We are off and running here in Las Vegas for the 97th edition of the East-West Shrine Bowl
After two days covering practice at the UNLV Fertitta Football Complex, and a third day covering practice at Allegiant Stadium, Josh, Dr. Mel, and I arrived back at Allegiant Stadium just before 8:00 AM for the last practice of Shrine Bowl Week before Thursday night’s game. Today, the West was back up first, starting off the first of two light practice sessions at 8:15 AM, all of which can be found in Josh Carney’s West team practice report. With both teams in shorts and shells, today’s practice functioned as more of a walk through for Thursday’s game, with only a few live sessions. As always, I’ll be walking you through my primary takeaways and observations both from Tuesday morning’s East team practice at Allegiant Stadium, as well as my overall thoughts on the squad’s week of practice.
- After observing the West teams practice, as well as the fact that both teams came out in shells for Day 4, it was clear to me that today’s tempo would be much lighter than the previous three days. Regardless, we still got to witness another live red zone WR/DB 1v1 session, along with some moderately live team and 7v7 periods. Likewise, today, I was mainly focused on player movement skills, as well as their attention to detail in a lightened practice setting, which functioned similarly to what they will see in walk-throughs at the NFL level.
- On the injury front, Colorado’s Nate Landman was down at the linebacker spot. As for the defensive backs, Virginia Tech’s Jermaine Waller, and Appalachian State cornerback Shaun Jolly, who really flashed with his movement skills, press coverage ability, and disruptiveness at the catch point was down for the second day in a row, we’ll see if he’s able to get back for the game. Also, Pittsburgh State’s Dallis Flowers, who had really come on strong over the past two practices was down for today as well. On the sideline during defensive back drills, he told me that his calves had been tightening up over the past couple days, and he smartly didn’t want to risk a more serious injury in an All-Star game practice. He said that he’ll be a game time decision for Thursday Night’s game, which kicks off at 8 PM Eastern, but isn’t going to push it if he doesn’t feel 100% with his ever-important pro day coming up. The division II prospect certainly impressed me with his ability to frustrate receivers at the line of scrimmage with his length and physicality, as well as his presence and range in zone coverage. He plays the catch point well, and he could certainly end up hearing his name called in this year’s draft if his pro day numbers look solid. I’ll have an article on my interviews with him and Jolly up on the site later this week.
- Moving into individual drills, per usual, once team stretching had concluded, I headed over to take a closer look at defensive back individual drills, where I was able to continue focusing on players foot quickness and refined movement skills at their respective secondary positions. Decobie Durant continued to stand out as the most fluid mover of the cornerback group in drills. His foot quickness and agility help him transition seamlessly from his pedal, side shuffle, and crossover run into his breaks, where he can get out quickly and cover ground efficiently. For the third consecutive day, quarterbacks stayed away from him in the team and 7v7 sessions, where he rarely allowed receivers to generate separation in man coverage assignments and showed impressive presence in zone assignments. Despite his lack of prototypical size, Durant is consistently able to frustrate receivers in press coverage, using his superior foot quickness to cut off their releases in his mirror press. He also will occasionally mix in aggressive jump jams and one hand stabs to keep receivers guessing. He notably caught the talented Josh Johnson with a jump jam in today’s 1v1 session, not allowing the Tulsa product to get into his route and securing a nice pass breakup. He also later clamped Charleston Rambo on a double move in press coverage, drawing the rare offensive pass interference penalty on the rep. He showed versatility, performing at a high level both on the boundary and in the nickel throughout the week. Him and Dallis Flowers are the two standouts at the position on the East roster, and I believe both will find homes on an NFL roster at some point in this year’s draft.
Over the course of practices, the confidence from @SCState_Fb DB Decobie Durant has continued to grow. Stays square, patient, in good position before Rambo pushes off at the end. Really impressed with him. #ShrineBowl pic.twitter.com/fEGUNA7nnv
— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) February 1, 2022
- Russ Yeast, a safety out of Kansas State also continues to stand out in defensive back drills, where he has shown that he moves more like a corner. That might be because he was a cornerback at Louisville before transferring to Kansas State, where he earned All Big-12 Honors in 2021, compiling 48 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, a forced fumble, 4 INTs, and 10 PBUs. Today in team sessions and 7v7, Yeast saw time at post safety, strong safety, nickel cornerback, and boundary cornerback, standing out as the only defensive back on the East or West roster to see time at all four secondary spots during the practice week. He had another standout day in WR/DB 1v1s, twice getting the better of the 6’5” 260 South Carolina product Nick Muse, who has been tormenting DBs all week with his combination of size, route running, catch radius, and contested catch ability. On both reps, the 5’10” 195-pound Yeast deployed his catch technique, planting his feet at the goal line to force the large tight end off of his route. Once he was in trail technique, with no threat of allowing vertical separation in the red zone, Yeast twice closed to Muse’s near hip before turning to locate the football and showing off his vertical to high point the football for two impressive pass breakups. His combination of man coverage ability, positional versatility, willingness as a tackler, and football IQ, potentially make him a perfect fit to replace Arthur Maulet as a mid-round draft pick. He is the type of player every team needs in the modern NFL, with the ability to defend the run, blitz, play solid man coverage snaps in the slot, allowing the team to deploy Nickel on early downs against teams who live in 11 personnel.
- For the offensive standouts in 1v1s, Josh Johnson continued to show his ability to separate off the line with ease, repeatedly tormenting safeties with his releases and gaining separation on quick out routes for easy touchdowns. Nebraska’s Samori Toure, who both Dallis Flowers and Shaun Jolly told me today on the sideline was the best of the bunch in the receiver group continued to impress with his contested catch ability, notably grabbing a toe tapping contested ball on the back line of the end zone with Decobie Durant in coverage. UCLA’s Kyle Phillips, who along with Johnson is the best route runner of the group, continued to be a mismatch for safeties in the slot, catching multiple touchdowns in the session while showing the ability to run an extensive route tree. He can flat out get open at the slot position and will have a role as a slot receiver and third down man coverage beater at the next level. Charleston Rambo had a solid week in 1s as well, finishing it off today with a touchdown on a smooth out route, in which he attacked the defenders inside leverage with a head fake and pressure step before darting toward the pylon for a touchdown. At tight end, Nick Muse continued dominating at the catch point, showing once again today as he mossed Middle Tennessee State’s Reed Blankenship, who had great coverage on the seam ball, for another touchdown.
— EJ Snyder (@thedraftsmanFB) February 1, 2022
- Georgia Tech’s Juanyeh Thomas also deserves props for a nice rep in the drill today, staying disciplined on a whip route by Charlseton Rambo, and undercutting it for a nice PBU. Thomas, along with Quentin Lake and Russ Yeast, is one of the better safeties at the All-Star game in terms of man coverage ability.
- In today’s team session, Brown Quarterback E.J. Perry had the best day of any quarterback thus far, notably pushing the ball downfield more than anybody at the position had all week. In what was the play of the week for him, Perry held Decobie Durant from sinking with his eyes before hitting a Cover 2 hole shot to Nick Muse, who did well selling a double move up the sideline. Perry put some nice zip on the football, allowing Muse to waltz into the end zone untouched. Muse is such a crafty route runner for a player of his size, also scoring on an out route at the goal line later in team sessions, a trait that was underutilized in his tenure as a gamecock. Beyond that, Perry had a nice back shoulder throw to Samori Toure, who was blanketed in coverage by Durant in man coverage, placing the ball low and away where only his receiver could find it for the touchdown. While he wasn’t perfect this week, his ability to cut things loose and take some shots downfield in contested coverage made him a winner in my book. He also mentioned in a recent interview with our Dr. Mel that he believes he can test in the mid-4.5s with his 40 time at his upcoming pro day, a number which would undoubtedly boost his draft stock. The team ran a naked boot for him at the end of the team session, so look for him to showcase those wheels in Thursday night’s game if he gets the chance to take off.
EJ Perry has just flat out impressed me. Always getting vertical. Seeing the field. Processes quickly. Hits Nick Muse here. pic.twitter.com/f63Hsyy5VA
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) February 1, 2022
- Finally, Diego Fagot made a nice play in coverage, coming up from his hook/curl zone in the Cover 3 scheme to undercut a stick route for a PBU, although he may have been able to pick the ball off had he not winded up and swatted it like a shot blocker. Great play regardless for the Navy Linebacker, leading to a comical moment with his teammates, who audibly remarked “there you go Mutombo!”
- To finish practice, everything went to walk though tempo as the East squad began running through their script in the final practice before Thursday Night’s game.
- My final East squad winners through the four practices of Shrine Bowl Week: Brown QB E.J. Perry, Nebraska WR Samori Toure, Tulsa WR Josh Johnson, Miami WR Charleston Rambo, UCLA WR Kyle Phillips, South Carolina TE Nick Muse, VA Tech IOL Brock Hoffman, Utah OT Bam Olaseni, Kentucky DT Marquon McCall, Coastal Carolina Edge Jeffery Gunter, Navy ILB Diego Fagot, South Carolina State CB Decobie Durant, Pittsburgh State CB Dallis Flowers, UCLA Safety Quentin Lake, and Kansas State Safety Russ Yeast
The East-West Shrine Bowl practice week is officially in the books, and I want to thank all of you for following along with me, Josh, and Dr. Mel’s coverage this week. Make sure to pay attention to some of these names during Thursday night’s game and be on the lookout for more interviews from this week’s media sessions. Personally, I’ll have interviews going up from my conversations with Nick Muse, Dallis Flowers, Jeffery Gunter, Josh Johnson, and Shaun Jolly in the coming days. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!