadian Football League coaches and executives in attendance. Former Bucs DT Chris Hovan has been a regular, working now as an assistant for the Arena League's Tampa Bay Storm after time as a strength coach at USF. … Best defensive play of the afternoon practice was Michigan State LB Max Bullough making a high grab to intercept a pass from Ball State's Keith Wenning. … One big target to keep an eye on Saturday is Baylor TE Jordan Najvar, who is 6 feet 6, 255 pounds and has impressed coaches with his ability to go across the middle, this despite totaling only 10 catches as a senior.