2023 East-West Shrine Bowl Practice Notes, Day 4

On the final day of the East-West Shrine Bowl practices here in Las Vegas, the East and West teams moved indoors to the Intermountain Health Practice Facility in Henderson, home of the Las Vegas Raiders.

First impressions of the brand-new indoor facility is that it looks like a it’s out of the future. Spaceship-like. An absolutely magnificent facility, as it should be considering the amount of money the Raiders spent on it.

With it being the final day of practice ahead of Thursday’s 98th East-West Shrine Bowl inside Allegiant Stadium, the teams went rather light on the day. The West team, led by the New England Patriots’ coaching staff, went rather light in a walkthrough after being rather physical during the week. The East team, led by the Atlanta Falcons’ coaching staff, on the other hand, went in helmets and shoulder pads and had a bit of a competitive practice on the final day after not being as physical as the West throughout the week.

Below is the final practice report from the Steelers Depot team here in Las Vegas.

Joshua Carney’s notes:

West team — 

It was a rather light day from the West team, as expected, with it being the final practice before Thursday’s game. After a relatively physical week of practices that saw the West deal with a number of injuries, West head coach Troy Brown went with a walkthrough on Tuesday from inside the Raiders’ practice facility.

I don’t like to be overly critical on guys, but Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito really struggled in the walkthrough. The walkthrough was designed to be easy throws on air with defensive backs not making plays on the football, but DeVito was extremely inaccurate and didn’t see the field well. He also threw a bad interception in the red zone to LSU defensive back Jarrick Bernard-Converse.

UCLA wide receiver Jake Bobo simply catches everything. He has terrific hands that are almost vice-grip-like. He isn’t a flashy route runner, but he’s consistently open and snatches the football out of the air. Really impressive guy overall. So, too, is Liberty’s Demario Douglas. He’s a smaller, shifty slot receiver that is constantly winning in routes and is a blur after the catch.

Tight end Jack Coletto out of Oregon State caught my attention in the walkthrough today as well. He has great hands for the position, especially after moving to tight end after being a fullback for the Beavers. Sound route runner and a great catch radius. Quarterbacks were targeting him often in the walkthrough, which speaks volumes about their comfort and confidence throwing his way. Same for Nebraska tight end Travis Vokolek. Always open, great hands and body control. Underrated tight end group overall.

Along the offensive and defensive line, there wasn’t much to take away overall, but I loved watching Florida’s Brenton Cox Jr. and Pitt’s Habbakuk Baldonado taking the walkthrough seriously, working on pass rush moves. It gave guys like William & Mary OT Colby Sorsdal a lot of work, and he held up well. Even with it being a walkthrough, there were some good game-like reps there. Fun to watch.

East team — 

Going live compared to the West team, the East practice was very spirited and competitive.

The wide receiver group showed some juice on the final day of practice, especially North Carolina’s Antoine Green, Penn State’s Mitchell Tinsley, and South Carolina State’s Shaquan Davis. Green had a great rep on 1v1 on a stutter and go down the left sideline for a touchdown, while Tinsley had a fantastic one-handed catch in 1v1 reps on red zone releases. Davis has really come into his own in recent days. He moves so well and has great size. He was snatching the football out of the air with a lot of confidence on the day.

Clemson wide receiver Joseph Ngata is a name to watch moving forward for the Steelers. A former 4-star recruit, he’s a nice combination of size, length and speed. He can play out wide or in the slot and was open a lot on the day. He also has plenty of special teams experience having covered kicks and punts in college, and was also a kick returner for the Tigers.

Central Michigan tight end Joel Wilson had a very solid day overall, as did Cincinnati tight end, Leonard Taylor. Wilson has had a very underrated week here. He’s a sound, competitive blocker that gets the job done and has found himself open quite a bit as a route runner. Taylor had a tough drop but bounced back with some great reps in team and special teams sessions.

Along the offensive line, Kansas’ Earl Bostick Jr. had a much, much better today. He has had a really rough week, but bounced back in a big way today, winning a number of his individual reps, closing his week in strong fashion. Good to see from the Jayhawk. Boise State’s John Ojukwu flashed throughout the day as well. He’s a massive dude with great feet. Needs to work on his hand usage a bit more, but he looks like an intriguing developmental piece along the offensive line.

Defensively, Western Kentucky iDL Brodric Martin and Texas iDL Keondre Coburn had fantastic days. Both are big, physical guys with serious pass-rush juice. Coburn dominated the competition every single day here in Las Vegas, eating up blockers and showing a plethora of pass-rush moves, while Martin has a hot motor and really improved day by day.

Louisville’s Kei’Trel Clark had another strong day, putting the clamps on a number of receivers on the morning, closing out a great week of practices here in Las Vegas. He’s going to be a serious chess piece at the next level. Coastal Carolina’s Lance Boykin recorded an interception to close practice in the competitive session, picking off Fordham’s Tim DeMorat on a great read. He’s a long, physical cornerback that settled in nicely after a slow start to the week.

Owen Straley’s notes:

West team — 

The West team worked at a walkthrough tempo in no pads, just helmets. After a tough, physical week of practice, the Patriots staff gave the players a lightened fourth day, absent of any contact. Not much to really note from today. Regardless of the lightened tempo, Zay Flowers once again wore street clothes on the sideline, and I don’t expect to see him to participate in the game.

East team — 

The East squad, who have had a far less physical week of practice, chose to practice in uppers today, working at a full-speed tempo, with everything live as it was on the prior three days of practice.

The defensive backs worked through their usual individual drill circuit, with emphasis given on speed in and out of their breaks, and high-pointing the football downfield. They also appeared to have more of a red zone emphasis, working a bit on red zone fades.

When the teams separated for walk-throughs, the defense worked through zone drops, working through both Tampa 2 and Cover 3 out of both base and nickel personnel. Notably, the east offense worked on a trick play in walkthroughs, a running back pass, connecting on it multiple times. Expect them to break that out at some point in Thursday night’s game.

The East defense also worked a full-speed pursuit drill for the first time all week, finishing with a scoop and score, emphasizing takeaways ahead of Thursday night’s game.

Once again, I can’t help but notice how fluid Louisville’s Kei’Trel Clark’s footwork is in comparison to his fellow East teammates. He’s in a class of his own in terms of movement skills and technique. The defensive backs also worked through a fade/slant drill from the 5-yard line. It was hard to ignore how efficient and precise Clark’s technique was, with superior footwork, route recognition ability, physicality, and ball skills in comparison to his teammates.

Things then moved into pass rush and WR/DB 1v1s. Coastal Carolina’s Lance Boykin had his best moment of the week, staying square in press and undercutting a comeback route, using his length to get his arm across for the pass breakup.  The team then moved into a special teams compete period, which was extremely physical in nature.

Nehemiah Shelton (San Jose St CB) had a solid  7v7 session with multiple pass breakups. He had a solid finish to the week after a tough first couple days. He had a breakup working in man coverage, and another jumping an out route as a flat defender in a Cover 2 scheme. Arquon Bush (Cincinnati CB) had a tough session, struggling to guard in-breaking routes. His pad level is consistently far too high.

Texas CB D’Shawn Jamison also gave up a slant route for touchdown. Overall it was a really tough session for the defensive backs.

Joseph Ngata (WR Clemson) had a great day, with multiple touchdowns in the session, using his quickness and physicality to create separation at the top of routes.

Boykin secured a nice pick in the end zone to end the day, working as a deep 1/3 defender in a Cover 3 scheme.

Joe Clark’s notes:

West team —

Florida WR Justin Shorter showed good burst of the LOS. He made some nice catches today and showed off his hands. One of the better all-around receivers this week.

Pitt EDGE Habakkuk Baldonado showed off his spin move a few times today. Good thing to work on during a walkthrough. Florida EDGE Brenton Cox Jr. was working on his hand usage and his rip move.

Illinois QB Tommy Devito struggled with ball placement and generally had a poor day.

East team — 

Cincinnati TE Leonard Taylor had a bad drop in individual work but ran some nice routes when it came to 1v1.

Clemson WR Joseph Ngata had good speed today off the line and offers ideal size at the position. Needs to be more consistent with his hands. Penn State WR Mitchell Tinsley flashed good hands again and ran crisp routes. Really popped over the last few days.

Boise State OT John Ojukwu won a handful of reps, including one he dominated against Nebraska EDGE Ochaun Mathis.

Central Michigan TE Joel Wilson has had a good week overall and showed off really good route running and had a nice grab against Ole Miss DB A.J. Finley.

Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell had some nice balls today after being inconsistent the majority of the week.

Melanie Friedlander’s notes:

The day started with “football in shorts”, meaning walk-throughs and no pads. Eventually, the pads came on for most of the players but not everyone, so here’s the injury report on the final day of practice.

West team — 

Albany TE Thomas Greaney was in sweats and not practicing.  He was walking around with his position group with no sign of obvious injury.  According to the Shrine Bowl staff, he was held out as a precaution.  Greaney assured me he will be playing in the East-West Shrine Bowl game on Thursday night.

Ohio State DL Taron Vincent started his day on the trainer’s table with a bag of ice strapped to his knee. He should be good to go for the game in two days.

Louisiana WR Michael Jefferson was also on the sidelines in sweats.  He said he tweaked his knee the first day of practice and has tried to play through it. He plans to give it a try during pre-game warmups to see how he feels. He didn’t sound too optimistic.

With Michigan TE Luke Schoonmaker ruled out even before he arrived in Las Vegas, TE depth was needed.  USC TE Josh Falo flew in last night and took part in his first practice today. At 6’6” and 255 pounds, Falo caught 4 receptions for 30 yards and 2 touchdowns in three games he played in 2022. He saw no action in 2021 and will likely provide roster depth.

East team — 

Wake Forest TE Blake Whiteheart, who has put together 3 solid days of practice, sat out today with a right shoulder strain. Although tempted to play, it’s almost certain he won’t take the field on Thursday night and risk aggravating it. He indicated that the injury isn’t serious but he doesn’t want to aggravate it.

Florida LB Amari Burney was in sweats but hanging out with his position group during drills.  He assured me he will play on Thursday.

Wake Forest WR AT Perry, who has looked to be battling some type of injury all week, gave up the fight. He was on the sidelines in sweats, not really spending any time with his fellow wide receivers. He won’t be playing on Thursday and seems truly disappointed.

North Carolina State iOL Chandler Zavala “tweaked a muscle” and was ruled out for practice and the game. I was told that he could potentially play but doesn’t want to risk injury.

To provide depth in the WR group, the Shrine Bowl staff told me that NC State WR Thayer Thomas (brother of LB Drake Thomas) will arrive tonight to join the East team. A former walk-on, he earned a scholarship after his redshirt freshman year and posted 57 receptions for 642 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Joe Cammarota’s notes:

West team —

It was just a walkthrough today but North Carolina State linebacker Drake Thomas showed good movement in his few reps on the day.

East team —

I watched WRs a lot today. Penn State WR Mitchell Tinsley was the standout of all practice. He showed great route running and in the route running drills, his hips were really fluid.

Arkansas wide receiver Jadon Haselwood once again struggled to make catches with some drops with in drills without defenders. North Carolina WR Antoine Green showed good route running ability in 7v7, creating a lot of space. Also in 7v7, South Carolina State WR Shaquan Davis was able to beat press coverage and make a contested catch.

Fresno State WR Jalen Moreno-Cropper once again consistently created space and made one catch showing great ability to adjust to the pass. Tinsely did a great job at finding the soft pockets of the zone.

The East defense struggled all day, but Tennessee linebacker Jeremy Banks showed the ability to read plays and react quick. Vandy LB Anfernee Orji looked good dropping into coverage and helped by being able to get in the backfield quickly.

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