The first West team practice of the 89th annual East-West Shrine week kicked off on Monday evening at St. Petersburg High School with head coach Romeo Crennel and his staff leading the way. The West team took the field under cloudy skies and temperatures in the 70’s and unlike the East team earlier in the day, Crennel and his staff opted to practice without shoulder pads on the first day.
Tampa Bay was represented by Director of College Scouting Eric Stokes and area scout Byron Keifer was among other Bucs scouts in attendance. Former Bucs and current Redskins general manager Bruce Allen was also spotted roaming the sidelines, along with Bears head coach Marc Tresman and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Practice first started out with players going through warm-up drills and then the team went into a brief special teams period before stretching. The coaches then put in their systems and spent a lot of time in group install sessions today. Unlike Glanville’s fast pace and intense East practice, the West team was more focused on details and slowed things down while learning the playbook. This made for a relatively mistake-free first day for the West team.
Fresno State interior offensive lineman Justin Wentworth thought the offense did a great job learning their new system on Monday.
“Putting in a new system and new calls, especially from the offensive line level is a lot different,” Wentworth said, “but I think our offensive line especially handled it well. I think I can count on one hand how many mess ups or wrong calls we had, so I thought as an offense we played really fast today.”
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Wentworth is definitely an intriguing prospect due to his versatility and may get a chance to try both guard and tackle this week.
“At the next level I will primarily probably be an inside guy but as the week goes on I might get some tackle, which is what I played the last two years,” Wentworth said. “I’ll be playing tackle and guard but probably no center this week.”
After going over plays on offense and defense the West team next worked on team drills, which called for the quarterbacks to work on timing with their new receiving targets. One player that really stood out in this period was Pitt State wide receiver John Brown, who displayed excellent agility and quickness to go along with great hands. The 5-foot-11, 170 pound receiver made some very impressive catches running through a gauntlet drill.
The West team then got together for 11-on-11s and the offense started off working on the running plays they installed. During the first few plays ran, the West team running backs were successfully able to get through the line of scrimmage but never got past the linebacker level and did not gain more than five yards on a play.
That all changed when Texas A&M running back Ben Malena hit a big hole on the right side and took the ball down the sideline for a touchdown. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Malena then followed up that impressive run with a receiving touchdown on a crossing route from Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning, showing off his versatility as both a runner and receiver.
The defense made their first big stop of the day next on a running play when Colorado’s Chidera Uzo-Diribe showed excellent pursuit from his defensive end spot and stopped Oklahoma runner Brennan Clay in the backfield for a loss. After that the team broke out into special teams drills and allowed the punters and return men to show off their skills.
The West team finished off practice with one more 11-on-11 session and Baylor tight end Jordan Najvar was by far the most impressive player in this portion of practice. On one play Najvar made a beautiful sideline catch on a pass from Wenning for a 40-yard gain with Texas corner Carrington Byndom on the coverage.
The 6-foot-6, 255 pound Najvar used his big frame again to bring down a leaping catch in the middle with two defenders draping him in coverage a few plays later. Najvar caught everything throw his way on Monday and finished the last play of the day with a great 30-yard catch down the seam from Washington quarterback Keith Price.
The West team defense also finished out the day strong with a series of great plays. Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo made the play of the day on defense by jumping in front of the intended receiver and intercepting a tipped pass from quarterback Keith Price. A few plays later quarterback Keith Wenning threw behind his intended receiver Bernard Reedy and nearly had the ball intercepted off of Reedy’s back by San Jose State cornerback Bene Benwikere. The defense finished off their dominance on that series by recovering a snap fumbled by Wenning.
Featured Player Of The Day – Pitt State WR John BrownBrown’s speed immediately jumped out during receiver drills and it wasn’t hard to tell that he was one of the most explosive players on the field.
“I would say I run a 4.27 [40-yard dash] when I was hand-timed back in college,” Brown said. “I’ll hit a 4.3 at least.”
To go along with his great speed, Brown caught everything thrown his way on Monday. The Homestead, Florida native still thinks there is room for him to improve though.
“I thought [my first practice] went good but it could go better,” Brown said. “We’re just taking the time to learn a new system and everything so I think it could get even better.”
Brown believes that he can successfully play all receiver positions at the next level and lined up all over the field during the West team’s first practice.
“They’ve been rotating me all around and I’m comfortable playing anywhere,” Brown said.
Besides Brown’s ability as a receiver where he recorded 124 receptions for 2,189 yards and 20 touchdowns in his college career, he also served as a return specialist, returning 28 punts for a 15.4-yard average and scoring one touchdown and returning 16 kickoffs for a 24.7-yard average. In 2013, Brown caught 63 passes for 973 yards and eight touchdowns and averaged 200 all-purpose yards per game.
With Brown’s speed and return ability, the Bucs might be the perfect home for the Pitt State product as they are looking for speed and play-making ability on offense and in the return game.
The West team will be back out on the field at St. Pete High School on Tuesday afternoon at 2:40pm, and that padded practice is open to the public.
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