Friday, March 28, 2008

2009 Spotlight: Bryce Brown

South Florida is loaded with talent. This is no secret and never has been. In fact, one could argue that Dade and Broward Counties are possibly the two most talent laden counties in America. The Miami Hurricanes capitalized on a loaded South Florida region last season as nearly half of the 2008 recruiting class came from this area. The much written about Northwestern High School supplied seven top level talents to the Canes.

However, Randy Shannon went across the fruited plain to land one stud prospect last season in linebacker Arthur Brown. In 2009, Shannon has once again left the friendly confines of Miami to land a superstar prospect. Arthur Brown's younger and possibly more talented brother, Bryce Brown, clicked his heels together and traded his mid-western Kansas home for the glitz and glamor of South Beach.

Bryce is a 6' 212-pound running back from Wichita East High School in Wichita, Kansas. The two-time All-State selection should make Miami Hurricane fans very happy, especially since it seems that recently The-U has been missing the playmakers at running back it is used to having in the backfield. It has been nearly six years since names like Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis or Frank Gore were toting the rock. That should all change with Mr. Brown.

Although he is listed at 6-foot, he looks a little smaller than that on film. However, 5'10" and 5'11" running backs actually have an easier time of staying healthy than their taller counterparts.

Speed is one issue that will not hinder Brown. He can fly. Getting to the edge on sweep plays and off-tackle runs is a major strength of his game. Once he has the corner, he is virtually impossible to catch. Speed is not his only asset, though. He runs with great power, pressing and creating the hole if one has not been created for him.

There are just very few weaknesses in his game. He has great vision, balance and will be a threat out of the backfield in the passing game.

The level of competition might be a question mark, however, it did not hinder his brother's evaluation any.

Brown finished his junior year with 2,039 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns.

Here is a look at Bryce. A little Devin Hester in his game...

And a second reel...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

2009 Spotlight: Russell Shepard

The LSU fan base has very little to be upset about.

They have two football National Championships in five years, a feat only matched by the mighty Men of Troy. John Brady has finally been fired, although it will be sad to see his former pole dancer of a wife go. If they can keep Anthony Randolph around, they might have a shot at the SEC West title next year in hoops. Things are good in Cajun country.

The quarterback situation at LSU may leave a bit to be desired, however. Ryan Perrilloux has shown that he has a ton of getting into trouble. Is Jarrett Lee ready to step in and start in the event of a Perrilloux suspension? Which at this point is more likely than not. Possibly, but he is yet unproven. How about Jordan Jefferson?

Well, it will be sometime before the answer shows up on campus, but mark it down, once he does, all the names mentioned above will be forgotten.

Russell Shepard, who is most assuredly a top-10 prospect for 2009 has already committed to LSU.

The Houston, Texas native plays his high school ball at Cypress Ridge. Describing it as simply playing ball does not really do him justice, though. He makes people look silly. The 6-2, 190-pound quarterback/athlete is nearly unstoppable. He makes most of his plays on designed runs or improvised scrambles, and he makes a lot of plays.

He has Percy Harvin speed, agility and quickness from the quarterback position. His vision, lateral movements and acceleration are unmatched.

Obviously, he will need some work on his passing skills but the raw tools are there. He has a quick, tight release putting decent zip on the ball. He does not have a huge arm, but shows the strength to make most throws. The short to intermediate game is already a solid part of his game. He also does a great job of throwing on the run. Something that will be a huge part of his college game on bootlegs, rollouts and play-action fakes.

In addition, Shepard has been visiting Austin on regular basis in order to work with former Cincinnati Bengal and East Carolina Pirate quarterback Jeff Blake. He has been tutoring young Mr. Shepard. This can only be a good thing for LSU fans as it will accelerate his learning curve within the passing game.

Here is a taste of what this young athlete can do...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Terrelle Pryor is Finally a Buckeye

The most memorable recruitment process in recent memory has finally come to an end.

Terrelle Pryor, a native of Jeannette, Pa., announced yesterday – six weeks after National Signing Day – that he will be playing his college football for Ohio State.

It seems only yesterday that I was standing in the film room when the first film of this mythical playmaker showed up. A dozen or so employees crowded around one small computer screen, giddy with excitement. I have never seen grown men coo over a football player. The 6-5, 230-pound red, white and blue streak was the talk of the office, causing adults to gossip like schoolgirls.

Now, nearly two years later, Ohio State fans are the ones smiling.

The trip from recruiting junkie message board fodder to starting quarterback in the ‘Shoe is a long one. In the fall of 2006, Pryor wrapped up his junior year with 1,732 yards passing and 15 touchdowns with 1,676 yards rushing and an additional 13 trips to paydirt. He was already sporting half-a-dozen offers, maybe more.

Fans and scouts should have known what was in store in 2007 when he started his senior campaign with a 57-yard touchdown run on his team’s first play from scrimmage. He stepped off the high school gridiron for the last time as a PIAA 2A state champion. In his final game against Dunmore, Pryor threw one touchdown, ran for three and caught yet another score. Jeannette High was never challenged in the 49-21 win – or in any other game for that matter.

Pryor finished his senior season with a statistical symmetry that I have never seen: 1,889 yards passing and 1,889 yards rushing – and 58 touchdowns. He also became the first player in WPIAL history to pass and rush for over 4,000 yards, finishing with 4,250 yards passing and 4,249 yards rushing.

One state championship was not enough for Pryor, however. The dynamic athlete is also a top-rated basketball recruit. He led Jeannette High School to a 76-72 overtime win over Strawberry Mansion in the 2A state title game, scoring 23 points and snagging eight rebounds. Those totals are actually quite paltry compared to some of his other games, where the very rare quadruple-double was not to far out of reach on a number of occasions.

With basketball finally behind him, the pressure to make a decision was certainly mounting. Ohio State, Penn State, Oregon and Michigan sat waiting for the young quarterback.

What is interesting is why they were waiting. In a Signing Day announcement – which was ironically to announce that he wasn’t signing – Pryor claimed that he needed more time to take visits. Oregon and Penn State were the likely beneficiaries. Yet, as Pryor finally announced on Wednesday that he was heading to Columbus, he still had not visited Oregon or Penn State, at least not officially. So why then did Pryor delay his announcement? He has been involved in the recruiting process for at least two full years. What did he not know on Signing Day? One thing is for sure: many different people were pulling him in many different directions.

It is likely that we will never know the truth. And Ohio State fans could not care less.

“I feel bad because I said no to Michigan, because I had so much of a bond with Coach (Rich) Rodriguez,” Pryor said at his press conference. “They had their hopes on me and I let them down but I am going with Coach Tress.”

It goes to show that there is no second place when it comes to recruiting.

There is one area of concern, albeit very minor. Pryor has made it apparent that the NFL is his ultimate goal. No one has the right to tell him otherwise, but what is worrisome is his obsession with the league.

“The night before I talked with a lot of NFL coaches and scouts to see what they thought I should do,” he said.

It is reasonable to solicit advice but to depend on it is unwise.

At Ohio State, he needs to be himself in order to be successful and win games like Buckeye fans are accustomed to. That means running the football and using his superior athletic ability to make plays. If he is too focused on his draft stock during his final year(s) and presses himself into being a pocket passer, it could be detrimental to the team.

Other than that, Buckeye fans have good reason to be excited. He is a dynamic athlete who immediately upgrades the depth at quarterback. Fans of the Scarlet and Gray should not have to wait long to see Pryor in action. Look for Jim Tressell to work him into the rotation much like Tim Tebow was used at Florida as a freshman. Buckeye fans do not need to be reminded of what happened Tebow’s freshman year.

It is a perfect situation for Pryor. He will get snaps in packages and situations that he is comfortable with. Tressell will allow him to enter the game and make plays with his legs first. Not only does this give Pryor some experience, but it also gives Todd Boeckman some rest. In addition, opposing defenses will have to gameplan for a completely different style of quarterback.

If he is half the player we all saw on film that first day two years ago, Ohio State fans – not SEC fans – will be the ones celebrating a national championship.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Top 25 Prospects to Watch for 2009

The 2008 class is in the books, at least for the most part, and coaching staffs everywhere have already turned their attention to their 2009 classes. Some schools already have strong starts on the recruiting trails.

USC already has ten committed prospects for the ’09 class – eight of which are top-100 type players. Quarterback Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif.) is considered by many as the top signal-caller in this class, and he is already committed to the Trojans. He is also the early favorite for the No. 1 spot on the 2009 Athlon Consensus 100.

Florida State has six commits thus far but the quality is astounding. Five of the six have the potential to be top-100 players. Taking care of the local markets and keeping kids at home is essential for FSU in a year where the Tallahassee area is well-stocked. Wide receiver Willie Downs, corner JaJuan Harley, end Brandon Jenkins and linebacker C.J. Mizell all hail from Tallahassee, Fla.

Ohio State already has eight verbal pledges, three of which are almost locks for the AC100. John Simon (Youngstown, Ohio) led his team to the Ohio high school state title game last season only to lose by a single point to Coldwater. Rest assured he will be fired up for his senior season. Chris Fields (Painesville, Ohio) is eerily similar to return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. Fields will be a much better wide receiver and should impact the return game as well.

Texas, however, is off to arguably the best start of anyone for 2009. They already have 15 commitments. Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas) is an incredibly productive high school passer. He threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 52 touchdowns in his junior campaign. Chris Whaley (Madisonville, Texas) looks exactly like Super Bowl champ Brandon Jacobs when he runs through tacklers with his 6-3, 225-pound frame. Mack Brown has once again pushed the recruiting calendar to the limits.

North Carolina and Butch Davis are also off to a great start with a solid group of local talents. Michigan State, Stanford and LSU are also off to great starts for ’09.

A few mid-major programs are making waves as well. BYU and TCU are two of the top non-BCS programs in the nation and it is showing in this recruiting season.

2008 saw maybe the most talented collection ever of wide receiver prospects in one class. This season quarterback and defensive tackle are the two positions that really stand out so far. Both are premium positions and normally very scarce. Not in 2009, both are loaded with talent.

Also, look to the Midwest for extra talent this year. The state of Wisconsin is poised to have its most talented class of seniors in two decades. Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois are also stacked with talent for the 2009 class.

The state of Louisiana also boasts an above average class, with possibly five or six AC100 members.

It is very early but here are some names that will become household very early in the recruiting process:

Matt Barkley - QB - Santa Ana, Calif. (6-3, 225) USC
Shevodrick Beaver - QB - Wichita Falls, Texas (6-3, 190)
Dorian Bell - LB - Monroeville, Pa. (6-1, 220)
Bryce Brown - RB - Wichita, Kan. (6-0, 215) Miami
Marlon Brown - WR - Memphis, Tenn (6-5, 208)
Vontaze Burfict - LB - Corona, Calif. (6-2, 230) USC
William Campbell - DL - Detroit, Mich. (6-4, 320) Mich
Chris Davenport - DT - Mansfield, La. (6-3, 315)
D.J. Fluker - DT - Foley, Ala. (6-7, 325) Alabama
Garrett Gilbert - QB - Austin, Texas (6-3, 190) Texas
Kevin Graf - OL - Agoura, Calif. (6-6, 305) USC
Devon Kennard - DE - Phoenix, Ariz. (6-4, 240)
Dre Kirkpatrick - DB - Gadsden, Ala. (6-2, 185)
Jacobbi McDaniel - DT - Greenville, Fla. (6-0, 285) FSU
Jamarkus McFarland - DT - Lufkin, Texas (6-3, 290)
Lamar Miller - RB - Miami, Fla. (5-11, 208)
Rueben Randle - WR - Bastrop, La. (6-3, 200)
Tyrik Rollison - QB - Sulpher Springs, Texas (6-2, 195)
Tom Savage - QB - Philadelphia, Pa. (6-3, 230)
Russell Shepard - QB - Houston, Texas (6-2, 195) LSU
John Simon - DT - Youngstown, Ohio (6-3, 280) Ohio St
Frankie Telfort - LB - Miami, Fla. (5-11, 195)
Manti Te'o - LB - Honolulu, Hawaii (6-2, 230)
Chris Whaley - RB - Madisonville, Texas (6-3, 225) Texas
Cierre Wood - RB - Oxnard, Calif. (6-0, 195)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2009 Classes to Watch: Texas

Many people credit JoePa with the emergence of the 'early commitment' years ago. Mack brown has taken it to a new level. The newly formed Junior day has gained tremendous popularity amongst coaches in which hundreds of juniors from around the area show up on campus.

Of course, being in Texas provides an added bonus. High School football and the recruiting process is more mainstream and sped up in the Lone Star state more so than any other. Kids and parents are more accustomed, earlier, than any where else. There are more independent film companies promoting high school athletes in Texas. There is dramatically more media coverage of high school football in Texas more so than anywhere else. Hell, fans have to buy PSL's just to get tickets to Southlake Carroll games.

All this means that the Texas Longhorns are at the precipice of the recruiting calendar. As Brown and staff were inking their No. 11 recruiting class as ranked by Athlon Sports in February, the Horns already had 10+ commitments for 2009.

Now, they have the early lead for the No. 1 class in 2009 with 15 commitments. All of them hail from the state of Texas.

There are two names that really catch my eye on film:

Garrett Gilbert - QB - Austin, Texas (6-3, 190)

Gilbert has been nothing if not incredibly productive. Throwing for nearly 5,000 yards and 52 touchdowns (versus 12 INTs) in only his junior year is quite impressive. He throws a great deep ball, shows some escapability and will stand tall in the pocket and take the hit in order to deliver the ball. He shows good arm strength, solid accuracy and good footwork/throwing motion. Gilbert is mechanically sound and VERY productive. To me, those are signs of future success.

Chris Whaley - RB - Madisonville, Texas (6-3, 220)

Whaley is the definition of a work horse. His size and speed combo could be deadly in Austin. He is a smaller version of Brandon Jacobs. He has similar running style and is certainly not afraid of contact. It is fun to watch this kid run the rock. He has quick enough feet to be a factor in the passing game but his strength will be between the tackles. He will wear defenses down and will be a dominant fourth quarter runner.

Greg Timmons (WR, Aldine, TX) and Thomas Ashcraft (OL, Cedar Hill, TX) will both be in the Athlon Consensus 100.

Once again, the Texas Longhorns beat everyone out of the recruiting gate.

Monday, March 17, 2008

2009 Classes to Watch: Southern Cal

The USC Trojans finished 5th in the Athlon Sports national recruiting rankings for 2008. Fans of the Troy must have been very disappointed to have not finished No. 1 after three straight recruiting National Championships (04-06). Pete Carroll has made his early claim for regaining that recruiting throne in 2009 - although Mack Brown and Texas are making a strong case for No. 1 at the moment. The Longhorns have 15 commits to USC's measly 10 pledges.

The Horns have the edge in quantity but the Trojans are once again, second to none in quality: of the current 10 commitments, 8 are top-100 and all ten are potential Athlon Consensus members. Two names in particular stand out, however.

This 2009 class starts with the early favorite for No. 1 player in the nation title: Mater Dei's big-arm quarterback Matt Barkley.

Matt Barkley - QB - Santa Ana, Calif. (6-3, 225)

Barkley is likely to be the No. 1 prospect on the 2009 Athlon Consensus 100. He has all the tools. He is big, physical and tough. He stands in the pocket and doesn't mind taking the hit if he can deliver the ball. Which he can do with great efficiency. He has a huge arm and can make every throw on the field. More important than his physical gifts is his mental make-up. He is a natural leader. He has wonderful pocket presence and poise under pressure. It is almost as if he was genetically designed to play quarterback. He also was awarded the first annual Joe Montana Quarterback of the Year award. How he won over the top prospect in the nation, Terrelle Pryor, who not only set records but won a state title is beyond me - but I digress. Barkley was the only 2009 prospect to be a finalist.

Vontaze Burfict - LB - Corona, Calif. (6-2, 235)

This kid is the next in a line of stellar linebackers for the men of Troy. Burfict should be considered as the top linebacker in the nation, or at least in the conversation with names like Manti Te'o (Honalulu, Hawaii), Dorian Bell (Monroeville, Pa.) and Frankie Telfort (Miami, Fla.). Burfict absolutely destroys ball carriers. He is great on the attack, flying through and around blockers in order to get to his target.

Here is a taste of what Mr. Barkley can do on the field...take note of the solid play-action fakes and the great arm strength on those deep out routes.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide

No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC No. 1)

2008 Haul: 32 signees, 5 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Congratulations are once again in order to Nick Saban and the Alabama coaching staff for putting together the best recruiting class of the 2008 campaign. What makes this class so special is its balance. From top to bottom and at nearly every position on the field, the level of ability is astounding. It was terribly difficult just to pick 10 names for the ‘Best of the Rest’ section. It could have been 20 names long and some players would have still been left out. 

With so much balance, it becomes difficult to really narrow down areas of focus for this class. The defensive front seven and offensive playmakers might have been the two main areas of concern for Saban. Not only has he addressed those issues with flying colors but also any other small area of weakness as well.

With the implementation of the 3-4 defense, Saban has placed a premium on smaller, faster, more aggressive linebackers and bigger, stronger defensive lineman. Four defensive ends, four tackles and potentially five linebackers head to the Capstone in ’08.

Glenn Harbin (Mobile, Ala.) and Undra Billingsley (Birmingham, Ala.) are the two most talented end prospects and bring with them great size at 6-6 and 6-4 respectively. At tackle, size is the first word to come to mind when dealing with Terrance Cody (Perkinston, Miss.). He is listed at 6-5 and a ridiculous 395 pounds. Throw in the 6-5, 320-pound Kerry Murphy (Chatham, Va.) and the athletic Marcel Dareus (Birmingham, Ala.) and the Bama D-line should be well-stocked – and well fed – for the next few years.

At linebacker, there is a plethora of talent. Athlete Devonta Bolton (Norcross, Ga.), Don’ta Hightower (Lewisburg, Tenn.), Courtney Upshaw (Eufaula, Ala.) and Jerrell Harris (Gadsden, Ala.) are as strong a group of backers as any in the nation. Harris is the best of the group as he plays with complete disregard for bodily safety. He is a missile. Hightower is a perfect fit for that hybrid DE/OLB position that Saban calls the ‘Jackback.’ He can drop into coverage like a linebacker but put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer. The DeMarcus Ware, Shawn Merriman type player is certainly an important fit for a 3-4 scheme. Bolton could also play that role, but, like athlete Chris Jordan (Brentwood, Tenn.), could find himself on offense. Upshaw also will get a look at ‘Jackback.’

Playmakers on the offense were also a key focus of the Bama staff. With current suspensions hanging over certain unnamed players and senior graduation really hitting the wide receiver group hard (D.J. Hall, Matt Caddell and Keith Brown), the Tide had to add some playmakers to the offense. They added, potentially, 11 new faces to the offense skill positions – not counting quarterback.

Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.) is the best wideout in the nation, period.

Burton Scott (Prichard, Ala.), Mark Barron (Mobile, Ala.), Mark Ingram (Flint, Mich.) and Jordan can all be threats as wide receivers as well as running backs. They all are dangerous in the open field and are all very comfortable and successful with the ball in their hands. Scott and Barron are both return men that could make an immediate impact on special teams. Jordan is more a pure runner than the rest but could end up at linebacker. Ingram is simply a game breaker; he just makes plays.

Melvin Ray (Tallahassee, Fla.) and Destin Hood (Mobile, Ala.) join Jones as the top pure pass catchers in the class.

John Paker Wilson is likely to keep his starting job this fall, but he may be on a short leash. Star Jackson (Lake Worth, Fla.) steps onto campus and is immediately the most athletic and legit passing option on the roster. Whoever is starting, the offensive line should be able to offer solid protection. Tyler Love (Mountain Brook, Ala.) may not be the most physically gifted tackle prospect in the nation but he may be the best football player at his position. Barrett Jones (Memphis, Tenn.) has wonderful versatility and John Michael Boswell (Northport, Ala.) adds great depth to the O-line.

Defensive back is also well represented in this class. Alonzo Lawrence (Lucedale, Miss.) late meteoric rise up recruiting rankings was due to the excellent job he did on fellow signee Julio Jones in the Mississippi-Alabama all-star classic. Robby Green (River Ridge, La.) and Robert Lester (Foley, Ala.) add talented depth to the defensive backfield.

The state of Alabama was loaded in 2008 and the Tide took advantage. The Tide signed 18 players from the Heart of Dixie. Tennessee was also very kind to the Crimson Tide sending three of its top-5 to Alabama including the top player, Barrett Jones. 

Top Prospect: Julio Jones – WR – Foley, Ala. (6-4, 220) AC100 No. 2

Jones is the most physically gifted wide receiver in this year’s class of pass catchers. That is a monster statement as the 2008 wide receiver class might be the best and deepest group of wideouts ever.

He has a rare blend of size, speed, agility and natural instincts. He can do it all. As a deep threat, he has great leaping ability and ball-tracking skills. Over the middle he has the size and toughness to make the catch and take the big hit. At the line of scrimmage, his long arms and quick feet make him very difficult to jam. In the open field he has the elusiveness to make people miss and accelerate quickly for extra yards. In the running game, Jones can be a dominant blocker, using his big frame and long arms to shield defenders from the ball-carrier.

He is mentally tough as well. In a game against rival high school Daphne, Jones hurt his ankle in the first half and came out in the second half and played through the pain and caught a bomb to win the game. He is a leader on the field.

Best of the Rest:

Burton Scott – ATH – Prichard, Ala. (5-11, 190) AC100 No. 22
Tyler Love – OL – Mountain Brook, Ala. (6-7, 295) AC100 No. 23
Mark Barron – WR – Mobile, Ala. (6-2, 200) AC100 No. 58
Jerrell Harris – LB – Gadsden, Ala. (6-2, 220) AC100 No. 75
Alonzo Lawrence – CB – Lucedale, Miss. (6-1, 190)
Barrett Jones – OL – Memphis, Tenn. (6-5, 280)
Star Jackson – QB – Lake Worth, Fla. (6-3, 190)
Devonta Bolton – ATH – Norcross, Ga. (6-3, 220)
Don’ta Hightower – LB – Lewisburg, Tenn. (6-3, 250)
Mark Ingram – ATH – Flint, Mich. (5-10, 200)

Sleeper: Marcel Dareus – DL – Birmingham, Ala. (6-4, 275)

In a 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle is asked to basically play two gaps. Dareus, although very raw, could have that ability. Developing consistent pad level and strong hand technique will be his primary areas of focus. The rest of the ability is there, though. He has solid athleticism for his size and he plays with great strength at the point of attack. Dareus is a guy that could end up playing head up on the center, which in the game of football, is a rare commodity.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes

No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (Big Ten No. 1)

2008 Haul: 19 signees, 9 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Ohio State, much like USC, was all about quality rather than quantity. Ohio State had the highest number of AC100 members, nine – which would have been 10 but Devoe Torrence’s offer was pulled due to academic ineligibility the week leading up to Signing Day. The Buckeyes had virtually no lower ranked prospects (minus those that kick footballs).

And yet, this class is still not entirely finished. The twentieth and easily most important signees, is likely to be Terrelle Pryor. Pryor (Jeannette, Pa.) is the top player in the nation and a Vince Young clone. He is the most dynamic high school football player in the nation. He was set to sign with OSU on Signing Day but overtures by his father on behalf of Penn State has kept him from signing, even today. Pryor has, technically, until March 31st to sign his letter of intent. In theory, however, he could walk onto any campus in America come August and fall classes, sign scholarship papers and be on the football roster.

There is no telling how much longer this thing will drag out. No matter what happens, however, Ohio State looks to be the place the Pryor will end up.

Even without Pryor, this is one of the top recruiting hauls in the nation. Excepting USC, the offensive line class for OSU is tops in the nation. Mike Adams (Dublin, Ohio) is possibly the top left tackle prospect in the nation and has NFL written all over him. Group him with the massive J.B. Shugarts (Klein, Texas) and Michael Brewster (Orlando, Fla.) and the Bucks boast a formidable front line.

Jim Tressell did a great job of addressing needs one year in advance for this class. Most fans likely did not expect the entire linebacking corp to return intact. They will all be heading into their final year of eligibility and so depth was needed. Etienne Sabino (Miami, Fla.) is on par with names like Nigel Bradham (FSU) and Arthur Brown (Miami) when it comes to the top linebackers in this class. Andrew Sweat (Washington, Pa.) will also add needed depth.

The wide receiver spot is in a very similar situation as the backers. The Brians, Robiskie and Hartline, both will be seniors in 2008. Tressell will certainly have options on the outside now. DeVier Posey (Cincinnati, Ohio) is Chad Johnson’s personal protégé and is consequently very polished for his age. Lamaar Thomas (Fort Washington, Md.) is a Percy Harvin type athlete who can be used in the backfield as well as on the outside. Both are top-50 type players nationally. Jake Stoneburner (Dublin, Ohio), who just sounds like he should play tight end, will give Ohio State a new dynamic from the tight end spot. He may be the most athletic, fastest tight end prospect in the nation. His blocking skills need some work.
Losing Vernon Gholston to the draft was not a surprise to Tressell and staff. They addressed the defensive line with full force in ’08. Willie Mobley (Eden Prairie, Minn.) was second only to ND’s Mike Floyd, in terms of talent in the Gopher State. Garrett Goebel (Lombard, Ill.) is a massive prospect with tremendous football IQ. Both could end up at tackle but Mobley is likely to be an end as well as Nathan Williams (Washington Court House, Ohio) and Keith Wells (Gainesville, Ga.)

The defensive backfield, once again, is expected to lose a lot of talent after the ’08 season. Travis Howard (Miami, Fla.), who was Sabino’s teammate at Dr. Krop High, is as ready to play as any corner prospect in the nation. Great size and speed make him an option for nickel packages early in his career. Orhlan Johnson (Gulfport, Fla.) and Zach Domicone (Xenia, Ohio) will add plenty of depth to the safety position.

It is no surprise that roughly half of this class is from the state of Ohio. The rest of the nation was kind to the Buckeyes as well. Top players from Minnesota, Florida, Texas, Maryland, Illinois and Pennsylvania head to the banks of the Olentangy.
Top Prospect: Mike Adams – OL – Dublin, Ohio (6-7, 300) AC100 No. 25

This obviously changes immediately to Pryor, if and when he signs with Ohio State. But for now, Buckeye fans will have to settle for the top offensive lineman in the nation.

It is a thing of beauty to watch a 6-7, 310-pound tackle play with consistent pad level. Normally a player of his height will lack leverage; Adams has great leverage. He shows great footwork and hand technique. He shoots his hands high and hard, engages the defender and then proceeds to take him for a ride.

His amazing athleticism and quick feet allow him to get out into space and block comfortably. He gets great body positioning, using excellent knee bend and foot speed to keep himself in front of the defender. There are just not many guys his size that move around as well as he does.
In head-to-head battles with Shayne Hale (Pitt) at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl practice, Adams performed very well, pinning Hale on occasion. He also dominated Hargrave’s Quinton Coples (UNC).

Best of the Rest:

Michael Brewster – OL – Orlando, Fla. (6-6, 300) AC100 No. 12
Etienne Sabino – LB – Miami, Fla. (6-3, 225) AC100 No. 33
DeVier Posey – WR – Cincinnati, Ohio (6-2, 190) AC100 No. 39
J.B. Shugarts – OL – Klein, Texas (6-7, 300) AC100 No. 56
Lamaar Thomas – ATH – Fort Washington, Md. (5-11, 185) AC100 No. 68
Jake Stoneburner – TE – Dublin, Ohio (6-6, 230) AC100 No. 80
Garrett Goebel – DT – Lombard, Ill. (6-5, 270) AC100 No. 82
Andrew Sweat – LB – Washington, Pa. (6-2, 225) AC100 No. 84
Willie Mobley – DL – Eden Prairie, Minn. (6-2, 265)
Travis Howard – CB – Miami, Fla. (6-0, 180)

Sleeper: Zach Domicone – ATH – Xenia, Ohio (6-2, 210)

Domicone was an excellent duel-threat quarterback in high school and is projected as a defensive player. He is likely to start out as a safety but could add bulk and become an outside linebacker. He is a solid athlete for a kid his size and does not mind playing a physical brand of football. This strength in run support puts him at strong safety, at least at first.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

2009 Classes to Watch: Ohio State

I realize this is shocking news, but THE Ohio State University is off to a great start for the 2009 recruiting class. Right now in the ridiculously early 2009 team ranks they sit at #3.

All eight prospects are on the ESPN 150 to Watch list. Two of which, really stand out.

John Simon - DT - Youngstown, Ohio (6-3, 265)

Simon is a bit undersized at the moment but he has plenty of space to fill out. At 6-3, 290 he would be a force up the middle. He anchors a defensive line that was dealt a devastating one-point state championship loss to Coldwater last season. Look for Simon to have a great season in the fall.

Chris Fields - ATH - Ohio (6-0, 180)

Ted Ginn Jr. Let the comparisons start here at least, because either way, they will be coming. Fields glides through the open field with ease. The running style is similar to that of Ginn's. He will be dangerous immediately in the return game and the MASSIVE Jim Tressell trick play repertoire. If he can develop and refine his receiving skills faster than Ginn (no offense, but it wouldn't take much), he could press for time as a freshman.

The linebacker class is very strong as well. Jordan Whiting (Louisville, Ky.), although not huge, has adequate size. He could end up being the best of the current group. Maybe the most intriguing option, and easily the best name, of the group is Storm Klein (Newark, Ohio). At 6-2, 220 pounds and potential 4.5-6 speed, he has a lot of possibilities. Linebacker is certainly one of them. He has a little Brian Leonard in his game, though, and could be fun to watch on offense as a fullback/h-back hybrid. Adam Homan is no slouch either.

C.J. Barnett (Clayton, Ohio) and Jamie Wood (Pickerington, Ohio) are a really solid beginning to what could be a great defensive back class.

The midwest - Minnesota and Wisconsin in particular - is dramatically more talent laden than usual. Illinois and Michigan are also well stocked in 2009. Of course, having said all of that, I will venture a guess that Buckeye fans are likely more worried about a 2008 recruit at the moment. No worries Buckeye fans, Terrelle Pryor will be headed to the banks' of the Olentangy.

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 3 Miami Hurricanes

No. 3 Miami Hurricanes (ACC No. 1)

2008 Haul: 33 signees, 8 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

Randy Shannon played defense for the Hurricanes when he was winning championships for The U, so it is no surprise that he is building his championship hopes on defense first. This is one of the top defensive classes in the nation, if not the best.

Four defensive lineman, six linebackers, six defensive backs and a couple of athletes that could play either offense or defense are headed to Coral Gables. Marcus Forston (Miami, Fla.), who anchors the D-line, is the top defensive tackle in the nation and is already practicing with the Canes this spring. This is bad news for ACC O-lines everywhere. Jeremy Lewis (West Palm Beach, Fla.) will also add some needed depth.

The top linebacker class in the nation is headlined by Arthur Brown (Wichita, Kan.). The tackling machine is followed closely by a group of speedy, versatile prospects. Jordan Futch (Miami, Fla.), Marcus Robinson (Homestead, Fla.) and Sean Spence (Miami, Fla.) all have the athleticism to play safety if needed. They can all run and they can all hit. The days of the fast, aggressive, attacking Miami linebackers is sure to continue into the near future.

As mentioned, team needs may push a few of those linebackers into different roles. Even without any help from the backers, the defensive back class is very strong. Brandon Harris (Miami, Fla.) may be the most ready to play cornerback in the entire nation. C.J. Holton (Crawfordville, Fla.) and Vaughn Telemaque (Long Beach, Calif.) are two playmakers that Shannon adds to his secondary. Athletes Davon Johnson (Miami, Fla.) and Travis Benjamin (Belle Glade, Fla.) could both find themselves knocking down passes instead of catching them. Both are lightning fast and are more likely to play offense.

With the departure of Kyle Wright (NFL Draft) and Kirby Freeman (Baylor), the quarterback position at Miami is very thin. Redshirt frosh Robert Marve has a leg up on winning the job, but this class certainly affords Shannon options. Miami landed three passers in this class. The athletic, state champion Jacory Harris (Miami, Fla.), the huge 6-foot-7 Taylor Cook (Altair, Texas) and appropriately named prep passer Cannon Smith (Chatham, Va.) all head to Coral Gables with hopes of dethroning Marve.

One of the stalwarts of Miami championship teams was offensive playmakers on the outside – Andre Johnson, Michael Irvin, Santana Moss, etc. This wide receiver class should make up for recruiting misses in Lance Leggett and Ryan Moore. Aldarius Johnson (Miami, Fla.) and Tommy Streeter (Miami, Fla.) are the top two talents and are used to playing together as they have been on the same offense all through high school (Northwestern HS). Davon Johnson is an absolute burner and Travis Benjamin will remind Miami fans of the smaller slot receivers (Moss, Parrish). Thearon Collier (Miami, Fla.), LaRon Byrd (Boutte, La.) and Kendall Thompkins (Miami, Fla.) add a ton of depth to the wideout corp.

Depending on the line of demarcation, 20 prospects out of the 33 total hail from South Florida. 12 of those 20 hail from Miami (not counting Hollywood or Homestead). Further still, seven of those 12 Miami based kids played ball together at Northwestern High in Miami. Shannon pulled off a clean sweep of the state champions, landing all seven of them.

Top Prospect: Marcus Forston – DT – Miami, Fla. (6-2, 293) AC100 No. 11

For a prospect that is 6-2, Forston looks to have a squatty build that is ideal for defensive tackle. It is this thickness that makes him such a powerful force up the middle. He gets great push up the middle and shows the ability to play all three downs from his tackle spot. Against the run, he holds his ground very well, using great lower body strength to control the line of scrimmage.

Forston is not just a big, lumbering 300-pounder, though. He has quick feet and shows great quickness and burst coming out of his stance. He also uses refined hand technique to manipulate blockers. His above-average athleticism also give him the ability to flow down the line and help on outside plays — a rare commodity for a run-stuffing, hulking defensive tackle.

Forston, much like UNC’s Marvin Austin last year, absolutely dominated the line at the U.S. Army All-American game. He will be the linchpin of the Miami defense for the next few seasons.

Best of the Rest:

Arthur Brown – LB – Wichita, Kan. (6-1, 216) AC100 No. 7
Aldarius Johnson – WR – Miami, Fla. (6-2, 195) AC100 No. 30
Brandon Harris – CB – Miami, Fla. (5-10, 175) AC100 No. 47
Ramon Buchanan – DB – Melbourne, Fla. (6-0, 195) AC100 No. 66
Marcus Robinson – LB – Homestead, Fla. (6-2, 220) AC100 No. 73
Jordan Futch – LB – Hollywood, Fla. (6-3, 205) AC100 No. 86
Sean Spence – ATH – Miami, Fla. (6-0, 190) AC100 No. 88
Davon Johnson – ATH – Miami, Fla. (5-11, 170) 
Tommy Streeter – WR – Miami, Fla. (6-5, 200)
C.J. Holton – S – Crawfordville, Fla. (6-2, 195)

Sleeper: Travis Benjamin – ATH – Belle Glade, Fla. (5-10, 150)

This kid is VERY small, but he packs a punch. Benjamin is lightning quick and gets to full speed in no time. He could be very dangerous in a slot receiver roll or as a cover corner. He has great change of direction ability and wonderful athleticism. He also could be a dangerous return man. He is very similar in build to that of Roscoe Parrish or Sinorice Moss.

2009 Classes to Watch: LSU

I suppose winning a National Championship will help with recruiting. Generally speaking, winning (or losing) on the field does not affect the current recruiting class, it always affects the next class. For LSU, that is the 2009 group. And Les Miles and Co. are definitely off to a strong start. With seven commitments, six of which are on the ESPN 150 To Watch list (again, this list is 400 prospects long), LSU boasts one of the top-5 classes in the nation for 2009.

Texas (15), USC (10), UNC (9) and Ohio St (8) are the only schools with more commits.

What is even more exciting for LSU fans is the depth of talent in the state of Louisiana in 2009. There is dramatically more talent at the top this season than last. There are 4-5 potential Athlon Consensus 100 members hailing from Cajun territory. Good news for LSU, especially since Louisiana only had 1 AC100 member in 2008, Chris Tolliver.

This 2009 class begins and ends with one name:

Russell Shepard - ATH - Houston, Texas (6-2, 190)

Watching film on Shepard, duel-threat is the word that comes to mind immediately. He has great vision, balance and cutting ability. Excellent speed and acceleration allow him to hit those tiny creases and get to the end zone. He is impossible to tackle in the open field. Obviously, he is not as accomplished of a passer. He shows good accuracy when fitting the ball into tight windows on slant/post routes. His level of ability as a passer is yet to be determined. I would also like to see him put on a good 20 pounds of muscle. Timmy Teabags is two inches taller and 40 pounds heavier and he gets banged up in the SEC, Shepard will too.

Michael Brockers - DE - Houston, Texas (6-6, 255)

It is easy to see why defensive coordinators fell in love with Brocker's size right away. He is a force with that 6-6, 260 pound frame. He will always need to concentrate on pad level and leverage with his size but that can be taught easily. He shows nice burst and strength at the point of attack. He has the complete package of tools for a high level defensive end.

Michael Ford - RB - Leesville, La. (5-10, 200)

Ford is a nice combination of size, speed and strength. He has a nice low center of gravity and shows a nice all-around game. He will need some fine-tuning but should be a nice prospect. Lets just hope this Mike Ford has an easier time getting into school than the other Mike Ford of Alabama and current South Florida lore.

Henry Orelus (OL Belle Glade, Fla.), Janzen Jackson (DB Lake Charles, La.) and Josh Downs (DT Bastrop, La.) also all have an outside chance at the AC100.

Look for LSU to really press for local products Rueben Randle (WR Bastrop, La.) and Chris Davenport (DT Mansfield, La.). Both will be AC100 members and at the top of in-state rankings.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2008 Haul: 23 signees, 9 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

It is not difficult to see where improvements need to be made on this Notre Dame team. The Irish finished last (119th) in total offense in 2007. Notre Dame also ranked at or near the bottom in terms of sacks allowed and yards lost (due to sacks). Needless to say, Weis could use a lot of different pieces.

To address the issues of protection, Weis went out and signed four, possibly five, offensive lineman. Trevor Robinson (Omaha, Neb.) and Lane Clelland (Owings Mills, Md.) will add much needed talent to the Sam Young led group. At center, Braxston Cave (Mishawaka, Ind.) could end up as the top center prospect in the nation and Mike Golic (Bristol, Ct.) clearly has solid bloodlines as his father played for the Irish and Philadelphia Eagles.

The O-line was supplemented nicely with two solid tight end prospects. Kyle Rudolph (Cincinnati, Ohio) is arguably the best tight end in the nation and Joseph Fauria (Encino, Calif.) has the skills and size (6-8, 260) to end up at tackle. Both positions could use the help, so a guy like Fauria will prove invaluable.

Speaking of pass catchers, the wideouts that head to South Bend are excellent. Mike Floyd (St. Paul, Minn.) is in the conversation for 2nd best wide receiver prospect in the nation behind Alabama’s Julio Jones. Floyd is the best prospect to come out of the state of Minnesota since Joe Mauer. Deion Walker (Christchurch, Va.) saw his stock slip a bit near the end of the year but is still very talented. John Goodman (Fort Wayne, Ind.) rounds out the trio. All three are 6-4.

The question now becomes who will be throwing them the ball. The nation’s top prospect a year ago was Jimmy Claussen, but he will compete with newcomer Dayne Crist (Sherman Oaks, Calif.). Claussen clearly has the advantage with one year of experience (if you want to call it that) but Crist has the physical tools (6-5 with a rocket arm) and mental make-up to really press Claussen for the starting gig.

The Irish have yet to sign a game-breaker at running back under Charlie Weis. They are, however, stock piling talented, Big 10 style runners. Jonas Gray (Detroit, Mich.), much like James Aldridge and Robert Hughes, is a bigger, more powerful runner. Gray has more talent than both Aldridge and Hughes. Look for the running back by committee theory to only get more muddled in South Bend. The talent is there, though.

The O-line was not the only ‘line’ that needed help in this class. The defensive front got a huge boost from the ’08 class. Five defensive lineman and four linebackers head to Notre Dame this year. End Ethan Johnson (Portland, Ore.) is the top player in the state of Oregon and is the most talented of the group. Brandon Newman (Louisville, Ky.) and Sean Cwynar (Woodstock, Ill.) add two massive bodies to the interior of the D-line. At linebacker, the top player in the state of Illinois, Steven Filer (Chicago), Crist’s teammate in California, Anthony McDonald, and the hybrid talent Darius Fleming (Chicago, Ill.) create a formidable group of tacklers. Former Penn State superstar Paul Posluszny’s younger brother David is also a part of this group. The genetics are unquestionable.

Three solid defensive backs look to sure up a porous secondary. Robert Blanton (Matthews, N.C.) is the most talented. Dan McCarthy (Youngstown, Ohio) is a brilliant leader and heady player but has some serious injury issues that may force him out of football all together. Jamoris Slaughter (Stone Mountain, Ga.) is a very strong blend of size and speed.

It is no surprise that Notre Dame can go out and recruit nationally. Players from 17 different states head to South Bend, Ind – only two from the Irish’s home state of Indiana. The top player in Oregon (Johnson), Minnesota (Floyd), Illinois (Filer), and Michigan (Gray) all picked Notre Dame. In addition, a top-5 talent from Maryland (Clelland), North Carolina (Blanton), Kentucky (Newman), Indiana (Cave), Nebraska (Robinson) and Illinois (Fleming/Cwynar) also will be calling South Bend home.

Top Prospect: Dayne Crist – QB – Sherman Oaks, Calif. (6-5, 225) AC100 No. 20

Crist may be the best pure quarterback in the nation. He is very similar in stature and physical ability to Ballwin quarterback Blaine Gabbert. He is not quite as mobile as Gabbert but does have some sneaky athleticism. Much like Ben Roethlisberger, he has an uncanny way of maneuvering away from the pass rush.

What separates Crist from most quarterback prospects is his superior arm strength and pocket poise. He can make every throw on the football field and does it standing tall in the pocket, even in the face of pressure. Although he has nice snap on the ball, Crist does a great job of throwing softer, catchable balls when the situation calls for it.

When it comes to mechanics and technique, Charlie Weis may want to work on Crist’s consistency. He shows flashes of perfect footwork, throwing motion and movements but will need to work on repeating those perfect reps with more consistency. Crist played as much under center as he did in the shotgun, so the transition to more of a pro-style offense should not be an issue.

Best of the Rest:

Mike Floyd – WR – St. Paul, Minn. (6-3, 200) AC100 No. 13
Kyle Rudolph – TE – Cincinnati, Ohio (6-6, 230) AC100 No. 26
Ethan Johnson – DE – Portland, Ore. (6-4, 260) AC100 No. 36
Deion Walker – WR – Christchurch, Va. (6-2, 186) AC100 No. 67
Jonas Gray – RB – Detroit, Mich. (5-10, 218) AC100 No. 70
Steven Filer – LB – Chicago, Ill. (6-3, 225) AC100 No. 78
Trevor Robinson – OL – Omaha, Neb. (6-6, 300) AC100 No. 85
Darius Fleming – LB/DE – Chicago, Ill. (6-2, 230) AC100 No. 90
Braxston Cave – C – Mishawaka, Ind. (6-4, 295)
Sean Cwynar – DT – Woodstock, Ill. (6-4, 280)

Sleeper: David Posluszny – LB – Aliquippa, Penn. (6-1, 210)

The younger brother of NFL first rounder Paul, Posluszny is much like his older counterpart in terms of recruiting evaluation. Both were underrated by most recruiting services. Little Poz is smaller in stature than his brother but has the same natural football instincts. His solid production comes from great work ethic, coach-ability and persistent attitude. He will be a classic over-achiever in college.

Monday, March 10, 2008

2009 Classes to Watch: North Carolina

Butch Davis put together one of the ACC's top classes two season ago. The 2008 class was not nearly as deep or talented, despite a strong finish on Signing Day a month ago. Davis is making sure that the '09 version is more like the 2007 class than the 2008.

UNC already has nine commitments. Four are ESPN 150 Watch list members (the list is roughly 400 prospects). Those nine commits trail only Texas (15) and USC (10) nationally. It is safe to say that UNC is off to a great start and should press the traditional powers in the ACC - Mia, FSU, Clem, VT - in terms of recruiting. Six of the nine hail from North Carolina. This means that Davis is doing a bang-up job of establishing in-state recruiting relationships.

Josh Adams - WR - Cheshire, CT (6-4, 200)

This kid is a big, physical target on the outside. He has a big, rangy frame with room to add muscle. He shows outstanding leaping ability and solid ball skills. The level of competition is not great but he simply dominates the smaller defensive backs on deep passes. He will be a great threat in the vertical as well as red zone passing game. He is also used out of the backfield as a running option in a rushing capacity that is similar to the zone-read-option that everyone loves. He should be a big time playmaker for the Heels.

OFFERS: Rutgers, BC, Nebraska, Stanford, Iowa, Maryland, UConn

Hunter Furr - RB - Lewisville, NC (6-0, 195)

Furr is a dynamic little runner. He shows great speed and cutting ability. He has the ability to accelerate around tacklers. He also shows great balance as it takes a lot to knock him off course. He does not have a particularly great power or strength when running, so he will need weight. His footwork and vision make up for his lack of power between the tackles.

OFFERS: NC St, Wake, Virginia, Clemson

Jerad McAdoo - DT - Chapel Hill, NC (6-3, 290)

McAdoo's strength lies in his size and strength. He has a thick lower body that will be dominant once he learns to use proper leverage. The talent is certainly there but staying low and firing off with proper technique will be a major area of focus. The size and power cannot be taught, however.

OFFERS: NC St, Virginia, Clemson, Maryland, Wake, South Carolina

David Collins - OL - Kernersville, NC (6-7, 325)

Collins may have the most upside of anyone in this class so far. Having said that, he is a bit of a project. His main attribute is his brute size. Not only is he a freakin mountain of a recruit but he also works very hard in the weight room. His run block skills are slightly behind his pass block abilities. He walls off smaller defenders from the quarterback. He will need to work on his footwork and agility but should be the protector of blind sides in Chapel Hill for the next four years.

CONSIDERING: ECU, Miami, NC St, Wake, Va. Tech

All thing considered, UNC is off to a great start. Right now, the currently have a top-10 class nationally. Lets see if Davis and staff can maintain that success. Some wins on the field would certainly help.

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 5 USC Trojans

No. 5 USC Trojans (Pac-10 No. 1)

2008 Haul: 19 signees, 8 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

The only reason this class is not No. 1 or 2 is the quantity. Of course, having the top recruiting class in the nation three of the last four years will create a crowded depth chart to say the least. The Trojans only signed 19 prospects in this class but likely had the highest level of quality per recruit in the entire nation – websites refer to this as ‘average star rating.’ Nearly half of this class was ranked in the AC100.

With ridiculously good running back and quarterback classes the last two seasons, those positions were largely ignored this season. Instead, on offense Pete Carroll focused on the offensive line and the pass catchers.
The 2008 Trojan O-line class may be the best group of blockers to ever head to a single school. Three – Matt Kalil (Anaheim, Calif.), Tyron Smith (Moreno Valley, Calif.), Matt Meyer (Stockton, Calif.) – are ranked in the top 83 prospects in the nation. Kalil, younger brother of current Carolina Panther Ryan Kalil, is the highest rated and has the most ideal build and talents for left tackle. Smith is the most athletic and Meyer may have the most upside. All three will be stalwarts along the offensive line. Add two massive guard prospects in Khaled Holmes (Santa Ana, Calif.) and Daniel Campbell (Aldine, Texas) and the Trojans boast the top O-line class in the nation.

Senior tight end standout Fred Davis has graduated and star recruits Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton have yet to pan out. So Carroll went out and addressed the outside of his offense with arguably the top tight end prospect in the nation – Blake Ayles (Orange, Calif.) – and two stellar wide receivers. D.J. Shoemate (Anaheim, Calif.) is Kalil’s teammate at Servite High and is a bigger, thicker version of Florida’s version of Percy Harvin. He can be used in the backfield as well as a pure wideout. He may end up as the best prospect in this class. Brice Butler (Norcross, Ga.) travels a long distance to get to Southern Cal. He is not as physically gifted as some other elite wide receivers but has wonderful intangibles and a great natural feel for the wide receiver position.

As impressive as the offensive class is, the defensive side of the ball may be even better. Five defensive line prospects head to Los Angeles in this class and after two of the top D-lineman in the nation graduated (Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson), the timing could not be better. Nick Perry (Detroit, Mich.) leaves the Wolverine state with the state’s single season sack record — an astonishing 36 his senior year. The 6-6, 250-pound Wes Horton (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) may have the most physical ability of all the ends. At the tackle spot, Armond Armstead (Elk Grove, Calif.) and Jurrell Casey (Long Beach, Calif.) are to big bodies that will add depth to the interior defensive line.

T.J. Bryant (Tallahassee, Fla.), a prospect that was yanked from Florida State’s grasp, anchors the small defensive back class. Former BYU pledge, Uona Kavienga (Los Angeles, Calif.) is the most talented linebacker of this class.

USC is at the top of a very short list of division one programs that have the ability to recruit nationally. Three AC100 members, one each from Georgia, Michigan and Florida, head many miles from home to play at the western powerhouse. Campbell is not an AC100 member but is still highly rated and he hails from Texas.

Top Prospect: Matt Kalil – OL – Anaheim, Calif. (6-7, 290) AC100 No. 18

Kalil, the younger brother of Ryan Kalil, former USC Trojan and NFL rookie center, is a complete tackle prospect. What made the undersized Ryan so good was his technically sound brand of football. He was as fundamentally sound as a college center could have been. If Matt is capable of being as sound in his discipline as his older brother he could be great. This is because Matt is much bigger than Ryan.

At the moment, Matt’s pass blocking is easily his strength. He does show good technique in getting his drops and shooting his hands. His good balance and quick, decisive feet allow him to mirror pass rushers very well. In the run game, knee bend and leverage will be areas of focus once Kalil gets to Southern Cal.

Best of the Rest:

Blake Ayles – TE – Orange, Calif. (6-4, 240) AC100 No. 15
Tyron Smith – OL – Moreno Valley, Calif. (6-5, 275) AC100 No. 27
T.J. Bryant – CB – Tallahassee, Fla. (6-0, 185) AC100 No. 28
D.J. Shoemate – WR – Anaheim, Calif. (6-1, 218) AC100 No. 34
Brice Butler – WR – Norcross, Ga. (6-1, 185) AC100 No. 48
Matt Meyer – OL – Stockton, Calif. (6-6, 295) AC100 No. 83
Nick Perry – DE – Detroit, Mich. (6-4, 240) AC100 No. 95
Uona Kavienga – LB – Los Angeles, Calif. (6-0, 228)
Armond Armstead – DT – Elk Grove, Calif. (6-4, 290)
Wes Horton – DE – Sherman Oaks, Calif. (6-6, 250)

Sleeper: Drew McAllister – ATH – Alamo, Calif. (6-1, 190)

It is impossible to pick a sleeper in a class full of national recruiting prospects but McAllister fits the bill. He is as polished a passer on the high school level as there is in this class. His footwork and technique are second to none. The depth chart, 2009 stud Matt Barkley, McAllister’s lack of arm strength and great athleticism will likely push him to any number of other positions, however. He is an intelligent, well-coached football player, so he will make an impact no matter where he plays.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs

No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs (SEC No. 2)

2008 Haul: 24 signees, 3 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

The stardom of Knowshon Moreno is only beginning to take off in Athens but with senior departures, depth in the backfield is certainly an issue. Dontavius Jackson (Franklin, Ga.) and Carlton Thomas (Frostproof, Fla.) should step in and help spell Moreno. Athlete Richard Samuel (Cartersville, Ga.) is a tremendous talent as a runner but he will probably be needed in other places. Watch out for redshirt frosh Caleb King as well.

The Bulldogs boasted one of the youngest offensive lines in the SEC last season but two key members graduated and depth is needed. Four newcomers, including Cordy Glenn (Riverdale, Ga.) and A.J. Harmon (Louisville, Ga.), head to Athens in 2008. Glenn and Harmon are big, versatile prospects. Look for Glenn to be the tackle and Harmon to be the guard. Ben Jones (Centreville, Ala.) is a needed piece at the center position.

The best area of this class is on the outside of the offense, however. The pass catchers in this class are phenomenal. A.J. Green (Summerville, S.C.) has been a star in the South Carolina prep ranks for years and now takes his game to the next level. He is arguably the top deep threat in the nation and with some added weight will be a super star in the SEC. Tavarres King (Mt. Airy, Ga.) is a wonderful compliment to Green. King is a classic open-field, slot-type receiver. He is impossible to tackle and has great speed and will also be a threat in the return game. Samuel could also end up at wide receiver. The best name in the class, Bacarri Rambo (Donaldsonville, Ga.) could also end up catching passes. He is a classic do-everything-type athlete.
Mark Richt and staff did a nice job of adding depth to all levels of the defense as well. Among the four defensive linemen signed, tackle DeAngelo Tyson (Statesboro, Ga.) and end Toby Jackson (Griffin, Ga.) have a chance to be great. Tyson is one the top tackle prospects in the nation and with some solid coaching Jackson could be a dominant beast off the edge. Cornelius Washington (Waynesboro, Ga.) could also see early time.

Four linebackers head to Athens in this ’08 group led by the tremendously athletic Marcus Dowtin (Fork Union, Va.). He is easily the most talented prospect of the group. Bulldogs fans will also be happy to finally have Akeem Hebron on campus. The talented class of 2006 linebacker comes to Athens from Gaithersburg, Md. by way of junior college in Milledgeville, Ga.

Brandon Boykin (Fayetteville, Ga.) is the most talented defensive back in the class. However, Samuel and sleeper Sanders Commings (Augusta, Ga.) could also play on the defensive side of the ball too.

The state of Georgia is always been a great state for football talent but 2008 was an exceptional year. Behind the big three – Texas, California, Florida – Georgia was likely the No. 4 talent producing state in 2008 and the Bulldogs capitalized, as did others. The usual suspects raided the Peach State (FSU, UF, S. Car, Clemson, Bama) but Georgia was so loaded in 2008 that teams like OU, USC and Notre Dame all landed top-20 prospects from the state of Georgia. The Bulldogs still ended up with 16 of the state’s top targets.

Top Prospect: A.J. Green – WR – Summerville, S.C. (6-4, 185) AC100 No. 6

A.J. Green might be the best deep threat at the wide receiver position in this year’s class. He has fabulous leaping ability and will go up and out fight defensive backs for the football. He has great ball skills, generally catching the ball at its highest point. He is at his best in the vertical passing game, stretching the defense to open up other options for the quarterback if defenses try to double-team him.

Green will need to add some weight to his lanky frame and work on his route running on the shorter and intermediate plays. For his size, he has solid after-the-catch ability but is not the shiftiest in the open field.

Best of the Rest:

Richard Samuel – ATH – Cartersville, Ga. (6-0, 200) AC100 No. 19
DeAngelo Tyson – DT – Statesboro, Ga. (6-2, 275) AC100 No. 24
Toby Jackson – DT – Griffin, Ga. (6-4, 245)
Tavarres King – WR – Mt. Airy, Ga. (6-1, 175)
Cordy Glenn – OL – Riverdale, Ga. (6-6, 310)
A.J. Harmon – OL – Louisville, Ga. (6-4, 308)
Dontavius Jackson – RB – Franklin, Ga. (5-11, 195)
Marcus Dowtin – LB – Fork Union, Va. (6-2, 218)
Brandon Boykin – CB – Fayetteville, Ga. (5-10, 170)
Cornelius Washington – DE – Waynesboro, Ga. (6-4, 220)

Sleeper: Sanders Commings – CB – Augusta, Ga. (6-1, 195)

Commings is a running back/wide receiver hybrid that excels with the ball in his hands. But much like Samuel, team needs – not talents – may decide where he plays. His size, agility and speed likely pushed this talented young athlete into the defensive backfield as a corner or safety. He is a naturally gifted runner/receiver, though, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up. One thing is assured: he will make an impact.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners

No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners (Big 12 No. 1)

2008 Haul: 21 signees, 7 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

The first order of business here is to congratulate Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners on their Big 12 2008 recruiting crown, a position that Stoops has found himself in regularly, considering his five conference titles in eight season as head coach in Norman.

Few teams were hurt by early departures to the NFL draft more so than the Sooners. Defensive back Reggie Smith and wide receiver Malcolm Kelly were expected but linebacker Curtis Lofton’s choice to test the NFL waters was a bit of a surprise to OU fans. This leaves the linebacker position lacking depth, at least by Oklahoma standards.

Stoops addressed the depth issue by landing three, possibly four, linebackers in this class. The group is led by JUCO signee J.R. Bryant (Garden City, Kan.) and sleeper Daniel Franklin (Mt. Airy, Ga.). Bryant brings experience and “ready to play now” ability while Franklin, with some work, could be a tackling machine for the Crimson and Cream. The wild card is Justin Johnson (Gilmer, Texas). Some recruiting sites have him listed as the No. 2 running back prospect in the nation while others see him as a linebacker.

If Johnson stays at running back, the ball carrier position in Norman should be set for years. Standout redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray returns after an explosive freshman year and Johnson is joined by fellow stud recruit Jermie Calhoun (Van, Texas) in his trip north to Oklahoma. Calhoun is the No. 2 ranked running back in nation according to the AC100. He is a complete runner. He can run between the tackles with power, turn the corner with speed, catch passes from out of the backfield and will be a solid blitz pick-up option with some teaching. Calhoun is a special player. 

Stoops was not shocked by Kelly’s early departure, which is evident by the stellar wide receiver class heading to Norman in 2008. Jameel Owens (Muskogee, Okla.) was the top in-state talent in ’08 regardless of position and will be the next big star on the outside in the Big 12. Josh Jarboe (Ellenwood, Ga.) put on a show at the Under Armour Classic in Orlando and Dejuan Miller (Metuchen, N.J.) has the physical (6-6, 210) gifts to be a great deep threat. Lamar Harris (Gilmer, Texas) is likely to end up catching passes in Norman. Look for all of these talented prospects to spend one season learning behind seniors Manuel Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias (as well as the younger Adron Tennell) before their true impact is felt.

Quantity was clearly not Stoops’ main focus for this class. The quality, however, across the board, was astounding. R.J. Washington (Keller, Texas) is likely the most talented player in this class and trails only Clemson’s DaQuan Bowers in the national defensive end ranks. Stephen Good (Paris, Texas) was the top offensive line target from the state of Texas.

Washington, Good and Calhoun were the top-3 players in the state of Texas this season and all three are headed to Norman. Stoops, unsurprisingly, landed 11 total prospects from the talent rich Lone Star State.

To round out an already great class, Stoops added yet another stellar quarterback prospect. Landry Jones (Artesia, N.M.) has all the physical tools to be a ‘franchise’ player for Oklahoma. With Sam Bradford breaking NCAA single season freshman records, however, actually getting on the field is an entirely different matter.

Top Prospect: R.J. Washington – DE – Keller, Texas (6-3, 240) AC100 No. 10

Washington, who many consider the top player in the state of Texas, offers a wonderful blend of size and speed from the defensive end position. He consistently shows the ability to get to the edge and, subsequently, the quarterback. Washington may be the best edge pass rusher in the nation. In addition, he might also have the quickest first step off the line of scrimmage. He has great explosion and burst off the ball.

What makes Washington special is the complete nature of his game. Not only is he a speed rusher, he has the power and strength to dominate blockers. He will hold his point of attack well and with some added weight and bulk could be an absolute machine at the defensive end position.

Washington is simply a great athlete. He has the speed to pursue backside rollouts, the burst to get up field and around a bigger offensive tackle, and the brute force to hold his ground against powerful run blockers.

Best of the Rest:

Jermie Calhoun – RB – Van, Texas (6-0, 210) AC100 No. 8
Stephen Good – OL – Paris, Texas (6-4, 290) AC100 No. 29
Jameel Owens – WR – Muskogee, Okla. (6-3, 210) AC100 No. 45
Josh Jarboe – WR – Ellenwood, Ga. (6-3, 190) AC100 No. 63
Justin Johnson – RB – Gilmer, Texas (6-1, 210) AC100 No. 89
Landry Jones – QB – Artesia, N.M. (6-4, 225) AC100 No. 100
Stacey McGee – DT – Muskogee, Okla. (6-4, 265)
Joseph Ibiloye – DB – Garland, Texas (6-2, 195)
Ben Habern – C – Argyle, Texas (6-3, 270)
DeJuan Miller – WR – Metuchen, N.J. (6-5, 210)

Sleeper: Daniel Franklin – LB – Mt. Airy, Ga. (6-2, 215)

Blessed with a great frame, Franklin will add 15-20 pounds of strength and be a solid player for the Sooners. He is at his best when he is attacking the line of scrimmage. He does an excellent job of taking on blockers and getting through to the football. He shows nice speed and agility in pass defense but will need work in this area before he becomes a complete player.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 8 Florida Gators

No. 8 Florida Gators (SEC No. 3)

2008 Haul: 22 signees, 7 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

A national championship and a Heisman trophy quarterback. One would think that Urban Meyer could sit back and enjoy his successes for a moment. But the “what have you done for me lately” mantra of most athletic directors (and fans for that matter) offers little rest for the weary. Meyer certainly did not rest this recruiting season as he re-stocked his roster, once again, with top-flight talent.

For the Gators, nowhere is talent more needed than in the defensive backfield. Florida finished last in the SEC in pass defense allowing nearly 260 yards a game. Two starting freshman return but the leader, Tony Joiner, departs due to graduation. Who steps in to replace him? The best safety class in the nation. Will Hill (Jersey City, N.J.) and Dee Finley (Auburn, Ala.) are two complete players that will excel in every aspect of the safety position. They are big, physical enforcers as well as solid man-to-man defenders. Janoris Jenkins (Pahokee, Fla.), Jeremy Brown (Orlando, Fla.) and Adrian Bushell (DeSoto, Texas) will step in and compete for playing time at corner, if not add needed depth. Jenkins is the most talented of the trio.

Another way to slow down a strong passing attack is to get a great pass rush (see Super Bowl XLII). With the early departure of Derrick Harvey to the NFL, depth along the entire D-line could be used. William Green (Hoover, Ala.) is the next speed edge rusher to come through Gainesville. He will need some weight but has great quickness and power off the edge. Omar Hunter (Buford, Ga.) is a rare commodity up the middle: a defensive tackle that can play all four downs. He is built like a tank and plays the pass as well as any tackle prospect in the nation. Louisville’s Amobi Okoye is a solid comparison. Also, linebacker Brendan Beal (Bethlehem, Penn.) could be moved to end where he could use his size and strength to hold the edge.

Talent is not needed at the wideout spot in Gainesville, but 2008 was a case of the rich getting richer. Four very talented pass catchers are headed to Florida this fall, but what makes this wide receiver class so special is the balance. Carl Moore (Roseville, Calif.) is the top JUCO offensive talent in the nation. He is a Terrell Owens clone and will step in and make an immediate impact. He is supremely talented. Omarius Hines (Corsicana, Texas) is an incredibly polished, heady wideout with great hands and wonderful route running skills. He is the possession guy. Frankie Hammond Jr. (Hallandale, Fla.) is the burner that will stretch the field. He will also be a dynamic return man. Sprinkle in T.J. Lawrence (Lakeland, Fla.) and the Gators have one of the best wideout classes in the nation.

Jeff Demps (Groveland, Fla.) will, along with USC transfer Emmanuel Moody and redshirt frosh Chris Rainey, make an effort to keep Tim Tebow from taking such pronounced beatings in the run game. The Heisman Trophy winner could use all the help he can get from the running game.

If Beal is not moved to end, the linebacking corp is set for years. An already very young starting group adds great depth with Beal and Lerentee McCray (Dunnellon, Fla.).

Much has been made of the job Pete Carroll has done recruiting nationally. Urban Meyer and staff are beginning to recruit on the same level as USC. Out of the 22 newcomers in 2008, less than half are from the state of Florida. Meyer went out and signed players from 10 different states and took some kids from rival backyards. Hunter and T.J. Pridemore are both from Buford, Ga. – which is just down the road from Athens. Sam Robey is a big offensive lineman from Louisville, Ky., and Finley was snaked away from the hometown of the Auburn Tigers.

Top Prospect: Will Hill – ATH – Jersey City, N.J. (6-3, 205) AC100 No. 5

Hill has some of the quickest feet in the nation. As is the case in a lot of places, the best athlete on any given high school team will generally play quarterback. Hill played quarterback for Jersey City but will probably find himself in a different position in college. Some say safety. Some say wide receiver. Some even say in the backfield at running back.

Wherever he ends up, he will have the ball in his hands. He is impossible to tackle in the open-field and will run away from smaller defenders with his speed. This makes returning kicks a possibility, and he is an intriguing fit at safety. He is a monster in the secondary. He will take receivers heads off if they come over the middle. He has the range to play in a two-deep zone and the athletic ability to be matched-up man-to-man on the outside in blitz packages. He is simply a wonderful athlete.

Hill, named New Jersey’s Offensive Player of the Year, threw for 947 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 960 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2007.

Best of the Rest:

Matt Patchan – T – Seffner, Fla. (6-6, 275) AC100 No. 31
Omar Hunter – DT – Buford, Ga. (6-0, 300) AC100 No. 41
Dee Finley – S – Auburn, Ala. (6-3, 210) AC100 No. 53
William Green – DE – Hoover, Ala. (6-4, 220) AC100 No. 60
Brendan Beal – LB – Bethlehem, Penn. (6-4, 240) AC100 No. 71
Janoris Jenkins – CB – Pahokee, Fla. (5-11, 180) AC100 No. 74
Omarius Hines – WR – Corsicana, Texas (6-1, 185)
Lerentee McCray – LB – Dunnellon, Fla. (6-2, 205)
Jeff Demps – ATH – Groveland, Fla. (5-8, 170)
Carl Moore – WR – Roseville, Calif. (6-4, 220)*

Sleeper: Frankie Hammond – WR – Hallandale, Fla. (6-0, 165)

If there is such a thing as a much-publicized sleeper, then Hammond is it. This kid has speed to burn. He will be an instant impact player in the return game and with his blinding speed, Hammond will find his way onto the field in some capacity next season. He will need a good deal of work on learning the wide receiver position but has plenty of physical ability.

* - Sierra C.C.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Team Recruiting Countdown: No. 9 Clemson Tigers

No. 9 Clemson Tigers (ACC No. 2)

2008 Haul: 26 signees, 4 Athlon Consensus 100

Scouting Report:

When Tommy Bowden and staff sat down last season and pinpointed their top recruiting targets for the 2008 class, a defensive end from Bamberg, S.C. was likely the name at the top of the board. DaQuan Bowers is the top defensive prospect in the nation, trailing only Terrelle Pryor and Julio Jones in the Athlon Consensus 100. The Tigers got their guy and he is the cornerstone of this great Clemson class.

It seems every off-season Clemson loses four offensive lineman to graduation. The Tigers had to replace four starters heading into the ’07 season and have again lost four senior lineman. Tommy Bowden did a great job of adding depth to the offensive line landing four talented blockers. In-state, he landed the big Kenneth Page (Columbia, S.C.) and Dalton Freeman (Pelion, S.C.). He also dipped into the heart of Crimson Tide country and snagged Antoine McClain (Anniston, Ala.). McClain is a versatile prospect that could play anywhere along the line and is best of the group.

This 2008 class is balanced with solid talent at nearly every position. The Tigers did not land a large number of any one position (defensive back had the most) but the ones they did get are of high quality.

The offensive skill position players really illustrate this point. Clemson landed two quarterbacks but Kyle Parker (Jacksonville, Fla.) – a Todd Reesing look-a-like – will challenge Willy Korn for playing time once Cullen Harper departs.

Only two running backs are headed to Clemson but both are wonderfully talented. Jamie Harper (Jacksonville, Fla.) is the No. 3 running back prospect in the nation and Andre Ellington (Moncks Corner, S.C.) showed great speed and open field agility at the Under Armour Classic. These two will be the next James Davis-C.J. Spiller combo out of the backfield.

The pass catching recruits are the same story. Only two wide receivers and one tight end head to Death Valley in ’08 but they are good. Brandon Ford (Hanahan, S.C) and Marquan Jones (Blythewood, S.C.) will pick up where Aaron Kelly and Jacoby Ford leave off. Dwayne Allen (Fayetteville, N.C.) will be a great all-around tight end. Clemson stole Allen away from Georgia shortly before Signing Day.

If there is one position that Clemson made sure to add depth to, it was the defensive backfield. The Tigers landed five prospects including star safety Spencer Adams (Matthews, N.C.) and sleeper corner Xavier Brewer (Jacksonville, Fla.).

The Tigers also lose two starting linebackers in Nick Watkins and Tremaine Billie. Jonathan Willard (Loris, S.C.), Tarik Rollins (Hollywood, Fla.) and Stanley Hunter (Duncan, S.C.) will add needed depth to the linebacking corp.

Sitting right next to the state of Georgia and within a few hours from Florida, Clemson has some nice built in recruiting territories. The Tiger staff certainly did well in the surrounding areas landing nine kids from Florida and three from Georgia. The Jacksonville area was particularly kind to Clemson, sending five prospects from the city to the ACC program.

Bowden also took advantage of a strong year in-state and landed 10 home grown prospects including big names like Bowers, Page, Ford and Ellington.

Top Prospect: DaQuan Bowers – DE – Bamberg, S.C. (6-4, 260) AC100 No. 4

The big defensive end is lightning quick off the snap. When he fires off low he gets so much momentum around the corner it is incredibly hard to keep him out of the backfield. He also has a strong motor and never stops attacking. His game is very loud — a nice way to say he destroys people.

He could use some work on his technique when playing with a lot of debris at his feet. If offensive lines are smart they will attack his legs. He can be overpowered on the end by bigger offensive tackles. Added weight will help remedy this. He is such an incredible athlete that, with strong coaching, Bowers could be the next in a run of great defensive end prospects at Clemson (Gaines Adams, Phillip Merling etc.)

Bowers, with weight, could end up inside at tackle also. With a 25-30 pound bump, he would be a dynamic tackle prospect who could play all three downs.

Best of the Rest:

Jamie Harper – RB – Jacksonville, Fla. (6-0, 215) AC100 No. 49
Brandon Thompson – DT – Thomasville, Ga. (6-2, 295) AC100 No. 81
Antoine McClain – OL – Anniston, Ala. (6-6, 320) AC100 No. 93
Andre Ellington – RB – Moncks Corner, S.C. (5-10, 175)
Dwayne Allen – TE – Fayetteville, N.C. (6-4, 245)
Kyle Parker – QB – Jacksonville, Fla. (6-0, 195)
Spencer Adams – S – Matthews, N.C. (6-2, 190)
Kenneth Page – OL – Columbia, S.C. (6-4, 290)
Brandon Ford – WR – Hanahan, S.C. (6-4, 208)
Dalton Freeman – OL – Pelion, S.C. (6-6, 280)

Sleeper: Xavier Brewer – CB – Jacksonville, Fla. (5-10, 175)

Aggressive. That is the best term used to describe Xavier Brewer. He plays a fast, attacking style of football. He shows great quickness and fluidity, especially getting into and out of his breaks. He has all the tools to be a lockdown corner but what makes Brewer special is his ability to play the run. He fills hard and with complete disregard for his body.