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Shrine Bowl notebook | Explaining the importance of mastering pass protection

Tennessee offensive lineman Jerome Carvin (75) plays against Ball State during an NCAA football game on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Tennessee offensive lineman Jerome Carvin (75) plays against Ball State during an NCAA football game on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Dozens of players are wrapping up their preparations for the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas, and all of them are eager to put all their practice to good use when the all-star game kicks off on Thursday. 

For the Washington Commanders, there are a few positions that the scouts will be looking at to improve their roster, but offensive line is among the most important priorities. got the chance to speak with two prospects on Tuesday: Tennessee guard Jerome Carvin and UCLA guard Atonio Mafi.  

Here's a breakdown of what they had to say about their experiences this week. 

-- Mafi exceled as a member of the Bruins' offensive line in 2022. He helped his offense rushed for 200 yards in three straight games, which allowed him to earn Second Team All-Pac-12 honors. But Mafi did not start his career on the offensive side of the ball. Prior to the 2020 season, he played on the defensive line and recorded 45 tackles.  

That experience has been useful for Mafi, particularly when it comes to pass protection. He has personal experience in how to recognize stunts from the defensive line, and he knows the right ways to neutralize their moves and protect the quarterback. 

-- Outside his power in the run game, Mafi takes pride in his pass protection skills, which did take some time to master after spending two seasons trying to bring quarterbacks to the ground. He knows how to lock onto defenders, and he has the quickness to keep up with talented defensive tackles. Leverage, he said, is one of the most important aspects of having a good pass set, because one incorrect move could lead to a sack.

-- Playing on the defensive line is not the only experience that Mafi can rely on to improve his skill set as an offensive lineman. He also plays rugby in his spare time and is a prop player, which means he provides stability at scrums and helps players gain possession of the ball. Mafi credits rugby for his toughness, but he also believes that his athleticism stems from the rugby pitch because of how he can run the ball himself in open space.

-- Speaking of players who excel in pass protection, Carvin is another offensive lineman who has a history of giving defenders fits. He did not allow a sack during the 2021 season, and while linemen will always prefer to run block, Carvin takes plenty of pride in protecting his quarterback.

"That's a big thing for us, keeping the quarterback clean," Carvin said. "You have to be able to do that, especially in the league. The league is starting to change now. Guys are going to throw the ball 30, 40 times a game, so you have to be able to pass protect."

-- Carvin spent most of his time at guard for the Volunteers; after making four starts on the right side as a junior, he switched over to the left side as a senior and only allowed one sack and two quarterback hits at that spot. With that said, Carvin spent some time at center during his practices at the Shrine Bowl, and Carvin said it helped him understand the importance of knowing the roles of every position on the offensive line.

"As a center, you have to know all the calls. You have to know where everybody is going. It kind of helped me out with my football IQ, understanding the assignments of different guys."

-- When asked what an NFL team is going to get from him as a player, Carvin was quick with his answer: "They're gonna get the hardest worker."

"They're going to get a team player, a guy that's all for the team, a guy that the team is gonna love. I was a two-year captain at Tennessee, and so I value the respect of my teammates. I want to gain the respect of my teammates in the locker room. They're going to see a guy who goes in Day 1 and work his tail off just to be a part of the team."

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