LAS VEGAS — The 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl practices moved into their second day on Sunday as 2023 NFL Draft prospects continue trying to impress NFL scouts and decision-makers. Let’s take a look at the West Team highlights from Sunday’s practice.
Sunday Shrine Bowl Practice Report Headlined by Small-School Offensive Linemen
The West Team switched it up with the East Team and kicked off the practice day on Sunday. It was a focused, efficient session coached by the New England Patriots staff and brought plenty of new developments on the prospect side.
On Day 1 of practice, it was noticeable how new to the environment the small-school offensive linemen appeared at times — particularly William & Mary’s Colby Sorsdal and Minnesota-Duluth’s Brent Laing. But on Sunday, both Sorsdal and Laing were two of the strongest performers on the West offensive line.
Laing was a solid performer in team drills, playing guard and center. Some of his most eye-opening reps came in 1-on-1s, however, where he was able to hold off a Saturday standout in P.J. Mustipher. Despite measuring in just under 300 pounds, Laing was able to anchor and keep his base against Mustipher on one rush, preventing the Penn State lineman from penetrating the backfield.
Sorsdal was just as impressive as Laing, if not more so. Just as Laing drew a Saturday standout, Sorsdal did as well, facing off against Pittsburgh’s Habakkuk Baldonado. Sorsdal was able to latch and stymy Baldonado’s rush early. And later in team drills, facing Andre Jones, the 6’6″, 301-pound tackle acquired leverage and used combative hands to lock his man down.
Laing and Sorsdal were impressive in a vacuum on Sunday, but even more encouraging was the linear growth they showed from Day 1 to Day 2. That’s something they’ll hopefully be able to carry throughout the rest of the week.
Other Standouts in the Trenches
Once again, the play in the trenches didn’t disappoint on the West side. There were plenty of quality clashes, and names both new and old found their way onto the practice recap.
Most striking was the energy on Sunday, and that’s something that manifested as trash talk during trench battles. Ohio State defensive tackle Taron Vincent beat his man at one point with a bull rush, and he let him hear about it, taunting his blocker as “weak.”
All told, the rest of the offensive line had its struggles against the West defensive front. Brenton Cox Jr. was once again a standout. He’s always had violent energy as a rusher, but he’s doing a better job channeling it with his hands, and his traits are top-tier relative to his competition.
Wagner’s Titus Leo also made his presence felt for the second day in a row. In 1-on-1s, he levied a violent rip against Connor Galvin and a brisk spin move against Mason Brooks. Leo’s spin is a move he goes to often, but in team drills, he showed he could also generate power and forklift blockers off the line with his proportional length.
All this being said, the offensive line had its bright moments in the face of adversity, even if things were up and down all day. Mark Evans II flashed promise as an interior blocker, replacing his hands quickly and maintaining his balance against a dangerous inside-outside rusher in Desjuan Johnson.
Elsewhere, Ricky Stromberg looked strong for the second day in a row. Carrying over a theme that was very evident during his collegiate career, he’s just solid. He’s strong, he’s athletic, he’s flexible, and he maintains his weight distribution very well on the interior.
Three more names stood out on the offensive line: Atonio Mafi, Kadeem Telfort, and Jaxson Kirkland. Mafi has wasted no time imposing his physicality on defenders, and with his violent hands, he can wrestle them into submission early in reps. His fellow Pac-12 blocker Kirkland has a similar nature, and his grip strength has been suffocating at times.
Telfort, meanwhile, has delivered on his tools thus far. On Sunday, he anchored well against Truman Jones, maintaining synergy, and he also showed he could acquire leverage and drive as a run blocker against Baldonado.
Receivers and Defensive Backs Trading Blows
The West Team is flush with talent at both receiver and defensive back, and both position groups had their stars on Sunday. Zay Flowers’ introduction to the practice field was the biggest story heading in, but he actually had a relatively quiet day. In his place, fellow spark-plug Demario Douglas was the man in the spotlight.
At around 5’8″, 175 pounds, Liberty’s Douglas is one of the smaller receivers in Las Vegas. But he’s also one of the most dynamic and one of the most reliable catchers. His explosiveness and agility almost go without saying. But on Sunday, his hands were phenomenal. He was a natural catching in-stride during the gauntlet drill, and he had a spectacular reaching grab in team drills.
The big-bodied receivers also put forth compelling cases with their play. Bryce Ford-Wheaton’s hands were fairly consistent throughout the day, as were Michael Jefferson’s. Jefferson, in particular, has great hand technique and showed off his ability to elevate in stride and extend beyond his frame during 7-on-7s.
Jadakis Bonds ended up having a drop later on in the day, but he did have an excellent fingertip grab in stride during the gauntlet. At 6’3″, 205 pounds, Bonds has great size and length, but he’s piqued additional interest with his athleticism and conversion ability.
This receiver group is strong, but it’s met its match with the diverse and talented DB group on the West side. It was fun watching prospects like Trey Dean III, Starling Thomas, and Nic Jones transition in early DB drills. All three are effortless movers with quick foot speed, which translates in the team setting.
Jones once again had a very strong day. He’s an incredibly smooth athlete with great short-area twitch and proportional length. And on one play in team drills, his quick trigger on a route forced the QB to hold the ball, resulting in a sack. Jones came into Vegas as an early Day 3 player on my board, and he’s surely reaffirming his draft stock.
Thomas has also been a solid player thus far. The UAB product — who had 15 deflections in 2022 — is explosive and has the speed to contend with anyone. But he’s also a feisty, chippy competitor who’s remained in receivers’ grills all week.
Terell Smith of Minnesota is a much different style player than Jones and Thomas, but he’s been just as impressive through two days. On Sunday, Smith was once again arguably the West team’s most productive DB. Early on in team drills, he closed on a curl and used his length to break up the pass. And later, he again dished out physicality at the catch point, jarring another pass loose.
The DBs put up a fight, but the receivers ended up getting the last laugh. On the final play of practice — a play that promised push-ups to whichever group lost — it was Florida’s Justin Shorter who used his athleticism to separate downfield, then slid under a deep pass and corralled it with his frame. Shorter has a definite playmaker gene, something that’s flashed in a limited sample.
- It’ll be interesting to see where Tennessee’s Princeton Fant projects at the next level. He’s been used both as a tight end and an H-back at the Shrine Bowl, and a role similar to Chigoziem Okonkwo could be in store for him. He has to get stronger over the middle of the field, however. Drake Thomas beat him in coverage on one rep, jarring the ball loose.
- You’ve likely heard Jack Colletto’s name in the lead-up to the Shrine Bowl. The former QB and LB projects as a fullback at the next level, and it goes without saying that he is versatile. He’s a gnawing blocker who blasted his man off the line more than once on Sunday, and he also showed off ability as a receiver, reeling in a wheel route.
- Purdue linebacker Jalen Graham always played with great energy in college, and he’s bringing that energy in Las Vegas. Graham isn’t at all afraid to come downhill. While he’s known as a coverage stalwart, given his history as a hybrid safety, he sealed off outside runs with his willingness to fill gaps more than once and relished the chance to be physical.
- Mohamed Ibrahim wasn’t asked to catch the ball often in college, but he looks very natural at the Shrine Bowl. In the gauntlet drill, he flew through without missing a beat, catching away from his frame and keeping his stride. And later in team drills, he once again got opportunities as a screen receiver, using his spry athleticism to maximize space.
- Utah’s Mohamoud Diabate took some reps with the edge rushers during 1-on-1s, getting pass rush reps against offensive tackles. They went about as well as you’d expect for a 6’3″, 229-pound LB. Diabate still needs to refine his pass-rushing arsenal as a blitzing threat. But his usage shows that there’s the belief he can be a versatile weapon.
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