The pads were popping at The Star on Saturday, and a couple of players the Chicago Bears should be watching made their presence felt.
Defenses, including the East Team’s unit run by Bears linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi. generally dominated Day 1 as offenses tried to find their footing.
But some offensive linemen managed to make waves in team drills, and a pair of West Team receivers named Washington won big in 1-on-1s.
Here are some notes from the day.
Xavier Thomas, EDGE (Clemson)
Every time you’d look up – coincidentally, I was rarely filming at the moment – Thomas was ruining a play in team drills. And he did it with brains and brawn.
In the first team segment of the East Team’s practice, he singlehandedly aborted a read option with some perfect surfing technique, never buying the fake for a moment. A couple plays later, he sniffed out a play-action pass, shed the offensive tackle and got a would-be sack.
In later team drills, he screamed inside for a resounding TFL on a run play to the opposite side of the formation.
Then there was the 1-on-1 drill where he threw his opponent out the back of the end zone before turning the corner for a sack.
Thomas might be undersized for a true defensive end (6-2, 245 pounds), but his length, intelligence and explosiveness will find him a role somewhere.
Malik (Virginia) and Tahj Washington (USC), WRs
The Washington brothers had themselves a day for the West offense.
Malik was essentially unguardable from start to finish, “losing” one rep all day by my count. He dominated with shifty releases off the line of scrimmage, created separation with physicality at the top of his routes and pulled in a marvelous hands catch down the field on a deep shot from quarterback John Rhys Plumlee.
He moves with a combination of smoothness and urgency that oozes confidence, and he might have had the best day of any single player at the Shrine Bowl on Saturday.
The other Washington, Tahj, also showed he can make plays when guys other than Caleb Williams throw him the ball.
He still has to work on getting off press coverage as a smaller receiver, but his ability to maintain speed in and out of breaks got him open a number of times out of the slot.
On top of that, he made two of the best catches any receiver made all day in 1-on-1 drills: one on an underthrown deep ball down the left hash into the endzone, and the other one on a “gotta-have-it” rep at the end of practice where he tracked the ball beautifully and hauled it in with one hand as his other arm was being held.
Also the handshake before the posterization is just nasty work https://t.co/ycy2F01EPL— Khari Thompson (@kdthompson5) January 27, 2024
These two, along with silky smooth UTSA receiver Josh Cephus and intriguing Holy Cross pass-catcher Jalen Coker, ruled the wide receiver roost on Day 1.
Christian Mahogany, OG (Boston College)
Remember this name.
The man from Ryan Poles’ alma mater lived up to the baby Tevin Jenkins moniker I bestowed upon him pre-practice, creating massive running lanes all on his own during team drills.
In 1-on-1 drills, he showed off some solid movement skills for a 320-plus-pounder, getting downhill with purpose on his way to the second level and proving adept at moving laterally down the line of scrimmage.
Mahogany looks fully recovered from the ACL injury he suffered two seasons ago, and his raw power has people buzzing. His stock will be on the rise in short order.
Give South Dakota State guard Mason McCormick an award for the most beastly offensive line rep today. On a “gotta-have-it” 1-on-1 assignment at the end of practice, he violently tanked a bull rush with a pad pop that rang out inside the indoor facility and nearly forced his matchup’s feet off the ground to win the rep. Only Tahj Washington’s one-handed grab got a bigger response from the West’s offensive unit.
- Isaac Guerendo (Louisville) is going to make a team very happy on Day 3 of the draft. His breakaway speed at 220 pounds is insane; the former Indiana high school 100-meter state champion strolls away from people in the open field. But you could also tell defenders didn’t want to get in his way even to tag him down. His gauntlet drills sounded like a heavyweight fighter hitting a heavy bag in the gym. I also learned that he was a former wide receiver (30 pounds ago), which shows in the natural way he catches the football.
- If you’re interested in another Alabama safety to maybe replace Eddie Jackson, keep a little eye on Jaylen Key. For a big defensive back, he moves well, even harassing Tahj Washington in the slot on a short catch that didn’t come easily. You can tell he’s well-coached, as is pretty much any Nick Saban-coached defensive back.
Check out my interviews with running backs Isaac Guerendo (Louisville) and Carson Steele (UCLA) right here: