NFL Draft

East-West Shrine Bowl: East Practice Notes (Day 1)

Today marked the inaugural day of the East/West Shrine game practice week, with the East team kicking things off at UNLV’s practice facility this morning. Given my expertise of the defensive back position, as well as my years of experience in guarding opposing receivers, I decided that for my first day of in person scouting, I would focus on the WRs and DBs in drills as well as team sessions.

A couple names that stood out during the East practice session were Tulsa WR Josh Johnson, Appalachian State DB Shaun Jolly, Middle Tennessee State S Reed Blankenship, and UCLA S Quentin Lake.

Johnson was a name I wasn’t too familiar with coming into the day, but he separated effortlessly in WR/DB 1v1s, showing the ability to beat press coverage with crafty releases. In punt return drills, Johnson looked natural fielding the ball and making defenders miss before striding downfield. His movement skills remind me somewhat of Dionate Johnson, another player of shorter stature who wins with his top notch agility, and can run away from people with his lengthy, galloping strides for a player of his size. In my later conversations with Shaun Jolly and Dallis Flowers, both noted Josh Johnson as the hardest receiver to guard on the day, noting his quickness and ability to separate off the line of scrimmage. He’ll be my top receiver to watch as the week continues.

At the corner position,  Jolly was the big winner of the day. Talking to Shaun, he hadn’t played too much press man at the collegiate level prior to his senior season, as App State relied heavily on a Cover 3 zone scheme in his earlier years. Regardless, Jolly came out and had the best day of any defensive back in 1v1s, routinely frustrating receivers with his patient mirror press. Being a corner of smaller stature, his sink and drive motion is extremely fluid, allowing him to change direction effortlessly. Combine that with his patience and discipline in coverage, and you get results like he produced today, routinely suffocating receivers on shallow and intermediate routes, while also showing the ability to carry larger framed receivers vertically. Although they only played Cover 1 and Cover 3 in the team sessions, Jolly was able to showcase his ability to flourish in zone coverage, where his football IQ is able to shine. I can’t wait to see him build on a strong day one as the week continues.

Although he certainly had his struggles in 1v1s, a drill that is certainly slanted toward the offense, and moreover, rarely favors safety’s, Blankenship rebounded and was a standout in the team sessions. Standing next to our own Josh Carney, we were both astonished by the sound of some of the hits Blankenship was delivering on an every-down basis. Although the drills were not fully live, Blankenship did his best to showcase what put him on the map at the collegiate level, where he exited as Middle Tennessee State’s all time leading tackler. As they mostly ran single high today, Blankenship showed some range and ability to man the post safety slot as well. While his man coverage will certainly need to improve, he profiles as an excellent special teamer and sub package Dime defender at the next level.

Finally, a name which has long been connected to the Steelers in Lake, son of former Steelers great Carnell Lake, had a great start to the day, showing up as the first man on the practice field. In a conversation with Josh, Dr. Mel, and myself, Lake cited Chip Kelly’s up tempo practices at UCLA for helping him get into great cardio shape, something that was evident as he flew around all day, rarely appearing as fatigued as other players. In the defensive back individual drills, Lake showcased his fluid movement skills, with loose hips and the ability to explode and cover ground out of his breaks. In the 1v1 drills, Lake was one of the few safety’s along with Georgia Tech’s Juanyeh Thomas, to excel against the East teams talented slot receivers, showing his already strong ability in man coverage, an uncommon trait for a young safety exiting college. He would go on to cite his high school cornerback background, and longstanding battles with former high school teammate Amonra St. Brown, as having prepared him to excel in man coverage. Moving into team drills, Lake communicated well and showcased further versatility in his ability to show his range as the post safety in Cover 1 and Cover 3 schemes. I am super excited to see how he builds on a strong day 1.

Quick Thoughts from Day 1

  • Pittsburg State DB Dallis Flowers in punt return lines has noticeably natural ability to field punts and get downhill
  • Tulsa’s Josh Johnson extremely smooth in fielding punts and getting downhill, reminds me of Diontae Johnson in his movement skills
  • Shaun Jolly looks extremely smooth in his weave and pedal
  • Quentin Lake appeared to have great hip fluidity in the transition drill
  • South Carolina State CB Decobie Durant and Virginia Tech’s Jermaine Waller both had noticeably quick hips in the transition drill
  • Flowers appears to lack hip mobility in the transition drill
  • Solid pedal and break reps from Georgia Tech S Juanyeh Thomas and Jolly
  • Durant was slow to get his eyes to the target in break drills
  • Thomas was noticeably explosive out of his breaks and covers significant ground
  • Boston College’s Brandon Sebastian looked fluid in his speed turn and high point ability in drills
  • Flowers appeared slow in his speed turn in drills
  • Jolly is a natural catcher of the football
  • Durant and Jolly were noticeably smooth in the lateral movement/break drills
  • WR/DB 1v1s
  • Decobie Durant got beaten off the line on a slant
  • Lake allows short catch on out route, but shows great close and finish to limit the catch to a short gain
  • Waller with a nice press coverage rep, stays patient, locates the receivers hip, and undercuts the comeback route for a PBU
  • Shaun Jolly competitive in press coverage to stay in phase and undercut a curl route for a PBU
  • Juanyeh Thomas excelling in his slot reps
  • Brandon Sebastian wins with physicality in press coverage
  • Quentin Lake with press coverage on the slot, physical at the line of scrimmage before undercutting a deep out for the first pick of the session
  • Reed Blankenship having a tough time staying on his feet in 1v1 slot matchups
  • Decobie Durant struggling to locate the ball downfield at the catchpoint throughout the session
  • Shaun Jolly routinely physical and competitive at the catch point throughout the session, both on his breakups and contested catches allowed, showing consistency in his approach
  • Sebastian beaten on slant by Josh Johnson, who used a crafty diamond release to turn the cornerback around off the line in press coverage, creating plenty of separation for the easy pitch and catch
  • Quentin Lake slips out of his break after some physicality by Nick Muse at the top of his route, allowing an in breaking reception
  • Muse routinely won throughout the session with physical second level releases
  • Dallis Flowers routinely struggled both in his press work at the line of scrimmage as well as playing the ball downfield
  • Shaun Jolly has elite change of direction skills, and can sink his hips and fly out of breaks effortlessly
  • Brandon Sebastian routinely struggled to match receivers physicality at the top of their routes, allowing separation
  • Juanyeh Thomas with a nice physical rep, jamming the slot receiver at the line in press coverage before undercutting the the deep out route
  • Josh Johnson, from Tulsa, was the winner of the day at receiver, showing quickness and an effortless ability to separate both at the line of scrimmage and at the top of his routes
  • Dallis Flowers was routinely slow to react at the catch point when he was in phase
  • Brandon Sebastian loses footing at the top of a corner route after some back and forth physicality, allows an easy touchdown
  • Shaun Jolly’s mirror press was his best weapon on the day, routinely frustrating receivers and suffocating their airspace with a patient press off the line before getting physical at the top of their routes
  • Russ Yeast, Kansas State Safety, with a nice undercut from the slot for a PBU on the last rep of 1v1s
  • Into the team session
  • Reed Blankenship will hit! Even in a tag off session, the Middle Tennessee State product was sure to make his presence felt with the pop of his pads
  • Dallis Flowers continued to panic at the catch point in team, drawing multiple flags
  • All cornerbacks for the East team took reps both in the slot as well as on the boundary
  • Nick Muse continued to excel with physicality in the 7s session, catching tough balls in traffic and making DBs pay after the catch
  • Jermaine Waller with the play of the day defensively, man coverage in the slot, shows great patience, drives the hitch, plays through the hands, and catches the lose ball for the rare PBU/INT combo
  • In the team sessions Josh Johnson proved to be an elusive YAC threat after the catch
  • Best throw of the session a beautifully timed and placed throw on a seven cut from E.J. Perry
  • Catch of the day offensively, a great combat catch from Charleston Rambo with Jermaine Waller in great coverage
  • Muse continues to be physical after the catch
  • Josh Johnson appears Diontae Johnson like in his work fielding punts and making multiple defenders miss before getting downfield, easily the most impressive in the East return lines, holds ball a bit loose
  • Jeffery Gunter with a nice hands and ability to push the pocket and shed blocks both in the run game and as a pass rusher
  • Jermiane Waller showed solid work as a jammer on punt return
  • Josh Johnson is an extremely long strider for his size, think Martavis Bryant/Dionate Johnson type strides
  • Tommy Heatherly, a punter from FIU, has a massive leg and let off some great distance punts with solid hang time, though still searching for more consistency

Day one of the East/West shrine bowl practice sessions certainly brought some fun moments as some players rose to prominence with solid performances in today’s inaugural practice session. Josh, Dr. Mel, and myself, will be back out tomorrow looking to identify some draft and UDFA fits for the Steelers. Be on the lookout for our reports tomorrow night!

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