Coming out of the weekend here in Las Vegas, the East-West Shrine Bowl staff had a surprise in store for those covering practices, moving Day 3 practices inside to Allegiant Stadium Monday morning, home of the Las Vegas Raiders.
Let me tell you, saying that the stadium is breathtaking is an understatement. It’s undoubtedly the Death Star, and it’s just ginormous inside. What a treat it was to get to watch Day 3 of practices for both the East and West teams Monday morning from the sideline.
Like we did Saturday and Sunday, I will cover West practice, while Owen Straley will cover the East.
-After watching the offensive and defensive lines extensively on Sunday, I switched things up this morning and went to take a closer look at the receivers, tight ends and cornerbacks for the West squad. There’s some serious talent here, with the likes of Baylor wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, Oklahoma State wide receiver Tay Martin, Virginia tight end Jelani Woods and Maryland tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo on offense, and guys like Arizona State cornerback Chase Lucas, Baylor cornerback Kalen Barnes, and North Carolina cornerback Kyler McMichael on the defensive side of the football.
-Thornton and Martin had a great day in 1v1 drills as Thornton continues to show off his ability to play throughout contact despite a thin frame. He was really good in redzone 1v1, winning on back-shoulder throws through contact, while Martin was able to wiggle free time and time against the likes of Barnes and Missouri Western State cornerback Sam Webb. He has great body control and just really knows how to get clean releases off the line and win late in reps.
-Woods is an absolute freak show on the field. He’s incredibly tough to cover due to his size and athleticism, and consistently finds himself open and moves very well for his size. He’s a definite mismatch as soon as he steps onto the field. Okonkwo is nowhere close to Woods’ size and skill, but he had a really strong day as well, winning often in redzone drills and also had two long catches up the seam in the team scrimmage, one of which went for a touchdown. He rebounded from a rough first two days to showcase his skills.
-I was really impressed by Lucas in individual and team drills today. He got a ton of work in the nickel, was really physical and played sticky in coverage throughout the morning practice. What stands out the most with him those is his comfort being the loudest player on the field at all times. He’s a great communicator and is always picking up his teammates. He’s very clearly comfortable in this type of environment, which is great to see.
-Barnes is a guy that caught my attention Sunday due to his speed and physicality in coverage, and he once again had a strong day on Monday morning, especially in 1v1. He’s so fluid and can really squeeze guys to the perimeter, allowing his length to win. He did lose one rep to Martin on a fade to the right corner because he looked back to find the football, but on the very next rep, he never looked back and played through the hands, forcing an incompletion. He’s a corner to really keep an eye on moving forward in the draft process.
-McMichael was really solid in 1v1, getting super physical with guys in routes and disrupting timing. He had a bad rep late to close the team portion of practice as he was late rotating over towards the sideline in Cover 2, leaning too hard on the seam route, allowing Arizona wide receiver Stanley Berryhill II to shake free and score down the sideline in the hurry-up offensive drill.
-When I did get the chance to check out the offensive linemen and defensive linemen on the day, North Dakota State’s Cordell Volson and Florida’s Jean Delance continue to impress. Volson has looked very comfortable and outright dominant at left and right guard, and left tackle. He is thriving in the 1v1 pass rush drills at guard and is making himself a lot of money this week. Delance is a guy that gained my attention Sunday and sparked my interest even further Monday. He buried Army’s Nolan Cockrill in a stretch zone 9-on-7 run play, and showed great feet and length in 1v1 pass rush drills, shutting down a pair of rush reps on the day.
-A name to watch at the running back position continues to be North Carolina’s Ty Chandler. He was a former top recruit that transferred from Tennessee to UNC for the 2021 season and put up a good season. This week, he’s looked like the best back in Las Vegas. He explodes downhill with the football in his hands and is really flashing great hands out of the backfield and a good feel for how to set up defenders in space. It’s very noticeable how much faster he plays compared to the other running backs on the West team.
-Clemson linebacker Baylon Specter deserves a ton of credit. He’s out here with a club on his hand and is fighting his tail off to make plays when he could be back at Clemson rehabbing his injury and preparing for his Pro Day. Instead, he showed up in Vegas and has played with great energy. He was rewarded with an impressive interception in Cover 2 running up the seam, picking off Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, club and all.
-Tuesday marks the final day or practices here in Las Vegas ahead of Thursday’s game. The Steelers Depot crew that is out here will continue to bring you practice notes, profiles and segments of interviews from a handful of players that we’ve talked to while here in Las Vegas.