Day 1 of practices was a tale of two teams in St. Petersburg. The early practice kicked off at 1:40 PM EST and saw Jerry Glanville's East squad come out in full pads and they went after each other. The tempo was high, the positional groupings were staying very busy, there was a lot of offense vs. defense drills be it team, 7 on 7, 9 on 7, one on ones, ect.
And then the 4:00 PM EST practice rolled around and Romeo Crennel's West squad came out in jerseys and helmets. No pads whatsoever and spent the afternoon essentially going through mental reps. A few intriguing drills took place, like the Quarterback footwork drill using the bags and the Wide Receiver gauntlet drill which saw receivers owing coaches pushups for dropped passes; but on the whole the West practice was a business-like, no nonsense fundamental mental rep day.
So who stood out? Each practice had a number of players that really popped to me. Starting with the East:
1. CB Andre Hal, Vanderbilt: It didn't take long for Hal to establish himself as a lock down corner for the week, Hal very nearly picked off a Jordan Lynch come back pass in the 1st team drill, a 9 on 7 period. After that, Hal made several more strong plays on the football and the only play he conceded was a diving touchdown catch by Allen Hurns in the end zone off of a rocket pass by Cornell's Jeff Mathews.
2. QB Jeff Mathews, Cornell: Speaking of Jeff Mathews, he had an extremely solid day throwing the football. I'm not getting wrapped up in his performance however, because he showed a ton of arm talent on tape as well but his issues are with mentally handling pressure and decision making. Simple reads on an introductory day made him look like a quicker decision maker than he is...but with this kind of audience, Mathews put the rest of St. Petersburg on notice for the rest of the week.
3. S Tre Boston, North Carolina: Boston showed some of the same versatility today that he showcased at North Carolina, whether he was in the box or playing a deep half in a cover 2 or playing deep center, Boston showed good awareness, good anticipation and took good angles to the football. He looks the part as well, I'm told he measured just short of 6'0 and weighed in just barely under 200 pounds (5'11.5 and 198 lbs).
4. Ja'Mes Logan, Ole Miss: Logan had the best day of the wide receiver class on the East side with two long receptions overtop of the defense. He blew past S Hakeem Smith and CB Ross Cockrell for long receptions and was really the only one to get anything going down field all practice (although Allen Hurns was severely underthrown by Jeff Mathews when he had 3 yards of separation on Rice CB Philip Gaines deep down the right hash). Overall, 4 of the East's receivers were supposed to have some stellar size to them (Hurns, Hazel, Logan and Laird), but in all actuality I'm told none of them measured in this morning over 6'2 despite them ALL being listed at 6'3.
5. OLB Preston Brown, Louisville: Brown flashed in more ways than one today. Brown got the pads popping with a huge hit during the first 9 on 7 drill but staying square and squeezing a backside run. Later during a team period with the offense working out of the goal line, Brown did a nice job playing a run inside out from a stack position to slam the door shut on Zach Bauman who had a huge hole on a draw play. Brown did get his licks a bit in pass coverage, whiffing on a jam attempt against Crockett Gilmore in the slot but overall he had a very nice day.
As for the 4:00 PM practice, the West did have a number of positive showings themselves:
1. QB Keith Wenning, Ball State: I mentioned Keith around 11 AM this morning in reviewing Shrine participants and mentioned he MIGHT be the best Quarterback here this week. Today helped to solidify that theory. I spent the West practice along the sideline and with the slow pace of the walk throughs, I found myself gravitating towards the one positional grouping constantly working...the Quarterbacks. Wenning has beautiful footwork and put Tommy Rees and Keith Price to shame with his ball placement, regardless of the area of the field they were working. Once the team came together for some 11 on 11, Wenning was the one dropping dimes and touch passes all over the field.
2. CB Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State: This one is due strictly due to his movement skills. Reynolds might have the lowest center of balance of any DB in their back pedal there this week and as a result he's got great fluidity, quick feet and change of direction skills. He looked very natural moving around through DB drills and 11 on 11.
3. OLB Tyler Starr, South Dakota: I was really impressed seeing this guy in person. He is simply massive in his frame and looks to have the ability to add on some legitimate girth to his frame. He moved well in LB drills and he looked like a WR plucking the football out of the air. I really wish I'd have had the chance to see him with the pads on to see how physically he plays against this level of competition, but there's plenty of football left this week. He gained my attention, however.
4. DE Cassius Marsh, UCLA: Two things caught my eye about Marsh; first of all his feet are incredibly quick. The defense worked a period running through the bags and Marsh's feet were almost just as quick as the defensive backs that were going at the front of the line. Secondly, he looked longer, leaner and quicker than I had anticipated on tape. I was told by a scout that Marsh measured at 6'4 and 254 pounds. That's significantly less than the 268 he was listed at during his time at UCLA. The extra 14 pounds is gone and looks to have given him some extra quickness.
5. TE Jordan Najvar, Baylor: Jordan put his 6'5 frame to good use today, plucking several balls out of the air at high points overtop of defenders. His first catch in a team setting was a gorgeously thrown corner route thrown by Wenning that Najvar high pointed overtop of a defensive back. I can honestly say it was the first play that got anyone's juices flowing at practice and it took place after over an hour of the practice had already elapsed.
Follow Kyle Crabbs on Twitter @NFLDraftTracker for more on location reports from the 2014 East-West Shrine Game.