ST. PETERSBURG — It was a good week of practice for Florida International quarterback James Morgan at the East-West Shrine Bowl. It was an even better game for him Saturday.
Morgan started and shined brightest for the East all-stars, leading his team to touchdowns in each of his first two drives, throwing an 8-yard scoring strike to Louisiana’s Ja’Marcus Bradley in a 31-27 win over the West.
“It’s a testament to all the athletes we had on the team," Morgan said. “We had guys making incredible plays and just kind of putting it in their general area and they’ll come down with it. The blocking was phenomenal. The running was phenomenal and it ended up being the whole day and I’m happy to come out with a win."
Born and raised in Green Bay and attending high school 2 miles from Lambeau Field, Morgan wore No. 4 until the eighth grade and No. 12 ever since.
“You can probably connect the dots with that one," Morgan said.
Morgan will never be confused with Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers. He was an under-the-radar player in the eyes of most NFL scouts until he opened a few this week.
“I hope I did with my play, my work ethic, my leadership," Morgan said. “But I really enjoyed it."
Morgan has NFL size at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. He demonstrated the best arm strength of any quarterback invited to the All-Star game this week.
Morgan went 9 of 14 passing for 114 yards and a touchdown during the three drives he played in Saturday. Regardless of what the Bucs do with Jameis Winston, they should be in the market for a young quarterback to develop as an eventual starter or backup.
Who knows whether Morgan has done enough to be among the names called during the NFL draft April 23-25.
But Morgan wrapped up a pretty solid season Saturday. Playing for former Miami Hurricanes, Browns and North Carolina coach Butch Davis, he passed for 2,585 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, giving him 40 in his career, the second most in school history.
Bucs inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell, who was selected to be the head coach of the East squad this week, said Tampa Bay should benefit from the information he gathered on players this week.
“Just building relationships with guys," Caldwell said. “That’s the most important part, to be able to see how they learn. Just to be able to get to know them, get to know the person and see what makes them tick.”
Morgan capped the week on Saturday by winning the Pat Tillman award for character, intelligence and achievements on and off the field. Tillman, the former Cardinals safety who joined the Army and died in combat in Afghanistan in 2004, played in the East-West Shrine Bowl in 1998.
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“Just researching Pat Tillman and everything about him, it was incredible to be honored like that,” Morgan said.
The Bucs haven’t drafted many players who participated in the East-West Shrine Game. Receiver Justin Watson, who played in this game in 2018, is the latest on the 53-man roster.
With 19 free agents, the Bucs have plenty of needs, especially on the offensive and defensive line. Here are a few who stood out during practices this week and showed up Saturday.
Kendall Coleman, DE, Syracuse
Coleman was one of the best players on the field Saturday and it showed. He was very consistent in one-on-one pass rush drills all week, has a quick get off and natural bend toward the quarterback. On Saturday, he did a good job of getting off blocks and played the run as well as the pass. He drew a face mask penalty in the fourth quarter, wiping away a sack. But goodness, what a rush.
Michael Danna, DE, Michigan
He may have been overlooked with all the talent the Wolverines have on defense, but Danna is one of those guys who impresses the more you watch him. He is very active with his hands and on Saturday flattened Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley in the backfield for a loss. At 6-foot-2, 257 pounds, he would project as an outside linebacker in the Bucs’ 3-4 scheme.
James Robinson, RB, Illinois State
The Bucs need a natural pass catcher in the backfield. More than that, they need someone who has the speed to make yards after the catch. Ronald Jones struggled in that area this season. The 5-foot-9, 219-pound Robinson turned a short pass into a 46-yard gain by out-running the East secondary in the first half Sunday. He added a 63-yard touchdown run with 7:55 in the fourth quarter to give the West the lead. Robinson finished with seven carries for 80 yards rushing and a score.
Malcolm Perry, WR, Navy
Perry turned in one of the biggest plays of the game, taking a direct snap and outracing the West defense for a 52-yard TD run on his only carry. The Navy quarterback rushed for 2,017 rushing yard, surpassing Jordan Lynch’s record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season. But he projects as a receiver or third-down running back at the next level. Perry is just a big-time play-maker and he scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday.
“Coach gave me the opportunity, I got the snap and kind of did what I did in college," Perry said of his scoring run Saturday. “It was pretty natural but grateful I got the opportunity and happy I got in the end zone."
Perry says he’s working on route-running to become a receiver.
“Whatever the team feels I should do, I’m going to do my best," Perry said. “I feel like if I get the ball and get in space, I’m pretty good. Those are my strengths but right now I’m working on route running and trying to improve that part of my game."
Benny LeMay, RB, Charlotte
Everybody knew LeMay could run with power, but he showed better than average speed in rushing 16 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner. LeMay was named the game’s most valuable offensive player.
Keep an eye on
Miami linebackers, Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney
Had the Hurricanes had a better season, these guys may have had a bigger profile. But Quarterman and Pinckney were at a different level Saturday and should have gotten an invite to a better all-star game.
Luther Kirk, S, Illinois State
The 6-1, 192-pound Kirk is small for an NFL safety but can cover some ground and had an interception in being named the defensive player of the game.