LAS VEGAS — The 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl practices wrapped up their third day on Monday with the West Team practice. In front of NFL scouts and decision-makers, which 2023 NFL Draft prospects impressed the most when the West Team took the field on Day 3?
Monday’s Shrine Bowl West Team Practice Report Highlighted by WR Demario Douglas and S Trey Dean III
There’s no debating the fact that the majority of the hype coming into the Shrine Bowl was centered around Boston College WR Zay Flowers. But Flowers played sparingly in one practice before hanging up the pads to preserve himself. And in his place, Liberty’s Demario Douglas has become the Shrine Bowl star we thought Flowers would be.
Like Flowers, size isn’t a trait Douglas can hang his hat on. But like Flowers, Douglas compensates with elite short-area athleticism, explosiveness, and dynamic ability all over the field. And every day this week, he’s overwhelmed DBs with this ability.
Douglas’ athleticism is extremely conducive to separation. With his high-energy style and foot speed, he can manipulate space and attack leverage at incredibly short notice. But beyond that, Douglas also has incredibly sure hands. He’s been consistent both through contact and when extending beyond his frame this week. Overall, he’s made himself a lot of money.
The safeties have largely had a rough time at the Shrine Bowl, both against wide receivers and tight ends. But there is one safety who’s risen above the pack: Florida’s Trey Dean III. Dean was to the defense what Douglas was to the offense on Monday. At his best, he was dominant, and he let people hear about it.
Dean, who stands around 6’3″, 211 pounds, had two interceptions in team drills. Both interceptions were a result of him managing space well, reading the QB and transitioning quickly, and hawking under lofted passes with his explosive athleticism.
He’s been able to put the clamps on receivers in one-on-ones with his agility and off-man technique, and he hasn’t been shy about imposing physicality. But on Monday, Dean showed something different and something very exciting for his projected growth.
Dean has one of the highest ceilings among DBs in the 2023 NFL Draft. He can be a rangy playmaker at safety or an absolute eraser in the slot with his size and athleticism. It comes as no surprise that his confidence sticks out.
After his second interception, Dean joked with Zay Flowers that he needed the Eagles WR out on the field to give him an adequate challenge. It’s big talk, but this week, Dean has done nothing but back it up.
More Monday Standouts
Starling Thomas V is a dude. His college tape provides evidence enough, but the Shrine Bowl is all about driving the point home. That’s what Thomas has done this week. Outside of Kei’Trel Clark on the East team, you could make the case that Thomas has been one of the best, if not the next best cornerback.
At around 5’10”, 194 pounds, he’s slightly smaller than the median. That doesn’t seem to bother him too much, though. He’s a feisty competitor who’s constantly in his opponent’s grill, and he notched a PBU as a result. Thomas has great short-area agility and foot speed, as well as the explosiveness to track receivers downfield, limit separation, and vacuum up space ahead of throws.
At linebacker, Drake Thomas has been exceptional. At 5’11”, some will have questions about his size. But he’s a rocked-up 228 pounds at that height. He moves incredibly well, and his football IQ has been on display all week.
In team drills, Thomas used his high-energy footwork to effortlessly patrol the middle of the field. He showed great zone awareness, got depth, and gravitated to receivers with ease. And on one play, he was able to close and undercut a second-level receiver for an interception. He has the feel of a player who’ll fall a bit because of his size and become a steal at the next level.
On the edge, Brenton Cox Jr. is performing about as well as you’d expect a former five-star recruit to. He’s consistently distinguished himself as one of the most purely talented players present on a very talented Shrine Bowl roster.
Cox has explosiveness, flexibility, power, and urgency, and he’s starting to piece things together with hand usage. He levied a powerful long-arm in one-on-ones and beat Colby Sorsdal with a brisk double-swipe in team drills.
On the other side of the trenches, Jaxson Kirkland was once again a standout. At his size, he’s a bit clunky as a mover. And bouts of lateral stiffness support the notion that he’ll best fit as a guard in the NFL. But at guard, he can be a truly stellar player. His strength is suffocating, and he strikes with violence, using his wide frame to gather and wrestle defenders into submission.
Rain Brings Attitude and Volatility
The highs were high during the West Team practice on Monday, but the lows were low. The offense, in particular, was noticeably sloppy.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson struggled with ball security, as did Tanner Morgan, and the rain contributed to multiple botched snaps and fumbles. It also appeared as though QBs had more trouble driving the football in the drizzly conditions — a factor that ultimately gave more opportunities to the defense.
We also saw tempers flare for the first time on Monday. On one team rep, Oklahoma interior offensive lineman Chris Murray and Penn State defender P.J. Mustipher latched violently with each other off the snap. They both remained anchored through the play and tugged at each other violently even after the whistle. The situation escalated and caused a short scrum between the two sides.
There was still plenty of value to take away from the West Team’s practice on Day 3. But even the team’s head coach Troy Brown said that the unit wasn’t at its best on Monday. Nevertheless, he expressed optimism in the post-practice presser that the group would be able to rebound ahead of the game on Thursday.
- Dallas Daniels’ name hasn’t come up as much as other receivers this week, but he’s used the Shrine Bowl practices to his advantage. At 5’10”, 176 pounds, he’s notably smaller than anticipated. Nevertheless, his separation style is extremely translatable. He’s twitchy, explosive, and fleet-footed, and he can bend through breaks with ease.
- Mohamoud Diabate took reps as an edge rusher in one-on-ones on Sunday. Those reps didn’t go very well. But on Monday, he showed progression, winning one rep with a smooth rip around the edge. Diabate has the explosiveness, ankle flexion, and length to be a versatile pass-rushing presence. Perhaps a Baron Browning transition could be in the cards.
- Henry Bainivalu took his lumps this week. He’s struggled to finish, shown stiffness laterally, and leverage can be an issue for him. But there’s no denying the upside that’s there. Particularly as a moving blocker, Bainivalu’s talent shines. In team drills, he looked very explosive in space, and he mauls defenders at the second level.
- It’ll be interesting to see where Ole Miss tackle Mason Brooks ends up playing in the league. He’s struggled with speed at times during the Shrine Bowl. But he has legitimate size and aggression, along with forceful hands. His footwork may better translate at guard, and in a phone booth, he has the knock-back power to be a formidable player.
- You can tell Minnesota-Duluth’s Brett Laing is still learning. It shows in the zone run game, when he can be late and imbalanced flipping around to seal off backside defenders. But he shows definite promise. He’s a natural on the interior with his stout frame, wide base, and natural leverage. He’s flashed good recovery in pass protection, and he brings good burst in space as a moving blocker.
- Much like Laing, Jacky Chen is also rough around the edges. His pass-protection technique needs work, but the talent is there. And now that he has resources he didn’t have at Pace, the sky could be the limit. He’s quick off the line, flexible and well-leveraged, and he flashes surprising core strength at contact, despite being just over 300 pounds.
- Titus Leo continues to intrigue. The hyper-active Wagner edge rusher flashed all across the first two days, and he did so again on Day 3. At 6’3″, 243 pounds, with almost 34″ arms, he has excellent physical composition, and he’s also incredibly twitchy and explosive. On one team rep, he used his abrupt twitch and length to generate immense power, blasting Chen all the way into the QB’s lap.
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