It was the final day of real, live-action at East/West Shrine practices so we enjoyed every second of it.
Earlier Wednesday, TDN’s Kyle Crabbs posted his analysis on some of the drills from the East practice, what they were meant to display and work and who stood out. Now, I've got the same concept but for the West practice.
Here are my five that are worthy of recognition.
Box Drill: Jace Whittaker, CB, Arizona
Typically, corners at the Shrine Game are some sort of physically deficient. They're too small, too stiff, too leggy and too stubby. This isn't a strong criticism by any means. The corner position is impossibly difficult to translate from college to the NFL, given the difference in coverage shells and route combinations between the two levels. At best, these players with physical limitations will become scheme-specific players.
This is true of Jace Whittaker, one of the top cover men from the Pac-12 who simply is too small to play anywhere but the nickel. He's listed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds but is likely a bit shorter, and his arm length limits him in tight coverage and at the catch point. But Whittaker's mirror quickness is standing out in St. Petersburg, Florida, this week.
Whittaker was the best performer on Day 3 during the defensive back box drills — a task where the corners flip their hips and plant their feet on a variety of angular drops as they read the "quarterback" and react to the throw. The bigger and stiffer corners labored through this drill, losing their footing or their momentum through the angles. Whittaker was smooth as silk, so much so the DB coach running the drills threw him a curveball on the final rep, and Whittaker took it in stride.
Whittaker's had some flashy moments in coverage, and some bad ones as well. He was banged up for a good portion of his final seasons and may prove a value pick as a healthy nickel defender at the next level.
1-v-1s: Johnathon Johnson, WR, Missouri
When one-on-ones started off Wednesday, the defensive backs were winning handily. Sure, a few of the bigger wide receivers grabbed some high-point balls, but in general, the coverage was quality and the QBs were tested.
Then, this nifty little slot WR out of Missouri named Johnathon Johnson took the line. Johnson had a bit of a disappointing senior season with Kelly Bryant under center and lost several games due to injury. But he's healthy now and showing what earned him SEC All-Freshman awards in 2016: He is nifty. Johnson snapped off multiple DBs across the course of the drills, including a sickening two-step move at the top of his break with a corner in trail technique in the end zone that had everyone's heads spinning.
Most of the West’s receiver don't have the juice. Johnson does. He's athletically viable for the NFL, even with a diminutive frame.
Bag Drill: Mykal Walker, LB, Fresno State
During the positional breakouts, the linebackers worked a stack-and-shed drill that didn't necessarily illustrate much, besides what has been evident all week: Mykal Walker is a different player relative to the other LBs on the West squad.
Walker was a highly productive Mountain West linebacker last season after transferring from junior college, but he was listed at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds on the most recent Fresno State updates. He tipped the scales at the same number in St. Petersburg, but he simply doesn't look it. He's rocked up in the upper half and has great length (32 1/2 inch arms) to control opponents at the point of attack. During the bag drill and in the scrimmage, Walker struck his opponents with a different degree of physicality and efficacy relative to his teammates on the West squad.
I'm excited to dig back into his film.
Red Zone 1-v-1s: Nick Westbrook, WR, Indiana
When the DBs and WRs decided to focus on red zone reps, all of a sudden size became a bigger deal. There are some big receivers in the building: Jordan McCray from Oklahoma State and Dezmon Patmon from Washington State are some players while Oregon's Juwan Johnson dwarfs everyone.
But nobody uses their size nearly as effectively as Nick Westbrook, who came out on Day 1 rock steady and has only improved from there. Westbrook does a great job at maintaining leverage up to and through the catch point, and his patient and physical routes conceal and account for a rather poor athletic profile. He has soft and secure hands away from his frame and can win through contact as well, which he gets a lot of given his poor separation ability.
Minnesota CB Chris Williamson is the victim here of Westbrook's no-nonsense approach. Work to a half-man, get upfield and then just keep leverage and alter pace to ensure you protect the ball from being played on. It feels routine, but it's not. Westbrook is a detailed and consistent player who's ready to contribute early, even if he's a low-value option. Think Allen Lazard.
Pass Rush 1-v-1s: Bravvion Roy, iDL, Baylor
This one almost feels like a give me, but it's still important to circle: Bravvion Roy is such a handful in one-on-ones.
Blocking a player of Roy's size is already a difficult ask — he is 6-foot-1, 330 pounds — but it becomes even trickier when you don't have the advantage of added infrastructure in the pocket with the additional offensive linemen who are closing in your space. Roy is not a pure power rusher. He works the bull to get to his rip move, and he finishes with power from there. With guards on either side, it's harder to rip beyond the center and get into the backfield because you run into the bodies.
Roy still is showing he can get off the snap with quickness, locate his hands with leverage and then just collapse the pocket's integrity with his power. Roy needs work in the running game as a non-penetration player and is a little stubby so his future as a two-gapper may be in question. But his tools keep drawing eyes, and that was no different this afternoon.