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Shrine Game gives Bills a chance to unearth hidden gems

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Buffalo Bills are well represented at this week’s East-West Shrine Game – save for one late scratch from their lineup.

The scouting contingent for the team includes General Manager Brandon Beane, assistant GM Joe Schoen, director of player personnel Dan Morgan, director of college scouting Terrance Gray, national scout Dennis Hickey and West Coast scout Doug Majeski, among others. The team also has three coaches working on the coaching staff for Saturday’s game – defensive quality control assistant John Egorugwu and defensive assistant Jim Salgado with the East squad and offensive assistant Chad Hall with the West team.

“There's guys here that will get drafted,” Beane said Tuesday in an interview with The Buffalo News. “You're talking about most of these guys are going to be third-day guys. When I say third day, it could be fifth, sixth, seventh or undrafted. It gives us a chance to get to know some guys, meet with them, find out what drives them. Ask them about what went well in their college career and maybe what didn't.”

The change to the Bills’ front-office representation came in the form of the departure of national scout Marvin Allen to the Miami Dolphins, a move Beane confirmed Tuesday. Allen covered the western half of the country, meaning those responsibilities will have to be divvied up.

“Dan and Joe are going to have to pitch in and fill in on the pro days,” Beane said. “That's really what we're going to miss from him. We have all his background stuff. We're just going to miss splitting up the pro-day stuff that he would cover for us. We'll miss Marvin. He did a great job for us. We hate to lose him, but we're happy for him as well. It's an opportunity that, we couldn't deny it. We appreciate the fact that people do want guys on our staff.

“You never love to see them go in the division, but at the same time, Marvin gave us everything, and this is a chance for the highest spot he's ever had in his career, so you root for that. Even though we're competing with them in the same division. I know he'll do a great job. We busted his chops over texts last night at dinner.”

Hickey oversees the scouting of the southeast area of the country, generally regarded as the most fertile area for finding NFL talent.

“Dennis does a lot of different things,” Beane said. “It's so vast and there's so many players in the SEC and ACC, so Dennis is the main guy in the Southeast for us.”

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While there are some of those players from big-time programs here this week, the Shrine game doesn’t have the prestige of next week’s Senior Bowl. In a way that gives it even more importance for talent evaluators. While there will be first-and second-round picks all over the field next week in Mobile, Ala., the Shrine game offers scouts maybe their first look at prospects. A sampling of schools represented this week includes: Laval, Elon, North Alabama, James Madison, Princeton, Morgan State and the U.S. Military Academy. That’s not exactly a listing of college football’s elite.

“It’s important to hit late in the draft,” Beane said. “As you saw, we found some guys last year undrafted that played minutes. You can find those guys. This is part of the process. There's guys from this game every year that make it and play.”

A look at some of the 2018 participants proves Beane’s point. Denver running back Phillip Lindsay went undrafted last year, but rushed for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns, making the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers was a fifth-round draft choice who started 15 games, making 67 tackles, six passes defensed and three forced fumbles as a rookie.

“Some of these guys here will be at the combine, but a lot of them won't get the invite, so it's the last chance to see them moving around until maybe their pro day,” Beane said. “We've targeted some guys that we want to, A. get to meet, and then B. see them move around. It's a chance for guys from all different schools, different levels.

“You put them on the same playing field for a week. Sometimes it's not even the game, it's just watching guys in one on ones, moving around and making plays, watching them compete, watch them take coaching. Who's listening to their coaches? Who wants to get better? You're watching them even after the play. Is the coach constantly correcting this guy? If you're watching him, and three out of five times the coach is continually correcting him, it's like, ‘This guy may have a hard time transitioning.’ ”

Last year, the Bills signed one player as an undrafted free agent who participated in the Shrine Game – Virginia Tech wide receiver Cam Phillips, who spent most of the year on the team’s practice squad.

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