LAS VEGAS — The West Team wrapped up its week of practices at the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl on Tuesday. This would be the final time that the NFL Draft prospects prospects on the West side could impress scouts and NFL decision-makers ahead of the game on Thursday night. Let’s take a look at the West Team highlights from Tuesday’s practice.
Tuesday’s Shrine Bowl West Team Practice Highlighted by Standout WR Justin Shorter
The West Team kicked off the final round of practices on Tuesday at the Raiders Practice Facility. For the most part, it was a lighter practice than the previous three before it.
Players went at a walkthrough pace for most of the team and 7-on-7 drills, to preserve themselves for the game. Coaches kept it light, and kept the focus on fundamentals. But even with the slower pace, however, there were still notes to take away.
The quarterback conversation naturally draws intrigue heading into Thursday. And while he was inconsistent throughout the week, Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s tools pop the most. His athleticism has flashed at times in off-script situations. And on Tuesday, he showed off his arm strength, fitting a 30-yard pass on a rope to Justin Shorter outside the numbers.
Speaking of Shorter, the Florida WR had another very good day, particularly at the catch point. He’s 6’4″, 224 pounds, with almost 34″ arms, and he’s shown he can convert time and time again with those tools this week. On Tuesday, Shorter had a handful of catches, including two acrobatic grabs that showcased his body control.
One of Shorter’s best plays was a back-shoulder pass to the sideline that forced him to rise vertically and extend. Another was an end-zone out, on which Shorter made an insane adjustment, lunging and reaching for a low ball, and hauling it in with strong hands.
Shorter still has room to sharpen his skills and become more efficient as a route runner, and he doesn’t have great natural foot speed or hip sink to begin with. But one has to believe that with his size and consistency as a converter at the catch point, he’ll be able to earn a steady rotational role in the NFL.
Players to Watch in the Game
The Shrine Bowl game will give many players an opportunity to compound the momentum they gained during the week of practice. But which prospects on the West team deserve the most attention?
Obviously, Shorter is a player to watch. His big-play skills in contested situations could produce one or two highlight-reel clips on Thursday. Other practice week standouts like Demario Douglas, Brenton Cox Jr., Drake Thomas, and Trey Dean III also bear watching. But there are other more underrated prospects to keep tabs on beyond that.
On offense, Charles McClelland is one player who could be saving his best for last. The Cincinnati RB, who had 849 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022, arrived late in Las Vegas, but flashed at times with his easy accelerative capacity, speed, and lateral freedom in close quarters. He’s on the lean side, but he has dynamic potential.
Xazavian Valladay is another running back who could get himself trending with a strong game showing. He’s had some nice moments this week. He’s lean like McClelland, measuring at 5’11” and 199 pounds. At that size, however, he’s an explosive athlete who’s flashed as a receiver. And on Tuesday, he showed glimpses of solid vision as well, quickly recognizing and taking advantage of an A-gap lane behind the guard in red-zone drills.
But wait — there’s a third running back! Well, he’s not actually a running back. That said, during Tuesday’s practice, the Patriots coaches had Albany tight end Thomas Greaney running designed hand-offs, running routes out of the backfield, and taking end-around reverse reps.
Greaney flashed throughout the week as a receiving threat. Tuesday’s practice script took a step further, however, and explored his versatility as an offensive weapon. At 6’5 5/8″ and 253 pounds, he’s very much closer to the size of a traditional tight end. But he’s looked very mobile for his size, and even levied a nice cut to set up a defender as a runner in goal line drills.
Greaney’s usage on Thursday will be very interesting to follow, because if he delivers on those opportunities with his versatility, it could noticeably boost his stock.
On the defensive side, versatility will be a strong theme as well, particularly for Utah’s Mohamoud Diabate. The Utah linebacker took reps both as an off-ball LB and as an edge rusher in one-on-ones throughout the practice week.
On Monday, Diabate showed progression as a pass rusher, dipping and ripping under a tackle with his bend and burst. And on Tuesday, he had a fantastic coverage rep against Jack Colletto. He matched Colletto to the stem, then jammed him with his length off the route break, and was able to undercut and deflect the pass on the slot out.
With his size and athleticism, Diabate has the potential to be a true chess piece — something that’s become very valuable in the modern NFL. He got a lot of experience at different spots throughout the week. Now, as the game nears, it’s exciting to think about what possibilities situational football could open up for him.
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