Though the East-West Shrine Bowl is in Las Vegas for the second straight year, Monday’s practices for the East and West teams — which marked Day 3 of practices — brought with it weather that was rather reminiscent of the Northeast, where the five Steelers Depot staff members in town for the Shrine Bowl, are quite familiar with.
Monday was cold and rainy, with temperatures hovering in the high 30s, low 40s throughout the morning, making for a rather rough morning of practices overall at the Fertitta Football Complex in the heart of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.
Once again, 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 again and headed to the football complex for the third day 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 3 of the East and West practices. The East team hit the field first in the rain, led by the Atlanta Falcons’ coaching staff, followed by the West team and the New England Patriots’ coaching staff.
JOSHUA CARNEY’S NOTES:
East team —
Practice started off rather dreary overall as it was cold and the rain was coming down pretty hard early on in practice. Still, we had a front-row seat to everything, especially with a number of media members heading out of town to go to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, leaving a pretty sparse crowd overall.
As the team started warming up and going through individual drills, Steelers College Scout Mark Bruener and scouting intern Braunson Williams were keeping a close eye on the offensive linemen and cornerbacks. Boise State left tackle John Ojukwu was a guy that had their attention. Ojukwu measured in at 6054, 317 pounds with 34 3/8-inch arms and 10 5/8-inch hands, and an 84 1/2-inch wingspan. Massive dude overall. Sound athlete with good overall footwork and hand usage. Name to monitor.
Once the West team got into some of the position battles, Penn State interior offense lineman Juice Scruggs and Texas interior defensive lineman Keondre Coburn really had some impressive battles. Scruggs can play center or guard and really handled himself well throughout the day against a good East defensive line group. He and Coburn were the guys to watch and Scruggs got the best of him in three of four matchups in 1v1 sessions.
In the first team session, the East quarterbacks continue to struggle. Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan was picked off by Oregon safety Bennett Williams off of a tipped pass, and new roster addition Anthony Adams of Portland State picked off a pass on a deflection as well.
Louisville defensive back Kei’Trel Clark continues to be the best defensive back out here. He had yet another great day, blowing up a screen pass for the second straight day, and had a tremendous interception in 1v1 drills. He has all the makings of a versatile chess piece in the secondary.
Clark’s teammate, Louisville EDGE Yasir Abdullah, had a really strong Day 3. He looks very comfortable dropping into space in coverage and won a bunch of pass-rush reps. He’s a bit undersized at 6010, 234 pounds for an edge defender, but he finds ways to win off the edge. Really strong day overall.
UCLA interior offensive lineman Jon Gaines was good again throughout the day. He can play guard and center and showed great power and explosiveness in offensive line sessions. Penn State wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley had a great day, too. He was added to the roster Sunday and really came on strong on Monday, winning in 1v1 situations consistently. He had a great career at Western Kentucky and then followed it up with a great season at Penn State last season.
West team —
Prior to the start of the West team’s practice session, the legendary Warren Sapp was in attendance wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ hoodie. He was paying close attention to the offensive line. Pretty cool face to see there.
The West defensive line is very good overall. Penn State’s PJ Mustipher is the cream of the crop here, and he shows it consistently. He’s a very intriguing combination of power and athleticism. He has won a lot of the reps and has really looked like a three-down interior defensive lineman. He loves to mix it up and got into a bit of a scrap with Oklahoma center Chris Murray early on in the practice, causing teammates to jump in and break it up.
Mustipher’s matchups with UCLA iOL Atonio Mafi sure are something to watch. Mafi has great hands overall inside and is light on his feet despite being 338 pounds. He has handled himself very well against Mustipher, anchoring quickly against the powerful Penn State product.
New roster addition Terry Hampton really popped on the field on his first day in pads at practice. A late add to the roster on Sunday night, Hampton — listed at 6’1″, 314 pounds — was very flashy overall. He had impressive hand usage overall inside in pass rush reps and had a quick first step in his get-off. Excited to see more of him.
Ohio State interior defensive lineman Jerron Cage had a great day, too. He is very powerful and really explodes into blockers, stunning them backward against the run. He flashed a quick spin move and a powerful rip on the interior.
William & Mary left tackle Colby Sorsdal had another strong day overall. He flashed in pass protection against Florida edge Brenton Cox Jr., handling the Gator pass rusher’s spin move with ease using quick feet and hands. He’s adjusted very well to the competition this week.
Speaking of Gators, Florida safety Trey Dean III had a tremendous day, picking off two passes, including a seam route in one of the team sessions, jumping a bad ball from UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson for the pick before a long return.
UCLA wide receiver Jake Bobo continues to perform in practice, too. He catches pretty much anything that hits his hands and is consistently open. He doesn’t have the best speed overall and isn’t overly athletic, but he just knows how to get open and win reps.
In the final competitive session in the red zone in their own version of 7 shots, the defense dominated for the West. Rutgers safety Christian Izien picked off Appalachian State quarterback Chase Brice with a diving catch in the end zone, and NC State linebacker Drake Thomas picked off Thompson-Robinson in the red zone, giving him his second pick of the day on a rather strong day overall for the former Wolfpack captain.
Joe Cammarota’s notes:
East team —
I was focusing on linebackers today and one who stood out to me was Tennessee iLB Jeremy Banks. Banks struggles early on with footwork in his technique, but after the Falcons’ coaching staff talked to him his technique got better and he started winning drills. Banks was also really good in man coverage, using his speed to break up passes.
Overall the linebackers didn’t do a good job in the 1v1 drills vs the running backs when the backs were blocking the linebackers couldn’t bull rush. Time after time the linebackers got countered and couldn’t cleanly get past the running backs. One player who did stand out in this drill was Stephen F Austin EDGE BJ Thompson who was going up against tight ends. He consistently used a spin move that was virtually unstoppable against the tight ends. Unfortunately, when moving toward the team sessions, Thompson couldn’t keep up that level of play. Against tackles, he mostly struggled, with his spin move being pretty ineffective. He got a bit of a push at the very end of practice and affected plays, but for most of the team session, I didn’t feel he looked as good as he did early on.
Arkansas wide receiver Jadon Haselwood once again struggled with drops. The weather was bad, but this is now two of three practices where he had issues catching the football. He can get open, but if he can’t catch the ball it doesn’t matter.
West team —
Once again, I was focusing on the linebackers and this group impressed me a lot. All over there is talent. Boston College’s Jaiden Woodbey has been my favorite so far. Georgia Tech’s Charlie Thomas, and NC State’s Isaiah Moore have also been consistently good. Today though, the two standout linebackers were NC State’s Drake Thomas and Duke’s Shaka Heyward.
Thomas was my overall winner today. He was great in coverage in 1 on 1’s, which are designed to be way easier for the running backs, but that didn’t matter. He was making PBU after PBU. He even had an interception in that drill, jumping the route. Heyward was really good in coverage too, staying tight on the running backs.
Thomas’ day overshadowed his but Heyward was good in those 1v1’s and was also good at chopping his feet in drills that focused on staying in front of the ball. Honorable mention on the day for NC State linebacker Isaiah Moore. While he was not in the top two for linebackers, he still looked good, showing great technique in individuals and doing well at shedding blocks in full team drills.
While I didn’t watch him in individuals or group, Pitt EDGE Habakkuk Baldonado looked good at times in the full team session. At times he showed some push and generated some pressures.
Joe Clark’s notes:
East team —
Boise State OT John Ojukwu has ideal size for the position and looked solid today. He was quick out of his stance and powerful at the point of attack and did a good job driving his legs to create power.
UCLA iOL Jon Gaines impressed me for the second day in a row with his powerful punch and the way he drives through opposing defenders. He has good feet and does a good job gaining leverage at the point of attack.
Penn State iOL Juice Scruggs is an absolute DUDE. His hand placement is always right where it should be, he uses his frame well and gets low to generate leverage. He had some real fun 1v1 reps against Keondre Coburn of Texas and more often than not, Scruggs got the better of Coburn.
Campbell EDGE Brevin Allen has a lot of power, but he needs to find ways to win beyond his bull rush. If he can do that, he could be an effective pass rusher in the NFL.
Louisville EDGE Yasir Abdullah got good pressure on the QB today during 7v7 and team sessions. He also won some reps in 1v1.
Louisville CB Kei’Trel Clark is definitely one of the best players in Vegas. He blew up a screen during a team session and has shut down pretty much everyone he’s faced. His draft stock should be on the rise.
Texas DL Moro Ojomo flashed a few times today. Good reps in 1v1 and was able to drive through guys. Impressive power and athleticism.
Rice DL Ikenna Enechukwu displayed good hands at the point of attack and good power. He’s put some good reps on tape this week.
Nebraska DL Ochaun Mathis is just so athletic. His bend and athleticism stood out today.
West team —
My biggest standout on this team was N.C State LB Drake Thomas. He really flashed in coverage, undercutting a route during 1v1 to get an interception and then getting another one during team. He’s been consistent this week and flashed with a good day today.
Wagner OLB Titus Leo had some really nice reps today. He had a 1v1 win against Ole Miss OL Mason Brooks, one of the best linemen here, and showed off an impressive inside move. He also has solid power. Small school product needs to show some consistency but could be a potential steal.
DL Terry Hampton out of Arkansas got into Las Vegas last night and immediately stood out. He beat his old college teammate OL Ricky Stromberg during 1v1 and made some really nice plays overall. He’s built like a fire hydrant, and he has good explosion off the ball. Really excited to watch Hampton tomorrow.
Penn State DL P.J. Mustipher again displayed good power and quickness. He’s going to be a steal for someone in the draft.
Ohio State DL Jerron Cage had a very impressive day for the second day in a row. He blew up a play for a TFL during team sessions and has a super quick get off. Loved what I saw out of him.
William & Mary OL Colby Sorsdal continues to put good reps on tape. He had a super impressive rep against Florida EDGE Brenton Cox where he had excellent hand usage and quick feet to prevent Cox from winning on a spin move he’s had a lot of success with this week. He also had a block to set up a rushing touchdown by Arizona State RB Xazavian Valladay during team.
LSU CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse had a nice day in coverage, in what was an extremely impressive day for the West DBs as a whole. He had an INT where he made a good adjustment on the ball to come back and grab it and had nice coverage throughout the day.
Florida S Trey Dean had two interceptions, displaying good ball skills and coverage throughout the day. One of the most consistent performers thus far.
West Virginia WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton won a lot of routes but his QBs couldn’t find him that often. On Dean’s second interception, Ford-Wheaton had a good two steps on a DB down the field on a go route.
Harvard EDGE Truman Jones found himself in the backfield getting pressure on the quarterback on more than a few occasions today. Impressive day.
Indiana CB Jaylin Williams had a few good pass breakups and displayed impressive closing speed. He told me earlier this week he talked to Steelers scout Ike Taylor a few times at the Hula Bowl last week.
Utah LB Mohamoud Diabite made a nice play to get downhill and make a big TFL during team.
Ball State CB Nic Jones consistently won reps in coverage and had an interception during team. Been a solid player all week.
Minnesota-Duluth iOL Brent Laing probably isn’t suited for center in the NFL. Had back-to-back bad snaps and snapping has been an issue for him throughout the week.
Melanie Friedlander’s notes:
It was a cold and rainy day, which meant the WRs and DBs were wearing gloves. Despite the 38F temp, there was no complaining but definitely a few more drops today. There was also a lot fewer spectators, partly due to the weather and also because many scouts had departed for the Senior Bowl.
East team —
Penn State WR Mitchell Tinsley had a solid day of practice, making a few contested catches during 1 on 1s versus the DB. A late addition who was added to the roster yesterday, he seems to have good hands and quick feet. At 6’1” and 206 pounds (unofficial, as he arrived in Las Vegas after the weigh-ins), he’s a player to keep an eye on. Fresno State WR Jalen Cropper and Maryland’s Jacob Copeland continued from where they left off yesterday. Copeland had a beautiful deep TD catch after shaking off the DB during 1 on 1 drills. I still wonder if Wake Forest WR AT Perry is battling some type of lower body injury like a groin strain. He just seems limited at times and is slow to walk off after some reps.
Wake Forest TE Blake Whiteheart is quietly consistent. Nothing flashy but he makes his catches and doesn’t get blown off his blocks very often. Cincinnati TE Leonard Taylor seems to thrive on crossing patterns, where he gets separation and makes the catch. To be fair, the QBs have sailed more than a few passes on deeper attempts even when the WRs and TEs are open.
The winner of the day for the East Team was without a doubt Louisville CB Kei’Trel Clark, making INTs in 1 on 1 and team drills. He stands out every day, but I’ll leave the details to Owen Straley. Texas CB D’Shawn Jamison was once again sharing punt return duties and did have his first drop but recovered it.
And while Ole Miss AJ Finley didn’t force any turnovers today, you can never say he had a quiet day. He is clearly the leader of the DB chatter, which is enthusiastic and almost constant during 1 on 1 drills with the WRs. He’s the first one on the field to congratulate a teammate for a good play every time.
West team —
No practice for Boston College WR Zay Flowers today and not really a surprise considering the weather. He was back in his jersey and sweatpants and kept cover near the building today. A scout who talked to Flowers last evening told me that he was considering practicing again today, which just speaks to his competitive spirit and love of the game. But wisdom and the need to be healthy for the NFL Combine overruled that thought.
For the WRs who did take the field, UCLA’s Jake Bobo continues to catch every ball that comes his way. Hampton’s Jadakis Bonds, who had a rough start over the weekend, looks more confident and has been making plays.
In the TE group, Nebraska’s Travis Vokolek really stood out for the first time. Crisp routes, good separation and pulled in almost every catchable pass. He looked capable in his blocks during team drills as well. An up-and-down day for Albany’s Thomas Greaney, although he looks to be working hard to develop chemistry with his QBs.
Penn State’s IDL PJ Mustipher showed up early for practice outside shirtless in freezing temps. Just one more reason to be impressed by him this week. On the field, he has brought pressure and routinely wins his 1-on-1s against the OL.
Owen Straley’s notes:
East team —
West team —
The defensive back group as a whole had a solid day, with at least four picks on the day, allowing minimal separation as practice continued. Ball State CB Nic Jones had his best day yet, with multiple pass breakups and a pick in team sessions. He is really solid at the catch point.
UAB cornerback Starling Thomas V continued with his usual solid play, giving up some tightly contested receptions at the catch point, but remaining solid in his technique and consistently staying in phase with receivers. I love his stance and the overall pad level and attention to detail that he plays with.
Florida safety Trey Dean III continued to show his rangy ability as a post-safety, securing multiple interceptions on the day.
I admittedly do not get to watch OL/DL as closely as I’d like to, focused on WR/DB, but Penn State’s PJ Mustipher is continually hard to ignore. He was penetrating into the backfield all day, particularly in the red zone session where he dominated, flashing the “too short” hands to the OL on multiple occasions.
I came away truly impressed with the performances of both NC State linebackers in Drake Thomas and Isaiah Moore. Their impact was felt both in the run game and in coverage, with multiple tipped balls and interceptions in the red zone session to close practice.
The week of practices for the East-West Shrine Bowl concludes Tuesday at the Raiders’ indoor practice facility in Henderson. We’ll have a full report from the final day of practices.