2023 East-West Shrine Bowl Practice Notes, Day 1

We are off and running here in Las Vegas for the 98th edition of the East-West Shrine Bowl.

This year, myself, Joe Cammarota, Melanie Friedlander, Owen Straley and Joe Clark are in Las Vegas to cover the Shrine Bowl for Steelers Depot. The crew jumped in an Uber and headed over to the Fertitta Football Complex in the heart of the University of Nevada Las Vegas’s campus for Day 1 of practices.

With five sets of eyes this year, we were able to fully cover practice. Below, all five us of will offer our thoughts on what we say on Day 1 of the East and West practices. The East team hit the field first, led by the Atlanta Falcons’ coaching staff, while the West team practiced second.

Josh Carney’s notes:

East team —

The first day of practice here in Las Vegas was highly anticipated. Once we arrived at the Fertitta Football Complex, it was a bit of a disappointment to see that Pittsburgh OT Carter Warren and San Jose State EDGE Viliami Fehoko were out with injuries, causing some changes to the roster. Both were inside my top 10 players to watch this week.

Once the teams hit the field, Houston fullback/defensive lineman Derek Parish really caught my attention early on. He has a great frame overall. Massive legs, moves with serious power and purpose. Was constantly jumping into reps, had a real enthusiasm/determination to his game.

I was really excited to see South Carolina State wide receiver Shaquan Davis in person. Movement skills/gait really remind me of former Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant. Tracks the football extremely well down the field. Struggled throughout the first day though with creating separation, and consistently catching the football. Excited to see how he bounces back on Day 2.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan and Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell had solid days overall. Morgan threw some impressive balls, especially downfield, while O’Connell made good decisions and had good zip on balls overall. They’re not big names, but they can play.

Running backs Tavion Thomas (Utah) and Deneric Prince (Tulsa) really caught my eyes today. Thomas is huge at 6014, 247 but he carries it extremely well. Very explosive runner overall, had a great jump cut in team session to break free for a big run. Prince has serious speed. An explosive player with the ball in his hands.

Michigan State tight end Daniel Barker was the best tight end of the day. He used body positioning very well in individuals and gained leverage consistently in his route running. Loved his work as a blocker; really mixed it up with bigger guys and won reps.

Tennessee offensive lineman Jerome Carvin is a name to watch. Carvin had nearly 50 starts for the Vols and played left guard, center and right guard in the SEC. He saw action primarily at center on Day 1 and played rather well overall. Checked in at 6035, 308 and looks every bit the part.

Same for Texas interior defensive lineman Keondre Coburn. The Longhorns’ standout defensive tackle ate up blockers all day long. He was a force in team run sessions, tying up blocks, clogging the middle and making plays throughout the morning session. 6011, 344. Remember the name.

Wake Forest interior defensive lineman Kobie Turner (6022, 288) is a bit undersized, but he plays much bigger than his size and more than held his own throughout the first day here in Las Vegas. Powerful player overall. Lower body is extremely flexible and was able to anchor quickly in team run sessions against duo.

Penn State interior offensive lineman Juice Scruggs (6026, 308) had a great day overall. He consistently won his matchups in the trenches and moved very well overall. So, too, did Boise State offensive lineman John Ojukwu (6054, 317) and ULCA interior offensive lineman Jon Gaines, who was a late add and hasn’t measured yet. Gaines was extremely explosive on the interior. Really eye-opening.

Texas defensive back D’Shawn Jamison might have been the best player on the field during Day 1 for the East. He was fantastic in 1v1 and team session reps in coverage, looked very good in punt return drills overall and even got some reps at receiver. He’s a dynamic weapon overall and looks a lot like current Patriots’ cornerback Marcus Jones.

West team —

When it comes to looking ahead to Thursday night’s Shrine Game on NFL Network at 8:30 p.m., early bet is the West team flat-out dominates under the Patriots’ coaching staff. An incredibly physical practice, which led to head coach Troy Brown trying to rein in some of the physicality on display.

Florida safety Trey Dean III and Rutgers safety Christian Izien had two big hits on receivers in 7v7 session, which caused Brown to get a bit upset. Even in team run session guys were popping pads, really getting after it.

Penn State defensive tackle PJ Mustipher (6036, 315) really stood out throughout the practice session. He was dominant in 1v1 drills from a pass rush perspective. He got into a bit of a scrap with Washington interior offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland early on, setting the tone for the practice. He has a tremendous motor overall and is very, very strong.

Toledo’s Desjuan Johnson is a bit undersized (6020, 267) on the interior of the defensive line, but he moves much different from everyone else. Explosive athlete with great power. Was a handful for linemen in 1v1 and in team session. He’s played at 295 before in college, but lost a bunch of weight after getting COVID in 2020, has struggled to get weight back up completely.

Really impressed by the West offensive line overall. William & Mary offensive tackle Colby Sorsdal (6056, 301), UCLA interior offensive lineman Atonio Mafi (6026, 338), Arkansas interior offensive lineman Ricky Stromberg (6031, 315) and Ole Miss offensive lineman Mason Brooks (6051, 309) had great days overall. Brooks was a mean, physical player throughout the day.

UCLA wide receiver Jake Bobo (6040, 215), Liberty wide receiver Demario Douglas (5077, 175), and Florida wide receiver Justin Shorter (6036, 224) really impressed throughout the day. Shorter an explosive guy in and out of his breaks. Douglas is the prototype slot receiver. Impressive in and out of breaks, really just glides. Bobo won a bunch of contested catches overall.

Defensively, UAB cornerback Starling Thomas V (5096, 194) was very impressive. Dominated team and 1v1 reps. Smaller corner overall, profiles more as a slot only in the NFL, but had a great first day.

NC State linebacker Isaiah Moore (6020, 234) had a great day overall. Great run fits, brought physicality and was the vocal leader defensively.

On the edge, Florida’s Brenton Cox Jr. (6031, 254), Louisiana’s Andre Jones (6046, 250) and and Pittsburgh’s Habbakuk Baldonado (6036, 257) certainly looked the part on the edge. They are going to be NFL pass rushers for a long time. Good hand usage, speed to power conversion and finished very, very well in individuals.

Melanie Friedlander’s notes: 

West team —

UCLA wide receiver Jake Bobo and running back Kazmeir Allen were both as advertised based on their 2022 season.  Bobo looked comfortable lining up in the slot and at the X and Z.  Made blocks and made almost all of his catches, finishing the day with a pretty touchdown catch in the corner.  He also returned punts and looked smooth.  Allen is good catching passes out of the backfield, gets yards after contact (although sometimes hard to tell since they weren’t tackling in 7 on 7).  Also looked good returning punts – no surprise since he is a kick returner for UCLA.

Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers was a healthy scratch today but plans to participate in non-contact drills for the next one or two days. Jackson State wide receiver Dallas Daniels looked aggressive in 1 on 1s, making contested catches.  Liberty’s Demario Douglas did a good job getting separation to make his catches in 1 on 1s.

East team — 

Texas cornerback D’Shawn Jamison made life difficult for wide receivers in both 1 on 1 and 7 on 7.  He also looked good on punt return, although he did drop one and bobbled one other, getting control of it.

Georgia wide receiver Kearis Jackson was replaced on the roster by Clemson wide receiver Joseph Ngata. Ngata is a former 4-star recruit that is a freakish athlete overall. Fresno State wide receiver Jalen Cropper and Maryland wide receiver Jacob Copeland both stood out to me.  Good footwork, made their catches throughout the day.

Wake Forest wide receiver A.T. Perry pulled up after a rep and it looked like he reached for his groin.  He knelt down behind the other players for a couple of minutes but returned to drills and looked Ok, no hesitation or limp.

Joe Cammarota’s notes: 

East team —

Arkansas wide receiver Jadon Haselwood was struggling with drops all day but he was able to create some separation on most plays. Fresno State wide receiver Jalen Cropper has a great release. However at times his route running can be a little lackadaisical/unsharp.

Texas D’Shawn Jamison was the best defensive back that I watched today. Super sticky in coverage and wasn’t grabby.

West team —

West inside linebackers Jaiden Woodbey of Boston College and  North Carolina State’s Isaiah Moore were the standouts of a rather strong ILB group. Woodbey is athletic and can make plays in coverage. He was better in zone than in man coverage. Didn’t get swallowed up by offensive line in run game either. Moore was leader of the group, first up in drills and I believe called some plays when he was out on defense in team session.

Purdue linebacker Jalen Graham looked great in individuals but didn’t look so hot in team sessions. He consistently got swallowed up by the offensive line in the run game. Georgia Tech’s Charlie Thomas had a tough time at the start but picked it up. Was impressive in coverage most of the time.

Joe Clark’s notes: 

East team —

Wake Forest defensive lineman Kobie Turner showed a good set of finesse moves during 1v1, had a few nice wins overall. Nebraska EDGE Ochaun Mathis was very athletic overall. Good bend, had a pass deflection in team session.

Tennessee interior offensive lineman Jerome Carvin worked at center throughout practice, had a really strong base. Base/core makes him well-suited for iOL. Strung some solid reps together throughout the day. Penn State interior offensive lineman Juice Scruggs was much like Carvin. Showed a strong base. Stood up Texas iDL Keondre Coburn at the line of scrimmage in 1v1. Was impressive throughout the day.

Western Kentucky interior defensive lineman Brodric Martin had a rather rough day. Martin jumped offsides during 1v1 and then twice in team session. Didn’t flash much otherwise. West Virginia interior defensive lineman Dante Stills had a very strong day overall. Stills made a run stop and had a would-be sack during team. Also put together some nice reps in 1v1. A player to monitor along the defensive line moving forward.

Louisville defensive back Kei’Trel Clark was rather impressive throughout the session. The versatile defensive back shut down Wake Forest wide receiver A.T. Perry and South Carolina State’s Shaq Davis in back-to-back reps. He was all over every receiver he faced on Day 1.

Texas interior defensive lineman Keondre Coburn looked a lot better in team than 1v1. Ate up blocks. Had some good 1v1 reps but wasn’t as dominant as expected. Utah running back Tavion Thomas weighed in at 247 pounds here in Las Vegas. He’s a massive guy and showed good vision in team session. Good instincts, cut well in space.

Vanderbilt linebacker Anfernee Orji had nice read to pick off a pass in team. I want to watch him more. Tulsa running back Deneric Prince turned a lot of heads on Day 1. Crazy burst with the ball in his hands, great speed and acceleration.

West team —

Toledo interior defensive lineman Desjuan Johnson is sneaky quick, has really good power. Looked good throughout day. UAB cornerback Starling Thomas V was probably the best corner of the day. Shut down every receiver I saw him face. Added nice read on a ball to force a breakup in 1v1.

Florida EDGE Brenton Cox Jr. was one of best players during OL/DL 1v1. Had good reps in team. Character concerns likely move him off Steelers board but showed a lot of talent during first day of practices. Penn State interior defensive lineman PJ Mustipher had a fantastic first day. Pancaked Arkansas interior offensive lineman Ricky Stromberg during 1v1 when Stromberg was otherwise unbeatable. Mustipher plays with an edge, uses his body well and moves well. Also was one of better players during team portion.

UAB offensive tackle Kadeem Telfort is an athletic and freakishly-built lineman but needs to use that to his advantage with quicker punch, more power at point of attack, especially during pass reps. Shouldn’t allow guys to bend around him the way they did today. Pittsburgh EDGE Habakkuk Baldonado had good initial power at point of attack and burst throughout Day 1. Drove through some guys during OL/DL 1v1s.

Florida safety Trey Dean III showed good speed, especially when closing on the receiver during individuals. Had a good read to make play on the ball during team. West Virginia wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton was solid throughout the day. Ran crisp routes, was able to create separation on drag route and turn upfield. I want to watch more moving forward.

Owen Straley’s notes: 

East team —

Texas cornerback D’Shawn Jamison fielding was fielding punts in warm ups, one of the only defenders in the punt return line.
Coastal Carolina cornerback Lance Boykin looks every bit of 6’2” frame in person. Very fluid overall for his size. LSU cornerback Mehki Garner also has very solid size in person for the position. TCU cornerback Tre’vius Hodges-Tomlinson out today, in street clothes.
Louisville defensive back Kei’Trel Clark gains a ton of ground on his first steps out of breaks, an important trait for corners. Clark appears to have the skillset to be a solid gunner at the NFL level.
Steelers West Coast scout Mark Bruener spotted on the sideline here in Las Vegas.
Jamison getting both offensive and defensive reps, had a nice rep where he was able to juke free of Clark. However, Clark was the most impressive DB, attacking ball carriers in space with proper leverage, closing space rapidly compared to his peers.
Jamison stood out throughout the individual 1v1 drills, playing from off coverage, but engaging receivers with physicality at the top of their routes, finished the session with multiple pass breakups. Clark and Boykin also impressed at times in the period, with Clark showing great anticipation on one rep to undercut a dig for the PBU.
In team 7v7, Fordham QB Tim DeMorat worked well vs Cover 3, consistently beating the sky safety on curl/flat concepts, his quick ability to identify the coverage and deliver timely throws on access routes was impressive. Jamison continued to impress with tight coverage throughout the period though.
Vanderbilt linebacker Anfernee Orji had a nice INT working as a hook/curl defender in Cover 3, reading the quarterback and high-pointing the football for a nice interception.
Winners from East team practice: Texas CB D’Shawn Jamison; Wake Forest iDL Kobie Turner; Tulsa RB Deneric Prince

West Team —

UAB cornerback Starling Thomas V noticeably looks extremely fluid in drill work. Minnesota cornerback Terell Smith looks BIG in pads
Liberty wide receiver Demario Douglas dominated the in alley tackling/pursuit drills, consistently using defensive backs leverage against them to split the vice tackles; he has real wiggle in space. Out of all defenders, Minnesota safety Jordan Howden showed well for himself as a tackler in space, playing with solid pad level and technique throughout the drill.
Moving into WR/DB 1v1s, Thomas V absolutely dominated in the slot. I had him charted as generating pass breakups on three out of four reps in coverage. Has low pad level, commitment to staying square, and ridiculous closing speed out of breaks was on display. Louisiana Tech cornerback Myles Brooks also had a solid 1v1 session, using his size to crowd receivers at the line of scrimmage and undercutting multiple routes for pass breakups.
Boston College linebacker Jaiden Woodbey was solid throughout the day in coverage, particularly playing the hook/curl zone and the flat zone in Cover 3, where he had multiple nice reps sinking under flood concepts toward the sideline.
Oklahoma punter Michael Turk was absolutely booming ‘em on some of his punts. Massive leg.
Brooks had some really nice reps re-routing receivers while working as a flat defender in Tampa 2, he uses his size to his advantage. Brooks also had a solid crack/replace in the box, stuffing the running back shy of the line of scrimmage.
The practice finished off with a compete period, highlighted by an impressive breakup from Thomas V, recovering to breakup a well thrown deep ball to Demario Douglas. He was the only corner who challenged the receiver all day. Douglas said as much in our later meeting with him post practice
Winners: UAB CB Starling Thomas V; Louisiana Tech CB Myles Brooks; Liberty WR Demario Douglas; Penn State iDL PJ Mustipher.

Day 2 of practices kicks off Sunday morning at 8:15 a.m. with the West team. We’ll have Day 2 practice notes once again after Sunday’s practices.

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