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Shrine Game Notebook: Early entrant deadline arrives, coaches named

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A significant deadline on the NFL calendar arrived Monday.

Jan. 15 is the last day for college football underclassmen to declare for the year's NFL Draft. While the official number of players who did just that won't be released by the NFL until Friday, the league's official website has kept a running tally on players who have already made their intentions known. As of Monday, that number was a whopping 113 players, which would easily break the record of 98 early entrants for the 2014 draft. There were 95 players in 2017, 96 players in 2016 and just 74 in 2015 who left school with eligibility remaining.

Underclassmen are expected to dominate the top of the draft, with quarterbacks like UCLA's Josh Rosen and Southern Cal's Sam Darnold potentially being the top two picks. The story won't be the same for every early entrant, though.

"Many are making a mistake and won’t go nearly as high as they thought," tweeted Greg Gabriel, a Buffalo native who previously worked as the Chicago Bears' director of college scouting. "The players aren’t properly educated as to the process. ... Not only does a prospect have to be physically ready to compete with men, he has to be mentally mature enough. So many are not – 40 percent declaring won’t get drafted.

"The NFL knows this is a problem and refuses to do anything about it. These kids need to learn more about the real process, then so many mistakes won’t be made. Colleges are at fault also."

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Coaches for this week's game are Jonathan Hayes of the Cincinnati Bengals and Bobby Johnson of the Oakland Raiders. Hayes has coached the Bengals' tight ends for the past 15 seasons following a 12-year playing career with the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Johnson has 23 years of coaching experience and served the last three years as the Raiders' right ends coach. He coached with the Buffalo Bills for two years from 2010-11 as an assistant offensive line coach.

"Our partnership with the NFL has once again given us two excellent head coaches," said Harold Richardson, executive director of the East-West Shrine Game, in a statement. "Jonathan Hayes and Bobby Johnson are both outstanding coaches and certainly up-and-coming NFL head coaching prospects. It is not only a great opportunity for them, but it is also a great learning experience for our players as they prepare for their NFL careers."

East team quarterbacks have plenty to prove at Shrine Game

Both Hayes and Johnson have staffs made up of current NFL assistant coaches whose teams did not advance to the playoffs. The NFL also provides the game officials.

"The East-West Shrine Game is not only a showcase for tremendous athletes who have a dream of playing at the next level, it is also a venue for upwardly mobile coaches in the NFL,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said in a statement. “This is an opportunity to further develop, evaluate and showcase our assistant coaches who may be our next generation of head coaches.”

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The East-West Shrine Game is college football's oldest all-star game. Played annually since 1925, it's now in its 93rd season and features all-star rosters from the eastern and western portions of the U.S. Each team has a total of 115 players split between the two teams.

Across the country, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which is in its seventh season, will also be held Saturday. Next week, the Senior Bowl will take place in Mobile, Ala., as the pre-draft process moves along.

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