The 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl will be played Thursday night and this past week Steelers Depot has had five site contributors in Melanie Friedlander, Owen Straley, Josh Carney, Joe Cammarota and Joe Clark all present in Las Vegas to cover the practices and media sessions leading up to the contest.
With the practices now completed and the game set to be played Thursday night at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the group of five identified two players that fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers might want to pay close attention to throughout the contest. We’ll have a game thread posted later today for those of you would like to discuss the annual all-star game. The game starts at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday night and can be viewed on the NFL Network.
Melanie Friedlander’s Shrine Bowl players to watch:
RB/WR Kazmeir Allen (UCLA) – 5083 – 176 – (West No. 19)
A true triple threat, Allen was recruited to UCLA as a running back but has split time during Shrine Bowls practice, taking part in drills with the wide receiver group as well. He appears equally comfortable catching passes out of the backfield or lined up in the slot and drops are rare for Allen. Look for him to be returning kicks as well. He has good footwork and speed, which will make life difficult for the linebackers and defensive backs trying to cover him and should result in additional yards after the catch or contact. A former track and field star who has run the 100m in 10.19 seconds, he will be hard to stop if he finds the open field.
EDGE Titus Leo (Wagner) – 6033 – 233 – (West No. 94)
If Leo is flying under the radar, it’s only because he comes from a smaller school and hasn’t been in the spotlight. He will likely change that on the field tonight. A physical rusher with a wide wingspan (82 1/4), he is quick off the line and could easily find his way to the stat sheet with a sack. He can also slot in on the defensive line and is disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Leo is a versatile player who can also drop into coverage. The two-time Northeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year brings intensity on every snap.
Joe Clark’s Shrine Bowl players to watch:
iDL Ikenna Enechukwu (Rice) — 6040 — 266 — (East No. 91)
Enechukwu was a talented pass rusher all year for the Owls as he had 31 pressures, 21 hurries and 4.5 sacks during his senior season. He also added 37 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss. During Shrine Bowl practices, he displayed impressive burst and power, as well as good hand usage. He measured in at 6’4″ and 266 pounds, and while listed as an iDL on the Shrine Bowl roster, he likely profiles as an EDGE in the NFL, which is where he played in college. While his college production isn’t super flashy, he routinely won reps in practice and was one of the players who stood out to me the most. He looked good against the pass and the run, and given his ideal size and tools, he’s a player I think could make some noise tonight.
iOL Atonio Mafi (UCLA) — 6026 — 338 — (West No. 56)
Mafi was one of the players I was most excited to watch in Las Vegas, and the former rugby player turned defensive lineman turned offensive lineman didn’t disappoint. He has a really solid base, uses his hands well and is just an absolute mauler. He was one of the anchors for an impressive UCLA run game over the last two years and is a guy who right now projects to go late on Day 2 or early on Day 3. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his stock rise to a firm Day 2 selection and he’s a player I think could have a long career as a guard in the NFL. He was rock solid all week and the way he’s able to gain leverage is one of the reasons I think he could be a long-time pro. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him open up some big holes in the run game tonight.
Joe Cammarota’s Shrine Bowl players to watch:
WR Jalen Moreno-Cropper (Fresno State) — 5110 — 171 — (East No. 12)
Moreno-Cropper was the player that caught my eyes the most this week during the practices. Moreno-Cropper is a smooth route runner with a great release who can get open at ease. On the day of final practice on Tuesday, Moreno-Cropper showed good catch ability by adjusting mid air to catch a ball behind him. He never struggled with his hands all week and gets open easily. He’s played mostly in the slot during the practices so he could certainly be someone the Steelers try to target in the later rounds.
LB Jaiden Woodbey (Boston College) — 6004 — 231 — (West No. 9)
Going into this week of practice I knew I wanted to watch inside linebackers. The West team has a lot of ILBs that stood out but Boston College’s Jaiden Woodbey was the one that shined the brightest. Woodbey was a defensive back at Boston College, but also played safety and linebacker at Florida State, but that was two years ago. He is a versatile linebacker who moves really well and excelled in coverage. But the most impressive part is he doesn’t get swallowed up in the run game as he can shed blocks and stop the run. Given his ability to be effective in both the run and pass game, and the Steelers being a team that needs help in the inside linebacker room, he is a name to watch.
Owen Straley’s Shrine Bowl players to watch:
CB Kei’Trel Clark (Louisville) — 5102 — 179 — (East No. 13)
After playing his freshman season at Liberty, Clark transferred to Louisville, where he finished a productive career which included multiple Second-Team All-ACC honors. In total, Clark finished his collegiate career with 167 tackles, 13.5 tackles for losses, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, five interceptions, 28 passes defended, and two touchdowns. After two All-ACC seasons playing as a boundary corner, Clark was asked to move around more, playing increased snaps on the inside this past season. The results were encouraging, with a pair of a defensive touchdowns, and increased splash plays near the line of scrimmage, both in the run and screen game.
Fast forward to Shrine Bowl Practice Week, where Clark absolutely dominated, particularly on Day 3, where I had him charted with a pick, three pass breakups, and a tackle for a loss on a screen pass. All week, he showcased superior footwork both on the boundary and in the slot. In press man coverage, Clark does a great job of showing variety in his approach at the line of scrimmage. He frustrated receivers all week with a variety of different technical approaches from press alignments (soft-shoe, jump jam, off hand jam, ect.). When factoring in Zay Flowers’ absence from practice, outside of a full participation day on Day 2, Clark may have been the best player at the all star event for either squad. In off-coverage, he has shown smooth footwork, doing a solid job of staying square and using his superior quickness to break downhill and beat receivers to the catch point.
His experience playing in the box shows, as whether pursuing runs from the backside or triggering on screen passes, Clark looms to impose his physicality on ball carriers and blockers at all times. He profiles as a corner capable of playing both the boundary and slot at the next level, as well as being four phase special teamer. He showed great effort and ability in special teams circuits all week. Check out my articles covering my interview with Kei’Trel and my film room on his dominant Day 3 practice. Whether in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, I believe Clark’s football IQ, physicality, coverage ability, and knack for creating splash plays should help him produce in any defensive scheme. He reminds me of former Ravens defensive back Tavon Young, a player who’s versatility and splash play ability was evident in Baltimore before injuries derailed his once promising career.
CB Starling Thomas V (UAB) — 5096 — 194 (West No. 20)
Starling Thomas V was able to carve out a productive career at UAB, being named to Bruce Feldman’s freak list after being clocked at 24.16 miles per hour on a GPS. After watching him compete in four live practice sessions at the Shrine Bowl practice sessions, I can confirm that Thomas V certainly stood out as one of the most explosive athletes on the field. He plays with great pad leverage in both press and off coverage, placing great trust in his ability to stay square and sit on shallow to intermediate routes, trusting his ability to carry receivers vertically and play the pocket from out of phase. Although he played primarily on the boundary at UAB, Thomas V showed the versatility to operate from the slot as well this week, where he stood out as the only cornerback on the West squad who seemed to be able to go toe to toe with Liberty receiver Demario Douglas. His ability to stay square and break from a backpedal was truly impressive, as he has a uniquely explosive first step out of his breaks, gaining far more ground than any of his peers.
In total at UAB, he finished his career with 97 tackles, a tackle for a loss, a fumble recovery, two interceptions, and 28 passes defended, 15 of which came this past season, good enough to earn him First-Team All-Conference USA honors. Additionally, he has done solid work in the return game, returning 21 punts for 157 yards (long of 36) and 10 kicks for 199 yards (long of 61). He worked in return lines all week in Vegas, showing off great hands and making some impressive catches while fielding punts in special teams sessions. Interestingly, Starling Thomas V had multiple Power 5 offers coming out of high school, including Notre Dame, but chose to stay home and play for UAB to have one final season to play in front of his mother, who had fell ill and has since passed away.
Both in size and skillset, Thomas V reminds me a bit of Pacman Jones, with both players, despite being smaller in stature, relying on their superior athleticism to play with confidence and challenge receivers at all three levels of the field. Similarly, both players possess the added element of being dynamic with the ball in their hands. Projecting to next level, Thomas has all the athletic traits and technical refinement to be a day one, plug and play guy in the slot, wherever he ends up.
Joshua Carney’s Shrine Bowl players to watch:
iDL PJ Mustipher (Penn State) — 6036 — 315 — (West No. 97)
Coming into the week I was very intrigued to see Mustipher as he was one of the few guys that checked a number of boxes along the interior defensive line that the Steelers look for, especially height, weight, arm length and overall production in college. I was not disappointed one bit once I saw the two-time Penn State captain up close and personal. He is a tremendous athlete overall for his size with great burst and overall agility. The power is very present as well as he dominated throughout the week against a strong West offensive line overall.
Whether it’s the 97 he rocks or the old-school facemask, Mustipher reminded me quite a bit of Cameron Heyward throughout the week. He carried himself very well, was often one of the first guys on the field and really emerged as that leader for the group throughout the week. I look forward to watching him play the run Thursday night against the East. He could have a big game.
iDL Keondre Coburn (Texas) — 6011 — 344 — (East No. 99)
The last time the Steelers went with a 6’1″, 330+ pound interior defensive lineman, things turned out rather well. While they don’t make interior defensive linemen like Casey Hampton anymore, Coburn is the closest thing we’ve seen to him coming out in a long, long time. He’s a squatty fire hydrant of an interior defensive lineman that has tremendous power throughout his body and really tied up blockers throughout the week, giving the East offensive line fits in practice.
Unlike the old-school, gap plugging NT though, Coburn has serious pass rush juice. He showed great agility in the arc drill and flashed quick, powerful hands overall in one-on-one reps, and of course had a great bull rush. The West OL was the best of the two here in Las Vegas throughout the week, so I’m excited to see him back up with guys like UCLA’s Atonio Mafi, Arkansas’ Ricky Stromberg and Minnesota-Duluth’s Brent Laing on the inside Thursday night.